This year Right to Life of Michigan is honoring 50 years of prolife advocacy in Michigan. While we honor the past, our eyes are set on an audacious path forward to an abortion-free Michigan in the next few years.
Since 1846 Michigan law has recognized the value of unborn children and protected their lives. Michigan has been a leader in our nation for protecting the value of human life. In the time of great controversies, Michigan had led the way.
Michigan was the first English-speaking government to ban capital punishment, also in 1846 (we take no position either way, it being settled in Michigan). Abolitionists met in Jackson in 1854 at the Under the Oaks Convention to establish the Republican Party, an action which would set the nation on a course of ending slavery. Some scoffed when Henry Ford promised he could build a B-24 Liberator bomber every hour to help win World War II, but millions of lives were saved from the axis powers by the Arsenal of Democracy through victory forged in Detroit’s assembly lines.
In March of 1967, State Senator John McCauley introduced a bill to legalize abortion in Michigan, brutally disregarding this history. Rather than being a state that took every measure to value human life, McCauley wanted a state that looked the other way. His bill was part of a nationwide effort to legalize abortion in all 50 states.
Rising to testify against his bill were representatives of Catholic and Lutheran churches, Rabbi Joshua Sperka of Detroit and attorney Arthur Barkey. Sen. McCauley’s bill was defeated in committee, as were several other bills in the next few years.
Elsewhere in the nation a few other states were unable to stop efforts to remove legal protection for unborn children. It was clear that abortion supporters in Michigan were not going to give up, and so the prolife movement in Michigan began organizing in local communities.
Kalamazoo Right to Life and its founder Dr. Joseph Kincaid became the first large-scale group in the state in 1970. For decades Dr. Kincaid would serve on the board of Right to Life of Michigan and is still an active prolife volunteer today.
Two young women in Lansing, Barbara Radigan and Mary Randall, established the Michigan Right to Life Committee. Faculty from Calvin College, Aquinas College, and other doctors and professionals formed a study group in Grand Rapids, which would eventually become Grand Rapids Right to Life. Gloria Klein would lead People Taking Action Against Abortion in Detroit, which would become Right to Life-Lifespan. Numerous other local Right to Life groups formed as well.
Recognizing their failure to overturn Michigan’s long tradition of protecting the unborn through our state legislature, abortion supporters took their case to the ballot box. To defend our laws the many groups around the state came together officially as the Voice of the Unborn. Dr. Richard Jaynes, an obstetrician and gynecologist from Garden City, served as the president. The abortion legalization proposal in 1972 met a stunning rebuke at the hand of Michigan voters, failing by a vote of 61 percent to 39 percent.
Working with the groups for many years were organizations like the Michigan Catholic Conference, doctors, lawyers, local church groups and ministers, and many others. The victorious team spanned a wide spectrum of people, from prominent individuals like Michigan Speaker of the House William Ryan to thousands of individuals who did the hard work of voter contact and education. Some of these individuals are still with us today, serving in capacities large and small, all sacrificially. They had many different views, but they were all united in believing that protecting life was the first priority of good government.
Little did these advocates know that while they were winning at the ballot box the U.S. Supreme Court was already working on writing their opinion in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, cases that would go beyond the wildest dreams of abortion supporters and legalize abortion-on-demand through all nine months of pregnancy in all 50 states. The strong voice of Michigan voters and the lives of more than a million Michigan unborn children since 1973 would be silenced by seven unelected officials using fake legal arguments.
The Voice of the Unborn was already discussing a more long-term commitment when news of the decision in Roe v. Wade left them in complete shock. How could the personal views of a handful of unelected men count for more than the effort of thousands of individuals, the views of two million Michigan voters and the U.S. Constitution itself?
The shock did not last long and grassroots leaders around the state officially created Michigan Citizens for Life in 1973, later renamed Right to Life of Michigan. Judge James Ryan was elected as our first official president. In recognition of their efforts, the newly independent and incorporated National Right to Life Committee held their first convention in Detroit in June 1973.
A few months later in October Michigan Citizens for Life held our first conference, also in Detroit. Jane Muldoon, the leader of Grand Rapids Right to Life, became our second president, serving as president until the end of 1980 and leaving a legacy that continues to this day.
Later this year Right to Life of Michigan will return to our roots in Kalamazoo for our 44th Annual Conference, as we faithfully honor the same mission set by prolife activists 50 years ago. Right to Life of Michigan is not content to be lost in nostalgia, however. Given the circumstances of the current Supreme Court and the unique status of Michigan law, the next few years present an opportunity to fulfill that mission.
Michigan once again led the way in 2016, voting for a prolife presidential candidate for the first time in decades. Instead of pro-abortion President Hillary Clinton cementing the Supreme Court around a radical pro-abortion view for the next generation, President Donald Trump has already nominated one justice who respects our democratic process, and could nominate several more very soon.
Over the next two years, Right to Life of Michigan will begin to prepare for a possible reversal of Roe v. Wade and the opportunity to restore legal protections for unborn children. A plan is in place for Michigan to once again lead the way:
Abortion supporters predicted the prolife movement would melt away after Roe v. Wade. Today RLM and our affiliates in Michigan are joined by thousands of local prolife volunteers who operate pregnancy centers, adoption organizations and counsel women in front of abortion clinics. Our efforts are supported by allied organizations, international organizations, advocacy groups in local churches and majorities in the Michigan Legislature. Fifty years later, we’re still here, and much stronger.
The best way to honor the many brave women and men who founded our movement in Michigan is to join their cause and finish their work. You can play a part in helping us lead the way once again to a culture that values and protects every human life.
Build a better future with grassroots prolifers in your area today.
Special thanks to Kalamazoo Right to Life President Rob Karrer for his efforts to chronicle Michigan’s early prolife history. For more information about our founding, please read his article, “The Formation of Michigan’s Anti-Abortion Movement 1967-1974,” from the Michigan Historical Review Spring 1996 issue, available at Central Michigan University’s Clarke Historical Library.