FORT WAYNE - The road to the stunning pro-life defeat in Kansas did not start yesterday. I was active in the earliest days of the modern pro-life movement. This is my story.

In 1971-72, when I was an undergraduate at IPFW, I first learned about details of how babies were born, but in a backward way. The battle over abortion had begun in Fort Wayne and a major referendum was going on in Ohio that was a landmark battle. Pro-lifers in Ohio won a narrow victory led by early right-to-life organizations out of Cincinnati. 

At the time, Dr. J.C. (Jack) and Barbara Willkie founded Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati and emerged as national leaders in the organization (Willkie became national President). In Ohio they helped develop some of the most effective communication vehicles for the pro-life movement including the first "Handbook on Abortion" (1.5 million copies sold), the infamous life or death flyer with pictures of how gruesome and primitive abortion is in killing babies as well as the “bucket babies” photo with a pail full of stacked killed babies, and the baby feet pin. These became staples in the United States abortion debate.

In the fall of 1972, I joined the Graduate Business School at the University of Notre Dame. My Leo High School and IPFW friend Don Stuckey had started Law School there the year before. The Notre Dame Law School had a group of conservative professors within it, particularly Dr. Charles Rice and Edward Murphy. Dean Clarence Manion had been the Dean of the Law School decades before.

Stuckey and I decided that the campus was ripe for a conservative political organization, so announced the founding meeting of a Young Americans for Freedom chapter. Dr. Charles Rice, who had written "The Vanishing Right to Live: An Appeal for a Renewed Reverence for Life" in 1969, was from New York state and an early leader in founding the Conservative Party there in response to, among other things, the liberal abortion laws supported by Nelson Rockefeller. 

We did not get a large crowd at our first meeting but one significant for future organization. Therese Willkie, Jack and Barbara’s daughter, came along with her friend Chuck Donovan. They had just arrived from the abortion battles in Cincinnati, Ohio. We decided to focus on abortion. 

A few months later, on Jan. 22, 1973, the Supreme Court invented new protections to make a political ruling overturning the on-going referendum process by the states, usurping choice by voters. One myth that developed among modern pro-lifers is that those referendums were going well. The voting was going poorly in the biggest states (e.g., California, New York), way too close in Ohio from a conservative perspective and untested in the South and much of the rest of the country. Education on the origins of life was way behind assuring any victories. The first question was this: Focus on the education first, probably losing short-term most places, or trying to win some votes in Congress and some states rapidly, then expanding the knowledge base underneath it.

The fact is, and remains today only arguably a bigger problem, is that most people have not thought out in detail the core question: Is the baby a human being or not? And if it is a developing human being, as opposed to a body part of the woman (e.g., appendix, gall bladder) and a developing human (e.g., not becoming a monkey or a parrot). If the baby is human or a developing one, why doesn’t it deserve protection?

The ways the baby must be killed – burning its skin off, slicing it into pieces, reassembling them to make sure nothing is left in the mother, and blowing it apart through suction – can be repackaged to sound better but are brutal. Why should baby humans be treated this way?

The problem of pain is still debated. It appears that babies have been photographed in a “silent scream” but it is not impossible that it is some sort of automatic protection response. Regardless, why would we risk that? What is wrong with us?

People get upset with these pictures, words, and discussions. Why? If the little developing baby, and certainly the late-term partial birth ones, aren’t human, why does it matter? Why the objections?

Dr. and Mrs. Willkie came up to Notre Dame soon after the decision. Our YAF sponsor Dr. Charles Rice, meanwhile, had written the first Human Life Amendment. It became the Paramount Human Life Amendment, no exceptions and the base of future debate. My understanding is that he met with Congressman Larry Hogan (father of the current Governor of Maryland) at a restaurant, sketched it out and then Hogan introduced it. 

Once the Human Life Amendment was written, we dropped our YAF group and re-organized as the Student Coalition for the Human Life Amendment. Before the big meeting at ND that packed out Washington Hall with not only students but early Indiana life leaders like Mary Hunt of South Bend and Phil Clemens of Fort Wayne, the Willkies met with Therese, Chuck and I at the Knights of Columbus Building on the central campus. We were there discussing politics versus education emphasis until about 4 in the morning.

Dr. Willkie had always stressed education, but the discussion evolved into striking why the iron was hot, so to speak, and making a hard push first. Then retreating back to education if the politics didn’t work. 

Our internal plan was at the Easter break, when many ND students went home across the entire nation, to push education about the Amendment in what was – at that point – a Catholic effort. At the few national meetings I attended, I met one person not part of the Catholic hierarchy: Dr. Thomas Hilgers of Minneapolis. In 1972 he had founded SOUL (Save Our Unwanted Life) at the University of Minnesota. He had written a pamphlet and come up with a band, similar to a POW band, for pro-lifers called the Circle of Life.

The Protestant Church was sound asleep. Even worse, many were pro-abortion advocates or at least approved it as a method of birth control. For example, when Margaret Ringenberg and I took Dr. Tim LaHaye around the state for meetings in 1980 for help Dan Quayle, he told me that in his "Handbook on Marriage," early editions he approved of abortion. He said that God, a forgiving Jesus, had wiped it clean but he felt the need to get involved because he could still feel the blood on his hands psychologically. 

Back at Notre Dame, we set up a plan to visit every dorm. Either Dr. Rice or the residence priest would open the session. Then Therese, Chuck or one of our other leaders including Rich Maggi of New Jersey and Leo Buchanani of Memphis, Tennessee would pitch the issue. Then I would do an action plan. While we reached a lot of people, our political plan obviously failed.

A side point worth noting – especially in this toxic environment – is the myth that developed that we only cared about the aborted baby. The fact is that the first Women’s Care Center in South Bend was started almost immediately by Ann Manion just south of St. Joe Hospital in South Bend. Ann was the daughter of the aforementioned Professor Ed Murphy. She married Dan Manion, later federal Judge Dan Manion, son of Dean Clarence Manion. Her organization continues in Indiana to this day, helping with clothes, supplies and shelter for women. The pro-life movement has always done this but kindness, not anger, should have been our focus.

An example of a creative response that could be done in today’s debate would be something like this: If fewer children are going to be aborted, establishing a support system not dissimilar to that for charitable food giving. For example, a central supply distribution center in a region (like a regional food bank) that would have the most requested items such as diapers and more costly supplies like strollers and the like. Then have local support groups of all types be able to access those goods like food pantries do food. Furthermore, a tax incentive for contributions to supplement state or federal money could be added. That would be a heart movement. 

Or we can hardline it, attack government, and come up with excuses. And lose. It is predictable.

For the next 49 years after Roe v Wade, the pro-life movement has done good works and education, but it never caught up with the intensifying of the political side. After losing early, the primary strategy was not re-calculated. We lost the middle over rape & incest, which while a principle of human life was not sustainable without intense education and understanding. As people understood fewer and fewer details about abortion, when the Court finally dropped the concocted Roe v. Wade decision, the pro-life movement was not ready. The idea that a popular vote was going to rescue us was a misplaced pipe dream. 

The hubris of victory occurred long before Donald Trump or the current wave of officeholders protecting him, but they certainly compounded the problem. They seem to have forgotten that on controversial, transformative issues – especially social ones – yelling, insults and bragging of power backfires. Beating people over the head won’t change their rape/incest views. Instead, you lose a referendum in Kansas.

For that matter, it is not even clear that a ballot referendum could carry with a rape/incest ban in Indiana. It isn’t about truth – all babies are human – but a question of practical politics right now. Stand on the high ground of principle with a clear conscience, and lose, or get some progress in reducing abortions. I confess to being undecided because life is a principle. 

But I am both an ideological, Christian conservative and someone who understands how to win elections. We have lost the middle, especially on rape/incest because of our “holy huddles” and “hubris.”

In 1970, for those of you not yet born then, Vice President Spiro Agnew campaigned in Indiana and repeatedly said like Col. Travis at the Alamo, “Everybody with us come on this side of the line, everybody against us go to the other side.” I remember saying: “I sure hope they counted right.” 

It didn’t work out very well at the Alamo either.

Souder is a former Indiana Republican congressman and a frequent HPI contributor.