This past Sunday, longtime pro-life activist Ellen McCormack passed away. Since the pro-life movement often devotes little attention to its own history, her name may be unfamiliar to many young pro-lifers.
However, pro-lifers of a slightly older generation will remember her as one of the most famous pro-life activists of the 1970s. McCormack was a wife, mother, homemaker, and a pro-life activist. She got her start in politics in New York, which was a hotbed of pro-life activism when it became among the first states to legalize abortion in 1970.
McCormack is most well known for running for the Democratic party’s nomination for president in 1976 on a pro-life platform. Her story is chronicled in Professor Jane Gilroy’s recent book A Shared Vision.
Throughout her campaign, McCormack had little money, name recognition, or media coverage. However, she still received more votes than better known, better funded Democratic presidential candidates in a number of primaries and caucuses.
McCormack became the first female presidential candidate to qualify for federal matching funds and her campaign commercials which focused on pro-life issues reached tens of millions of voters. She received three delegates and received a nominating speech and a seconding speech at the Democratic National Convention that summer. Her campaign educated many about abortion and demonstrated that there was a sizeable contingent of Democrats who were willing to support a single-issue pro-life candidate.
Pro-life pioneers like Ellen McCormack deserve credit for the gains the pro-life movement has made in recent years. In its early years, the pro-life movement was very short on resources and received precious little attention from the mainstream media. As such, it was up to articulate volunteers and single-issue candidates like Ellen
McCormack to keep voters informed. Furthermore, McCormack’s campaigns raised the salience of sanctity of life issues and gave countless campaign workers valuable experience. McCormack went on to run for lieutenant governor of New York in 1978 and for president as a single-issue pro-life candidate in 1980. Her steadfast devotion to the pro-life cause will be missed. RIP.
— Michael New is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama and a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.