Around the time Planned Parenthood was doing what looked to be a victory march on MSNBC — ironically in the face of intense scrutiny and skepticism about its commitment to “women’s health” — Carol Tobias was becoming the new president of the National Right to Life Committee, the umbrella group for 50 state organizations and over 3,000 local chapters across the country that work “through legislation and education to protect those threatened by abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, and assisted suicide.” The National Right to Life Committee is considered the pro-life standard in politics, keeping track of votes with consistency and dedication. She talked to National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about her new role and about the status of a culture of life in America.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: How does one wind up president of the National Right to Life Committee? I mean, beyond a board election?
CAROL TOBIAS: I basically grew up with National Right to Life. My parents helped to organize North Dakota Right to Life. When I was a young adult with time on my hands, I got involved as a volunteer with my local chapter; I then became executive director of North Dakota Right to Life and got to know NRLC staff, as well as leaders from other state affiliates. From 1991 to 2005, I served as National Right to Life’s political director, working closely with all 50 state affiliates. So I know National Right to Life, and people involved with National Right to Life know me.
LOPEZ: What’s the most important issue for the National Right to Life Committee right now?
TOBIAS: There are a lot of issues important to NRLC, but in addition to our long-term goal of reversing Roe v. Wade, our top priority is overturning President Obama’s health-care law. The extensive reach of this program will enshrine abortion and rationing of health care in our society for generations to come, if we don’t stop it.
LOPEZ: What would you have the government do instead that would help make desperate women see how they can be more open to life? Or is that not the government’s job?
TOBIAS: There are several things the government can do to reflect the pro-life views held by a majority of Americans. Foremost, Congress should get the federal government out of the abortion business by enacting regulations that prohibit the use of federal funds to directly pay for, subsidize, promote, or otherwise underwrite abortion both domestically and abroad. An example of the kind of legislation that Congress should pass this session is the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.). At a more local level, state legislatures should be enacting laws to ensure that women are fully informed about the abortion procedure, the development of her unborn child, the potential physical, emotional, and mental risks, and the alternatives available. Right-to-know laws empower women by giving them the information they absolutely need before making a life-altering decision. Right now, roughly half of the states have comprehensive regulations that provide women with this kind of information.
LOPEZ: How is NRLC different from other groups?
TOBIAS: National Right to Life is both the oldest and the largest pro-life organization. We have an affiliate in each of the 50 states, with more than 3,000 chapters, meaning grassroots volunteers in communities all over the country. Our officers and leadership are elected by our board, which includes representatives of our grassroots state affiliates. When we speak, whether to members of Congress or members of the media, we are representing a vast constituency.
National Right to Life also has the widest range of programs and activities among pro-life groups. We focus on abortion and euthanasia in our lobbying activities, at both the congressional and state legislative levels; we have outreach programs that work with teens and college students, religious communities, and Hispanic, Native American, and African American cultures; we also do outreach to women who have had abortions. Our education department conducts comprehensive research into the growing use of tele-med abortions, the dangers and complications of chemical abortions, and Planned Parenthood — its funding and practices. Our political-action committee does work in hundreds of races and has had great success, and we provide substantial support services to our state affiliates and chapters.
LOPEZ: What’s the most misunderstood aspect of the right-to-life movement?
TOBIAS: Pro-lifers are often accused of not caring about mothers and their babies after the baby is born. That is blatantly false. Pro-lifers are the most caring, loving, generous people you will ever meet. They open their homes to pregnant women who have nowhere to go, they provide clothing, food, diapers, furniture, and other essentials for newborn babies. They contribute to churches and other organizations that take care of the poor, the hungry, and the homeless. They may or may not advocate that the government spend tax money to do these things, but they are using their own money to do these things.
LOPEZ: Why do you do what you do? What motivates you to work on this issue?
TOBIAS: Our Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I believe that: that life is an unalienable right. For me, personally, I oppose abortion because all human life is created by God; innocent human life should be respected and protected. Unborn babies are being killed by having their arms and legs torn from their torsos, or are being sucked into a vacuum machine. Elderly men and women, and disabled persons, are being starved to death because someone believes they cannot contribute to society. How can anyone know this is happening and not get involved?
LOPEZ: What do you make of all this “war on women” talk?
TOBIAS: Pro-abortion groups like to create rhetorical smokescreens that distract the public from the real issues at hand. When they say pro-lifers have launched a “war on women,” what they’re referring to (but don’t want to say straight out) is pro-life efforts to stop the flow of federal dollars to Planned Parenthood — the nation’s largest provider and promoter of abortion. Pro-abortion groups know that if they talk about what really happens in an abortion, they’ll lose the argument, so they have to resort to inflammatory rhetoric that portrays pro-lifers as militants attacking women.
LOPEZ: What do you find is the most difficult issue for people struggling to decide what they think about Roe and legal abortion?
TOBIAS: Some people believe that they are showing compassion to women by supporting legal abortion, but they also know that the unborn child is an innocent human being whose life will be ended by the procedure. I would encourage people struggling with this conflict to educate themselves on the physical, emotional, and psychological complications suffered by women who get abortions. Post-abortion syndrome as a post-traumatic stress disorder is real. In an abortion, no one wins — not the mother or the baby.
LOPEZ: Is something transformative happening in Kansas?
TOBIAS: Kansas is one of many states passing pro-life legislation this year. Four states have now enacted bills to protect from abortion unborn children who are capable of feeling pain. States are passing laws to ensure parental notice or consent before an abortion is performed on a minor daughter; to mandate that an ultrasound be displayed so the pregnant woman has the opportunity to see the real-time image of her unborn child before an abortion can be performed; to regulate the safety and cleanliness of abortion facilities; etc. These common-sense measures have overwhelming support from the public. All this is possible because pro-lifers have worked long and hard to educate the public, who then elected pro-life men and women to office.
LOPEZ: How important are the debates in the states? What is the state of the states?
TOBIAS: There is no way to quantify the importance of the debate that surrounds passage, or even introduction, of pro-life legislation. People generally pay more attention to local issues than to national issues. While Americans may follow what is happening in Washington, D.C., they are following more closely the issues close to home. Pro-life legislative efforts are a tremendous help in educating our neighbors and friends.
LOPEZ: Does Gov. Jan Brewer (R., Ariz.) deserve credit on this front?
TOBIAS: Jan Brewer is one of many governors who are defending the Tenth Amendment right of states to exercise powers not granted to the federal government. In 1973, seven men on the U.S. Supreme Court took from the states their ability to regulate abortion. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, the states will again be able to fully protect unborn children.
LOPEZ: How important is it to defund Planned Parenthood?
TOBIAS: According to its 2008–2009 annual report, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America is a billion-dollar industry that received $363 million in “government grants and contracts” — nearly double what it received in 1998. Planned Parenthood is also the largest abortion provider in the county, performing more than 300,000 abortions in 2009 — again, nearly double the number it performed in 1998. With approximately 1.2 million abortions performed every year in the United States, that means PPFA is responsible for more than one out of every four abortions performed. Why should our tax dollars be subsidizing a billion-dollar organization that performs more than one out of every four abortions?
LOPEZ: What’s most encouraging to you right now?
TOBIAS: Polls show that the American public is becoming more and more pro-life. Even more encouraging is that young people are pro-life. Various polls, including a Marist Institute for Public Opinion poll released last year, found that roughly 60 percent of the younger generation say abortion is morally wrong.
Frances Kissling, former president of the pro-abortion group Catholics for a Free Choice, once wrote a piece in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch bemoaning the fact that there’s no denying that the anti-abortion camp is getting younger. She added, “The abortion-rights movement is not.”
LOPEZ: Who are some of the unsung heroes of the right-to-life movement in your estimation?
TOBIAS: The unsung heroes are the grassroots volunteers in the movement. They are men and women who are taking care of their families and are involved in their local communities, churches, schools, etc., but they take time out of their busy schedules to speak up for unborn children and the vulnerable elderly and disabled persons. They are communicating with elected officials, educating their friends, neighbors, and relatives about the horrors of abortion and euthanasia, conducting fundraising projects, and helping women with problem pregnancies. Pro-life volunteers are the most loving, caring, generous people, who are trying to save the lives of people they will never meet. They are the true unsung heroes.
LOPEZ: Will Roe be overturned in our lifetime? What’s your realistic answer?
TOBIAS: A lot has to happen in order to overturn Roe v. Wade. We need a president who will nominate to the Supreme Court men and women who will interpret the Constitution and not legislate from the bench. We need a majority in the Senate who will confirm those appointments, and we need states that will pass laws to challenge Roe v. Wade. Grassroots pro-lifers are amazingly dedicated and faithful. They are working extremely hard to see that this all comes to pass. I believe in the grassroots, and I believe that Roe will be overturned in my lifetime.