Dr. Jack C. Willke, who passed away this past weekend, was truly the father of the pro-life movement. He and his wife Barbara co-wrote over twelve books on abortion and human sexuality. Their last book Abortion and the Pro-Life Movement: An Inside View might be their most important, as it is the only comprehensive history of the movement currently in existence.
Plenty has been written debating and analyzing the moral and legal foundations of abortion. But the history of abortion-related activism has received precious little attention from either journalists or academics. And previous attempts to chronicle this history are either biased or have key omissions. Articles of Faith by Washington Post reporter Cynthia Gorney ends with the Supreme Court’s 1989 Webster decision and focuses on local activists in the St. Louis area. Wrath of Angels, by James Risen and Judy Thomas, provides an unsympathetic history of abortion opponents who engaged in clinic blockades and other forms of street-level activism.
The Willkes’ book, in contrast, is both comprehensive and exceptional in its detail. The first several chapters cover the history of abortion from ancient times through the late 1960s. They then devote an entire chapter to every year from 1970 to 2010. Young readers will enjoy learning about the creative ways that an underfunded pro-life movement kept the abortion issue alive during the 1970s. Others will enjoy the ups and downs the pro-life movement experienced in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. They end the book on an optimistic note — citing the gains the pro-life position has made in the court of public opinion and the legislative progress that has taken place.
The book should interest scholars, activists, and anyone who cares about the abortion issue. By painstakingly chronicling the history of the pro-life movement and presenting it in a readable form, the Willkes have done a tremendous service for their readers. (My complete review of this book appears on Public Discourse.)