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Tony Lauinger, state chairman of Oklahomans for Life
Associated Press/Photo by Sue Ogrocki
Tony Lauinger, state chairman of Oklahomans for Life

Successful state strategies saving babies

Abortion | Slow ground game leads to big advances in pro-life fight

During my recent swing through four Midwest states leading the charge on pro-life legislation, optimism was a familiar refrain among a new crop of pro-life lawmakers.

“You don’t want to mess with us on pro-life issues any more,” said Kelly Hancock, a first term Texas state senator who graduated from Baylor University and has spent the past 30 years teaching Sunday school at his Baptist church.

Hancock is not the only state legislator making that promise, and backing it up with bills: Legislators have passed more than 150 pro-life laws since 2010. Last year, 48 states examined roughly 360 abortion-related measures. That included 28 states considering abortion limitations, a 60 percent increase from 2012.

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The results are a product of a maturing pro-life movement. More than 40 years of fights since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion have served as a real-world graduate class on public policy. Groups like National Right to Life and Americans United for Life have watched the sausage making of laws and slowly learned how to pull the right levers to effect legislative change.

“We’ve gone from mostly rallies to working within the political system,” said Matt Krause, a freshman state representative in Texas with a law degree from Liberty University who specializes in constitutional litigation protecting religious liberty. “We went from the heart to the head.”

Most of the pro-life leaders during the early years channeled their energies towards ending the practice in one fell swoop. But the movement did not have the votes to achieve that in 1973. Now pro-life groups are committed to limiting the scope of abortion while educating the public.

“Our job is to buck up against Roe and see how far we can go,” said Julie Schmit-Albin, the executive director of Nebraska Right to Life.

Simply put, pro-life activists learned that you can’t have pro-life laws without pro-life lawmakers. And you can’t have pro-life lawmakers without pro-life voters. No one knows that better than Tony Lauinger of Oklahoma. His journey traces how decades of pro-life persistence is paying off at the state level.

Forty-one years ago, Lauinger was preparing to become a father for the first time. He reveled in being able to feel his baby kicking inside his wife’s womb. But months after his child, a daughter, was born, the Supreme Court legalized abortion. As a new father, Lauinger had a visceral reaction to the ruling.

“It felt like I had been hit in the face by a four-by-four,” he said. “A black cloud descended on our nation that day.”

It didn’t take Lauinger long to get involved in the pro-life movement. Two months after the Roe v Wade decision, Lauinger spoke out against abortion at his church in Tulsa, Okla. He read books and pamphlets to help him defend his pro-life position.

Then he started a pro-life group that meet in his living room. It began with just a small group of friends. They’d sit and think up ways to make people aware of abortion’s dangers while Lauinger’s baby daughter crawled around the room. The group rented a booth at the state fair and printed brochures.

But a talk with a woman convinced Lauinger that he had to do more than hand out brochures at fairs. That woman admitted to Lauinger that she suffered from guilt and depression over an abortion. He asked her a simple question: “Would you have had the abortion if it had been illegal?”

“Of course not,” she said.

Realizing that many equate the law with what is right, Lauinger wondered how many other woman would have chosen differently if abortion had been illegal. Seeing the law as a teacher, Lauinger set his sights on the state capital. He began driving from his home in Tulsa to Oklahoma City each day the legislature was in session. At the end of the workday, he drove 90 minutes back to Tulsa.

But Lauinger found it hard going through the 1970s. He began attending GOP precinct meetings in an effort to get pro-life resolutions adopted. But Republicans wanted to talk about economic issues not moral issues. Despite hot abortion debates during the state’s Republican conventions in 1976 and 1978, Lauinger failed to secure a place for the pro-life movement. Finally in 1979, the GOP state convention adopted a pro-life plank.

Despite some successes, such as stopping the United Way from funding Planned Parenthood, Lauinger quickly learned that having an unequivocal pro-life plank in the Oklahoma GOP did not mean smooth sailing. Republican staffers would lobby against pro-life legislation and offer amendments to weaken the bills. Lauinger was screamed at, thrown out of offices, and warned to not talk to certain lawmakers ever again.

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