After the state pro-life rally in Columbia on Jan. 13, Wanda Franz, Ph.D., spoke to The Miscellany about her involvement on the National Right to Life Committee (NRTL) and the future of their work.
Franz is a developmental psychologist and a professor in Family and Consumer Sciences at West Virginia University, where she received her doctorate. She has co-authored a textbook, Early Childhood Development: Prenatal through Age Eight, and has done consulting work for the Office of Adolescent Pregnancy in the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C. She is the mother of three children with two grandchildren.
TNCM: What began your commitment to the pro-life movement?
FRANZ: I began my pro-life involvement in 1971, when I gave my first talk at a church on fetal development. I was pregnant at the time with my second baby and a graduate student in developmental psychology, working on my doctorate.
I also became active in a students’ right to life group, trying to counter the “clergy counseling service” whose main purpose was to funnel young girls into having abortions. They sent the students all over the world for abortions, even Puerto Rico, until they found a place in D.C. that performed them. I have always been strongly motivated to fight for life and I felt I had to do something. After living in Germany after the war, I was moved by the (horrors of the) Holocaust, and at a young age I realized that once you stop respecting a certain life, you could eventually (rationalize) kill anyone.
At the university, our pro-life group had an information table that we took turns manning. I remember the day they announced the Supreme Court decision of Roe vs. Wade as I was in the car on my way to set up the table at the university. As I listened I was in shock. I could not believe that the decision allowed for abortion on demand. I don’t think the pro-abortion groups even anticipated such a victory.
As I sat there at the pro-life table, I anxiously waited for my time to pass so I could go to the legal building and read the details of the ruling. I remember a female student shouted to me as I sat at the table, “You can go home now. The Supreme Court has spoken.” These words were a challenge to me. I thought to myself, “This is the attitude I am up against.”
After Jan. 23, 1973, many state lawmakers began changing their laws regarding abortion. The people of my state of West Virginia decided that we were not going to change the state law that prohibited abortions. In the fight, I was asked to testify in court as a developmental psychologist, and I found myself becoming more active in the state. In 1974, I was asked to set up the state’s pro-life convention, then asked to become the faculty advisor. Soon a national organization was started, and I tried to find people to serve as state representatives, since I had two preschoolers and was a professor at the time, but ended up having to do it. Later I became the state president and in 1991 became the president of the National Right to Life Committee.
TNCM: How would you describe NRLC?
FRANZ: It is a grassroots organization that is about empowering people. It is the states, the heart and the soul of the national organization that will make the difference by educating people of their state, voting for pro-life representatives and letting their voice be heard by writing and calling their leaders. NRLC provides the information and resources; we cannot, for example, get local ads to run. It is up to the states to get the airtime, and we try to provide help. NRLC also spearheads national efforts and activities. For example, Doug Johnson, a well-respected and influential lobbyist for NRLC, is so influential because he represents many concerned citizens who will vote and who care about the issues. When something comes up, he knows he can depend on people to respond quickly.
TNCM: What is the goal of the pro-life movement, and how do you see it realized?
FRANZ: We have to reverse Roe vs. Wade, and in order to do that, we need a pro-life president and pro-life judges on the Supreme Court. There could be some court appointments coming up, and we are hopeful under the current president.
We need to continue to educate the people, looking for any possible opportunity. The partial-birth abortion ban act was an excellent educational moment because the focus was on the baby, and it opened the public’s eyes to the fact that despite the common misperception, there were many late-term abortions.
The law is usually the greatest educator, but right now it is working against us, leading to most of the anti-life attitudes. NRLC and the Catholic bishops alone fought a recent euthanasia bill, but there are similar anti-life bills being written; so our effort to educate never ends.
TNCM: What would you like to say to all pro-life people?
FRANZ: Continue to realize how important you are and be motivated by that fact. Each of you has a gift or contribution in creating a culture of life, and if you don’t do your unique part, that part won’t get done.