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 | By Holly Gatling

South Carolina Citizens for Life Celebrates 50 Years of Pro-life Work

Fifty years ago, a small but determined group of men and women formed South Carolina Citizens for Life (SCCL) when life itself was under attack. The lethal Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions of 1973 overturned every law protecting unborn children in our state and made abortion-on-demand legal through all nine months of pregnancy and for any reason.

Under the guidance of the National Right to Life Committee, SCCL was incorporated in 1974 by South Carolina Secretary of State O. Frank Thornton. Every day since then, SCCL has worked to restore legal protection to our brothers and sisters waiting to be born and to guard the lives of other devalued members of our human family including the elderly, the chronically sick and persons with disabilities.

Through the years generous individuals, especially the Diocese of Charleston, have supported SCCL with gifts of time, talent and treasure. By 1985, SCCL had grown to the point of hiring its first staff member, executive director and lobbyist Brenda Hucks Cerkez. Cerkez now is executive director of Family Honor, Inc.

Under the devastating burden of Roe v. Wade, our strategy had to be to pass every law possible to save as many lives as possible until the day Roe was overturned. The first legislative goal was to pass a reasonable law, the Parental Consent Act. It said no abortion can be performed on a girl under the age of 17 without her parents’ knowledge and consent.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court by then allowed states to regulate abortion, but not outlaw it, the abortion industry vehemently opposed the parental consent law. Despite the pro-abortion pressure, the Parental Consent Act passed the S.C. General Assembly in 1990. Abortions declined by 16 percent the next year. With passage of that first pro-life law, it became abundantly clear that pro-life laws save children’s lives.

SCCL persevered with its agenda through the peaceful and legal means of education and legislation and has successfully supported the passage of 16 pro-life laws, including banning doctor-prescribed suicide in 1997-1998.

As we approach our 50th Jubilee anniversary celebration on the Proudly Pro-Life Weekend (Jan. 5-6, 2024), we are grateful to God for the hundreds of thousands of babies’ lives saved in the Palmetto State and nationwide. We also praise our Lord for the June 24, 2022, U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade on the grounds that there is no constitutional right to abortion. The court returned the abortion issue back to the states and to elected leaders.

Does this mean our lifesaving work is finished? Absolutely not. In some ways, with the states now unburdened by the constraints of Roe v. Wade, we are literally starting over with a new pro-life movement that is unique to every state. We are in uncharted territory but have established a solid foundation on which to move forward.

There is an old saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” After the stunning overturning of Roe, the SCCL office is still planning the 50th Stand Up for Life March and Rally, held every year since 1974, regardless of our state’s unpredictable January weather.

We continue to help women and families encounter pro-life truth with our beautiful booth at the State Fair where our baby models have been on display since 1974. We continue to direct women experiencing difficult or crisis pregnancies to the vast network of pro-life resources such at St. Clare’s Home and numerous pregnancy care centers across the state that provide free assistance for pregnant women.

We continue to lobby for legislation that protects the unborn members of our human family at all stages of development. As much progress as we have made with lifesaving laws, we won’t stop — we can’t stop — with the Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act. We will strive to pass the Human Life Protection Act to make South Carolina yet another state where babies are welcomed into life and protected by law.

I became the second executive director of SCCL on Dec. 23, 1973, and vividly recall my first day on the job. On Christmas Eve, 1973, I held my first press conference in response to a front-page newspaper article about a local hospital’s threat to cut off life support from a two-year-old girl whose medical bill had exceeded $1 million. The hospital relented and continued to provide medical care until the child died of natural causes.

The scriptural theme for the jubilee anniversary is “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live,” taken from Deuteronomy 30:19. In 2024, SCCL will honor those who have worked for almost 50 years to overturn Roe, and continue onward, refreshed and eager to restore total respect for human life. 

When we choose life, we are choosing the path of our ancestors and paving the way for our descendants.

Holly Gatling is the executive director of the South Carolina Citizens for Life. Email her at