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On January 22, 1973, I was manning a pro-life information table in the student union building of West Virginia University. On my way to the student union building, I had heard on the car radio that the U.S. Supreme Court had issued its Roe v. Wade decision; but it wasn't yet clear to me what the ruling meant. As I sat at the information table, a young woman waltzed by, telling me in so many words, "You can go home now. The Supreme Court just made abortion legal." But I never went "home" to leave the battle for others to fight.

Actually, it could have been tempting to throw up my hands and go on to other things. The right-to-life movement in West Virginia was weak, and the dominant Democrats considered pro-lifers an ineffectual nuisance. Whenever we thought we were making headway with a pro-life bill, some pro-abortion committee chairman or AFL-CIO lobbyist would put a quick end to our efforts.

Today, 32 years later, the situation has changed dramaticallyin contrast to the attitudes of the national Democratic Party leadership: The Democratic governor is pro-life. The Democratic senate president is pro-life. The Democratic speaker of the House of Delegates is pro-life. The W. Va. Senate and the House of Delegates have solid (bipartisan) pro-life majorities. The two Democratic congressmen reliably vote pro-life (the third, a Republican, declared herself to be "pro-choice" but often votes pro-life). Politicians of both parties eagerly seek the endorsement of West Virginians for Life PAC. And pro-life President George W. Bush won West Virginia in both 2000 and 2004.

There are still a couple of big rocks in West Virginia's otherwise productive pro-life vineyard: the W.V. Supreme Court (though one pro-abortion justice got elected out of office in 2004) and West Virginia's representation in the U.S. Senate (Senator Jay Rockefeller is a dedicated pro-abortionist, and Senator Robert Byrd is only an occasional supporter of pro-life legislation).

The point of telling you this is to pay tribute to Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL) for their crucial, but little known, start-up help through their "Mission Possible" program and praise my fellow West Virginians for their sacrificial and patient work. The growth of West Virginians for Life (WVFL) into a politically and culturally potent organization, as a consequence of hard work and sound strategy, can serve as an encouraging example for other NRLC chapters.

In 1974, WVFL was no more than a loose confederation of a few local right-to-life groups that had aligned themselves with NRLC. Along the way I had become the leader of the state group, representing it at one of NRLC's board meetings. There I met Dr. David O'Steen and Darla St. Martin, then the executive director and the associate executive director of MCCL, respectively, (and currently holding the corresponding positions at NRLC). They told me about their "Mission Possible" program. Mission Possible's purpose was to provide seed money (in the form of matching grants generously provided by MCCL from its meager resources) and organizational expertise to pro-life groups in the southeastern states. Although the right-to-life groups in this region tended to be poorly organized and politically weak, the people were socially conservative and therefore intrinsically pro-life. Thus, there was great potential for effective pro-life organizations.

Dr. David O'Steen and Darla St. Martin came to the first state convention of WVFL in 1975 and held a leadership workshop on the nuts and bolts of pro-life work: chapter organization, membership building, pro-life education, election activities, and lobbying. Later they gave us a check for $3,000 from MCCL as a start-up loan (convertible into an outright grant if we raised a matching amountwhich we did with some effort), stationery (we still use that beautiful logo), and the design for an effective brochure. With that and a few hundred names on our mailing list we worked hard to get to the next level.

West Virginia fit the profile of a Mission Possible state, except for one thing: While the Democratic Party was declining in other southeastern states, it was becoming more dominant in West Virginia as the state drifted towards nearly one-party status, starting in the mid-seventies.

The reason for this was two-fold: First, the steel, chemical, and glass industries had not yet declined; hence the AFL-CIO still had a lot of clout at election time (when the leadership mostly endorsed pro-abortion Democrats). Second, with his drive to be elected governor, John D. Rockefeller IV, the son of the champion of eugenics and abortion John D. Rockefeller 3rd, began to fund (or "buy") the Democratic Party machine in West Virginia. Consequently, politically ambitious young men and women wanted to be Democrats, seeking the patronage of Jay Rockefeller. After two terms as governor, Jay Rockefeller successfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 1984, leaving a hard-core pro-abortion leadership in the Democratic Party as his parting gift to our unfortunate state.

It was around that time, that I decided that the organization had grown too slowly and that I needed help and could no longer run WVFL from a room in my home. I leased a small office and hired a young woman, Karen Cross, as the secretary and manager of WVFL. Soon Karen officially became the executive director of the organization. Karen, underpaid but determined, embarked on a two-decade long, relentless chapter/membership development and lobbying drive. And with the increasing clout of pro-life grass roots power, the voters of West Virginia sent more and more of the pro-abortionists in the legislature packing. For this fortunate development we can thank Karen Cross, the dedicated staff at WVFL, and the hard-working chapter leaders and volunteers Karen kept recruiting and organizing.

Now Karen Cross has resigned from her position as executive director of West Virginians for Life to succeed the great Carol Tobias as director of NRL PAC. This is a great loss for West Virginians for Lifeand a great gain for NRLC, because Karen will bring great energy, organizational skill, and political experience to her new job. Pray for her to succeed in this new endeavor.

It seems that MCCL's Mission Possible grant to West Virginians for Life was a successful long-term investment.
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Publication:National Right to Life News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2005
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