From the Beginning
By Marlene Reid
Editor’s note: HLA President Emeritus Marlene Reid, first presented this history of the pro-life movement to national leaders in Washington, D.C. on January 25, 2011.
The late Alice Hartle is known as the Mother of the Minnesota pro-life movement.
In 1967, Alice Hartle was a full-time homemaker and mother of nine children, married to Dr. George Hartle, a veterinarian, residing in Saint Joseph, MN. One morning, Alice noticed a small article in the newspaper describing hearings at the Minnesota legislature on a bill to legalize abortion in our state in cases of “rape, incest, health of the mother, and birth defects.”
One of those who had testified for the proposed change was the mother of a two-year-old Rubella child who was born with birth defects because the mother had been exposed to Rubella measles while the child was in utero. For Alice, that was the clincher. The issue of a Rubella child was near and dear to her heart. George and Alice’s daughter Mary was also a Rubella baby, born with congenital cataracts and a heart lesion. She had surgery when she was 10 months old and was legally blind. At that time, Mary had graduated from Macalester College, Magna Cum Laude, and was working for the State Department of Human Rights.
After Alice read the article, she called the chairman of the committee and asked to testify. Alice said that prior to this experience she had been busy with her big family, had no interest in politics, and didn’t know a Democrat from a Republican. What’s more, she had never even visited the Capitol before, but felt compelled to testify. She did; the bill failed; and she went home to resume her homemaker tasks.
The Hartles were neighbors to Dr. Fred and Marjory Mecklenberg. Alice and Marjory began discussing abortion and the storm that was brewing around the legalization efforts. Another pro-abortion bill surfaced in 1968. Alice again testified and this bill too was defeated. But, Alice and Marjory decided that something needed to be done, an organization had to be formed to fight the continuing legalization efforts that would be coming down the pike. The first meetings took place in the Hartle’s home. The core group consisted of the Hartles, the Mecklenbergs, Kevin Powers, and Father Hunt, a Catholic priest. From these humble beginnings Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL) was born.
Fred Mecklenberg was elected President. Fred, an OB-GYN doctor, previously a Planned Parenthood supporter, and Marjory were Methodists. I am told Fred’s election was a deliberate move to elect a Protestant to dispel the myth being promoted by the abortion advocates that the Catholic Church was the only organized religion opposed to abortion. Alice was Vice-President, Board Member, newsletter editor, and chief lobbyist.
We claim that National-Right-to-Life had its roots in Minnesota. The pro-life movement was spontaneously coming to life across the country, with particularly heavy grassroots volunteer involvement in five or six states. Networking began. Marjory went on to make a national impact. During the Reagan Administration she was appointed Director of the Office of Adolescent Pregnancy.
Meanwhile, our Minnesota ground-breaking pro-life activist, Alice Hartle, who as a young woman had been a reporter for The Minneapolis Star and Tribune, became the first editor of the National Right to Life News. It was published in Saint Paul. Anna Lawler, another HLA Founder, and delegate to the first National Right to Life Convention in Detroit, remembers accompanying Alice to the Union print shop to proof the galleys. She explains that these Union printers were pro-life Democrats who were strongly committed to the cause.
In 1977, Alice Hartle helped “give birth” once again as a Founding Member of Human Life Alliance (HLA). HLA was born out of controversy. Recognizing this split is a necessary part of understanding the history of the pro-life movement, not only in Minnesota, but nationwide. In 1976, there was a power grab by a few MCCL insiders in which out-state proxy votes were garnered to purge its large Board of “excess” members. Many of the stalwarts who were given their walking papers had been Founding Members of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL). This left these leaders on the outside looking for a way to advance the pro-life cause. Human Life Alliance was born. The first list of HLA founders, officers and Members of the Board looks like a “Who’s Who” of former MCCL activists.
I will mention just a few more: Mary Ann Kuharski was elected HLA President. Besides being a former MCCL speaker and Director, she was a volunteer lobbyist for Minneapolis Birthright. Mary Ann later founded, and became the Executive Director of Pro-Life Across America, the national billboard organization.
Mary Senander was a pioneer, on the cutting edge, of fighting euthanasia. She is co-author of This’ll Kill You, a slide presentation endorsed by the National Bishops’ Respect Life Committee, author of several books, guest of national radio and TV programs such as the Phil Donohue show, one of the founders, as well as newsletter editor of the Anti-Euthanasia Task Force, and co-editor of HLA’s first euthanasia supplement, a 12-page eye-opening expose of the death peddlers’ mercy killing agenda.
HLA founder Erma Craven was an officer of Social Workers for Life, and Founder of Black Americans for Life. Erma gave the nominating speech for Ellen McCormack for President at the National Democratic Convention in 1976. Ellen McCormack was running strictly on a Pro-life platform. She received 22 delegate votes on the 1st ballot.
Mary Prior carried the HLA banner as a strong voice within the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women, and was a force to be reckoned with at the Minnesota legislature on life and family issues. She gave seminars on effective lobbying, and was a mentor to many followers.
Along the way, Human Life Alliance spawned other organizations. For instance, when Planned Parenthood was planning to get its foot in the door, and establish an abortion clinic in Saint Paul, HLAer Dorothy Fleming spear-headed the opposition and helped form an activist group called Citizens for Community Action (CCA). After discarded aborted fetuses were discovered in a Twin Cities dumpster, it was CCA, joining forces with HLA, that successfully shepherded a bill through the legislature to mandate proper disposal of aborted babies.
Two dedicated HLAers, later to form the Franciscan Brothers of Peace, Paul O’Donnell and Mike Jaworski (both now deceased), decided to leave Human Life Alliance to concentrate on sidewalk counseling. Their founding organization was named P.E.A.C.E. which subsequently grew into Pro-Life Action Ministries (PLAM). Brian Gibson is the long-time Executive Director of PLAM. They schedule sidewalk counselors and prayer soldiers while the abortion mills are operating.
Human Life Alliance was incorporated in Minnesota on April 2, 1977. The determination of the Founders to never again allow a major take-over in the ranks was the basis for the member-representative, totally democratic structure of the organization reflected in the original By-Laws. For at least a decade, HLA functioned with only volunteers, and did an amazing job “as movers and shakers” in the pro-life movement. Human Life Alliance, from day one, was conceived and structured as an organization with a three-pronged objective: a) to restore legal protection to the unborn; b) to oppose active and passive euthanasia; and c) promote abstinence/chastity. This objective remains the same today, accomplished through a massive national and international educational outreach.
EDUCATE! INFORM! RAISE PUBLIC AWARENESS!
HLA had, and has, just the tools to do it! An early campaign consisted of buying and placing bus ads. These big moving billboards carried HLA’s powerful pro-life messages on as many as 50 metropolitan buses at one time. One slogan, as true today as it was then, read: SOME BABIES DIE BY CHANCE – NO BABY SHOULD DIE BY CHOICE! Ironically, it was one these buses, sporting an HLA billboard, which was sent to pick up pro-life protesters who were being arrested for a sit-in at an abortion mill.
Of course today our tools are the HLA supplements and magazines, publications so effective and so professional that they have been called, “Madison Avenue advertising on a meager pro-life budget.”
But, I need to flash back! My first active involvement was as the newsletter editor. Then I was elected Vice-President. I guess, by that time, the founders were getting weary, even questioning the feasibility of HLA’s continuing. So, there was an identity crisis! The membership numbers were low. The Treasury was even lower. A contingency of board members wanted to disband. I wasn’t about to let that happen. I could see HLA’s potential. I argued, “Hey guys, you have accomplished so much just working from your kitchen tables. You can’t quit now! HLA just needs a fresh push!” Guess what? I was elected President!
HLA SURVIVED AND THRIVED!
I was familiar with the writings and lectures of Dr. Bernard Nathanson, former abortionist, turned pro-life advocate. He had been revealing the tactics that NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) had used so effectively to strike down pro-life laws in New York and nationwide. The tactics are summarized here:
- a) NARAL played the Catholic card. We couldn’t do much about that one. We assumed that God would be sending Father Frank Pavone along to refute the propaganda that the hierarchy was the villain, and that the Catholic Church was the only organized religion opposing abortion;
- b) NARAL leaders had told out-and-out lies, fabricating polls and publishing false statistics;
- c) NARAL had denigrated all scientific evidence about the development and medical knowledge of the preborn child;
- d) NARAL captured the media—to drumfire the lies into the consciousness of the American public, and to promote NARAL’s deceptive rhetoric.
“Heck,” I thought. “We just have to undo those lies, set the record straight, educate on the humanity of the preborn child, and get the public to come to grips with the cold reality and cruel consequences of abortion. “Once the media hear the truthful, reasonable message often enough,” I argued, “Everything will change, and protection will be restored to preborn children.”
I guess I, and my colleagues, were somewhat naïve! But, to accomplish the turn-around we envisioned, the first HLA supplement, She’s A Child, Not A Choice was born. Yes, in the process we were trying to denigrate the word “Choice” as the deceptive rhetoric it is. We thought, and still maintain, that the abortion advocates had been brilliant in coining the phrase “Pro-Choice” and that pro-lifers had been unwise in latching onto it, in the process helping promote the abortionists’ euphemistic propaganda. To deny “pro-choice” sounds as if one of our great American freedoms is being attacked. Instead, in reality, the “choice” is between a dead baby and a live baby. What’s so all-American about that?
We sent this 12-page publication out to do a yeoman’s job. First of all, we were beating the media at their own game. While the pro-life message was blacked-out by the mainstream media, they couldn’t resist our revenue, whereby payment for the insertion of a supplement was dangled before the editors and advertising agents. We found this to be especially true of the campus newspapers where we could reach HLA’s most prevalent target audience. To give credit where credit is due, it was at the suggestion of the late California pro-life leader, John Finn, that the campus distribution project was conceived and became so monumental. HLA began reaching millions. John’s efforts in helping with the early fundraising were absolutely key to building a base for success.
I don’t have to tell you that this first version of the HLA supplement, jam-packed with pro-life information and celebrating the humanity of the preborn child, didn’t undo all of NARAL’s nasty unscrupulous tactics. Neither did the second, nor the third! But, from the day these supplements started rolling off the presses they began making a dent. And those dents today are much bigger than fender-benders. Our testimonials of lives saved, and minds and hearts changed, attest to this fact. The former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor once made the statement to the effect that Roe v. Wade is on a collision course with itself. With a rough estimate of HLA’s publications having reached over 213.9 million readers, we at HLA are justifiably confident that we are helping bring on that final fatal collision.
The testimonials that consistently pour into the HLA office, via email, snail mail, phone calls, person-to-person, and every other sundry means of communication, fall into five categories:
- a) Reports of babies who lives were spared because the mother was persuaded to carry her baby to term after having been exposed to an HLA supplement; only God knows the total number, but judging from testimonies, it is significant;
- b) Minds and hearts changed to a pro-life stance; some who were on the fence; others who converted completely from pro-abortion to pro-life; numerable converts offering to join and work in the pro-life movement;
- c) Profuse thanks from pro-lifers who never before had the facts and statistics before them that could be used in arguments, essays, presentations, or debates; truthful facts give them the “courage of their convictions”;
- d) Women who have undergone the trauma and guilt of an abortion, or men who have pressured a spouse or girlfriend into having an abortion; grateful respondents who realize others will be spared the suffering they have endured because of HLA’s educational efforts; HLA provides materials to, and networks with, Pregnancy Resource Centers, as with all pro-life organizations; post-abortive women, including past President Julie Niccum, have found a welcome home with HLA;
- e) Hard-core abortion advocates who rail against HLA for daring to print the truth (for pricking his/her conscience); these diatribes are often written by someone who has read the entire supplement word for word—just what we hoped they would do!
These testimonials are always encouraging and rewarding! They sum up some of the effects of distributing the HLA supplement which applies to the abortion issue. This publication is revised each year with a new cover, new format, up-to-date information, and the latest “Madison Avenue” graphics to appeal to the current crop of co-eds and potential readers. In addition, HLA has published a supplement exposing Planned Parenthood’s targeting of minority communities. It is this publication that has helped alert the general public and other pro-lifers to the practice of modern day genocide.
However, an HLA history would not be complete without giving at least an honorable mention to HLA’s other publications which have produced similar positive outcomes. Several versions of the supplement, Imposed Death, edited by Julie Grimstad (first version co-edited by Mary Senander) have been billed as “Everything you ever wanted to know about euthanasia, but didn’t know who to ask!” This billing accurately describes the powerful information contained therein, and gives a hint of the influence it has generated as it continues to be a force to be reckoned with. In this day of awareness of the “cost containment” issue in health care, with potential rationing of treatment, and the loss of respect for human life at all stages, it couldn’t be any more pertinent.
It has long been a recognized fact that promiscuity leads to a demand for abortion as a back-up birth control. With the promotion of abstinence being one of the tines of HLA’s 3-pronged objective, it was only a matter of time and resources until the magazine Just4Girls/Just4Guys came to life under the guidance of HLA’s capable staff. Its graphics and inviting format encourage readership. The message not only resonates with the young adults who devour it, but has struck a chord with Health Educators, even those in public schools. It presents facts young people need to know to help them make wise decisions and has become one of HLA’s most in-demand publications.
Human Life Alliance has remained an organization strongly dedicated to, and dependent upon, volunteer help, volunteers who see their efforts as part of “a higher calling.” As a result, we have been able to keep administrative costs exceptionally low. Our donors appreciate the fact that their hard-earned funds go directly into HLA’s life-saving, life-affirming work. In the past five years, we bought a building to expand HLA’s outreach, which is already reaching to all corners of the earth (to our utter amazement and to the Holy Spirit’s credit). This building gives us valuable warehousing space for storing, and ready access to, our publications, as well as the over-all capacity for bigger and better pro-life accomplishments in the future.
Over the years, HLA has received many compliments, thanks, and kudos for our work, but perhaps the one we hear the most often, in one form or another, is: “I perceive Human Life Alliance to be different. You are not preaching to the choir. You are truly educating the grassroots and raising public awareness.”
Thanks for the first 40 years HLA. Here’s looking forward to a hopeful pro-life future.