National Right To Life Committee

National Right To Life Committee is one of the oldest and most powerful anti-abortion groups in the country. NRLC uses its expansive network of local chapters and significant federal clout to swing the law and public opinion towards anti-abortion viewpoints — even if it means employing disinformation.

Summary Extremism Key Players Influence


Founded in 1968, National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) touts itself as the “oldest and largest” grassroots, pro-life organization. The group has state level affiliates in all 50 states, thousands of local chapters, and boasts “hundreds of thousands” of members. National Right To Life’s strategy to reframe the public debate is to push anti-abortion viewpoints based on misleading or false medical science using films and targeted campaigns. NRLC and its leaders coined the term “partial-birth abortion” as well as the theory behind Todd Akin’s infamous “legitimate rape” comment. NRLC also pushes model legislation on the state and federal level to restrict abortion access and mandate medically dubious practices.


A former National Right To Life president originated the theory that a woman’s body can naturally prevent them from getting pregnant from rape.

Former NRLC president John C. Wilke is the creator of the theory that a woman who is raped is less likely to become pregnant.

“Dr. John C. Willke, a general practitioner with obstetric training and a former president of the National Right to Life Committee, was an early proponent of this view, articulating it in a book originally published in 1985 and again in a 1999 article. He reiterated it in an interview Monday. ‘This is a traumatic thing — she’s, shall we say, she’s uptight,’ Dr. Willke said of a woman being raped, adding, ‘She is frightened, tight, and so on. And sperm, if deposited in her vagina, are less likely to be able to fertilize. The tubes are spastic.’” [New York Times 8/21/12]

This theory was later made infamous by Missouri Republican Todd Akin, who claimed that women would not become pregnant from “legitimate rape.”

“It seems to be, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, it’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.” [New York Times 8/20/12]

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National Right To Life promotes the widely debunked notion that abortion can cause “post-abortion syndrome,” death, cancer, and suicide.

National Right To Life promotes the false idea that abortions have numerous physical and physiological side-effects, including death and suicide.

National Right To Life claims abortions “cause post-abortion syndrome,” which it says can lead to drug abuse, “personal relationship disorders” and suicide.

“Researchers on the after-effects of abortion have identified a pattern of psychological problems known as Post-Abortion Syndrome (PAS). Women suffering PAS may experience drug and alcohol abuse, personal relationship disorders, sexual dysfunction, repeated abortions, communications difficulties, damaged self-esteem, and even attempt suicide. Post-Abortion Syndrome appears to be a type of pattern of denial which may last for five to ten years before emotional difficulties surface.” [ Accessed 6/05/19]

National Right To Life claims that abortions can cause death, divorce, and suicide.

“Why is this so? Because induced abortion is the premature, willful, and violent penetration of a closed and safeguarded system — a system in which nearly every cell, tissue and organ of a woman’s reproductive system has been specially transformed and activated to carry out the function of sustaining and nourishing the developing child. Not surprisingly, any violation of the integrity of that system can lead to serious complications. Physical problems range from hemorrhage and infection to sterility and even death. Psychological effects range from depression and mental trauma to divorce and even suicide.” [ Accessed 6/05/19]

National Right To Life: “Nine short months of pregnancy is a relatively small cost to pay in light of a lifetime of potential physical and mental health problems.”

“No doubt an unwanted pregnancy can cause intense stress and hardship in a variety of ways, but, as you’ll read in this booklet, the medical evidence is clear — the physical and psychological consequences of abortion can be far worse. Nine short months of pregnancy is a relatively small cost to pay in light of a lifetime of potential physical and mental health problems.” [ Accessed 6/05/19]

In a 2010 study published in Social Science And Medicine, researchers “found little support for the abortion-as-trauma framework.”

“Because of the potential for confounding, published research claiming to find relations between abortion and poor mental health indicators should be subjected to scrutiny and reanalysis. Using the same data and conducting the same analyses as CCSR (2009), we found that their results were not replicable, nor did our numbers approach theirs in the case of 15 mental health disorders. Moreover, we found little support for the abortion-as-trauma framework. Instead, our findings suggest that structural, psychological, and sociodemographic risk factors associated with both having an abortion and having poor mental health drive a relationship between abortion and mental health. Therefore, policy, practice, and research should focus on addressing the correlates of having mental health problems, such as violence and prior mental health problems.” [Social Science and Medicine, Vol.72, No. 1, pp. 72-82, 10/23/10]

A 2018 American Medical Association study showed “no evidence” that “abortion causes depression.”

“Abortions don’t cause depression…researchers reported Wednesday. The study is the latest to show no evidence that abortion causes depression. Policies that cite damage to mental health as a reason to restrict access to abortion are not based in fact, the researchers wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Psychiatry. “The repercussions of abortion for mental health have been used to justify state policies that limit access to abortion in the United States,” the team, led by Dr. Julia Steinberg of the Department of Family Science at the University of Maryland, wrote….Some anti-abortion-rights groups claim that psychiatrists have a diagnosis called ‘post-abortion syndrome’ or ‘post-abortion stress syndrome’, although no such diagnosis exists in medical texts.” [NBC News, 5/30/18]

National Right To Life falsely claimed that abortions lead to an increased risk of breast cancer

National Right To Life falsely claimed that there is “strong evidence” abortion increases the risk of breast cancer.

“There is strong evidence that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer. A study of more than 1,800 women appearing in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 1994 found that overall, women having abortions increased their risk of getting breast cancer before age 45 by 50%. For women under 18 with no previous pregnancies, having an abortion after the 8th week increased the risk of breast cancer 800%. Women with a family history of breast cancer fared even worse. All 12 women participating in the study who had abortions before 18 and had a family history of breast cancer themselves got cancer before age 45.” [ Accessed 6/05/19]

According to the American Cancer Society, “the scientific evidence does not support the notion that abortion of any kind raises the risk of breast cancer or any other type of cancer.”

“The topic of abortion and breast cancer highlights many of the most challenging aspects of studies of people and how those studies do or do not translate into public health guidelines. The issue of abortion generates passionate viewpoints in many people. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women aside from skin cancer; and breast cancer is the second leading cancer killer in women. Still, the public is not well-served by false alarms. At this time, the scientific evidence does not support the notion that abortion of any kind raises the risk of breast cancer or any other type of cancer.” [American Cancer Society Accessed 6/27/19]

National Right To Life said medication abortions could be even more psychologically damaging than other abortion methods.

National Right To Life said medication abortions are “possibly more devastating [psychologically]” than traditional abortion methods.

“The emergence of chemical abortion methods poses a new possibly more devastating psychological threat. Unlike surgical abortions, in which women rarely see the cut up body parts, women having chemical abortions often do see the complete tiny bodies of their unborn children and are even able to distinguish the child’s developing hands, eyes, etc. So traumatic is this for some women that both patients and researchers involved in these studies have recommended that women unprepared for the experience of seeing their aborted children not take the drugs. Long-term psychological implications of this experience have not been studied.” [ Accessed 6/05/19]

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National Right To Life claimed that abortion providers push abortions on women for profit.

A National Right To Life document claimed that abortion providers push women into abortions for profit — but that so-called crisis pregnancy centers do not “have a vested financial interest” in women’s decisions.

National Right To Life: “How can there be any real safety in an environment where the main concern is to perform as many abortions as possible in order to increase the abortionist’s profit margin?” [ Accessed 6/27/19]

National Right To Life: Unlike their counterparts at the local abortion clinic, the volunteer counselors at your crisis pregnancy center do not have a vested financial interest in the ultimate decision you make.”

“Unlike their counterparts at the local abortion clinic, the volunteer counselors at your Crisis Pregnancy Center do not have a vested financial interest in the ultimate decision you make. Their concern and commitment are genuine, so you can count on them to stick by you through the tense and sometimes difficult months ahead.” [ Accessed 6/05/19]

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Key Players


Carol Tobias

Carol Tobias has served as the president of the National Right To Life Committee since 2005, but has held an executive position with the organization since 1987. She previously served as the organization’s Political Director and was a board member prior to that. Tobias claims she has been involved in Right To Life since her childhood. Tobias’ explicit goal as NRLC president is to “change the law to stop abortion,” whether at the state or federal level, in the legislature or in the judiciary. Tobias recently called abortion “a holocaust which will never be forgotten.”

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National Right To Life produced the 1980s movie The Silent Scream which helped shift public focus towards anti-abortion sentiments.

National Right To Life produced the medically inaccurate movie The Silent Scream, which noticeably advanced anti-abortion viewpoints in the public forum.

National Right To Life produced the 1984 anti-abortion VHS tape The Silent Scream.

“The more pragmatic set found early on that abstract arguments about the sanctity of life didn’t resonate as well with lay Evangelicals as did vivid descriptions of the abortion process. The 1984 video The Silent Scream, produced by the NRLC, purported to show a sonogram of a first-trimester abortion in which the fetus opened its mouth in what the narrator said was a wounded cry.” [The Atlantic 11/18/13]

Time Magazine: “The Silent Scream helped to shift the public focus from the horror stories of women who had suffered back-alley abortions to the horror movie of a fetus undergoing one.”

“Lawmakers and activists opposed to abortion naturally want to make sure that women know as much as possible about the procedure, the risks, and the alternatives. Each layer of restriction, from waiting periods to parental notification, reinforces the message that this is not a decision to be made lightly. The movement to make ultrasounds more available reflects the belief that women who see an image, watch a heart beat, are much less likely to go through with an abortion. More than 20 years ago, the video The Silent Scream helped to shift the public focus from the horror stories of women who had suffered back-alley abortions to the horror movie of a fetus undergoing one.” [Time, 12/06/06]

Medical experts have criticized The Silent Scream for being misleading and inaccurate.

“Not according to those five medical experts. Said Dr. John Hobbins of the Yale University School of Medicine: ‘There is no evidence . . . to indicate that the fetus has the capability of purposeful movement, has the capability to perceive the things that (Dr. Nathanson) said it was perceiving, to struggle against whatever he said it was struggling against.’ From Dr. Fay Redwine of the Medical College of Virginia: ‘Any of us could show you the same image in a fetus who is not being aborted.’ From Dr. Jennifer Niebyl of the John Hopkins School of Medicine: ‘’The fetus, at this gestational age, is really exhibiting strictly reflex activity.’” [New York Times 3/11/85]

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National Right To Life has a sprawling membership and a strong presence at the state and local levels via its local chapters and affiliates.

National Right To Life has state affiliates in all 50 states. [ Accessed 6/27/19]

 National Right To Life boasts “thousands” of community chapters and “hundreds of thousands” of members across its entire network.

“National Right to Life welcomes all people to join us in this great cause.  Our nation-wide network of 50 affiliated state groups, thousands of community chapters, hundreds of thousands of members and millions of individual supporters all across the country act on the information they receive from us.” [ Accessed 6/27/19]

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National Right To Life develops model legislation and pushes it on the state level, leading to numerous laws restricting abortion and endangering women.

National Right To Life uses its extensive state-level network to push its numerous model bills to state politicians.

National Right To Life has produced model bills since the 1980s and offers 35 different model bills.

“Some anti-abortion groups — such as Americans United for Life, National Right to Life and the Susan B. Anthony List — have been refining their model bills over decades of work. For instance, National Right to Life, which operated on an annual budget of $3.6 million in 2018, began drafting model bills in 1980s and now has 35 measures, including the ‘Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act’ that bans abortion after 20 weeks into pregnancy.” [USA Today 6/20/19]

National Right to Life works directly with its state affiliates to pass anti-abortion legislation.

“The Department of State Legislation works with National Right to Life’s state affiliates to draft legislation and pass protective pro-life laws at the state level that protect mothers and their unborn children.” [ Accessed 6/27/19]

National Right To Life’s primary state legislative goal is passing 20-week abortion bans based on medically inaccurate theories — at which it succeeded in 18 states.

National Right To Life’s “number one legislative priority” has been the passage of a 20-week abortion ban.

“For example, National Right to Life’s number one legislative priority has been the ‘Pain- Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.’ Passed first in Nebraska in 2010, this hugely important law protects from abortion those unborn children who are capable of feeling pain—20 weeks after fertilization, according to substantial medical evidence.” [ Accessed 6/27/19]

According to Rewire News, there are 18 states that adopted 20-week abortion bans based on National Right To Life’s model legislation as of June 2019. [Rewire.News Accessed 6/27/19]

National Right To Life’s 20-week abortion bans rest on the concept of “fetal pain”…

“The most popular legislative model banning abortion at 20 weeks is the ‘Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,’ based on model legislation authored by the National Right to Life Committee. Congress and several states have introduced legislation based on this model, which is premised on the medically disproven theory that fetuses at this stage are capable of feeling pain. The National Right to Life’s argument is based on a few selected studies, but the medical consensus is that a fetus’ nervous system is not developed until the third trimester.” [Rewire.News Accessed 6/27/19]

…But “fetal pain” as NRLC and its allies define it is not supported by medical science.

“The most comprehensive look at fetal pain to date was a literature review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2005. According to the review, the structures needed for fetuses to feel pain begin to develop between 23 and 30 weeks’ gestation, and studies of premature babies suggest they can’t feel pain until 29 or 30 weeks. While this review is now 12 years old, it still holds true — ‘no research since its publication has contradicted its findings,” wrote Mark S. DeFrancesco on behalf of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in 2015.’” [Vox 1/29/18]

National Right To Life pushed a law requiring physicians to share a medically unproven anti-abortion theory to patients in nine states.

As of June 2019, nine states have passed laws modeled on NRLC bills that require physicians to tell their patients about “abortion reversal”…

“An informed consent law that requires abortion facilities to inform a woman prior to or soon after the first step of a chemical abortion that if she changes her mind, it may be possible to reverse the effects of the chemical abortion, but that time is of the essence. Currently nine (9) states have enacted laws requiring this information to be provided.” [ Accessed 6/27/19]

[ Accessed 6/27/19]

…But according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “abortion reversal” is a medically unproven procedure.

“That means that groups like APR can claim to be “reversing” abortions in cases where pregnancies are simply continuing as they normally would. Simply put, it would be akin to taking credit for a coin flip. Or, as ACOG observed, ‘Available research seems to indicate that in the rare situation where a woman takes mifepristone and then changes her mind, doing nothing and waiting to see what happens is just as effective as intervening with a course of progesterone.’” [The Daily Beast 4/13/17]

A model bill from National Right To Life that would likely put women at risk became law in 12 states.

12 states passed laws based on NRLC model legislation that would ban a specific type of abortion procedure as of June 2019…

[ Accessed 6/27/19]

…And banning this procedure could put women at risk and lead to worsened health outcomes.

“Efforts to ban specific types of procedures will limit the ability of physicians to provide women with the medically appropriate care they need, and will likely result in worsened outcomes and increased complications. These legislative efforts are based on nonmedical, subjective language. This language will create confusion, thus putting women at risk and, in certain cases, actually leading to abortion later in pregnancy.” [American College of Obstetricians And Gynecologists 10/09/15]

A bill based on National Right To Life legislation that aims to criminalize abortion providers passed in Texas and is also being considered in six other states.

In April 2019, seven states, including Texas, were debating bills that would criminalize abortion providers based on NRLC model legislation…

“Texas and six other states are debating similar bills based on model legislation from National Right to Life that would impose fines and prison sentences on physicians and nurses who neglect an infant surviving an abortion.” [Politico 4/20/19]

…Texas signed its bill into law in June 2019.

“Gov. Greg Abbott has approved a bill that would penalize a physician who fails to treat an infant born alive after an abortion. Without fanfare, Abbott signed House Bill 16 into law on Friday. It takes effect on Sept. 1.” [Dallas Morning News 6/17/19]

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National Right To Life created the term “partial-birth” abortion, which ultimately led to the first SCOTUS decision to uphold an abortion restriction without a health exception since Roe v. Wade.

National Right To Life developed the term “partial-birth” abortion and ran a coordinated campaign to swing public opinion against abortion in the mid-1990s…

 In the mid-1990s, NRLC coined the “partial-birth” abortion…

“The term was first coined by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) in 1995 to describe a recently introduced medical procedure to remove fetuses from the womb. Alternately known as ‘dilation and extraction,’ or D&X, and ‘intact D&E,’ it involves removing the fetus intact by dilating a pregnant woman’s cervix, then pulling the entire body out through the birth canal.” [NPR 2/21/06]

…NLRC then ran a coordinated advertisement campaign to disseminate the term to the public in hopes of building up general anti-abortion sentiment.

“After a physician presented a paper at a conference of the National Abortion Federation describing the new procedure, the NRLC commissioned drawings to illustrate it and published them in booklet form, as well as placing them as paid advertisements in newspapers to build public opposition. In an interview with The New Republic magazine in 1996, the NRLC’s Douglas Johnson explained that the term was thought up in hopes that ‘as the public learns what a ‘partial-birth abortion’ is, they might also learn something about other abortion methods, and that this would foster a growing opposition to abortion.’” [NPR 2/21/06]

…National Right To Life’s campaign led to George W. Bush signing into law the “Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act,” which banned a specific abortion.

In 2003, then-president George W. Bush signed into law the “Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act,” the “first ever federal law to ban an abortion procedure.”

“The first-ever federal law to ban an abortion procedure was signed by President Bush on Wednesday and is scheduled to take effect today despite a federal judge’s assessment that it is probably unconstitutional. Abortion-rights groups pleaded with judges in three states to block enforcement of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 but won only a single, limited ruling: a temporary restraining order by a federal judge in Lincoln, Neb., protecting four doctors and their associates from prosecution under the law.” [San Francisco Chronicle 11/06/03]

The act is written “to prohibit the procedure commonly known as partial-birth abortion.” [ 11/05/03]

The “partial-birth” abortion ban was upheld by The Supreme Court — the first time the court upheld an abortion restriction without a health exception since Roe v. Wade.

The Supreme Court upheld the “partial birth abortion ban act” in 2007.

“The Supreme Court narrowly upheld a federal law today banning a controversial abortion procedure, giving the anti-abortion movement one of its biggest legal victories in years. The justices ruled, 5 to 4, that a law passed by Congress in 2003 and signed by President Bush does not violate the Constitution by imposing an undue burden on a woman’s right to end a pregnancy. The majority said its ruling reflects the government’s ‘legitimate, substantial interest in preserving and promoting fetal life.’” [New York Times 4/18/07]

 The American Bar Association: “Significantly, this was the first case in which the Supreme Court upheld an abortion restriction without a health exception since Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. (1973).” [American Bar Association, 7/13/18]


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National Right To Life Committee’s Tennessee Chapter Met Virtually With GOP State Legislators On Tennessee’s Total Abortion Ban.

A Tennessee Right To Life Lobbyist Urged Lawmakers To “Play Offense” And Not Rewrite Tennessee’s Abortion Ban To Include Clearer Exceptions. “Opening the call, [Will] Brewer, the legal counsel and lobbyist for Tennessee Right to Life, implored lawmakers not to tell the press that they had only voted for the law because they thought Roe would never be overturned. He urged them not to agree to any calls for clarification or new exceptions. Instead, he advised lawmakers to wait for any backlash to die down and to continue to “play offense” in the abortion wars.” [ProPublica, 11/15/22]

The Same Lobbyist Said Having A High-Risk Medical History Doesn’t Constitute Emergency Need For Abortion. “Brewer contrasted an ‘emergency room middle of the night instance, where a woman is bleeding’ — which he made clear he believes the law’s affirmative defense covers — with a situation where a woman might want to terminate a pregnancy because of a high-risk medical history. ‘That is not an urgent need,’ he said. ‘We want to make sure that these quasi-elective abortions are being stopped.’” [ProPublica, 11/15/22]

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