From North Dakota to Washington D.C., Carol Tobias has been defending life since her childhood. Now the president of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), Tobias is a leading advocate for laws in both state and federal legislatures that defend the unborn. NRLC is one of the oldest and largest pro-life organizations in the United States.
In an interview Thursday with LifeNews, Tobias explained her personal journey in the pro-life movement, including her connection to former NRLC president Mildred Jefferson, who made history in the United States as the first African American woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School. Tobias also discussed the goals of NRLC for 2018.
LifeNews: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself. How did you get involved with the National Right to Life Committee and how you ended up becoming the president?
Tobias: I grew up in North Dakota, and my parents were involved in the pro-life movement with North Dakota Right to Life. National Right to Life has an affiliate in each of the 50 states. When I got older, I got involved in one of our local chapters, and then I was hired to become executive director of the state office in Bismarck. So, I did a little bit of everything—lobbying legislators, public speaking, raising some money, membership, helping organize chapters. It was a great job, and I got to know more and more the wonderful people of North Dakota. But through that job I also met people at National Right to Life. And when a position opened for political director, I was hired. So I did that for 14 years, and then I met my wonderful husband in Washington, and we got married. And then I stayed on the board of National Right to Life, and was elected president in 2011.
It was a great group of people to be working with. I love our structure with all the affiliates and the chapters and the wonderful volunteers all over the country.
LifeNews: You are a member of the Lutheran church, correct?
Tobias: Yes. Lutheran church, Missouri synod. One of the strongest pro-life church bodies in the country.
LifeNews: What influence did that have on the work you’re doing?
Tobias: I would say my faith in general has a huge impact on my life. And you can’t read Psalm 139 and not be impacted by the realization that all human life is created by God, and we’re destroying his creation when we allow abortion.
LifeNews: Can you tell me how National Right to Life started, how it was founded, what inspired it to begin?
Tobias: Some of the states were starting to change their laws back in the 1960s, so were efforts to make abortion legal in some of the state legislatures, and the very first state to actually change their law was Colorado back in 1967. People around the country were getting, of course, concerned that there’s this movement that needed to be stopped.
So people started popping up in the various states working in their legislatures, and people just thought, we need to make this more of a national, coordinated effort. Alex and Geline Williams in Virginia, in Richmond, were among the first to get involved, and instrumental in helping to form the national organization. Actually the first National Right to Life newsletter was printed in 1968 at Alex Williams’ print shop in Richmond, Virginia. So it was an effort of people around the country realizing that they needed to do more of a sustained, organized, coordinated national effort.
LifeNews: In light of February being Black History Month, can you tell me a little bit about one of the former presidents, Mildred Jefferson?
Tobias: I did know Mildred. She was president of National Right to Life and then she also served on our board of directors for many years. She was an amazing woman. She was small, you know-petite, but she had so much energy. She was very intelligent, she knew how to put words together – she kind of made the words sing. She was so eloquent. And she really was a blessing to the movement.
To think that this is the very first African-American woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School, and then for her to put so much time and effort to the pro-life movement, because she understood the dangers we are facing, not just the African-American community, but all the innocent helpless little babies.
LifeNews:What are the 2018 goals of National Right to Life?
Tobias: Our overall goal is to change the law. It’s possible, but not very likely, that even if abortion was legal, abortions wouldn’t be performed. I think that would be great. Even if abortion’s legal, nobody wants one. But I don’t see that happening.
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So our goal is to actually change the law to stop abortion. And we kind of work backwards. How’s that going to happen? Most likely by the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. How do you make that happen? You have to get the right people appointed to the Supreme Court, which means you have to have a pro-life president to nominate the judges, and a pro-life Senate to confirm them. So by backing everything up, the goal for 2018 has to be to pick up more pro-life Senate seats.
The Senate, of course, is top priority because that’s where the judges go through, but we need to keep the House of Representatives in pro-life hands so that we can pass legislation, so that is our overriding goal for 2018.
We certainly are looking to pass pro-life legislation in Congress, but at this point we know that the Senate is going to stall everything because pro-abortion Democrats are not going to let real pro-life measures get through.
We have a very active state legislative program, and a lot of our state affiliates are working to pass a ban on dismemberment abortions. Another goal is changing their right-to-know laws so that a woman who is seeking a medical abortion has to be told that if she acts quickly enough that there is a chance that she can reverse that medical process and save her baby if she changes her mind.
And of course we want every candidate to be focusing on whether unborn babies who feel pain should be aborted, because we know that there’s a tremendous amount of support in the country for the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. 56 percent of all Democrats who identify as Democrats and identify as pro-choice would be okay with stopping abortion once the baby has developed to the point where they can feel pain. We want people focusing on how a baby can feel pain when they’re going into the voting booth.
LifeNews: What are some major obstacles to accomplishing those goals?
Tobias: I think sometimes people who’ve been fighting for so long in the pro-life movement just kind of get tired. We’ve been doing this for so long, are we ever going to win? So I want them to get rejuvenated, energized.
Yes, we are winning. We’ve got more and more people coming our way, we’ve got more and more young people joining the pro-life movement. This is the time that we really need to push forward and do whatever we can to pass pro-life legislation, educate our fellow citizens whether it’s a fellow church family/member, our own family, the community outreach to various clubs, organizations, booths at fairs, you know—everything we can be doing to educate people about the humanity of the unborn child, and encouraging them to take that conviction and that education into the voting booth. It all ties together.
LifeNews: What are some of the biggest highlights of these past few years with President Donald Trump’s presidency that have really helped the pro-life movement?
Tobias: His appointment of judges who understand the Constitution, because killing babies is certainly not in the Constitution. So I think that is President Trump’s biggest contribution to this whole battle. And of course we’ve got a wonderful Senate who’s confirming them as fast as they can.
And he’s also made a strong statement by telling the world our tax dollars are not going to go to organizations that perform or promote abortions. You know, making a clear stand that America is not going to go into other countries and kill their babies. There are other ways to help them. And the appointments that he has made putting pro-life people into important positions in the government where decisions are made—he’s done a great job.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.