Carol Tobias' life work was realized when Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court last month. This decision ended federal protections for abortion rights, and 50 years worth of precedent.
Tobias and National Right to Life, like all the other anti-abortionists, look ahead to what's next. They want to see strict bans passed in states that have friendly governors and legislatures. The group will advocate laws that allow medically induced abortions to be performed with informed consent.
Tobias stated in a recent interview that he was not worried about pro-lifers sitting on their hands and letting everything slide away.
Tobias has been the president of NRLC for 11 years. She has also spent a lot of time in the organization at the state and national levels.
When she was a teenager, her activism began with anti-abortion rallies attended by her parents. People who know this reserved executive say that she prefers to work behind the scenes. She helps set the tone and mediates the group's debates.
Mike Gonidakis of Ohio Right to Life, which is one of the organization's chapters, said that "She's been a steadie hand for the prolife movement." She doesn't push the buttons, so to speak. She doesn't always want the spotlight. She does her job and doesn’t care who gets the credit.
He said, "And in this day and age flashy social media that's not Carol Tobias, and I'm complimenting that for that," he continued. "Carol and her staff, wisely, did their jobs and went home.
NRLC boasts 50 chapters in 50 states. It was founded in late 1960s and has its first state subsidiary. This group has spent decades working to advance model legislation for friendly legislators. It also shaped how abortion is dealt with in the United States and connected grassroots anti-abortion activists with the larger political movement.
Many of these laws were created with the hope of being challenged in court and causing the Supreme Court to remove the Roe abortion rights protections and force the court reconsider its constitutionality.
She stated that she believed that the whole of laying the foundation for court cases year after years was a great accomplishment. Judges and I'm certain the Supreme Court must have, I suppose, gotten tired of all the cases." "But I believe that was a great precursor" to Dobbs' decision.
Many of the NRLC's activities took place behind closed doors, and were not visible to the public.
"People don't know what went on behind the scenes to get us there," Michael Ciccocioppo (executive director of Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation), an NRLC state chapter said in an interview. But I can tell ya that in many, many cases it was National Right to Life's staff in Washington, working with state affiliates, that made a huge difference in what has happened.
During Tobias' tenure as the organization's political chief, NRLC was credited for coining the term "partial-birth abortion" in the mid-1990s to describe a new medical procedure that involved removing fetuses intact from the womb. This role played a crucial part in the 2003 "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act", which President George W. Bush signed into law in 2003. The group has authored many model laws over the past decade, which were passed in statehouses throughout the country. This included legislation banning abortion after 20 week due to the possibility that the fetus might experience pain. This legislation was a precursor of the Mississippi law, which eventually led to a 5-4 conservative majority at the high court overturning Roe.
Tobias, in a post-Roe nation, would love to see a nationwide ban. However, she does not believe it is possible until Republicans have complete control over the government as well as a filibuster-proof Senate majority. She said that she hopes Congress will pass laws to prevent minors from accessing abortions in other states, if those rights are curtailed in their home states.
Gonidakis stated that "our work has just started." He also said that Ohio has a law prohibiting abortion at six weeks. This is when fetal heart activity can be detected, but it is often before women realize they are pregnant. His organization is looking for new legislation to "end abortion in Ohio."
He said, "We are not spiking football." "We are not doing a victory lap."
The organization's website outlines new post Roe model legislation that penalizes those who perform abortions. It also calls for the establishment of a "robust enforcement system" to punish anyone who "aids or abets illegal abortion." This legislation, as it entails, covers anyone who gives information about abortion procedures or refers someone to an abortion clinic.
The group demands that all abortions be banned, except for those necessary to save the mother's life. However, it also calls on states to require doctors to report to state agencies when such procedures are required -- or face misdemeanor prosecutions.
"There are many anti-choice groups that make public-facing efforts to hide the true agenda," Dina Montemarano (research director, NARAL Pro-Choice America), told NBC News. Then there are the groups that can point you in the right direction and tell you what the real agenda is. That's what National Right to Life does for me."
Montemarano referred to the exception that the group supports for abortion -- when a woman's life is at stake -- and said there's more to it than meets the eye. An abortion can only be performed if a person is on the edge of death. This standard was described by Montemarano as "unbelievably cruel."
Abortion rights activists pointed out reports that doctors waited for patients' vital signs and then treated an ectopic baby. This can lead to death and a low chance of it becoming viable.
She stated that "they are clearly saying that they are pushing for that 'robust enforcer regime'." "They are talking about how to ban abortion in the United States and make it a crime. Put people in jail to scare them away from seeking care.
National Right to Life and anti-abortion rights organizations are preparing for the next wave in legislation. However, polling shows that the Supreme Court's decision to repeal constitutional protections for abortion is not in line with public opinion. A NPR/PBS/Marist poll conducted after Roe's decision was made last month showed that 56% of Americans disapprove of the Supreme Court's decision. Only 40% support it. The poll showed that 88% of Democrats opposed the decision, 53% of independents did not support it, and 77% of Republicans supported it.
Advocates of abortion rights often point out that state-level polling is more important than national opinion in this debate. Pew Research Center's survey this week revealed that 46% of adults in 17 states where abortion has been or will soon become largely banned support the Supreme Court's decision, while 52% disapprove.
The political implications of the ruling's decision are still being worked out. Abortion rights will be at the forefront in many key swing states. Tobias stated that she was confident that the issue will invigorate supporters of abortion rights, but she also predicted it wouldn't dominate the vote for those who are not on her side.
"Maybe they were kinda lulled into believing this wasn't going to be an issue," she suggested, adding that some Democrats might be discouraged by the lack of action from their party leaders. "So they will have more votes, but I don't expect them to be overwhelming the pro-lifers.
Gonidakis stated that activists from both sides of the abortion issue post-Roe were in "uncharted territory," which makes it difficult to predict the future. His organization was not in doubt, however.