Newspapers' Obituaries Smear Pro-life Legend

JOHN WILLKE In this Oct. 6, 1995 file photo, John Willke speaks at the first anti-euthanasia conference in Amsterdam. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

 

Enduring the Cincinnati Enquirer's seemingly interminable attempts to round up new subscribers is among the more annoying trials Greater Cincinnatians must face. Their recruiters often appear in local grocery stores, desperate to almost give away three-month "trials."

This once respectable full-throttle newspaper, which now looks as if it was cobbled together and produced at FedEx/Kinko's on the fly overnight — and is actually produced 100 miles away in Columbus — is clearly hurting for readers. All the groveling in the world won't gain my subscription as long as they publish disgraceful obituaries like the one which appeared last Saturday about national pro-life legend and Cincinnati resident John Willke, who died on February 20 at age 89. Other national establishment press outlets also participated in smearing Willke, but his local paper had a far higher duty to at least try to be fair — and failed.

Perhaps the best way to familiarize readers with Willke before illustrating how horrid the Enquirer's obit was — as well as those found elsewhere — would be to excerpt the following paragraphs from the National Right to Life organization's Monday tribute (bolds are mine throughout this column):

National Right to Life Mourns the Death of Dr. John C. Willke

... In the early days of the right-to-life movement, Jack and Barbara Willke helped form the foundation of right-to-life educational efforts through the development of the “Willke slides” on fetal development and abortion, and their first book, “The Handbook on Abortion,” which sold an estimated 1.5 million copies. Both were considered must-haves for local activists.

“Every pro-lifer relied on the ‘Willke slides’ on fetal development that beautifully depicted the development of the unborn child as well as the brutal reality of abortion,” Tobias said.

The Willkes crisscrossed the nation for four decades speaking out on behalf of society’s most defenseless members. They inspired some of the earliest state and local right-to-life groups combatting abortion before the Supreme Court decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. The Willkes co-founded Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati in the early 1970s.

In September 1973, Dr. Willke joined the National Right to Life board of directors representing his home state of Ohio, and served continuously until his retirement in 2012. He served in a variety of capacities throughout the 1970s, including terms as vice-chairman of the board and vice president. He was elected president of National Right to Life (1980-1983 and 1984-1991), serving a total of ten years. During his tenure, he helped raised the profile of the organization through countless radio and television appearances, and trips across the country and around the world as an ambassador for the right-to-life movement.

To expand National Right to Life’s efforts to educate the nation, on January 7, 1985, Dr. Willke premiered Pro-Life Perspective, National Right to Life’s daily radio program. The show, now in its 30th year and hosted by National Right to Life president Carol Tobias, has served as an educational resource for countless millions of Americans concerned about the right-to-life issues.

... In addition to his work locally and nationally, Dr. Willke expanded right-to-life efforts with the formation of the International Right to Life Federation, which brought together pro-life organizations operating in countries around the world. He was president emeritus of the organization at the time of his death.

Now let's see how the Enquirer's Emilie Eaton wrote Willke's obituary.

Incredibly, especially considering that Willke said nothing false or misleading at the time, Eaton spent five paragraphs dishonestly tarring him with Todd Akin's 2012 U.S. Senate campaign blunder, and followed that exercise with a clumsy paragraph creating the impression that Willke and his wife Barbara, who died several years ago, were stubborn old coots who wouldn't let go of the outlook which sunk Akin (numbered tags are mine):

Willke's view on abortion didn't come without criticism. Willke, who was a retired general physician [1], believed the stress of rape caused the female body to inhibit conception. [2] Former Missouri congressman Todd Akin also touted that idea, saying victims of "legitimate rape" rarely get pregnant. The 2012 comments caused a media sensation and national debate on the subject. [3]

Willke first put forward that theory over 30 years ago and in 1999 he said rape "can radically upset (a woman's) possibility of ovulation, fertilization, implantation and even nurturing a pregnancy." [2]

"I'm not saying she doesn't get pregnant from assault rape," Willke said. "She can and she does. It's just very rare."

David Grimes, an obstetrician and gynecologist in North Carolina who was a chief of the abortion surveillance branch at the Center for Disease Control, criticized Willke for this. [4]

"For Dr. Willke to say a woman can avoid getting pregnant by squeezing her Fallopian tubes is ridiculous," he told The Enquirer in 2012. [5] "To suggest this doesn't happen is cruel, cruel, cruel. Rape is an ugly and common occurrence."

The Willkes maintained their viewpoints. [6] Their daughter Marie Meyers told The Enquirer in 2013 after Barbara died that the couple felt it was the right thing to do and believed they would be rewarded in heaven.

[1] — Willke was an obstetrician. National Right to Life says so, as does the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press in their respective otherwise similarly tasteless obits. Wikipedia says that he "was an obstetrician in Cincinnati, Ohio, but ceased practicing medicine in 1988 in order to devote himself full-time to the anti-abortion movement." In 1988, Willke was 63. Eaton's claim that he was a "retired general physician" could conceivably be technically true, but it's obviously misleading. The default assumption, given that others got it right, has to be that it's deliberately so, to downplay upcoming Item [2] and to make Items [4] and [5] appear credible.