John C Willke

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 27 May 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h2416
  1. Ned Stafford , Hamburg
  1. ns{at}

Obstetrician who became a controversial antiabortion activist in the United States

In the late 1960s, John C Willke (“Jack”) became concerned about the increasing number of people in the US who supported giving women the legal right to terminate pregnancy by abortion. Willke, an obstetrician and family doctor in Cincinnati, Ohio, who by all accounts was highly competent and adored by his patients, was strongly opposed to abortion. He decided that he could not remain silent on the issue.

In 1973, after abortion was effectively legalised across the US by the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v Wade, Willke joined the antiabortion movement and would spend the rest of his life fighting to have the procedure outlawed. In the process, the doctor would become one of the most controversial and polarising leaders of the antiabortion movement.

Some people loved Willke for his efforts against abortion. And, it must be said, some hated him.

After Willke’s death, Bradley Mattes, executive director of Life Issues Institute, which Willke cofounded in 1991, wrote: “I can only imagine the greeting Jack (Willke) received in heaven—millions of babies whom he tirelessly worked to save …

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