Dr. John Willke, an obstetrician who helped shape the modern anti-abortion movement with ideas including a belief that a woman can resist conception from a sexual assault, has died, his daughter said Saturday. He was 89.
Willke, who founded the International Right to Life Federation, died Friday at his home in Cincinnati, daughter Marie Meyers said. She said the cause of death wasn't immediately known, but that he had seemed in good health for his age. "The core of his life was caring for people as a husband, a father and a doctor, and that caring extended to his life's work for unborn children and their mothers," Meyers said.
Willke quit delivering babies in the late 1960s to oppose abortion, retiring from his medical practice in 1988 to fully devote his time to the anti-abortion movement. He participated in protests and congressional hearings and appeared on national television frequently.
In a statement, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine described Willke as a "worldwide leader in the right to life movement." "He will be remembered as a great teacher and friend and stalwart leader in giving a voice to the most vulnerable in our society," DeWine said.
Other doctors and abortion rights advocates have accused Willke of ignoring facts and science — particularly in his view on rape and pregnancy. U.S. Rep. Todd Aiken of Missouri, a Republican, lost his 2012 Senate bid after making comments reflecting Willke's view. Willke wrote in 1999 that the trauma a woman suffers in a rape "can radically upset her possibility of ovulation, fertilization, implantation and even nurturing of a pregnancy."
Willke and his late wife, Barbara, co-authored the "Handbook on Abortion," providing information from an anti-abortion viewpoint. The 1971 book sold more than 1.5 million copies and influenced generations of activists. The Willkes had six children, 22 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.