Anne Nicol Gaylor, Abortion Rights Activist and Freedom From Religion Foundation Co-Founder, Has Died June 15, 2015

Anne Nicol Gaylor, Abortion Rights Activist and Freedom From Religion Foundation Co-Founder, Has Died

Anne Nicol Gaylor, the main founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and a long-time abortion rights activist, died last night at the age of 88.

Anne Nicol Gaylor at her 80th birthday party (via Annie Laurie Gaylor)

While most of you reading this site are familiar with FFRF, you may not be aware of the enormous (and incredible controversial) service Gaylor provided for women, even in the last several years of her life.

In 1976, she began a non-profit called Women’s Medical Fund, Inc., now thought to be the longest-serving abortion rights charity in the country. It was a way for women with nowhere else to turn to obtain financial resources for an abortion. Even though Roe v. Wade had already been decided, the law prevented federal funding from being used on abortions. Some states offered that help to women through their own programs, but Wisconsin wasn’t one of them. That meant poor women who relied on Medicaid were disproportionately affected and needed money. When they had nowhere else to turn, they would call Anne Nicol Gaylor.

Gaylor would answer the phone herself, verify their information as best she could, and then write a check to the clinics for the amount they needed. In nearly 40 years of running the organization, it’s estimated that she helped 30,000 women with grants totaling $3 million. (One newspaper columnist referred to her as “Granny Blood-Money.”)

A couple of years ago, fascinated by her project and never having met her in person, I drove up to Madison and spent the afternoon with her. I watched her answer phone calls and fill out her paperwork. You’d think the need for this would have dissipated over the years, but that wasn’t the case at all. The afternoon was emotionally draining for me — so I can’t even imagine what it would be like doing this year after year, decade after decade. (Toss in some death threats and you have an idea of what her typical day was like.) A book she wrote about her activism, Abortion is a Blessing, can be read in its entirety online.

If that wasn’t enough, Gaylor helped found FFRF in 1976 because she saw the need for a church/state separation watchdog. (Her daughter and son-in-law, Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, now run the organization.) That organization continues to grow, much to the chagrin of the Religious Right, and has fought cases that made it all the way to the Supreme Court.

While she stepped down as executive director of the organization in 2005, her legacy there is still going strong. You can see a lovely tribute to her life here.

When you read all that, her legacy becomes crystal clear: She never stopped being an activist. She always pursued her passions and spoke up for people who didn’t have a voice. What she did was unpopular and often difficult, but she never let that stop her.

Think of the world we’d live in if more of us followed her lead.

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