Chris Haire | January 18, 2013
Beverly Cielnicky is an unassuming, soft-spoken woman who has spent four decades making her voice resound.
The sweater-clad, bespectacled 75-year-old is a mother, a grandmother, a recreational gardener, a scrapbooking hobbyist and a retired fourth-grade teacher. But she is also the president of Crusade for Life, a grassroots anti-abortion organization first incorporated in 1971, two years before the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade.
Cielnicky has spent 42 years in the anti-abortion movement trying to educate people – mainly young women – about what she views as the atrocities of abortion, and with the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade on Jan. 22, she is as steadfast as ever in her pursuit to outlaw abortions.
«(Crusade for Life’s) mission is to make abortion illegal in America,» the Fountain Valley resident said. «We believe that as long as we’re killing babies, America won’t be blessed.»
Steeped in scripture, Crusade for Life’s views on abortion fall in line with those of the larger anti-abortion movement– namely, that life begins at conception and that the unborn child has as much a right to life as the mother. Cielnicky, a lifelong Christian, is unequivocal in her support for the national effort to make abortion illegal.
Yet, when she speaks about her goal of educating and ultimately dissuading young women from getting abortions, as well as her reasoning for doing so, she does it with little of the aggression and fist-waving that has often defined the public debate from both sides over the years. She is firm yet compassionate.
«She is persevering and has fine values,» said Robert Cielnicky, Beverly’s husband of 46 years. «She’s been a blessing to me.»
Beverly Cielnicky was born in 1937 in Berkeley. Her family was Christian, but they did not raise her in an overly religious household. When the time came for college, she chose Berkeley – a place known for churning out liberal activists, not conservative ones. But during that time, she said, she became more devoutly Christian.
«It’s where my mother went to school, it’s where my aunt went to school,» she said. «I spent a lot of time on campus as a child and it’s where I really, really wanted to go to school.»
She graduated in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology.
Cielnicky initially became aware of the pro-choice versus anti-abortion debate in 1967, when then-California Governor Ronald Reagan signed the Therapeutic Abortion Act, easing abortion restrictions. She began answering phones for a crisis hotline.
Then, in fall 1971, she went with friends to a Crusade for Life rally in Whittier, where she met the organization’s founder, Don Smith.
«Several of us went down there and we ended up meeting him,» she said. «I don’t think a lot of people knew about (the anti-abortion movement) before. It wasn’t on our radar.»
Compelled by a religious conviction that life is sacred, as well as the moral imperative of preserving future generations, Cielnicky began working for Crusade for Life. For the next 40-plus years (and counting), she volunteered with the nonprofit group, eventually ascending to its presidency.
Crusade for Life is small. It has no employees, just volunteers. It wasn’t until eight years ago that it finally settled on a permanent location for its headquarters, on Tustin Avenue in Orange. It is a fraction of the size of the Planned Parenthood across the street, reflective of Crusade for Life’s sizable financial disadvantage.
But Cielnicky is undeterred – and hopeful about the future of the anti-abortion movement. She believes she holds the trump card in the abortion debate: at conception, a human life is created.
«The more you show that it’s a human baby, the more people appreciate that it’s made in God’s image,» Cielnicky said, citing a 2011 Gallup poll stating that a majority of Americans view abortion as morally reprehensible. «If something’s wrong, it’s wrong.»