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Schwietz Leaves MCCL
June 6, 2001
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The state's largest anti-abortion group will soon see a change in leadership. Jackie Schwietz, executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, is stepping down in December. Her supporters say they're losing a tireless advocate for abortion restrictions, while her critics, including some who share her views on abortion, say her style was too confrontational to be effective.

Under Jackie Schwietz, Minnesota Concerned Citizens for Life regularly used its lobbying muscle at the Capitol, as with this January 2001 anti-abortion demonstration. Jackie Schwietz has held her position since 1984. Schwietz announced that she is moving to Florida with her husband and will leave her position effective Dec. 1.

Listen to the news conference.
JACKIE SCHWIETZ HAS HAD THE HELM of MCCL since 1984, and during that time she's developed a reputation as a formidable presence on abortion and reproductive-rights issues. She says her strategy has been to identify where lawmakers stand on abortion issues and hold their feet to the fire during crucial votes.

"We have surveyed candidates who were running for elective office; we've lobbied them for years; and we do expect them to make good on their promises - promises they've made to us and to their constituents," she said at a news conference announcing her departure.

Schwietz is leaving her post to move to Florida with her husband. Abortion opponents say their cause will lose an effective and shrewd voice in the process. Senate President Don Samuelson has worked closely with Schwietz and the MCCL on abortion issues. The Brainerd DFLer says she's been instrumental in electing majorities in the state House and Senate that favor restrictions on the procedure.

"I don't think there's any question that among the lobbyists at the Capitol, that she is certainly one of the hardest working," Samuelson says. "She really believed in the issues that she dealt with, and didn't pull any punches. She was unwavering in her committment to the pro-life issues."

The new majorities helped pass a 24-hour abortion waiting period in both of the last two legislative sessions. Governor Jesse Ventura vetoed the measure each time, leading Schwietz to quip she's "happy to trade Ventura for Jeb Bush," governor of her new home state. Supporters of legalized abortion, however, say Schwietz was an extremist, often combative and heavy-handed.

"The people of Minnesota are going to be saying goodbye to a woman who has been very effective at pushing a very extreme agenda of restriction of access to basic health care services, restriction of access to legal and safe abortion. So I think that most Minnesotans will be happy to say goodbye," said Sarah Stoesz, the incoming president for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and South Dakota.

"If you didn't vote 100 percent with them, even if you were a strong proponent, that's where I think this term, maybe, "vindictive" came in, because they used some tactics that legislators did not care to have used on them."

- Rep. Bernie Lieder
Even some legislators who shared Schwietz's abortion views also found themselves at odds with her style. Rep. Bernie Lieder, D-Crookston, says he's often voted for MCCL positions. But last session, he irritated the lobbying group by opposing a "Choose Life" state license plate. Lieder says he didn't believe license plates are the appropriate medium for political messages. He says after voting against the plates in committee, angry calls from MCCL members came pouring in.

"You may not vote 100 percent with them, and if you didn't vote 100 percent with them, even if you were a strong proponent, that's where I think this term, maybe, "vindictive" came in, because it does appear that they used some tactics that legislators did not care to have used on them," he said.

Lieder says Schwietz was a dedicated activist, but that her tactics often alienated the very lawmakers whose votes she needed.

Her designated replacement, however, says politicians shouldn't expect the MCCL to change course just because Schwietz is stepping aside. Scott Fischbach is a Republican political consultant and husband of Republican state Senator Michelle Fischbach of Paynesville. He says he'll be just as dogged as Schwietz. "We're in this fight to protect human lives. There are lives at stake in this issue. And it's going to be important that we stand strong and that we stand ready to help those who are defending life on a daily basis in that Legislature," Fischbach said.

Several controversial abortion issues remain alive as lawmakers try to finish a budget deal, including the waiting period provision. The Choose Life plates, however, didn't survive the session. But in Florida they are available. Schwietz says the first thing she'll do when she arrives is get a set.