In the Spotlight

News & Features
New leader, same agenda for MCCL
By Laura McCallum
Minnesota Public Radio
December 21, 2001
Click for audio RealAudio

Minnesota's largest anti-abortion group has a new leader. Scott Fischbach took over as executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life in December. He replaced the MCCL's leader of 18 years, Jackie Schwietz, who was widely viewed as one of the most effective lobbyists at the state Capitol. Fischbach says he'll build on Schwietz' success, although he may have a different style.

Scott Fischbach
Scott Fischbach, executive director of MCCL, says his style may differ, but his commitment is the same, as his predecessor Jackie Schwietz. Listen to his comments.

MCCL's goals for 2002
•passage of "women's right to know" bill
•defeat of Gov. Jesse Ventura if he runs for re-election
•defeat of U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn.
•increase in membership, especially young people

(MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)

On first impression, Scott Fischbach seems nothing like Jackie Schwietz. Schwietz was known for her tenacious, scrappy style, and had a rocky relationship with reporters. Fischbach, 35, is amiable and seems eager to talk to the media. But a conversation with Fischbach shows that he's equally committed to the MCCL's agenda.

"My basic philosophy when it comes to this issue is that every single individual - every single human being - has a right to exist, a right to develop, a right to become," says Fischbach. "All we are merely asking is that they have that opportunity. As the ninth of nine children, I'm certainly glad that I had that opportunity."

Fischbach says he's been opposed to abortion since he was a child, growing up in a Catholic family in Stearns County. He was seven years old when the Supreme Court handed down its Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

While Fischbach has long been active in the anti-abortion movement, his resume is dominated by work for Republican politicians. He was field director for former U.S. Sen. Rudy Boschwitz, and worked on the presidential campaigns of Bob Dole and George Bush. His counterpart on the other side of the abortion issue - Tim Stanley of the Minnesota chapter of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League - says Fischbach is somewhat of an unknown quantity.

"When I talk to my peers on the national level, they've heard of him. They know him," says Stanley. "But if I asked your basic legislator here in Minnesota, they probably haven't heard of him."

Stanley says he's never even met Fischbach.

"I have no opinion of him personally, have none. I have an opinion of his wife! But I have no opinion of him," he says.

Fischbach's wife is State Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville. She's authored most of the anti-abortion measures in the last few years, including the so-called women's right to know bill that was vetoed by Gov. Ventura.

Jackie Schweitz
Jackie Schwietz, who led MCCL for 18 years, was known for her tenacious style, and had a rocky relationship with reporters. Her successor, Scott Fischbach, is more amiable, but says his commitment to the organization's goals is just as strong.
(Photo courtesy of MCCL)

The bill would've required women to receive certain information on the risks and alternatives to abortion 24 hours before undergoing the procedure. Scott Fischbach says it will continue to be the MCCL's top priority in the upcoming session.

"The vast majority of Minnesotans support that legislation, the Legislature supported that legislation. It passed the House, it passed the Senate, yet only one man killed that legislation, and that's the governor," Fischbach says. "And of course, this year, he's up for election, which is another huge opportunity for us."

Fischbach says the MCCL will put its resources into defeating Ventura if he decides to run again, and will also try to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone.

Fischbach says his other priorities for the organization include increasing the MCCL's membership, now at 67,000 families and 225 chapters across the state. Fischbach says he'll focus on recruiting young people.

"They are the survivors. They are the ones who have made it through the Roe vs. Wade time," he says. "So we need to make sure that they hear the pro-life message that our movement respects them, gives them dignity, gives them worth and value simply because they're a human being."

MCCL officials say Fischbach's age and energy level will help the organization attract young people and increase membership. Marice Rosenberg is the MCCL's lead lobbyist, and worked closely with Jackie Schwietz over the years. She says Fischbach can be just as effective at the Capitol as Schwietz. Rosenberg says Schwietz' influence came from the organization she represented.

"It is not about a person. It was not about Jackie Schwietz," says Rosenberg. "It wouldn't really matter who was over at the Capitol - it could be me, it could be Scott. Legislators react the same way. And they react that way because they know their constituencies - a majority is pro-life. And that's why they vote the way they do."

But it remains to be seen whether Fischbach can get legislators to toe the MCCL line the way Schwietz did. Fischbach is the first to admit he has big shoes to fill - he says Schwietz left a legacy on which he hopes to build.

More Information
  • Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life
  • National Abortions Rights Action League, Minnesota Chapter