Bioethics in Law & Culture Fall 2020 vol. 3 issue 4
“Nebraska is a Pro-Life State” -- a proclamation often stated by our Governor Pete Ricketts. Indeed, many Nebraskans believe this to be true. Many would say, though, that the framework of the pro-life image in Nebraska was fueled by a powerful force, longtime Executive Director of Nebraska Right to Life, Julie Schmit-Albin. She arrived on the scene more than 30 years ago, and on August 22, 2020, the pro-life movement lost a giant in the fight to protect the right to life in the state of Nebraska.
In the political and legislative arena, Julie was a woman of courage and strength. Growing up around the State Capitol as a teenager and young woman, she would watch and learn from her dad, Senator Loran Schmit, and develop a deep respect for public office. She would never shy away from her responsibility to speak the truth concerning the dignity of every human being, from the moment of conception to natural death.
Julie grew up on the family farm near Bellwood, Nebraska. Upon graduating high school, she studied journalism at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, graduating in 1979. In 1980 she married John Albin, and they raised four children.
Julie entered the pro-life movement at the age of 24. She was pregnant with her first child and felt compelled to attend her first Nebraska Walk for Life in January 1981. At the time, she was struck by the fact that her baby was wanted and protected, but countless other babies were being aborted. She often shared how she felt the grave injustice of this civil rights violation and wanted to rectify this atrocity in her lifetime.
After her experience at the Nebraska Walk for Life, Julie began attending Lincoln Right to Life meetings, a chapter of Nebraska Right to Life, and became a board member. She and John later moved to Fullerton, Nebraska where Julie founded Nance County Right to Life and became a board member for Nebraska Right to Life.
In 1989, she and John returned to Lincoln where she became the Executive Director of Nebraska Right to Life. Throughout these more than 30 years, Julie directed education, legislation, and political outreach for the organization. She was responsible for organizing the annual Nebraska Walk for Life, a booth at the Nebraska State Fair, Pro-Life Legislative Day, and the Nebraska Right to Life Voter Guides, events which have engaged hundreds of thousands of Nebraskans across the state in the pro-life movement. She also served as a board member for National Right to Life Committee, the parent organization for Nebraska Right to Life, for more than 15 years.
Julie was talented in many ways, as recognized by the Lincoln Journal Star, which named her one of its “Women of Power,” suggesting to aspiring candidates to “Check with Julie Schmit-Albin if you want to win.”
Where I saw her shine, though, was when we would travel countless miles across the state and have meetings with grassroots advocates. In those encounters with these generous and committed volunteers, Julie consistently exhibited kindness, gratefulness, and an uplifting spirit. She genuinely wanted to know what was going on in their lives, remembering details about their families and acknowledging new babies, weddings, and deaths with all sincerity. She would send thank-you notes, warm cookies, Blessed Mother statues, and even enrollments with the Christ the King Sisters -- a cloistered order of nuns in Lincoln. Perhaps it was because she was a "small-town" girl, or maybe because she founded her own right-to-life chapter in Fullerton. Still, Julie never failed to show her deepest appreciation for the committed work of pro-life volunteers across the state, always sensitive to their personal lives and needs. Upon her death, it seemed as though many thought of her as a friend and confidant. She touched many lives.
Julie's historical knowledge and experience, coupled with her unapologetic defense of the unborn, made her an invaluable gift to the pro-life community in Nebraska. Her political advocacy efforts contributed to laws in Nebraska that ranged from Parental Notification to successfully passing a ban on human cloning and webcam abortions. She was most proud of the passage of LB1103 in 2010, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which was the first of its kind in the nation. She worked with then Speaker Mike Flood, sponsor of the bill, to protect babies 20 weeks and beyond from abortion because of the scientific evidence revealing an unborn baby is fully capable of feeling pain.
The latest accomplishment was that of a ban on dismemberment abortions. This type of D&E abortion involves dismembering a living unborn child piece by piece. Despite being gravely ill and in hospice with ovarian cancer, Julie insisted on listening to the floor debate of LB814. It would go on to pass by an overwhelming majority. On that day, August 13, Governor Ricketts declared it "Julie Schmit-Albin Day," and on August 15 the governor signed the bill; one week later God called Julie home to reap the rewards of her decades-long work.
In recognition of a lifetime of achievement on behalf of the pro-life cause, Julie was awarded the Nebraska Catholic Conference’s “Gospel of Life Award” in September 2019.
At the core of Julie’s life story of being a pro-life advocate was her undying love for Jesus Christ and her Catholic Faith. A living and personal relationship with Christ was foundational to Julie’s efforts. In her work and through her long battle with cancer, Julie lived a life in Christ.
In her journey with the Church, she found consolation and encouragement in the sacraments and the saints, especially in her friendship with St. Pio of Pietrelcina. She was a living witness to the faith, and it was this witness that led her husband John, to convert to Catholicism early in their marriage. He saw in Julie a deep love for Christ and a love for family.
In the midst of it all, Julie always managed to be a loving, caring, and involved mother to John, Molly, Rachel, and Annie. As her family noted in her obituary, while she was “fearfully respected” on the floor of the Nebraska Legislature, at home Julie could be found compulsively baking brownies, dancing to disco music, and planning the next family get-together. She sewed innumerable outfits, costumes, curtains, and blankets for her children. She had a love for the world developed through several life experiences, including backpacking through Europe in her early 20's that she shared with her children and family. Always a proponent of the road trip, Julie loved to pack up the entire family in the car along with a surplus of snacks and drinks for trips throughout Nebraska, South Dakota, Colorado, Missouri, and Minnesota. When road trips could not be arranged, she was always happy with a picnic or a dinner on the patio listening to music. She had a goofy and at times, wicked sense of humor and was prone to giggling fits. Family was deeply meaningful to Julie and the greatest joy of the twilight of her life was to be a grandma, sharing her love of the written word by reading as many books as it took to put her only grandson to sleep.
The influence Julie had on the pro-life movement over these last almost four decades is tremendous. There is likely not a pro-life advocate in Nebraska who has not been somehow affected by her heroic efforts over the years.
While we could attempt to guess the impact she has had on countless babies, mothers, and families throughout the years, and only eternity will reveal how many babies’ lives were saved by her relentless efforts.
By: Sandy Danek
Author’s Note: Some of the above material is taken from comments by Tom Venzor, Executive Director of Nebraska Catholic Conference Awards Dinner, September 2019.