Sins of a Preacher Man

Until his overthrow, Bill Price led the Texas anti-abortion movement for 17 years. Was it politics, ego, or something worse that did him in?

"I challenge you to ever show me a time when I said that..." she demanded.

"...I have been reluctant to do that because I would be forced to reveal what I am going to reveal now. And that is, in fact, that you are a lesbian."

The audience booed. Price had outed Taft on television.

TUL board member Kyleen Wright was a Price devotee until allegations of financial improprieties were leveled against him.
TUL board member Kyleen Wright was a Price devotee until allegations of financial improprieties were leveled against him.
Price accuses Kyleen Wright, left, and Jill Jeffrey of leading a political coupe to remove him as executive director and president of TUL.
Price accuses Kyleen Wright, left, and Jill Jeffrey of leading a political coupe to remove him as executive director and president of TUL.

He grew flustered. "It's right here." He held up the photo. "Here is her picture as one of the six gay activist members of the Democratic National Platform Committee."

Taft was devastated. Price remained unapologetic. He had grown weary of her trying to disenfranchise him from the debate. What better way to level the playing field than to level the player?

"I regret having done that to her," Price admits. "I told Charlotte that years later."

But back then, Price was anything but apologetic when it came to trashing the other side or making a name for himself. Whereas other anti-abortion groups shunned the "liberal media" as a tool of the pro-choice movement, Price had enough savvy to know that conflict sold newspapers. "God gave me the sense to know that the media basically decides who the leader of a movement will be," Price says. "The media recognized my leadership."

Because Price worked for his father's radio and TV ministry when he returned to Dallas in 1981, he felt comfortable in front of the camera. He also began to volunteer his time at the Dallas Right to Life offices, an organization that had been founded in the early '70s by a volunteer group of Catholic women. Price became the first evangelical to join its board and says he begged the board to hire him as its first paid director. Immediately, he sought to get more evangelicals involved in the movement. His cause was aided nationally by televangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who were also urging evangelicals to form a Christian coalition of conservatives.

Some of the old-line Catholics on the board believed Price's tactics were too confrontational, his motives too suspect. "He was more interested in promoting himself than the movement," says one former board member, who asked not to be named in this article. "He wanted everything right out on the streets, with him right out in front."

Price admits he alienated some of the Catholics on his board, who believed this was their fight and resented his attempts to build bridges to the Protestant evangelical community. He began to stack his board with evangelicals who loved his fights with Taft and her minions, his street protests, which though ugly and bullhorn-loud--"Hear the cries of the unborn, you wretched whores"--rarely crossed the line into civil disobedience.

"People accused me at times of grandstanding for my personal interest," Price says. "I know it looked that way, but people don't follow an organization, people follow a leader."

Price organized about 20 anti-abortion organizations around the state into the Texas Coalition for Life, a group--he told the media--consisting of 100,000 members. On March 7, 1986, Price, as leader of that coalition, held a news conference in Austin where he endorsed former U.S. Rep. Tom Loeffler for governor in the Republican primary over former Gov. Bill Clements.

To Paulette Standefer, one of the founding members of Dallas Right to Life, Price's endorsement of Loeffler was not only politically naive (Clements won), but a self-serving attempt to make himself a force within the emerging Religious Right.

Standefer (who refused to be interviewed for this article) spoke out against Price, and he immediately took steps to remove her from the board. "Paulette just wasn't ready to yield the organization," Price says. "Voting to remove her established me as the leader."

It also ripped the board in half, as six other members (most of them Catholic), resigned in protest. Price filled their seats with members more favorably disposed to his bold style of leadership (most of them evangelical).

In his letter of resignation, board member Richard Land expressed his fears about the board's increasing lack of oversight regarding Price: "I am dismayed by [Price's] lack of ongoing accountability to the board on policy, personnel, and budgetary matters. The board may wish to do it this way, but they should make a conscious decision...instead of sliding into it unconsciously."

Price was now free to direct his war without anyone looking over his shoulder. He could go to Austin and lobby the Legislature, go to the state Republican convention and play powerbroker, go to his office and write an op-ed piece attacking the more militant elements within his own movement. Price's new hand-picked board was more willing to let Bill be Bill.

Although the Texans United for Life had both a political and educational arm, Price's real passion was evident even to his enemies.

"He was a political junkie," says Phyllis Dunham, former executive director of the Texas Abortion Rights Action League. "You could just watch the man light up when the Legislature was in session. He seemed to live for those few months every two years."

But politics is the art of compromise, and he spoke for a group of ideological purists who saw anything short of an outright ban on abortion as a defeat. The line he walked--between political insider and moral crusader--was a fine one, particularly in a Democratic-controlled Legislature.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help