On August 19, 2019, Dr. Larry Burns passed away. Larry was special to us as an early leader in our movement, and to many people through his work as an obstetrician and gynecologist.
Larry began his journey in the prolife movement as a concerned citizen in a local prolife group in Grand Rapids around 1971. At the time, all unborn children were protected in law in Michigan. Sadly, abortion supporters were working to end that protection through a ballot referendum.
Larry lent his voice and medical expertise to save Michigan’s abortion ban. He and the thousands of grassroots volunteers around the state working with him were successful. Michigan’s prolife law was kept intact in the November election in 1972 through the support of 60 percent of voters.
A few weeks later on January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court issued their unjust and anti-democratic rulings in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, stripping away the protection of unborn children that Michigan citizens had voted to keep.
As the prolife movement organized in Michigan, Larry became a key leader. He served as president of Grand Rapids Right to Life from 1974 to 1989. He participated with public discussion panels, gave prolife speeches, appeared on TV and debated abortion supporters.
Larry’s long-time colleague and friend Hank Milanowski fondly remembers their time together. He reflects on Larry’s wisdom, humor, and constant concern for others:
“I was a member of the board of Grand Rapids Right to Life from its inception and worked closely with Larry during all those years. I can attest to his compassionate, unwavering committing to the intrinsic value of each unborn human life. He displayed a brilliant intellect, sound reasoning, excellent medical skills and compassion, and solid leadership wherever he was called to serve. He was revered by his patients, his family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. His faith in God and commitment to St. Stephen Catholic Church and School was fueled by a life of daily prayer and study. As a member of a small prayer group meeting every week, we were moved by his deep spirituality and his love for his wife Marion, their children and grandchildren.”
Larry’s prolife involvement didn’t end in Grand Rapids. He also served for many years on the state board of Right to Life of Michigan, along with his close colleague Jane Muldoon, who was Right to Life of Michigan’s president and later the executive director.
Current Right to Life of Michigan President Barbara Listing described Larry as one of the cornerstones of the state’s prolife movement: “Larry Burns played a pivotal role in laying the foundation for Right to Life of Michigan. He set a wonderful example of how people from all walks of life can use their time and talents to help our movement save lives.”
His medical experience served Larry well as a frequent speaker at Right to Life of Michigan affiliate events and dinners outside Grand Rapids. His voice and expertise aided in efforts to defeat the 1998 ballot proposal to allow doctor-prescribed suicide and to fight the 2008 ballot proposal authorizing medical research that destroys human life at its earliest stages.
In an August 21, 2005 profile of him in the Grand Rapids Press, Larry described his passion for both mother and child: “I’ve tried to come at it as a civil rights issue. I sit down with them, talk with them, show them empathy. If it is an emotional problem or a financial problem, we’ll do what we can to get them through the pregnancy.”
When Larry wasn’t busy advocating for legal protection for unborn children and working with women experiencing unplanned pregnancies, he was helping other women get through their deliveries. Larry served as an obstetrician and gynecologist for 37 years at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Rapids. In that time, he was a part of thousands of births and stuck with many of his patients for decades.
Larry’s commitment to caring for patients didn’t end in the hospital. He helped found Clinica Santa Maria to provide healthcare to Spanish-speaking patients, and used his days off from work to serve as a volunteer there providing obstetric care. In his later years, he served as a board member of Emmanuel Hospice, making sure those at the end of life were receiving compassionate care.
His friend Jane Muldoon would say that nobody is irreplaceable, but that didn’t mean they won’t be missed or their impact goes unnoticed. Dr. Larry Burns’ legacy will be widely felt for generations to come in the Grand Rapids area, Michigan, and the entire world. Many individuals are alive today because of him, most of whom will never know the impact he had on their lives.
We’ll end with a story about just one of the hundreds of thousands of lives Larry’s efforts helped save. This story was shared on his legacy page by Christy:
My sincere condolences to his family. I want to share what an impact Dr. Burns had on my life.
I was pregnant, a single Mom, and went to his practice. When I found out I was expecting, I panicked. The split-second thought of abortion ran across my mind as I felt scared.
He talked to me and we both knew at the end of his amazing insight there was no way I could do that. My parents were on the board of Rights to Life. I was prolife.
It was a very emotional stressful pregnancy. I went into labor a month early. During labor Dr. Burns came up to me and said, “you have great parents…don’t worry about this bill…I got it.”
Words could not describe how blessed I was and so thankful. His caring heart. His compassion for life. His uplifting wisdom. His faith.
Today that baby girl, Caitlin, works at Mary Free Bed helping those whose lives have been challenged. She is a beautiful mom of two children and has such an incredible big heart to help people.
Rest in Peace, Dr. Burns.
I can only imagine your view right now. Job well done here on Earth.