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Obit: Loretto Wagner, who fought for decades to end abortion

For Loretto Wagner, the effort to end abortion was more than a cause. It was her life.

Wagner, one of the major figures in Missouri’s early anti-abortion movement, died late Wednesday at the age of 81.

She was the mother of Ray Wagner, an executive at Enterprise Holdings, and the mother-in-law of U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, a Republican from Ballwin.

“It is with a heavy heart that Ray and I mourn the loss of my mother-in-law,” Ann Wagner said in a statement. She called Loretto Wagner “a voice of compassion and love in the pro-life community.”

The family declined to disclose the cause of death of Loretto Wagner, who had suffered from various health problems in recent years.

Fought against abortion, but sought common ground

Beginning in 1974, Wagner became the chief voice for Missouri’s anti-abortion movement and served in that role for decades. She was among the founders of Missouri Citizens for Life, formed after the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. The group has since been renamed Missouri Right to Life.

Loretto Wagner also began the annual bus caravan to Washington, D.C., for the yearly national march by abortion opponents. She was outspoken in her call for legislation to curb or outlaw the procedure, and she didn't shrink from pressing politicians on the matter.

But she did more than protest. Mrs. Wagner worked tirelessly on behalf of Our Lady’s Inn, which provides services for unwed mothers. And in the 1990s, she generated some controversy within the anti-abortion movement when she worked with abortion-rights supporters in an effort, dubbed “Common Ground,’’ to address some of the social problems that lead to unwanted pregnancies.

Loretto Wagner also was active in the Republican Party and played a role in the anti-abortion language that remains in the platforms for the state and national GOP.

She was the mother of six children, including Ray Wagner. Her husband, Raymond Wagner Sr., died in 2013.

Visitation is to be held from 2-9 p.m., Mon., June 22 at Shrader Funeral Home in Ballwin. Visitation and a Mass are scheduled for 12:30 p.m., Tues., June 23 at St. Clare of Assisi Catholic Church, also in Ellisville.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.