Mark Gietzen, a prominent Wichita anti-abortion activist and president of the Kansas Republican Assembly, died in a plane crash in Nebraska on Tuesday evening.
Gietzen, one of the nation’s leading anti-abortion activists, was instrumental in a Republican takeover of Kansas politics in the early 1990s in the wake of the “Summer of Mercy” clinic blockades in Wichita.
“I know many people right now are in shock over this news. It’s not something we expect to see like this,” said Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell, who characterized Gietzen as principled, passionate and a “warrior in the pro-life movement.”
Most recently, Gietzen spearheaded an effort to force a recount of the vote on the August 2022 “Value Them Both” amendment, the first statewide referendum on abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Kansas voters rejected the amendment, which said the state constitution did not include the right to an abortion and would have allowed lawmakers to impose further restrictions or a ban on the procedure. The recount confirmed the loss for the anti-abortion movement. Before the election, Gietzen filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab seeking to block the use of ballot drop boxes.
Gietzen’s Cessna 172 crashed around 6 p.m. a few miles north and east of Chambers, Nebraska.
The Holt County Sheriff’s Office identified Gietzen as the pilot Wednesday afternoon in a written statement. He was pronounced dead at the scene. No one else was on the plane.
“The aircraft was identified as a 1963 Cessna 172. The aircraft had flown from Newton, Kansas and was enroute to North Dakota at the time of the crash,” the Holt County Sheriff’s Office said.
The cause of the crash is under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.
Gietzen, in an August interview with The Eagle, said the nearly $120,000 he spent on the statewide recount would likely complicate his plans to renovate the old Cessna, which he said he flew for the first time in the summer of 2022 after he put 15 years of work into it.
“My only drawback on this Value Them Both recount is that that airplane is going to sit and collect dust for a little while,” he said in August. “Well, not collect dust. I’ll just go fly it in uncontrolled airspace, and we have to put 50 hours on it before you can fly with passengers anyway, which is a necessary and good rule. I’ve already got so much invested in that plane, I want to get finished. I’m so proud of this thing.”
Gietzen said the airplane was allowed only in uncontrolled airspace until he could afford to install instrumentation that would give onboard notice to other air traffic in the area.
Gietzen came to Wichita in the late 1970s to work for Boeing. He became chair of the Sedgwick County Republican Party after the Summer of Mercy demonstrations in 1991 and capitalized on an energetic base to recruit anti-abortion advocates for precinct committee positions.
With Gietzen’s help, Kansas Republicans took back the House in 1992 to reclaim majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature that have held strong for 30 years.
“With sadness and prayer, the KSGOP regrets to report Mark Gietzen of Wichita, KS, a longtime and highly effective and active pro-life advocate, supporter, and leader, passed away on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, in Nebraska,” the Kansas Republican Party shared in a Wednesday social media post that linked to a funeral home notice.
Gietzen had served as president of the Kansas Republican Assembly, a state affiliate of the National Federation of Republican Assemblies, since 2004.
“The KRA that was led by Mark was really kind of firewall conservatives,” Howell said.
“Even among Republicans, that was considered a very conservative group.”
He remained active in politics, running for Wichita mayor in 2019. Gietzen was also a regular at Wichita Pachyderm Club meetings, where he often questioned Republicans on what they were doing to promote life at the Statehouse.
Even those unfamiliar with Gietzen may recognize his “Truth Truck,” a massive box-truck that served as a mobile billboard displaying large images of aborted fetuses. He would often park it in front of the Trust Women abortion clinic in east Wichita in an effort to deter women from getting abortions.
Outside of the anti-abortion movement and Republican politics, Gietzen ran a dating service for Christian singles.
Gietzen grew up in Glen Ullin, North Dakota, in a German Catholic family that included nine brothers and five sisters. After high school, Gietzen served in the U.S. Marine Corps and later graduated from the Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa. He had three children.
“It’s hard to say someone is irreplaceable. Mark is an irreplaceable figurehead,” Operation Rescue President Troy Newman told The Eagle. “He was the hardest-working guy I know in the pro-life movement.”
Newman sat on the Kansas Coalition for Life board for a number of years, and said women who were convinced by Gietzen’s outreach not to terminate their pregnancies could rely on his financial support until their children turned 18.
“Basically, if somebody needed rent, he would cover it. Or if someone needed their cell phone taken care of, he’d cover it,” Newman said. “If they needed a car payment or an insurance payment, money for food or diapers, rent — he’d cover it. He literally had the biggest heart of anybody I know.”
“It’s just terrible that we don’t have a better safety net for these women,” Gietzen told The Eagle in 2022. “They have an abortion because they can’t afford the ones they already have or it’s their first one and they’re not ready. Their parents are going to throw them out of the home or they already are separated from their parents and the boyfriend is irresponsible and all he sees is the possibility of having to pay child support. And they have no idea how valuable every child is.”
For decades, Gietzen coordinated “sidewalk counseling” outside Wichita’s Trust Women clinic and meticulously documented unusual activities, including when ambulances were called.
Gietzen was outside a Wichita clinic when he was first approached by Scott Roeder, the man who would go on to kill abortion doctor George Tiller. Gietzen told The Eagle last year that Roeder asked about another activist and rebuffed Gietzen when he suggested that he sign up for a sidewalk counseling shift.
“The biggest lie that anybody could say is that Scott Roeder is pro-life,” Gietzen said. “Pro-life people, we think that God has a right to choose who lives or dies . . . But we say humans don’t have a right to take another human life because once that life is taken, we can’t put it back together again.”