Americans United for Life

Anti-Abortion Activists Begin To Fall In Line Behind Donald Trump

UPDATED

In January, as Iowans prepared to cast their votes in the first-in-the-nation caucuses, several women leaders in the anti-abortion movement wrote an open letter urging Republicans in the state to “support anyone but Donald Trump.”

The activists, including Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser and Concerned Women for America CEO Penny Nance, wrote that Trump “cannot be trusted” to advance their anti-abortion policy goals or to nominate Supreme Court justices who would vote to reverse Roe v. Wade. They went on to describe his record of “disparaging” remarks about women:

Moreover, as women, we are disgusted by Mr. Trump’s treatment of individuals, women, in particular. He has impugned the dignity of women, most notably Megyn Kelly, he mocked and bullied Carly Fiorina, and has through the years made disparaging public comments to and about many women. Further, Mr. Trump has profited from the exploitation of women in his Atlantic City casino hotel which boasted of the first strip club casino in the country.

America will only be a great nation when we have leaders of strong character who will defend both unborn children and the dignity of women. We cannot trust Donald Trump to do either. Therefore we urge our fellow citizens to support an alternative candidate.

Trump further angered anti-choice leaders when he strayed far from the movement’s carefully scripted talking points and suggested that if abortion is outlawed, there would have to be “some sort of punishment” for women who seek the procedure illegally. It didn’t help when Trump proceeded to change his position on the matter several times over the following few days, including at one point saying that he doesn’t want to change abortion laws, and then declared a few weeks later that he wanted the GOP to change its platform to support abortion rights for women who have been raped or whose life is at risk.

Now, as Trump becomes the presumptive Republican nominee, the anti-choice movement has to decide whether to take its chances with him.

Nance, sounding distraught, told a radio interviewer this morning that a third party presidential candidacy was out of the question and that the choice was between Trump and a “devastating” Hillary Clinton presidency.

Dannenfelser, who once said that Trump “disqualified himself as the GOP nominee” when he said that the abortion laws “are set” and “we have to leave it that way,” signaled that she was ready to pivot her message yesterday when she wrote a blog post praising Trump for making “a huge pro-life hire” in John Mashburn, a former staffer to North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis and someone whom Dannenfelser described as an ally to the anti-abortion movement.

“Congratulations on your new hire, Mr. Trump,” Dannenfelser wrote. “If elected, no doubt John Mashburn will serve you well as you fulfill your campaign promises to defund Planned Parenthood, advance and sign into law the popular Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, and appoint Justices to the bench who will protect and defend the Constitution.”

Mashburn previously worked for right-wing groups such as the American Civil Rights Union and the Carleson Center for Public Policy.

In the end, the game for anti-choice groups comes down to the Supreme Court. A coalition of leading groups have unified behind a campaign pressuring Republican senators to keep up their blockade of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. Just yesterday, the Susan B. Anthony List, CWA and Iowa Right to Life delivered a petition to Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, urging him to continue to refuse to hold hearings on a Supreme Court nominee until the next president is sworn in.

Their hope, it seems, is that a candidate they are “disgusted” by and “cannot trust” will win the presidency and at least give them a Supreme Court pick who will advance their agenda.

And while Trump is the candidate whom they have repeatedly painted as a worst-case scenario, these activists must be relieved that he has outsourced the duty of selecting future Supreme Court justices to the anti-choice Heritage Foundation.

UPDATE 5/5/16: The Washington Times reports that the Susan B. Anthony List and Priests for Life will both be supporting Trump. Priests for Life's Frank Pavone explained that when it comes to the Supreme Court, "the difference here is between doubt and certainty.”

Between Mr. Trump and likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton — the only presidential candidate ever endorsed by Planned Parenthood — Father Frank Pavone says the decision is easy.

Fr. Pavone said his group will work to convince pro-life activists to support Mr. Trump in the general election.

“Withholding support [from Mr. Trump] at this point is in effect support for Hillary,” he said. “Sometimes people might feel like, ‘I feel better in my conscience because I didn’t cast a vote for him and I didn’t cast a vote for Hillary either.’ [But] you can influence the election by not voting.”

Mallory Quigley, director of communications for the Susan B. Anthony List, said her group will also support Mr. Trump, citing his campaign promise to defund Planned Parenthood and support for the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks of fertilization.

“I think achieving these goals would be a huge accomplishment, bigger than any pro-life advancement that we’ve seen in our lifetime,” Ms. Quigley said, adding, “We’re expecting Trump to be a man of his word and follow through, just as he would on any issue.”

Clarke Forsythe, acting president and senior counsel for Americans United for Life, would not commit to supporting Mr. Trump in the general election, but said supporting Mrs. Clinton — whose position on abortion he compared to the North Korea regime’s — is untenable.

Mr. Forsythe said in a statement that AUL “will be carefully and closely watching Donald Trump between now and election day, to see whether he lays out pro-life policies as well as to learn what his recommendations will be for the GOP party platform.”

...

But following the death of former Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, Fr. Pavone said Mr. Trump is now the pro-life movement’s last, best hope of retaining a majority on the bench.

When it comes to the Supreme Court, Donald Trump has mentioned Scalia as a model,” he said. “Well, that’s music to our ears, naturally. We know what we’re going to get with Hillary. Even if people have doubts about what kind of people Donald Trump would nominate, the difference here is between doubt and certainty.”

Fr. Pavone said Mr. Trump is not the ideal pro-life candidate, but added that a healthy dose of pragmatism is necessary in any election.

“You don’t compromise on your goals or your principles,” he said. “At the same time, you look at the situation and you say, ‘How far can we go in these circumstances?’ Well, either one or the other is going to be president, so we want the better of the two.”

“We know 100 percent where Hillary Clinton stands,” Ms. Quigley noted. “She supports abortion up until the moment of birth for any reason. She has yet to name a single instance in which she would stand in and protect the life of the child, even sex-selection abortions, abortions for disability, up until the very moment of birth.

“We’ve made the judgment that this is what we need to do.”

AUL: Stall Supreme Court Nominee To 'Roll Back Roe v. Wade'

Anti-choice groups have made no secret of the fact that they are pressuring Senate Republicans to continue their blockade of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, in the hope that a Republican-nominated justice will vote to undo Roe v. Wade.

Americans United for Life, the group that shapes the anti-choice movement’s legal strategy, made this argument explicitly in an email today asking members to pressure their senators to keep up the blockade of Garland.

Clarke Forsythe, the group’s acting president, claims in the email that the “only reason abortion advocates are pushing this nomination is to roll back the pro-life gains in courts and legislatures across the country” and promises that “the right Supreme Court” will roll back Roe.

AUL is one of a number of anti-choice groups, including the Susan B. Anthony List, Concerned Women for America, the Family Research Council, Priests for Life, the clinic protest group Pro-Life Action League and David Daleiden’s attorneys at Life Legal Defense Foundation, who have launched a website targeting Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, urging them to continue to stall Garland’s nomination.

Forsythe writes, under the subject line “You Have the Power to Help Roll Back Roe v. Wade”:

Dear Friend,

Do you believe Roe v. Wade can be rolled back? At Americans United for Life, we know that the answer is YES … with the right Supreme Court.

For more than 40 years, we pro-life Americans have been working to overturn the destructiveness of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, the twin cases that brought incredible devastation to mothers and their unborn children, making both vulnerable to the profiteering of a greedy abortion industry. With the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court hangs in the balance today, making it vital that NO appointment to the high court occur until after the voters weigh in on Election Day. You can help make that happen.

Please click here to contact your U.S. Senators, telling them to wait until after the election to deal with the opening on the Supreme Court.

All that AUL has been working for since 1971 is at stake in President Obama’s attempt to put a fifth pro-abortion justice on the Supreme Court. Don't let them crush democracy on the abortion issue for another two or three decades. No president has been more firmly committed to the abortion industry than Barack Obama, making his pick for the Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland, the wrong choice to be added to the fragile balance in a fractured court.

Please click here to contact your U.S. Senators now.

Judge Garland is President Obama’s pro-abortion pick to tempt some Republicans to act now to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. But it’s important to remember that President Obama, Vice President Biden and even Sen. Chuck Schumer, all urged the Senate to hold the line against Supreme Court picks late in a president’s term. The only reason abortion advocates are pushing this nomination is to roll back the pro-life gains in courts and legislatures across the country.

Please contact your Senators today, asking them to let Americans have a voice in deciding the future of the Supreme Court, through their choice of leadership. Click here to contact them now, and please forward this to friends and family so that we all can have a voice in whether all people are welcomed in life and protected in law.

With so many Justices on the Supreme Court nearing retirement, the time is now to let your Senators know that it matters to you who sits on the nation’s Supreme Court.

Thank you for standing with Americans United for Life at this important time. We can make a difference.

Sincerely,

Clarke Forsythe,
Acting President & Senior Counsel
Americans United for Life

Trump's 'Punishment' Comments Have Caught Anti-Choice Leaders Flat-Footed

Donald Trump’s recent comments — since walked back — about the need to have “some form of punishment” for women who have abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned, even though those women would be forced to “illegal places” for the procedure, caused the anti-choice movement to go into damage control as all of its carefully honed talking points were dismantled by the man who may be their presidential candidate.

And it turned out that anti-choice leaders are so used to deflecting tough questions about the results of recriminalizing abortion that, when forced to face those questions head-on, they don’t really have any good answers.

Yesterday, Marjorie Dannenfelser, the head of the Susan B. Anthony List, attempted to deflect concerns about women seeking illegal abortions if Roe is overturned by claiming, unbelievably, that illegal abortion wouldn’t be a problem because desperate women would be won over by anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers instead.

Then, today, Clarke Forsythe, a longtime attorney for Americans United for Life who is now apparently serving as the organization's acting president, published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times explaining that women need not worry because, if Roe is overturned, abortion will still be legal in many states. Those states that then want to enact abortion bans, he writes, will probably do it in a way that exempts women from prosecution:

The claim that women will be jailed for abortion when Roe is overturned rests on a second myth: that the Supreme Court's change of heart will result in the immediate re-criminalization of abortion.

But if Roe were overturned today, abortion would be legal well into the second trimester in at least 42 to 43 states tomorrow (and likely all 50 states) for the simple reason that nearly all of the state abortion prohibitions have been either repealed or are blocked by state court versions of Roe.

Extensive practical law enforcement experience in many states, over many years, is what led prosecutors not to target women. After Roe is overturned, that experience will certainly be influential with state policymakers who wish to effectively enforce abortion law.

Because we recognize that abortion is bad for both mother and child, pro-life leaders do not support the prosecution of women and will not push for such a policy when Roe is overturned. (Obviously, like Trump, any single legislator can spout their idiosyncratic ideas.)

Forsythe also argues that in states that did recriminalize abortion after the overturning of Roe, any criminal penalties on women would probably not be enforced because women who have abortions have traditionally been seen as a “victim” of “male coercion”:

Before the Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Roe vs. Wade — which legalized abortion for any reason, at any time of pregnancy — state abortion laws targeted abortionists (those who performed abortions), not women.

The states understood that the point of abortion law is effective enforcement against abortionists; that the woman is the second victim of the abortionist; and that prosecuting women is counterproductive to the goal of effective enforcement of the law against abortionists.

Since time immemorial, the law has recognized that male coercion, abandonment or indifference has been at the center of most abortions.

Granted, as many as 20 state statutes technically made it a crime for the woman to participate in her own abortion. But these were not enforced.

Forsythe is one of the most thoughtful legal strategists working in the anti-abortion movement today. And the best answer he can come up with to the question of what would happen to women if Roe were to be overturned tomorrow is that abortion wouldn’t actually be recriminalized in many places and even in places where it was, lawmakers would probably spare women.

Of course, the anti-choice movement’s entire goal is to ban the procedure nationwide.

Donald Trump’s comments on abortion were terrifying. But the GOP frontrunner did a public service by exposing that, when it comes to the tough questions about banning abortion, anti-choice groups are completely unprepared.

Conservative Groups Double Down On SCOTUS Obstruction

After President Obama announced his nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court today, conservative groups quickly doubled down on their calls for Senate Republicans to block any person the president nominates to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Although a handful of senators are now hinting that they may be willing to at least meet with Garland — who has won praise from Republicans in the past — conservative groups have reiterated their demands that the GOP block his nomination.

Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice issued a statement repeating his call for “no confirmation proceedings until after the election.” Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver similarly repeated that there should be “no Senate hearing on any Obama nominee.” Concerned Women for America announced that “President Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court does not change the fact that the Senate needs to continue to do the proper thing by fulfilling its role of ‘advice and consent’” — by which CWA means blocking a nominee.

Alliance Defending Freedom’s Casey Mattox offered no criticism of Garland himself but claimed that the Obama administration is untrustworthy and so Garland’s nomination should be blocked: “The Obama administration has demonstrated it cannot be trusted to respect the rule of law, the Constitution, and the limits of its own authority. So it should be no surprise that the American people would be highly skeptical that any nominee this president puts forth would be acceptable.”

Heritage Action, which was calling for an end to most judicial and executive branch confirmations even before Scalia’s death, declared that “nothing has changed” with the nomination of Garland and that we areone liberal Justice away from seeing gun rights restricted and partial birth abortion being considered a constitutional right.”

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council similarly tried to paint Garland as a liberal, saying he is “far from being a consensus nominee,” although he offered no specifics about the “serious questions” he said there were about Garland’s “ability to serve as a constitutionalist.” Kayla Moore, who heads the Foundation for Moral Law, the group founded by her husband Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, also opted for vague and dire warnings, saying that Americans “may very well lose our rights” if Garland is confirmed.

Anti-abortion groups also doubled down on their opposition to any confirmation proceedings, while at the same time struggling to find specific reasons to oppose Garland.

Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life didn’t bother to criticize Garland at all, writing instead that this is “no time for a lame duck President to push through a judge for a lifetime appointment.” (Never mind that Obama, with nearly a year left in his second term in office, is not a lame duck president.)

The Susan B. Anthony List’s Marjorie Dannenfelser wrote:

This changes nothing. We do not know this nominee but we do know Barack Obama. Anyone he nominates will join the voting bloc on the Court that consistently upholds abortion on-demand. The President should not be permitted one last opportunity to stack the Court with pro-abortion Justices.

Meanwhile, Americans United for Life dug up this one unconvincing piece of opposition research:

Consider that Judge Garland spoke at a gathering celebrating Linda Greenhouse’s book on Justice Harry Blackmun, Becoming Justice Blackmun. He described the release of the papers of the late Justice Blackmun—the author of one of the Supreme Court’s worst decisions, Roe v. Wade—as a “great gift to the country.”

Operation Rescue’s Troy Newman said his group would oppose any nominee who does not publicly “renounce Roe v. Wade”:

"Millions of lives hang in the balance of each ruling on abortion put forth by the Supreme Court. I refuse to support any nominee - Republican or Democrat - that will not renounce Roe v. Wade and commit to restoring legal protections to the pre-born," said Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue.



"I strongly urge the members of the Judiciary Committee to hold fast to their promise, for the sake of the future of our country and the future of our posterity," said Newman. "The Senate Republican leadership cannot afford to break this important promise to their conservative, pro-life base, if they expect us to vote for any of them ever again."

Gun groups also came out swinging against Garland, with the National Rifle Association claiming that he “ does not respect our fundamental, individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense” and Gun Owners of America colorfully calling on the Senate to “bury this nomination and write ‘Dead On Arrival’ as its epitaph.” Both groups based their objections on Garland’s vote, as a D.C. Circuit judge, simply to rehear an important gun rights case.

The Judicial Crisis Network’s Carrie Severino — who previously called Garland a “best case scenario” Obama nominee to the Supreme Court — has been relying on thesame flimsy criticism to attack Garland.

We’ll update this post with more reactions as they come in.

This post has been updated.

Conservative Groups Circle The Wagons On SCOTUS Obstruction

When the news broke of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death on Saturday, Republicans in the Senate almost immediately vowed to block the nomination of any person President Obama puts forward to fill the empty Supreme Court seat.

Conservative groups quickly followed suit, putting forward various rationales for keeping a Supreme Court seat open for more than a year in the hopes that a Republican is elected president in November.

Some of these activists made variations on the false claim that the Senate never confirms judicial nominees during election years. Others warned of dire consequences for America if the president is allowed a Supreme Court pick. One activist going so far as to claim that Scalia’s seat should be kept vacant in perpetuity until a Republican is elected president.

Conservative legal activist Ed Whelan said it would be “grossly irresponsible” to let Obama pick the next justice:

Senate Republicans would be grossly irresponsible to allow President Obama, in the last months of his presidency, to cement a liberal majority that will wreak havoc on the Constitution. Let the people decide in November who will select the next justice.

Whelan also told “Breitbart News Daily” that “we are at risk of really losing the Supreme Court and losing the Constitution.”

The American Center for Law and Justice ’s Jay Sekulow said that President Obama was perfectly free to nominate a conservative to replace Scalia:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley are both committed to letting the American people decide at the ballot box this November, letting our 45th President appoint Justice Scalia’s replacement. While President Obama remains free to appoint a conservative committed to upholding the Constitution as his replacement, he has given us no reason to believe he would.

So the American people should get to decide.

This is a prime opportunity for all branches of government to show that we still have a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Carrie Severino of the Judicial Crisis Network (formerly the Judicial Confirmation Network), said President Obama is the “last person” who should be nominating the next Supreme Court justice:

… This president, who has shown such contempt for the Constitution and the laws, is the last person who should be appointing his successor. The American people on both sides of the aisle are disgusted with the status quo in Washington and another nomination by this President would just bring about more of the same. The people’s voice should be heard in November to determine who will appoint the next Supreme Court Justice.”

Mat Staver, head of the conservative legal group Liberty Counsel (which represented Kentucky clerk Kim Davis and is now representing an anti-Planned Parenthood activist) declared that the “future of the Supreme Court and America” depends on the Senate blocking any Obama nominee:

“With the passing of Justice Scalia, the future of the High Court and the future of America is hanging in the balance. The Senate must not confirm any nominee to the Supreme Court from President Obama. The Senate must hold off any confirmation until the next President is seated. Unfortunately the presidential debates have been more theater and less substance about the real issues surrounding the Supreme Court. The election of the next President has now taken on even greater importance. The future of the Supreme Court and America now depends on the Senate blocking any nominee by President Obama and the people electing the right person to occupy the White House,” said Staver.

The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins echoed the call to hold Scalia's seat open:

"The Supreme Court has now become the centerpiece in this presidential election. There has not been an election-year nomination in generations and the Senate must not break that trend now. With the election only 269 days away, the people should decide what president should fill this seat," concluded Perkins.

As did the American Family Association’s Buddy Smith:

We cannot allow President Obama to replace him with a judicial activist. Activist judges have mangled the Constitution almost beyond recognition, and we cannot allow Justice Scalia to be replaced by a justice who will continue to shred the Constitution rather than protect it and uphold it.

While the Constitution gives the president the right to nominate Supreme Court justices, it also gives the Senate the right to reject them. The Constitution does not even require an unacceptable nominee be given a vote on the floor.

Americans United for Life’s Charmaine Yoest said, “His loss is tragic, and we hope that when it comes time for the Senate to vote on his replacement, that a worthy successor who can pick up his banner can be found after the election.”

Alan Sears, head of Alliance Defending Freedom, hedged his bets, saying that “it is unlikely that a new justice will be installed prior to the election of our next president.

Janet Porter of Faith 2 Action declared, “The best way to honor Justice Scalia’s legacy is to make sure there is no Obama nominee confirmed by the U.S. Senate.”

Troy Newman, head of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue and a member of Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, warned that if Obama were to nominate the next justice, America would become a “totalitarian government”:

"With the passing of the esteemed Justice Scalia, America stands at a crossroads. Will she choose the path of fascism or freedom? We are just one Obama appointee away from a totalitarian government. Two years ago, the GOP promised the American people that, if elected, they would thwart Obama's radical leftist agenda. This is the GOP's moment. Will it shine as a light for liberty in this dark moment or will that light be extinguished by political appeasement?" asked Operation Rescue President Troy Newman.

John Zmirak, editor of James Robison’s website The Stream, went even further, saying that if the next president is a Democrat, a Republican Senate should still refuse to confirm any of their judicial nominees:

But they should go further. As long as Republicans control the Senate, there is no excuse for any pro-choice, anti-gun rights, anti-marriage justices to be confirmed to our highest court. If, God forbid, Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton is elected, they should face a Republican Senate — or even a GOP minority — that will obstruct their every judicial appointment, even if it means leaving key seats on national benches empty, for years at a time. As justices retire or die, the court will simply grow smaller. Big deal. America will muddle through. This is the kind of implacable determination that defeated the solidly conservative Justice Bork and got us the muddled Anthony Kennedy — and Casey v. Planned Parenthood and Obergefell. It is time for that worm to turn.

Conservatives must drop the facade of high-minded bipartisanship, which only ever cuts to the left. The courts have staggering power to change our lives, and damage our country. They can kill our nation’s unborn babies, seize our guns and punish our churches. If GOP senators aren’t willing to fight long, hard and relentlessly to stop that from happening, we should find other senators who can, back them in the next primary election, and cripple the re-election of squishy moderate turncoats. A presidential candidate who appreciates all this will get my vote. And I think he’ll earn yours.

Anti-Choice Groups Are Trying To Claim The Term 'Back Alley' To Oppose Legal Abortion

Next month, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a challenge to a restrictive Texas abortion law and a key test of the anti-choice movement’s long-term strategy of eliminating abortion access by regulating abortion providers out of existence.

Central to the case is the claim that laws like the one in Texas, which could close three quarters of the state’s abortion clinics if it’s fully enacted, impose tough regulations on abortion providers in order to protect the health of the women who take advantage of their services.

Now, in an effort to claim that they are the ones who are really concerned about women’s health, anti-choice groups are appropriating the term “back-alley abortion,” using the phrase that has long described dangerous illegal procedures in the years before Roe to claim that it is in fact legal abortion that forces women into the “back alley.”

In an article for the Federalist yesterday, Americans United for Life (AUL) attorney Mailee Smith wrote that the Texas case has “prompted a discussion about what is more important: ‘access’ to the current back alley of abortion now offered by an industry that puts profits over people, or commonsense health and safety standards the Court has historically supported.”

It’s a line that AUL has been repeating in the past few years, encouraged in part by the case of Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortion provider who was convicted of several gruesome crimes after the lax enforcement of regulations allowed him to stay in business.

Speaking at a Heritage Foundation event in 2013 after Gosnell’s conviction, AUL’s president, Chairmaine Yoest, declared, “Gosnell is sadly not an aberration. Ladies and gentlemen, we already have the back alley of abortion in this country and the back alley of abortion in this country is legal abortion.” A 2012 law review article by AUL attorney Clarke Forsythe in favor of clinic regulations was titled “A Road Map Through The Supreme Court’s Back Alley.” A 2013 AUL guide to regulating abortion clinics declared, “abortion clinics across the nation have become the true ‘back alleys’ of abortion mythology.”

Other groups have caught on to the messaging too. Speaking of Gosnell’s conviction in 2013, the Susan B. Anthony List’s Marjorie Dannenfelser claimed that “the result of the current law is that we’re living back-alley abortions right now.” 

In a set of talking points posted on its website in 2014, the National Right to Life Committee recommended countering pro-choice arguments about the risk of back-alley abortions by saying, “The only thing that legalizing abortion did was to give abortionists the ability to hang their shingle on the front door and stop using the back alley!”

Few would disagree that Gosnell — who was convicted of killing a patient and three infants who were born alive at his squalid clinic — was offering the functional equivalent of back-alley abortions. But the anti-choice movement is instead attempting to exploit the Gosnell case to claim that legal abortion is back-alley abortion, and to use it to justify unnecessary regulations meant to cut shut down safe providers.

Abortion rights opponents often attempt to downplay the real danger of illegal abortions women faced before the liberalization of abortion laws and Roe. Although women with money and connections could often obtain a safe hospital abortion (whether or not it was technically legal) in the years leading up to Roe, the burden of unsafe abortion fell disproportionately on poor women and women of color.

Guttmacher reports that although rates of death from unsafe abortion fell as medical care improved on all levels, 200 women died from unsafe abortion in 1965, making up 17 percent of all pregancy-related deaths that year. Even as states began to liberalize their abortion laws, many women without access to safe procedures still obtained illegal abortions.

As a number of commentators pointed out when Gosnell’s crimes came to light, forcing safe clinics to close would only force more women to predatory providers like Gosnell.

From the beginning, anti-choice activists have acknowledged that clinic regulations like those in Texas are meant not to protect women but to challenge legal abortion. In a 2007 memo arguing against “personhood” laws that attempt to ban all abortions in one fell swoop, influential anti-abortion attorney James Bopp listed clinic regulations like Texas’ as one way to “improve the legal situation” of the anti-abortion movement without fully taking on the constitutional right to abortion. In its annual package of model legislation for state legislators, AUL touts clinic-regulation measures as part of the effort to “unravel” Roe and facilitate its “demise.”

Texas’ law, which AUL says it helped write, requires abortion clinics to remodel if they don’t meet the stringent standards of ambulatory surgical clinics, which in general perform more complicated and riskier procedures than abortion. It also mandates that abortion providers have admitting privileges at a local hospital, an unnecessary requirement that it is sometimes difficult or impossible for abortion providers to meet. (This is in part because anti-abortion activists pressure hospitals not to offer such admitting privileges, again showing that their goal is closing clinics, not improving safety standards.)

The law behind the Whole Women's Health case isn’t meant to eliminate “back-alley” abortions, as its backers are now claiming. It’s meant to cut off access for the women who can least afford it and to chip away at the legal framework of Roe, which would, ironically, mostly likely lead to more true back-alley abortions. 

Cruz And Rubio Sign Amicus Brief Urging Supreme Court To Weaken Roe

Republican presidential candidates Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida are among the 174 members of Congress who have submitted an amicus brief yesterday urging the Supreme Court to uphold a Texas anti-abortion law that threatens to close most of the abortion providers in the state.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (previously called Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole) on March 2, considering whether sweeping abortion restrictions in Texas present an unconstitutional “undue burden” on women seeking abortions or whether they are merely meant to protect women’s health, as their backers claim. The case is a critical test of the anti-choice movement’s long-term strategy to weaken Roe by gradually chipping away at abortion access in the states, often by claiming that burdensome regulations are meant to protect the health of women seeking abortions.

Texas’ law was written in consultation with Americans United for Life, the national group that is leading the charge to eliminate abortion access via restrictive state laws. The regulations imposed by the law included specifications on things like hallway width and even on water fountains, along with unnecessary and sometimes untenable hospital “admitting privileges” requirements for abortion providers. If upheld by the court, the law would likely close all but a handful of Texas’ abortion clinics, creating a model for other conservative states to follow. Texas’ lieutenant governor at the time the law was passed, David Dewhurst, boasted that it would “essentially ban abortion statewide.”

Yet Texas lawmakers and their attorneys are sticking with the story that the law is a reasonable regulation meant to protect patients’ health, allowable under the framework laid out in the Supreme Court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. And that is the argument that the brief by Cruz, Rubio and their fellow members of Congress makes too, claiming that doctors “disagree” on the necessity of the regulations and so Texas legislators merely “decided to strike a balance that gives first priority to women’s health and safety, choosing to risk erring on the side of safety rather than on the side of danger.”

As an example of the supposed necessity of such regulations, the brief cites Kermit Gosnell, the Pennsylvania abortion provider who was convicted of a number of appalling crimes related to his shoddy practice. Gosnell was not only operating in an entirely different state, it was clear that his crimes were the result of insufficient enforcement of existing regulations on clinics rather than insufficient regulation.

In a statement about the amicus brief, Rubio started off with the Gosnell case, claiming that the Texas law “best protects the safety and well-being of women who choose to have abortions, and serves as a model for other states to follow,” adding that such measures are stop-gap until “we can put an end to abortion and protect life once and for all.” Cruz also raised the specter of Gosnell, claiming that “the most zealous abortion advocates, nothing—not even women’s health—can be allowed to stand in the way of abortion-on-demand.”

Rubio and Cruz, like the law they are defending, are deliberately skirting around the point. Rubio supports banning abortion in all circumstances, while Cruz has backed a radical “personhood” laws that would ban all abortion and could even risk outlawing some types of birth control. At the same time, Cruz backed then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s refusal to accept federal Medicaid expansion that would have insured more than one million people while Rubio has tried repeatedly to take away insurance coverage for contraception from some women. It’s hard to believe that Rubio and Cruz’s position in Whole Woman’s Health stems from a sudden interest in women’s health rather than a concerted strategy to eliminate abortion rights.

Anti-Planned Parenthood Activist David Daleiden Gets Indicted, But The Anti-Choice Movement Still Feels Like It's Winning

In an interesting turn of events yesterday, a Texas grand jury that had been convened to investigate Planned Parenthood based on the claims of anti-abortion activist David Daleiden instead indicted Daleiden and a colleague on charges relating to their infiltration of the women’s health care organization.
 
In a statement responding to the charges, Daleiden called himself an "investigative journalist," something that he has been doing from the beginning of his project. In reality, Daleiden's "investigation" was rooted in a tradition of anti-abortion activists attempting to harass and intimidate abortion providers to prevent them from practicing, rather than a genuine effort to uncover the truth. In fact, one of Daleiden's associates at the radical anti-choice group Operation Rescue, which helped to get his project off the ground, said that Daleiden's goal going into the project was to “obtain prosecutions” of Planned Parenthood officials.
 
So far, Daleiden's attempt to "obtain prosecutions" has come up empty.
 
But pushing for the prosecution of Planned Parenthood officials was only part of Daleiden’s plan. In a statement following the indictment, Daleiden claimed that the “admissions” of Planned Parenthood were “captured on video for all the world to see.” Never mind that the videos show no such “admissions” of law-breaking. The point of the videos was not just to make a case to law enforcement, but to sway public opinion.
 
On a large scale, that hasn't been successful: One poll showed barely a flutter in the public’s views about Planned Parenthood between August and September of last year, in the height of the visibility of Daleiden’s videos. Planned Parenthood's favorability ratings had already dropped over the last two decades, Gallup found, but mostly among Republicans, a trend that the polling agency attributed to the growing “politicization of Planned Parenthood."
 
What Daleiden’s project has done is to galvanize support among those who were already opposed to abortion rights. Protests in front of Planned Parenthood offices, driven by the old guard of the anti-abortion “rescue” movement, expanded and multiplied, with the support of much more visible anti-choice groups. At this year’s March for Life, it was impossible to go five minutes without hearing a mention of Daleiden or his videos, with speaker after speaker saying that their movement finally had winning momentum. In the days leading up to the march, Daleiden crossed the city to speak to protesters holding gruesome signs outside a construction site for a new Planned Parenthood clinic; to talk with Americans United for Life lawyers working on strategies to restrict abortion rights; and to be prayed over by Russell Moore and Jim Daly, evangelical leaders who are trying to put a kinder, gentler face on their movement.
 
Speakers at nearly every event noted with hope that a bill defunding Planned Parenthood recently made it through a Republican Congress, allowing anti-choice activists to say that all they need now is to elect a president who would sign it.
 
Now that Daleiden is facing prosecution, he’s in the company of many fellow members of the “rescue” movement, which his work grew out of. Among those who protest outside of clinics, or try to infiltrate them, arrest and jail time for violation of what they see as unjust laws is a badge of honor. At a protest last week in front of a new Planned Parenthood that is being built in Washington, D.C., before Daleiden spoke, one “rescue” movement leader asked who there would be willing to “lay their body in front of the door” or “handcuff yourself to construction equipment” in order to stop the building from opening. Another touted the work of one of Daleiden’s mentors to train “a whole army of David Daleidens” to infiltrate Planned Parenthood clinics throughout the country.
 
Yesterday’s indictment is unlikely to dissuade these activists, who feel that they are on the cusp of a David-and-Goliath victory. In fact, at events connected to the March for Life last week, speakers expressed hope that a separate lawsuit against Daleiden by Planned Parenthood would instead turn up unflattering information about the women's health provider and land it in hot water instead. So far, the opposite has been true. But, to the anti-choice movement, that just makes Daleiden seem even more like David, closer than ever to slinging the winning shot.

Supreme Court Rejects Attempt At Restrictive Six-Week Abortion Ban

There has long been a debate raging within the anti-abortion movement between those who have mapped out a careful strategy to slowly chip away at Roe v. Wade through incremental restrictions on abortion and those who want to launch legal broadsides against abortion rights in the hopes that one will take Roe down once and for all.

The incrementalists will have their big day in court on March 2, when the Supreme Court hears arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, a challenge to a set of laws in Texas that seeks to cut off access to legal abortion even as the procedure remains legal. Whole Woman’s Health is the culmination of a decades-long strategy by groups like Americans United for Life to choke off abortion access by creating unnecessary regulations on clinics. These groups are also hoping to get the Supreme Court to reconsider Roe in the form of laws banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, just before when the court has said that abortion bans are legal.

But those who want to find a silver bullet to end abortion rights completely just had a day in court too … and it didn’t go well for them.

The Supreme Court today declined to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that struck down North Dakota’s “fetal heartbeat” law, which would have banned abortion at about six weeks of pregnancy, before many women even know that they are pregnant. The law was clearly unconstitutional — one prominent anti-choice lawyer has called such efforts “futile” — but North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple said that it was an “attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade.”

The boundaries of Roe v. Wade, it turns out, however much they may be weakened by incremental restrictions, still prevent banning almost all abortions.

Yet today’s rejection is unlikely to halt the efforts of “heartbeat bill” crusaders, the most prominent of whom is Religious Right activist Janet Porter, who is currently running for the legislature in her home state of Ohio in an effort to push such a bill through.

PFAW

Supreme Court Rejects Attempt At Restrictive Six-Week Abortion Ban

There has long been a debate raging within the anti-abortion movement between those who have mapped out a careful strategy to slowly chip away at Roe v. Wade through incremental restrictions on abortion and those who want to launch legal broadsides against abortion rights in the hopes that one will take Roe down once and for all.

The incrementalists will have their big day in court on March 2, when the Supreme Court hears arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, a challenge to a set of laws in Texas that seeks to cut off access to legal abortion even as the procedure remains legal. Whole Woman’s Health is the culmination of a decades-long strategy by groups like Americans United for Life to choke off abortion access by creating unnecessary regulations on clinics. These groups are also hoping to get the Supreme Court to reconsider Roe in the form of laws banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, just before when the court has said that abortion bans are legal.

But those who want to find a silver bullet to end abortion rights completely just had a day in court too … and it didn’t go well for them.

The Supreme Court today declined to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that struck down North Dakota’s “fetal heartbeat” law, which would have banned abortion at about six weeks of pregnancy, before many women even know that they are pregnant. The law was clearly unconstitutional — one prominent anti-choice lawyer has called such efforts “futile” — but North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple said that it was an “attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade.”

The boundaries of Roe v. Wade, it turns out, however much they may be weakened by incremental restrictions, still prevent banning almost all abortions.

Yet today’s rejection is unlikely to halt the efforts of “heartbeat bill” crusaders, the most prominent of whom is Religious Right activist Janet Porter, who is currently running for the legislature in her home state of Ohio in an effort to push such a bill through.

Supreme Court Takes Up Major Test Of Anti-Choice Movement's Strategy

The Supreme Court announced today that it will hear Whole Women’s Health v. Cole next term. The case, which deals with abortion restrictions that Texas passed in 2013, represents a major test of the anti-choice movement’s long-term strategy of cutting off abortion access through incremental legislation rather than directly challenging the right to abortion. This comes after the court’s announcement last week that it will hear another challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage mandate, testing how far the Religious Right can stretch the meaning of religious liberty in attempting to cut off access to reproductive rights.

In the Huffington Post today, People For the American Way’s Elliot Mincberg explains what’s at stake in the Texas case:

The Texas case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, concerns a law imposing restrictions on clinics so severe that they would reduce the number of clinics that perform abortions in the state from more than 40 a few years ago to just 10, including none at all in the 500 miles between San Antonio and the New Mexico border. The state has claimed that the limits, requiring extensive hospital-like equipment and doctors with hospital admitting privileges even for clinics that offer abortions only through oral medication, are important to protect women’s health. These claims are belied not only by the medical evidence, but also by Texas politicians’ statements, such as Governor Rick Perry’s vow to “pass laws to ensure” that abortions are “as rare as possible.”

That law clearly violates the 5-4 ruling of the Court in Casey, which upheld the basic right to choose of Roe v. Wade, and held that such laws must truly be important to protect women’s health and not impose an “undue burden” on that right. Will the Court uphold and correctly apply Casey and continue to protect reproductive rights? Given the stark divisions on the Court, the answer may well come down to the vote of Justice Anthony Kennedy, the last member of the five-person Casey majority who is still on the Court today.

This case represents the culmination of a decades-long strategy by the anti-choice movement — most notably the legal group Americans United for Life, which helped draft the Texas bill — to restrict abortion access to the point where the right to abortion exists in theory but not in practice. If the Supreme Court agrees to further weaken the protections of Roe v. Wade, it could open the door for many more onerous restrictions on abortion providers and women seeking abortions.

At World Congress of Families, Anti-Choice Activists Celebrate Victories & Map Strategy To Overturn Roe v Wade

The first day of the World Congress of Families summit in Salt Lake City was focused on restricting access to abortion — the program described the day’s theme as “the value of life in all its stages and conditions.” 

During one anti-abortion panel, Charmaine Yoest of Americans United for Life — which Miranda once described as a sort of ALEC of the anti-choice movement —  celebrated the movement’s recent successes and mapped out a cultural and legal strategy to overturn Roe v. Wade, a strategy grounded in portraying abortion as harmful to women and the pro-life movement as pro-women.

Yoest told the audience to be encouraged, citing a graph from the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute showing that “more abortion restrictions have been enacted since the tidal wave election of 2010 than were enacted in the entire previous decade.” Said Yoest, “I’m really proud of this progress, because it comes from a deliberate strategy that we have enacted as a movement to concentrate on state legislatures.”

Yoest said after the 1983 failure to pass a constitutional amendment in Congress, activists convened their own congress and strategized.

“We came up with a strategy and emerged with a plan: focus on the statehouses and test the limits of Roe v. Wade. The story of the next several decades is one of trench warfare and gaining ground under the radar.”

This summer, she said, the Planned Parenthood videos have provided an “earthquake” which gives anti-abortion movement an opportunity to move forward strategically. [See PFAW’s report on the anti-Planned Parenthood attacks.] The legal strategy is aimed at Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s writing that overturning Roe would come with a “certain cost” to women who rely on it. “As pro-lifers, we need to understand that that’s the way he thinks, and his fellow justices on the court,” said Yoest. “But they are ignoring that there is a certain cost to the culture of death.”

Yoest said abortion brings women grief and dramatically increases a woman’s suicide risk. “What an Alice in Wonderland world that we live in where the defenders of so-called women’s health are the promoters of abortion. Let’s call them abortion harm deniers.”

Yoest cited Ruth Bader Ginsburg writing in dissent in Gonzales v. Carhart that “women cannot enjoy equal citizenship status” without access to abortion. And she quoted a feminist author telling women who have had abortion that she hopes they will begin to know their own power.

Ladies and gentlemen, our strategy for the next decade must engage this debate. Abortion for women is not power; it is poverty….

This is our way forward. We must engage a mother-child strategy. The mother-child strategy is rooted in a very careful study of the Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence. The court has told us pretty clearly what they think about abortion. Going back again to Planned Parenthood v. Casey, they told us that the state has two areas of legitimate interest: one is protecting the health of the woman and two is protecting the life of the fetus that, according to them, may become a child. Anything that we bring before two courts – the court of public opinion and the Supreme Court — must engage both of these elements, both the mother and the child.

We must keep coming back to what we know to be the truth: pro-life is pro-woman.

Yoest paraphrased a saying by G. K. Chesterton —  seemingly the most quoted conservative at the conference — saying that fairy tales are “more than true,” not because they tell us dragons are true, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten. “The culture of death,” she concluded,” is a dragon that must be beaten.” 

What The World Congress Of Families' 'Natural Family' Means For Women

This is the third in a series of posts about the upcoming World Congress of Families in Salt Lake City, Utah. Read our introduction to the World Congress of Families here and an exploration of WCF’s anti-LGBT politics here.

While the World Congress of Families has become well known in the U.S. for its anti-LGBT activism, that is just one part of its larger vision of promoting what it calls the “natural family” throughout the world. In fact, in keeping with the vision that Allan Carlson and Paul Mero laid out in their "natural family" manifesto, this year’s conference will feature not just anti-LGBT activists, but opponents of abortion rights, contraception, sex education and liberalized divorce laws.

These issues are closely intertwined in this worldview. One scheduled WCF speaker, Evan Lenow of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, explained it clearly in a 2011 lecture on “The Challenge of Homosexuality For Gender Roles.” Lenow laid out the argument that the Bible prescribes separate but equal roles for men and women in marriage, with women required to “submit themselves to the leadership of their husbands, just as the church submits to Christ.” Same-sex marriages, where gender roles are by necessity “egalitarian,” he said, “subvert” this biblically ordained relationship.

For many of these activists, all manner of evils date back to the “sexual revolution” and, in particular, the widespread availability and use of contraception.

Allan Carlson, WCF’s founder and a speaker at the Utah event, has been a strong critic of the role of contraception in changing the roles of women and families in society, including speaking at a 2006 anti-contraception conference and appearing in the anti-contraception film “Birth Control: How Did We Get Here?

A panel on “Understanding the Sexual and Cultural Revolution” will feature the Family Research Council’s Pat Fagan, who has argued that the Supreme Court decision ending bans on contraception for unmarried people was wrong because “functioning societies” ought to “punish” and “shame” people who have sex out of wedlock. Fagan links the “contraceptive mindset” to any number of social ills. “Since the introduction of contraception, everything else has fallen,” he has said.

Joining Fagan on the “sexual and cultural revolution” panel will be the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Katie McCoy, who has argued strongly against efforts to allow women to serve as Southern Baptist pastors.

A forum on “The Beneficial and Harmful Influences of Feminism,” moderated by WCF’s Larry Jacobs, will feature declared anti-feminist activists Babette Francis of the Australian Endeavor Forum and Gayle Ruzicka, the head of the Utah chapter of Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, who is also a radical anti-gay activist.

WCF has set aside time to showcase the latest round of attacks against Planned Parenthood, with a panel featuring Live Action’s Lila Rose, Americans United for Life’s Charmaine Yoest (who happens to be the daughter of WCF head Janice Shaw Crouse), and Priests for Life’s Alveda King. King has falsely claimed that hormonal birth control “exposes” women to breast cancer and insisted that this is part of an elaborate money-making scheme by Planned Parenthood. Moderating the panel will be a representative of Heartbeat International, a network of so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” that claims it can replace Planned Parenthood, despite the fact that it does not prescribe birth control.

A discussion on “International Pro-Life Initiatives” will feature Keith Mason who, through his group Personhood USA, advocates fetal “personhood” initiatives that would outlaw all abortion and could even threaten legal contraception. Mason’s group has become active in fighting reproductive rights advances at the United Nations and has begun pouring money into unspecified projects in Europe.

The fight against legal abortion, contraception and egalitarian gender roles is tied in with a founding principle of the World Congress of Families: the fear that demographic change is dooming European and American culture.

A panel on “demography,” moderated by Personhood USA’s Keith Mason and notably consisting entirely of men, will likely address some of these fears, and in particular the idea that contraception is the root cause of a perceived cultural decline. The panel will include Steve Mosher of the Population Research Institute, who has argued that “[i]n its own way, contraception is an even greater tragedy than abortion” because it “involves the deliberate rejection of God’s creative power.”

Also speaking on the panel will be WCF’s Don Feder, who told a WCF event in Belgrade earlier this year that contraception leads to “death” by “preventing life from happening,” and who warned at the Moscow conference last year that humanity is financing “ its own extinction” through birth control.

Joining them will be Igor Beloborodov, a Russian demographer who warned at a 2011 demographic forum featuring a number of American activists that birthrates were falling as a result of people who want to “push up sales of contraceptives, to increase the number of abortions, to make homosexuality more popular.” He presented this slide listing “global threats to family and life,” including “small families,” “homosexuality” and “feminism”:

The World Congress of Families will also include staunch opponents of comprehensive sex education in schools, including Dr. Miriam Grossman and the Eagle Forum’s Gayle Ruzicka, who have both supported instituting abstinence-only sex-ed in Utah. This is an especially interesting dynamic given that WCF extended an invitation to Elizabeth Smart, an abduction survivor turned anti-sex-trafficking advocate from Utah who has spoken about how the lessons she had learned in abstinence-only sex-ed contributed to her reluctance to flee her captor.

Also speaking at the event will be proponents of rolling back no-fault divorce laws, a little-noticed flip side to the conservative campaign against marriage equality for LGBT people. Repealing state no-fault divorce laws, which allow married couples to end their marriages without one party being found to be at fault, is a plank of Carlson and Mero’s “natural family” manifesto. A panel on divorce at the Utah summit will include Beverly Willett, the cofounder of the Coalition for Divorce Reform, which aims to make it more legally difficult for most couples to divorce and Michael McManus, who has also advocated against no-fault divorce laws.

The Personhood Divide: The Anti-Choice Movement's Bitter Feud Over The Best Way To End Legal Abortion

(Originally posted on RightWingWatch.org)

The “personhood” movement — those who seek sweeping bans on all abortion and common types of birth control in an effort to confront Roe v. Wade head-on — is hugely divisive within the anti-choice community. Groups like National Right to Life Committee, which have been pushing a more careful, incremental approach toward ending legal abortion, worry that the personhood movement risks undermining their progress toward the ultimate goal. Meanwhile, personhood advocates accuse groups like NRLC of selling out the ultimate goal in the service of small steps that they claim will never lead to the full criminalization of abortion.

A few months ago, we published a series of posts exploring the anti-choice personhood movement, its history, and how it is confronting a changing political landscape. People For the American Way Foundation has adapted that series into a report, “The Personhood Movement: Where It Comes From And What It Means for the Future of Choice,” which was released today. 

As the national debate over a NRLC-backed federal bill banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy have shown, one of the major sticking points between the two factions is whether the anti-choice movement should accept “compromises” that exempt women who have been raped from abortion bans. From the report’s introduction:

The largest and best-funded groups opposing abortion rights have, over the past several years, achieved astounding success in chipping away at women’s access to legal abortion in the United States. But these successes, Personhood Alliance’s founders maintain, are too small and have come at a grave cost.

In seeking mainstream approval for anti-choice politics, personhood advocates believe, groups like the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) and Americans United for Life (AUL) have adopted a secular tone and downplayed their Christian origins. In focusing on drawing attention to issues like late-term abortion, they may have won some support for the cause but have done little to end the procedures they targeted. In seeking incremental successes, personhood advocates argue, the movement has given up on making a moral argument for the humanity of fertilized eggs and fetuses and lost sight of its larger goal of eliminating legal abortion entirely.

But the greatest betrayal in the eyes of these personhood advocates is the willingness of major anti-choice groups to endorse legislation that includes exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest. The personhood movement’s leaders contend that these political concessions are not only immoral and intellectually inconsistent, but also threaten to undermine the movement’s goals in the long term.

The personhood movement provides an interesting look into the bitter “incrementalist vs. immediatist” divide that has split the anti-choice movement since before Roe v. Wade. Both sides want an end to legal abortion; neither trusts the other to get there. But in the meantime, each is making progress in making it more difficult and more dangerous for women to access safe and legal reproductive care.

PFAW Foundation

The Personhood Movement: Where It Comes From and What It Means For the Future of Choice

The largest and best-funded groups opposing abortion rights have, over the past several years, achieved astounding success in chipping away at women’s access to legal abortion in the United States. But these successes, Personhood Alliance’s founders maintain, are too small and have come at a grave cost.

At CPAC, Anti-Choice Groups Declare 'Abortion-Centered Feminism Is Dead'

An anti-abortion panel at CPAC this afternoon was clearly gunning for a spot on the main stage next year. Americans United for Life President Charmaine Yoest, Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser, and Darla St. Martin, co-executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, made the case that their movement is winning and that they can fill a room with activists.

Dannenfelser started the discussion by declaring that "abortion-centered feminism is dead."

The three credited their carefully formulated, incremental strategy that has brought them a slew of state-level victories cutting back on abortion access and pushing narrowly-tailored abortion bans meant to push back on Roe v. Wade in the courts while winning public opinion to their side.

Dannenfelser put her hope in so called "pain-capable" abortion bans which, based on questionable science, ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, a calculated attack on Roe. Since Nebraska passed such a ban in 2010, 11 other states have followed suit. The House postponed a vote on a national version of the ban after Republican women and moderates protested language in a rape exception. (SBA List had reportedly worked to insert the problematic reporting requirement language into the bill's rape exception.)

Dannenfelser, acknowledging that the 2003 "partial-birth" abortion ban -- which was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2007 -- barred a specific procedure rather than curtailing any actual abortions, said that the national passage of a 20-week ban would be "the most important moment in the pro-life movement since 1973."

Yoest focused on her group's strategy of regulating abortion providers out of existence, pointing to Texas's harsh anti-choice law, which could close nearly half the abortion providers in the state, as a success story. Yoest framed it differently: "The reason clinics are closing is because they refuse to provide decent services to women."

All three groups — in contrast to the all-or-nothing "personhood" movement — sing the praises of incremental victories. St. Martin, in a barely veiled dig at the personhood movement, repeatedly said​ that "the perfect is the enemy of the good." Yoest used a football analogy to describe her group's strategy in advancing "yard by yard by yard" to the total criminalization of abortion.

"Be encouraged, guys, we are making progress," she said. "We are marching down the field."

Correction: This post has been edited to correct the date that the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act was passed. It was signed into law in 2003 and upheld by the Supreme Court in 2007.

The Personhood Movement: Regrouping After Defeat: Part 4

This is the fourth post in a RWW series on the reemergence of the fetal personhood movement and what it means for the future of abortion rights in the U.S.

Part 1: The Personhood Movement: Where It Comes From And What It Means For The Future Of Choice
Part 2: The Personhood Movement: Internal Battles Go Public
Part 3: The Personhood Movement: Undermining Roe In The Courts

Last week, the Republican Party was forced into yet another uncomfortable public conversation about abortion and rape.

The House GOP, enjoying a strengthened majority after the 2014 elections, announced that on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, it would hold a vote on a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, a top priority of groups like National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) and Americans United for Life (AUL), which see it as a legislative key to toppling Roe v. Wade.

The night before the House was set to vote on the bill, GOP leaders pulled it from the floor, citing concerns by Republican women that a clause exempting rape survivors from the ban would require survivors to first report their assault to the police — a stipulation that they argued would prevent women from reporting rapes and would be politically unpopular.

Some anti-choice groups, however, had already stated that they would not support the bill — because they believed that the rape exception violated the principles of the anti-choice movement by exempting some women from abortion prohibitions.

In fact, less than two years earlier, the addition of the rape exemption to the bill had caused an acrimonious public split in the anti-choice movement, leading to the formation of the newest group advocating for a “personhood” strategy to end legal abortion.

The 2013 bill, proposed by Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, included only an exception for abortions that would save the life of pregnant women. But in a committee hearing on the bill, Franks caused an uproar when he defended his bill by claiming that rape rarely results in pregnancy anyway. House Republicans, facing another outrageous comment about rape from one of their own, quickly added a rape exception to the bill, put a female cosponsor, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, in charge of the floor debate, and pushed it through the House.

The day before the vote, the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) sent members of Congress a letter calling the Franks bill, which was based on its own model legislation, “the most important single piece of pro-life legislation to come before the House since the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was enacted, a full decade ago.”

The group told members of Congress that it would go after them if they voted against the bill, even if they opposed it because they thought the legislation did not go far enough to ban abortion: “NRLC will regard a vote against this legislation, no matter what justification is offered, as a vote to allow unlimited abortion in the sixth month or later — and that is the way it will be reported in our scorecard of key right-to-life roll calls of the 113th Congress, and in subsequent communications from National Right to Life to grassroots pro-life citizens in every state.”

Major anti-choice groups including the Susan B. Anthony List and Americans United for Life also applauded the vote.

But Daniel Becker, head of National Right to Life’s Georgia affiliate, was not pleased. In the days after Republicans added a rape exception to the bill, Becker worked the phones, urging House Republicans from his state to oppose the “shameful” watered-down legislation. His efforts convinced two Georgia Republicans, Rep. Paul Broun and Rep. Rob Woodall, to buck their party and the major anti-choice groups and vote against the bill. Georgia Right to Life then endorsed Broun in his unsuccessful campaign to win the GOP nomination for an open U.S. Senate seat.

NRLC was livid and, true to its word, sent out a press release the next day singling out Broun and Woodall for their no votes.

Also furious was a prominent NRLC ally in Georgia, conservative pundit Erick Erickson. The day that the House approved the 20-week ban, Erickson wrote a scathing blog post calling Becker’s group “the Westboro Baptist Church of the pro-life movement.”

“Instead of saving souls, they’d rather stone those who are trying to save souls,” Erickson wrote. He called for the formation of a new anti-abortion group in Georgia to replace Becker’s as NRLC's state affiliate.

Several months later, in time for an upcoming meeting of NRLC’s board, Erickson founded his own group, Georgia Life Alliance. He then asked the national group to disaffiliate itself from Georgia Right to Life and take his group on as its official state chapter. NRLC's board happily complied, saying that Becker’s group had “ruptured its relationship” with them with its defiance on the Franks bill.

It didn’t take long for Becker to strike back. Fewer than three months later, Georgia Right to Life announced that it was forming the National Personhood Alliance, a new national organization of anti-abortion rights groups committed to a “no exceptions” strategy. In a press release announcing the group’s formation, he laid out the alliance’s philosophy, including a thinly veiled attack on NRLC. “Compromise is not possible,” he wrote. “This is not like roads or highways or agricultural subsidies; when we compromise — someone dies.”

The group later renamed itself the "Personhood Alliance."

In a policy paper in June, Jay Rogers of Personhood Florida laid out the new alliance’s strategy. It would not oppose incremental measures like the 20-week ban, but it would oppose any measure that “identifies a class of human beings that we may kill with impunity.” That is, it would only support efforts to restrict abortion rights that contain no exceptions for rape, incest, or the health of the pregnant woman.

Becker announced that the group’s interim president would be another anti-choice activist who had broken ranks with National Right to Life over strategy — in this case, over LGBT rights. Molly Smith, the president of Cleveland Right to Life, had earned a rebuke from NRLC when she said her group would oppose the reelection of Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman after he came out in favor of marriage equality, citing his openly gay son. NRLC blasted Smith for opposing the staunchly anti-choice senator and taking on “an advocacy agenda that includes issues beyond the right to life.”

The new Personhood Alliance won early endorsements from prominent Religious Right activist Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, popular conservative talk show host Steve Deace, and the Irish anti-abortion organization Life Institute.

But it also displayed ties to more fringe activists, boasting of an endorsement from infamous abortion clinic agitator Rusty Lee Thomas of Operation Save America, who blames the September 11 attacks on legal abortion. Jay Rogers, who wrote Personhood Alliance’s manifesto, is a longtime ally of Operation Save America who once assisted the group by administering a website showing the locations of Florida abortion providers’ private homes.

Another founding member of Personhood Alliance was Les Riley, who spearheaded Mississippi’s failed personhood amendment in 2011. Riley is a one-time blogger for a group that advocates Christian secession from the U.S. and a current officer with the theocratic Mississippi Constitution Party. Georgia’s Constitution Party also sponsored a booth at the Personhood Alliance’s convention.

Becker himself has a history on the more radical, confrontational fringes of the anti-abortion movement. In 1992, while running for a House seat in Georgia, Becker gained national attention when he helped pioneer the strategy of using an election-law loophole to run graphic anti-abortion ads on primetime television.

Personhood Alliance hasn't only set itself up against the rest of the anti-choice movement; it's directly competing with the group that brought personhood back in to the national political conversation.

In 2007, 19-year-old Colorado activist Kristi Burton teamed up with attorney Mark Meuser to push for a ballot measure defining “person” in Colorado law as beginning “from the moment of fertilization.” Keith Mason, another young activist who as an anti-choice missionary for Operation Rescue had driven a truck covered with pictures of aborted fetuses, joined the effort. Soon after the Colorado ballot initiative failed in 2008, he joined with Cal Zastrow, another veteran of the radical anti-choice “rescue movement” to found Personhood USA.

Personhood USA has raised the profile of the personhood movement by backing state-level ballot initiatives and legislation modeled on Kristi Burton’s. None of the group's measures has become law, but the political battles they cause have drawn national attention to the personhood movement’s goals.

In 2010, Mason’s group led the effort to again place a personhood measure on the Colorado ballot, eventually garnering just 29 percent of the vote (a slight uptick from 27 percent in 2008).

Following that loss, the group announced a “50 state strategy” to launch a personhood ballot petition in every state. The group focused its organizing on Mississippi, where an amendment made it onto the 2011 ballot but was rejected by 55 percent of voters after a strong pro-choice campaign centered on exposing the risk the amendment posed to legal birth control. In 2012, the group tried again in Colorado, but failed to gather enough signatures to get a personhood amendment on the ballot. The same year, a personhood bill in Virginia was passed by the state House but defeated in the Senate. In 2014, it got measures on the ballot in Colorado and North Dakota, both of which failed by wide margins.

As it expanded its mission, Personhood USA’s fundraising boomed. According to tax returns, in 2009 the group brought in just $52,000. In 2010, it raised $264,000. In 2011, when it was fighting in Mississippi, it brought in $1.5 million. But after the Mississippi defeat, the group’s fundraising faltered, falling to $1.1 million in 2012. The funding of the group’s nonpolitical arm, Personhood Education, however, continues to expand, going from $94,000 in 2010 to $373,000 in 2011 and $438,000 in 2012. In the process, it built a database of a reported 7 million supporters.

Despite its electoral setbacks, the group continues to have national ambitions: in 2012 it hosted a presidential candidates’ forum in Iowa attended by four Republican candidates. In what can be seen as another sign of the group’s success in raising the profile of the issue, in 2012 the Republican Party added to its platform support for a federal constitutional amendment banning abortion and endorsing “legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”

Personhood USA has also quietly become involved in international efforts to restrict abortion rights. In its 2012 tax return, the group’s political arm reported a $400,000 grant to an unnamed recipient in Europe, representing more than one third of its total spending for the year. When Buzzfeed’s Lester Feder asked Mason who and what the grant went toward, Mason declined to comment. In 2014, Personhood USA’s Josh Craddock was granted consultative status at the United Nations, where he participated in the December, 2014, “Transatlantic Summit” of anti-choice, anti-LGBT advocates from around the world. The same year, Mason was scheduled to participate in an international social conservative forum at the Kremlin in Moscow. In January 2015, a Personhood USA representative reported having delivered a presentation at the U.K. parliament.

Personhood USA initially supported the Personhood Alliance and backed Becker — a former Personhood USA employee — in his battle against NRLC. But in September 2014, Personhood USA announced that it was cutting ties with Becker, accusing him of “trying to replace Personhood USA by using our structures and intellectual property” including the word “personhood.”

But it isn't just the right to the word "personhood" that divides the two groups; they also differ sharply and publicly on strategy.

When Becker launched his group, he took with him Gualberto Garcia Jones, a top Personhood USA official and key thinker in the personhood movement, who says he drafted the failed Colorado personhood initiatives in 2010 and 2014. A few weeks later, after statewide personhood ballot initiatives promoted by Personhood USA in North Dakota and Colorado went down in flames, Garcia Jones wrote an op-ed for LifeSiteNews explaining that while he had hoped to see those measures succeed, he believed that “the statewide personhood ballot measure is dead for now.” This was a direct repudiation of the strategy of Personhood USA’s strategy of introducing these measures or legislative alternatives in all 50 states.

Garcia Jones wrote that the struggling movement needed to engage in “asymmetrical tactics” by pushing through municipal personhood measures in rural areas where the movement can “control the battlefield”:

These initial years of the personhood movement have taught us a lot. I believe that we now know how to fight to win against Planned Parenthood. And the key is being able to control the battleground.

When you look at electoral maps of the country, it is readily evident that majorities in almost every metropolitan area of the country are opposed to our worldview. These metropolitan areas are also the major media centers and accumulate large percentages of the voting population in every state.

Right now, fighting the abortion industry at the state level is akin to having lined up a battalion of colonists against the well-trained and well armed redcoats. We need to start engaging in more asymmetrical tactics, and this means engaging the enemy in municipalities and counties that we know we control.

This can be done at the legislative and political level, as Georgia Right to Life and other groups have done by the endorsement of state officials, or it can be done by engaging in municipal ballot measures.

Jones noted that such municipal ordinances could affect the “many [local] powers that touch upon the personhood of the preborn, from local health and building codes to local law enforcement such as child abuse prevention.” And he hopes that, in the long run, municipal-level victories could lead to greater things. Becker has told blogger Jill Stanek that he hopes municipal measures will provoke legal battles that will accellerate a reconsideration of abortion rights in the courts.

Personhood USA, meanwhile, took credit for the municipal resolutions strategy and said it supported it, but noted that its state-level activism had been successful in mobilizing the grassroots and as an "educational tool that simultaneously provides a pro-life standard for lobbying and candidate endorsements."

Will the personhood movement’s strategy work?

Polling shows that the level of support for abortion rights in the U.S. depends on how you ask the question. And Gallup has found that Americans are pretty much evenly split between those who call themselves “pro-life” and those who choose the label “pro-choice.” But behind the labels is an entirely different picture. A large majority of Americans believe that abortion should be legal under all or some circumstances; only 21 percent want the procedure to be completely banned. Similarly, Pew found in 2013 that only three-in-ten respondents favored overturning Roe v. Wade.

These numbers don’t bode well for the personhood movement. Voters in states as conservative as Mississippi and North Dakota have been turned off by personhood’s clear goal of banning abortion in all circumstances as well as the threat it poses to contraception and fertility treatments.

At the same time, the more successful anti-choice groups have managed to work within current public opinion to push through scores of state-level measures restricting access to abortion in an effort to slowly undermine Roe. These measures, many based on model legislation from Americans United for Life, restrict abortion access by such means as imposing waiting periods for women seeking care, requiring hospital “admitting privileges” for abortion providers and then banning public hospitals from providing such agreements; or even regulating the width of the hallways in clinics.

The Guttmacher Institute has calculated that between 2011 and 2014, states enacted 231 abortion restrictions, meaning that half of all reproductive-age U.S. women now live in a state that the Institute categorizes as “hostile” or “extremely hostile” to abortion rights — all without passing outright bans on abortion or establishing fetal “personhood.” The anti-choice group Operation Rescue, which keeps detailed records on abortion providers in its effort to shut them down, reports that the number of surgical abortion clinics in the country has dropped by 75 percent since 1991, with 47 such clinics closing permanently in 2014. This can be partly attributed to the increased frequency of medication abortion, a practice that anti-choice groups are targeting with new restrictions. In 2005, even before the closures of the last few years, 87 percent of U.S. counties had no abortion provider.

Even as voters reject moves to ban abortion outright, anti-choice groups have found less resistance to this strategy of chipping away at abortion rights with the same goal. This contrast played out in the 2014 election, when voters in Colorado and North Dakota rejected personhood measures when they were clearly told could end legal abortion, while voters in Tennessee approved a measure giving the state government sweeping new powers to curtail abortion rights without outright ending abortion rights.

In fact, by loudly proclaiming its end goal, the personhood movement may be inadvertently helping the incrementalists who are using a different strategy to achieve the same ends. By proudly embracing the no-compromise extremes of the anti-choice agenda, the personhood movement has allowed the incrementalists to portray themselves as the political center, giving them cover for a successful campaign to undermine the right to choose. In 2014, Americans United for Life president Charmaine Yoest told Time, “Most people want to see abortion restricted in some way, even if they don’t call themselves pro-life … We’re the ones occupying the middle ground.” She might not be able to make that statement if the personhood movement was not loudly and proudly occupying the absolutist, no-compromise stance that her group believes to be too politically risky.

Even as the personhood movement provides political cover to groups like AUL, it also serves as an ever-present reminder of the goals of the anti-choice movement as a whole. While the more visible anti-choice groups may find a total, immediate ban on legal abortion politically unfeasible, the personhood movement is a constant reminder that this is what they want to achieve — one way or another.

The Personhood Movement: Undermining Roe In The Courts: Part 3

This is the third post in a RWW series on the reemergence of the fetal personhood movement and what it means for the future of abortion rights in the U.S.

Part 1: The Personhood Movement: Where It Comes From And What It Means For The Future Of Choice
Part 2: The Personhood Movement: Internal Battles Go Public
Part 4: The Personhood Movement: Regrouping After Defeat

As we have detailed in previous posts in this series, ever since the anti-choice movement rose to prominence in the wake of Roe v. Wade, it has been divided over how to go about repealing Roe and recriminalizing abortion in the U.S.

Groups like Americans United for Life (AUL) and the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) have achieved great success in pushing states to adopt incremental measures targeting abortion providers in the name of protecting women’s health and in advocating for national policies — such as the 2003 “partial-birth” abortion ban and the 20-week abortion ban currently being considered by Congress — that attempt to undermine the legal reasoning in Roe by targeting a small segment of abortion procedures.

But the anti-choice personhood movement believes that the incremental strategy is doing too little to end legal abortion. They believe they have a better plan.

The personhood movement argues that small, incremental legal victories cutting off access to abortion will never achieve the ultimate goal of completely criminalizing the procedure — in part because those measures fail to make a moral argument on behalf of the humanity of the fertilized egg and fetus.

At the founding convention of the Personhood Alliance late last year, the chief of staff to Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, notorious for his legal fight over a Ten Commandment monument he placed in the courthouse rotunda, discussed an alternate legal strategy to end abortion rights. As Nina Martin has outlined in The New Republic, Moore’s protégé and colleague Justice Tom Parker has been carefully laying out a legal framework to overturn Roe, not by constitutional amendment, but by the legal redefinition of what it means to be a person protected by the law.

Parker, with Moore’s backing, has been building a body of jurisprudence that offers a blueprint for a personhood victory in the courts. In doing so, he’s drawn the attention and praise of anti-choice activists; Liberty Counsel, a right-wing legal group, has called him a “modern-day Wilberforce.”

Since efforts to overturn Roe by passing a Human Life Amendment or a legislative alternative faltered in Congress in the 1970s and 1980s, personhood advocates have focused on the states, passing legislation giving limited rights to fetuses as separate entities from pregnant women. Since 1986, 38 states have passed “fetal homicide” laws identifying fetuses at some or all stages of development as separate victims of crime and in 2004 Congress passed a similar law covering federal crimes. Similarly, in 18 states substance abuse during pregnancy is legally considered child abuse. In Alabama last year, Republicans passed a law allowing judges to appoint lawyers for fetuses. As Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues associate at the Guttmacher Institute, put it in an interview, “all of that is about trying to build up a legal case that personhood starts at fertilization.”

Personhood USA’s 2014 attempt to insert personhood language into Colorado law drew on this legal history, specifically limiting its new definition of personhood to the Colorado criminal code and Colorado Wrongful Death Act. But the proposal was nonetheless widely recognized as an attempt to ban abortion, or at least to set up a legal battle challenging Roe. In fact, Colorado had already passed laws imposing extra penalties for crimes against pregnant women, the purported purpose of the personhood amendment. “They are changing the tone, they are changing the language, they are changing the messaging to try to win,” Nash said.

Parker has chronicled laws treating fetuses as full-fledged humans in certain cases to argue that “[t]oday, the only major area in which unborn children are denied legal protection is abortion, and that denial is only because of Roe.” He has urged the Supreme Court to address the issue at the next chance it gets.

Parker and Moore’s strategy relies on what the personhood movement’s proponents believe is a loophole in Roe v. Wade that would allow anti-abortion advocates to effectively undo the decision without a constitutional amendment or a Supreme Court friendlier to their cause. In Roe, the Justices rejected the idea of fetal personhood. Justice Blackmun wrote in his majority opinion that “no case could be cited that holds that a fetus is a person within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment,” noting, “If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant's case, of course, collapses...for the fetus' right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment.”

A federal bill that currently has 132 cosponsors in the House and 21 in the Senate takes aim at this supposed loophole in Roe, simply declaring that “the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human being," which includes “each member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization, cloning, or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being.”

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, the chief sponsor of the Senate bill, signed a fundraising email for the pro-personhood National Pro-Life Alliance in November, arguing that his was the strategy that would work:

The Supreme Court itself admitted  if Congress declares unborn children 'persons' under the law, the constitutional case for abortion-on-demand 'collapses.'

Alabama’s Supreme Court is the most prominent court to give a serious hearing to the personhood strategy, long considered by even some in the anti-choice movement to be a crackpot theory and a potential political and legal disaster. As recently as 2009, Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel at Americans United for Life, wrote in the National Review that the so-called “personhood loophole” was an “urban legend” and those pursuing it were “heading toward a brick wall.” Forsythe argued that in 1992 Casey decision, the Supreme Court had shifted the abortion debate from the personhood of fetuses to the rights of women, and that that was therefore the ground that the anti-choice movement should be playing on. “The real challenge for pro-lifers in 2009 is to effectively address the assumption that abortion is good for women,” he wrote, presaging AUL’s revamped woman-focused messaging.

Even more alarming to the personhood strategy’s detractors in the anti-choice movement is the possibility that a personhood challenge to Roe could create the opportunity for a Supreme Court ruling that would actually strengthen constitutional protections for abortion rights. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for instance, has said that she believes abortion rights should be secured under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, making the issue more clearly about the rights of women. In 2010, Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) wrote, “If a personhood amendment comes before this court, a new and terrifying decision may put the pro-life movement back a quarter century or more.”

In 2007, as the anti-choice movement’s schism over a ban on so-called “partial-birth” abortion was gaining national attention, Georgia Right to Life, which was at the the state affiliate of NRLC, worked with legislators to introduce a state constitutional amendment defining a “person” under state law as “including unborn children at every state of their biological development, including fertilization.”

Although the Georgia amendment was based on language originally drafted as a federal constitutional amendment by NRLC, NRLC’s chief counsel James Bopp, Jr. tried to shut it down. In a lengthy and frank memo to his fellow anti-choice activists, Bopp contended that such an amendment would be immediately struck down in federal courts and, if it made it to the Supreme Court, could give the court’s majority the opportunity to rewrite Roe in the way favored by Ginsburg. The state-level personhood strategy, he cautioned, was “presently doomed to expansive failure.”

Instead, Bopp said, the anti-choice movement should continue its incremental strategy, which was succeeding in curtailing access to abortion while keeping the issue in the public eye. He wrote that the “partial-birth” abortion law had been a successful example of this strategy because it “forced the pro-abortion camp to publicly defend a particularly visible and gruesome practice.” Acknowledging that “most pro-lifers” believe that abortion should only be available to save the life of a pregnant woman, he warned that absolutist, no-exceptions approaches like personhood were both legally unwise and poor public relations:

By contrast, the pro-life movement must at present avoid fighting on the more difficult terrain of its own position, namely arguing that abortion should not be available in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity, and harm to the mother. While restricting abortion in these situations is morally defensible, public opinion polls show that popular support for the pro-life side drops off dramatically when these “hard” cases are the topic. And while most pro-lifers believe that a consistent pro-life position requires permitting abortion in only the rare circumstances where it is necessary to save the life of the mother, some pro-lifers believe that there should not even be an exception to preserve the life of the mother. Other pro-lifers advocate exceptions for rape or incest. This is an important debate to have, and we should be ready to convince the public of the need for few, if any, exceptions to laws prohibiting abortion when such laws can be upheld. However, since that is currently not the case, such a debate is premature and would undermine public support for the pro-life position.

Responding to Bopp’s memo, the conservative Thomas More Law Center, which drafted the Georgia amendment, argued that the incremental strategy had taken too long and done too little and that “after 34 years of abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy, it is time to rethink pro-life strategy.”

“[T]he central holding of Roe v. Wade remains the primary obstacle to any meaningful pro-life initiative that seeks to end abortion,” wrote Thomas More attorney Robert J. Muise. “To remove this obstacle, a case must be presented to the United States Supreme Court that challenges the central premise of Roe — that the unborn is not a person within the meaning of the law.”

If personhood laws were to succeed in the courts, the legal implications would be immense and unpredictable.

The ambiguous wording of personhood measures has led to concerns that they could be interpreted to outlaw oral contraception, IUDs and in-vitro fertilization. But birth control is not the only issue. As the National Advocates for Pregnant Women’s Lynn Paltrow and Fordham sociologist Jeanne Flavin have documented, laws granting legal rights to fetuses outside the context of abortion have led to hundreds of cases of pregnant women being arrested or otherwise apprehended after suffering miscarriages or for alleged drug and alcohol use deemed to be harmful to the fetus.

In countries that completely criminalize abortion — the goal of the “pro-life” movement in the U.S. — pregnant woman can find themselves in terrifying situations: recently in El Salvador, a woman was sentenced to 30 years in prison for murder after suffering a miscarriage.

As Paltrow told Newsweek in 2012, “There’s no way to give embryos constitutional personhood without subtracting women from the community of constitutional persons.”

By redefining what it means to be a person under the law, personhood measures could also have a broad legal impact on issues unrelated to reproductive rights, threatening to upend everything from inheritance law to census results. In 2014, the Colorado Bar Association opposed the state’s personhood ballot measure, warning that the vaguely worded measure would have “potentially serious, unintended and unknown consequences for Colorado lawyers…From areas of Family Law to Probate Law to Real Estate Law, as well as the explicit effect on Criminal Law and Wrongful Death statutes, this Amendment could create uncertainty and endless litigation.”

Daniel Becker, the former leader of Georgia Right to Life and founder of the Personhood Alliance, also sees the personhood issue as extending beyond abortion rights, but in a different direction. The final chapter of Becker's 2011 manifesto, "Personhood," is written in the form of a science fiction story set in a "post-human future" in which computers have gained consciousness, procreation has been moved to laboratories, and a "specialized sub-class of human-animal hybrids" has been developed to perform menial labor. The anti-abortion rights movement, he argues, will cease to be relevant in coming battles over biotechnology if it remains "at its heart, anti-abortion as opposed to pro-sanctity of human life." He argues that only by embracing full "personhood" rights for zygotes and fetuses will the movement remain viable in the future.

The personhood movement, while it has hope in the legal system, also recognizes that it won’t get far without winning hearts and minds. In the final post in this series, we’ll look at the movement’s efforts to reorganize in the wake of electoral defeats.

Americans United for Life Official: State Anti-Choice Laws Stopping 'Abortion Mentality' From 'Corroding' US

Former New Hampshire gubernatorial and senate candidate Ovide Lamontagne, who now serves as the general counsel of Americans United for Life, stopped by the “Janet Meffered Show” last week to discuss his group’s recent success in pushing scores of incremental state-level measures that are chipping away at abortion rights across the country.

Lamontange boasted about AUL’s guidance to anti-choice state legislators, and touted the Guttmacher Institute’s data showing that more abortion restrictions were enacted between 2011 and 2013 than in the entire previous decade.

He credited this success not just to his group’s lobbying efforts but to an “awakening” about “what this abortion mentality is doing to us, it’s eroding, corroding who we are as a country and as a people.”

The good news is the momentum is in our favor, more pro-life laws were passed in the last three years in this country at the state level than had been passed the prior 10 years. So we’re really in a good place. And prayer, I think, has been the most important fuel to this success. People are praying and the 40 Days for Life movement and other groups are helping people to have an awakening about what it means to preserve and protect life. And what this abortion mentality is doing to us, it’s eroding, corroding who we are as a country and as a people.

The Personhood Movement: Where It Comes From And What It Means For The Future Of Choice: Part 1

This is the first post in a RWW series on the reemergence of the anti-choice “personhood” movement and what it means for the future of abortion rights in the U.S.

Part 2: The Personhood Movement: Internal Battles Go Public
Part 3: The Personhood Movement: Undermining Roe In The Courts
Part 4: The Personhood Movement: Regrouping After Defeat

“Welcome to the future of the pro-life movement.”

As a few dozen activists walked into a conference hall in an Atlanta suburb in October 2014, they were met with an optimistic greeting from an impromptu welcoming committee.

It was the founding convention of the Personhood Alliance, an association of anti-abortion groups from 15 states who are determined to wrest back an anti-choice movement that they fear has gone dangerously astray.

The members of the Personhood Alliance felt betrayed.

The largest and best-funded groups opposing abortion rights have, over the past several years, achieved astounding success in chipping away at women’s access to legal abortion in the United States. But these successes, Personhood Alliance’s founders maintain, are too small and have come at a grave cost.

In seeking mainstream approval for anti-choice politics, personhood advocates believe, groups like the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) and Americans United for Life (AUL) have adopted a secular tone and downplayed their Christian origins. In focusing on drawing attention to issues like late-term abortion, they may have won some support for the cause but have done little to end the procedures they targeted. In seeking incremental successes, personhood advocates argue, the movement has given up on making a moral argument for the humanity of fertilized eggs and fetuses and lost sight of its larger goal of eliminating legal abortion entirely.

But the greatest betrayal in the eyes of these personhood advocates is the willingness of major anti-choice groups to endorse legislation that includes exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest. The personhood movement’s leaders contend that these political concessions are not only immoral and intellectually inconsistent, but also threaten to undermine the movement’s goals in the long term. In fact, the Personhood Alliance grew out of a feud between Georgia Right to Life leader Daniel Becker and NRLC centered around a rape exception inserted into a national 20-week abortion ban. Becker and his allies believe that they have a better plan, one that does not require compromise.

Joining the activists at the founding conference was Ben DuPré, the chief of staff for Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who, along with his colleague Justice Tom Parker, has outlined an alternate strategy for eliminating legal protections for abortions in the United States: building a body of laws that define fertilized zygotes and fetuses as citizens with full rights under the law.

On the first night of the Personhood Alliance’s founding convention in October, Paul Broun, then a Republican congressman from Georgia, captured the activists’ anger at the leaders of the anti-choice movement, charging that they had betrayed the movement's core principles to such a degree that it had provoked the wrath of God — and implied that they were doing so for personal gain.

Broun told the activists of a meeting he had had with two leaders of NRLC when he was running for U.S. Congress in 1996. He told them that were he elected, the first bill he would introduce would be a Sanctity of Human Life Act giving personhood rights to fertilized eggs, because [that’s] "how we’re going to overturn Roe v. Wade is by giving the right of personhood to that one-celled human being.” The NRLC leaders, Broun said, told him they wouldn’t support it and he “walked away very disillusioned.”

When an audience member asked Broun why he thought NRLC and other major anti-choice groups weren’t putting their energy behind personhood bills, including one that he helped write, Broun responded that he wasn’t “making any accusations here,” but implied that “pro-life” leaders have a financial incentive to never achieve their declared goal.

Harkening back to that 1996 meeting, he drew a historical parallel:

They never told me [why they wouldn’t back the Sanctity of Human Life Act]. I asked them, and they just said, well, we won’t. And I walked away from that meeting in 1996 very, very disappointed, very disillusioned. And shortly after, actually as I was riding away in a taxi cab, it came to mind, back when I was a kid – looking around the room, I’m not sure anybody’s old enough to remember polio – but when I was a kid I had classmates who got polio who were in iron lungs, and I had patients as a doctor, people who when I was in medical school, were people who had polio.

The biggest charity in this country was an organization called March of Dimes. And they were, their executives were, I guess, I’m not sure, but they were making lots of money, March of Dimes was probably the biggest charity in the country. And a doctor by the name of Jonas Salk developed a vaccine. And suddenly, March of Dimes went broke.

And I went away from that meeting with National Right to Life and I was wondering, I still wonder, I’m not making any accusations here: If we were to stop abortion, what would happen to the jobs of all those people who are getting paid every day to be in the pro-life movement? What would happen? I don’t know if that’s what it is or not, I’m not making any accusations, I’m just telling you what my thought was when I left that meeting.

He told the Personhood Alliance that every day that legal abortion continues, America risks God’s wrath. Discussing his 2013 refusal to vote for a 20-week ban to which the House GOP had added a rape exception at the last minute, Broun said:

If we can save some, let's do it, but let's not make exceptions and that some babies are worth killing and some are not. They're all worth saving.

And then it goes back to 'my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge,' as we hear [from] Hosea 4:6, and that's the reason education is so important. Because we've got to educate the grassroots.

...

You see, God is a holy, righteous God. He cannot continue to bless America while we’re killing over a million babies every single day. Abortion must stop.

(Broun's estimate of one million abortions taking place every day is, to say the least, wildly exaggerated.)

Broun argued that groups like the NRLC are selling the movement short by accepting political compromise bills containing rape and incest exceptions and then pressuring anti-choice lawmakers to vote for those bills.

"The reason a lot of pro-life people are willing to compromise is because of that outside pressure," he said. "Whether it's an endorsement from Concerned Women [for America] or the Family Research Council or another group, or it could be an endorsement of the U.S. Chamber [of Commerce] or it could be the endorsement of any group. Politicians, the major principle that they will not budge from is their reelection. So they will do whatever it takes to get the endorsements, the money that they need to raise.”

Barry Loudermilk, a former Georgia Republican state senator who had recently been elected to the U.S. House, also spoke to the convention, comparing the fight against abortion rights to the struggle of America’s founders, who he said also witnessed “a decline in the moral sensitivity of our nation.” Loudermilk, who while serving in the state senate introduced a personhood amendment that was backed by Georgia Right to Life and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, said, “When you look at our movement, we have the exact same things against us that they had against them,” he said. “They had the government against them, the laws, the judges. We don’t have the people who are totally with us, it’s growing. But we have the truth with us. We have Providence with us.”

The congressmen echoed a founding tenet of the Personhood Alliance: that in a movement that was increasingly struggling to appear secular, the organization would be unabashedly “Christ-centered” and “biblically informed.”

As personhood's proponents like to remind their fellow activists, both sides of the movement share the same goal: to completely criminalize abortion. The question is just how to do it.

The largest and best-funded anti-choice groups, deploying a strategy of chipping away at abortion access in the name of “women’s health,” have pushed state legislatures to pass over 200 new restrictions on abortion rights since 2011, many based on model legislation from AUL and NRLC. This strategy has managed to shut down abortion providers (especially in rural areas), make it harder for low-income women to pay for abortion, and erect unnecessary logistical hurdles for even those women who could access and afford abortion care.

The movement also won a pivotal court case with the Supreme Court's ruled that private corporations could deny their employees legally mandated health insurance coverage for contraceptives that the corporations’ owners believe cause abortion. And they did this all while stemming the loss in public opinion that had hindered other “culture war” issues, in part by lifting up female leaders and adopting woman-centered empowerment rhetoric.

But at the same time, another side of the anti-choice movement, those eschewing compromise and incrementalism and pursuing the goal of establishing legal “personhood” from the moment of conception, have suffered a series of embarrassing electoral blows. In 2014, Colorado voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure that would have defined zygotes and fetuses as persons in the state’s criminal code. It was the third time in six years that voters in the state had rejected a “personhood” measure, although its proponents noted that their margin of defeat got smaller each time. Perhaps even more galling for the movement, voters in reliably conservative North Dakota rejected an amendment to provide constitutional protections for “every being at every stage of development” by a whopping 28-point margin. And this all came three years after a personhood initiative was soundly defeated in deep-red Mississippi.

These personhood measures, while sharing the same ultimate goal as the incremental strategy, have become widely seen as politically toxic, in large part because they could threaten access to common forms of birth control. The no-compromise strategy has also become tied to a series of ham-handed comments made by male politicians, most infamously former Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, which further hurt the personhood movement, while providing political cover to those pursuing a more incremental approach.

But despite its spectacular losses at the ballot box, personhood movement strategists maintain that not only is their strategy the morally sound and intellectually consistent one — they believe their strategy is the one that will ultimately swing public opinion and overturn Roe v. Wade.

This series, marking the anniversary of Roe, will explore the recent resurgence of the personhood movement and what it means for the future of abortion rights. Upcoming posts will examine the history of the split in the anti-choice movement and its debates over legal strategy, and the organizations that are currently leading the movement.

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