National Right to Life Committee

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.

National Right To Life Targeting GOP Congresswomen Who Objected To Abortion Ban’s Rape Provision

The National Right to Life Committee is indicating that it will work to unseat the anti-choice Republican House members who sidetracked a 20-week abortion ban last week because of a dispute over the wording of a rape exception.

The House members, led by Republican women including Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina and Rep. Jackie Walorski of Indiana, objected to a provision that would have exempted rape survivors from the ban only if they first filed a police report describing their assault. The members contested that the provision would be politically unpopular and could discourage women from coming forward about sexual assaults. When GOP leaders cancelled a vote on the bill that had been scheduled for the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, anti-choice groups were furious, prompting Sen. Lindsey Graham to  beg for their help to “find a way out of this definitional problem with rape.”

LifeNews reports that National Right to Life’s Carol Tobias recently sent an email to supporters urging them to tell Ellmers and her allies, “If you vote or work behind the scenes to allow the slaughter of abortion to continue, you will hear from pro-life voters loudly and clearly at the polls”:

In an email to supporters that LifeNews.com received titled “Elected Officials Who Betray Unborn Babies Have to Go,” Tobias said, “Last week, a small handful of congresswomen and men did something absolutely unconscionable. These lawmakers claim to be “pro-life,” and they were elected to Congress in part because they promised their constituents they would support laws to save the lives of unborn babies.”

“But despite their solemn promises to their pro-life constituents and more important, to the unborn, they ganged up last week to sidetrack for now the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. This humane bill would ban abortions when an unborn baby is developed enough feel terrible pain during an abortion – and if you can’t vote for such a humanitarian no-brainer of a law to protect the unborn, you can’t be trusted to vote for any pro-life legislation,” Tobias added.

We need to send a message loud and clear to all “pro-life” representatives who ask for our vote, but who betray the lives of vulnerable unborn babies when they get in office: If you vote or work behind the scenes to allow the slaughter of abortion to continue, you will hear from pro-life voters loudly and clearly at the polls ,” Tobias added.

Ironically, the last time the 20-week ban was being considered in Congress, NRLC was attacked by others in the anti-choice movement for being too moderate on rape exceptions.

A version of the bill approved by a House committee in 2013 had contained only an exception for abortions that would save the lives of pregnant women; GOP leaders quietly added the rape exception with the reporting requirement after the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Trent Franks, sparked controversy by implying that rape rarely results in pregnancy. When NRLC continued to support the bill, which had originally been based on its own model legislation, one of its chapters broke off and started a rival group promoting a no-exceptions policy to abortion bans.

A number of no-exceptions anti-choice groups continued to object to the most recent iteration of the 20-week ban because it contained a rape exception at all.

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.

The Personhood Movement: Internal Battles Go Public: Part 2

This is the second 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 3: The Personhood Movement: Undermining Roe In The Courts
Part 4: The Personhood Movement: Regrouping After Defeat

As proponents of the “personhood” strategy to end legal abortion like to remind those who will listen, the original goal of the anti-abortion rights movement after Roe v. Wade was to pass a constitutional amendment overturning the decision. And one possible amendment — along with a dubious statutory alternative  — would have done so by defining “personhood” as starting at conception.

In the 1970s and 1980s, dozens of anti-Roe “Human Life Amendments” were introduced in Congress, containing a variety of language. Only one made it to an up-or-down vote in Congress: the “Hatch-Eagleton Amendment,” which would have simply gutted Roe by stating, “A right to abortion is not secured by this Constitution.” In June of 1983, the amendment fell far short of the two-thirds majority needed for a constitutional amendment, garnering just 49 yes votes.

But there was another strategy for amending the Constitution to reverse Roe, one that rather than just returning to the states the power to regulate abortion would have overturned Roe by declaring that fetuses are "persons" protected under the Constitution. In 1976, one such amendment was put up for a test vote in the Senate, garnering only 40 votes in support.

The language of these amendments was a matter of bitter internal debate among anti-abortion rights groups. One draft amendment formulated by the National Right to Life Committee in 1974, known as the NRLC Amendment, would have declared that the word "person" in the 14th and 5th Amendments "applies to all human beings irrespective of age, health, function, or condition of dependency, including their unborn offspring at every stage of their biological development," but included a specific exemption for "medical procedures required to prevent the death of the mother."  

Some members of NRLC’s budding coalition thought the amendment didn’t go far enough to prohibit abortion, arguing that the “life of the mother” exception was too broad. Two founding members of NRLC, Judie and Paul Brown, had left the group because they perceived it as too willing to compromise and founded their own anti-choice group, the American Life League (ALL) and helped to establish the radical abortion “rescue” movement. In 1979, ALL wrote its own amendment, nicknamed the “Paramount Amendment,” which would have erased all abortion exceptions by declaring, “The paramount right to life is vested in each human being from the moment of fertilization without regard to age, health, or condition of dependency.”

Faced with a splintering movement, NRLC held months of talks with its fellow anti-abortion groups, hoping to hammer out a Human Life Amendment that they could unify behind. In October of 1981, NRLC announced that “with tears of joy and happiness” it had “solved what formerly appeared to be an irreconcilable difference over a fundamental question: how to allow for just those abortions truly needed to prevent the death of the mother without at the same time making her right to life superior to that of her unborn child.”

NRLC’s new “Unity Amendment,” which was introduced by Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina that December (and which ALL still refused to support), tightened the “life of the mother” exception by adding the stipulation that abortion would be allowed only to “prevent the death of either the pregnant woman or her unborn offspring, as long as such law requires every reasonable effort be made to preserve the life of each.”

All of these amendments failed to get off the ground, as did a novel and controversial legislative approach to achieve the same goal. In 1981, Helms and Sen. Henry Hyde introduced a bill that they claimed could overturn Roe without a constitutional amendment or a new Supreme Court majority, by simply declaring that life begins “at conception.” The effect of the law, the New York Times reported at the time, would be to once again allow “states, if they choose, to prosecute abortion as murder.” President Reagan got behind the strategy, but legal scholars called the bill unconstitutional. NRLC and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops continued to favor the constitutional amendment strategy, doubting that the Helms-Hyde bill would hold up in the courts.

By that time, however, it became clear that a constitutional amendment and the Helms-Hyde personhood bill weren’t going anywhere in Congress, and proponents had already started focusing on other strategies to turn back the tide on abortion rights.

In 1975, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops had developed a plan to turn every diocese into an anti-choice political machine and to use its existing infrastructure to set up an office in every congressional district. The bishops’ plan included a four-pronged legislative strategy, which continues to guide the anti-choice movement today:

(a) Passage of a constitutional amendment providing protection for the unborn child to the maximum degree possible.

(b) Passage of federal and state laws and adoption of administrative policies that will restrict the practice of abortion as much as possible.

(c) Continual research into and refinement and precise interpretation of Roe and Doe and subsequent court decisions.

(d) Support for legislation that provides alternatives to abortion.

In other words: fight for an amendment to undo Roe, but at the same time work through the courts and legislatures to make it harder for women to access legal abortion. While Roe would remain the law of the land, women would not be able to actually exercise their rights.

Part of this strategy involved targeting public funding for abortions. Frederick Jaffe, Barbara Lindheim and Philip Lee explained in their 1981 book "Abortion Politics":

The new strategy was outlined by RTL [Right to Life] leader Randy Engel, who urged restrictive riders on “any and all federal legislation related directly or indirectly to health,” in order to keep the abortion issue visible and build support. She argued that the efforts to win interim legislation would provide antiabortion workers with political experience, would educate the public, and would force members of Congress to go on record one way or the other. Not least important, she added, this strategy would require the forces supporting abortion rights to expend time, effort and resources in opposing riders.

One of the early victories of this strategy was the 1976 passage of the Hyde Amendment, a rider to the health and human services spending bill that prohibited Medicaid from funding abortions for low-income women. The Hyde Amendment was a victory, but it provoked yet more squabbling within the anti-abortion rights movement.

When it was first passed, the Hyde Amendment contained one exception: for abortions that could save the life of a “clearly endangered” pregnant woman. But because it was attached to a spending bill, the Hyde Amendment had to be renewed annually. The next year, after a lengthy legislative deadlock, Congress kept the exception for saving a woman’s life and added additional exceptions for ensuring a woman’s long-term health and for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

The 1977 compromise allowing abortion funding for rape and incest survivors — which has been modified several times since then — was a setback for anti-choice hardliners, but the anti-abortion rights movmement's leaders continue to celebrate the Hyde Amendment’s repeated renewal. In 2013, on the amendment’s anniversary, National Right to Life crowed that “over one million people are alive today because of the Hyde Amendment.”

But Daniel Becker, a longtime personhood activist and founder of the new Personhood Alliance, sees it differently. “The Hyde Amendment,” Becker wrote in his 2011 book on the personhood concept, “damaged the very fabric of our mission. No longer would the lofty rhetoric of ‘sanctity of all human life’ and ‘the personhood of the unborn’ be embodied in a strategy to achieve those protections. The prolife movement had a seat at the political table, but contented itself with crumbs.”

In 2007, the anti-choice movement achieved another seeming victory that was divisive in its own ranks. The Supreme Court, which now included George W. Bush appointees John Roberts and Samuel Alito, reversed a previous decision and upheld the 2003 ban on a specific procedure that the anti-choice movement had labeled “partial birth abortion.”

Linda Greenhouse wrote in the New York Times that the decision, Gonzales v. Carhart, was a “vindication” of the anti-choice movement’s strategy of pursuing a “partial birth” ban after the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey made a more sweeping victory look unfeasible: “By identifying the… procedure and giving it the provocative label ‘partial-birth abortion,’ the movement turned the public focus of the abortion debate from the rights of women to the fate of fetuses.”

As with the congressional fight over abortion coverage in Medicaid, abortion rights opponents hoped to use the debate over so-called “partial birth” abortion, an exceedingly rare procedure, to keep attention on their efforts to end legal abortion entirely.

But not everybody in the anti-choice movement was thrilled. In fact, the decision that was widely seen as a victory for the anti-choice movement brought into the public eye a long-simmering split in the movement.

Six weeks after Gonzales was handed down, a coalition of anti-abortion groups, including the Colorado chapter of National Right to Life, took out a full-page ad in newspapers around the country attacking Focus on the Family founder James Dobson for supporting the ruling.

One Denver pastor in the group, Bob Enyart, accused mainstream pro-life groups of fundraising off a strategy that “has no authority to prevent a single abortion” because other procedures could be used in place of the banned operation. Colorado Right to Life President Brian Rohrbough told the Washington Post, “What happened in the abortion world is that groups like National Right to Life, they're really a wing of the Republican Party, and they're not geared to push for personhood for an unborn child — they're geared to getting Republicans elected. So we're seeing these ridiculous laws like the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban put forward, and then we're deceived about what they really do."

As the Post noted, NRLC’s detractors started referring to the group as the “pro-life industry” — a term intentionally reminiscent of the anti-choice movement’s “abortion industry” epithet for abortion providers, implying that those groups had sold out and cared more about their fundraising than their mission. (Several years later, Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia was using similar rhetoric to question the group’s motives.)

A week later, leaders of Colorado Right to Life confronted the board of NRLC at its annual meeting, attacking its “immoral and failed anti-abortion strategy.” Enyart told the board, in a speech secretly recorded by Colorado Right to Life:

We’ve provided cover to pro-choice politicians, even Democrats, who would say, ‘I’m not an extremist, I supported the partial-birth abortion ban.’ We wasted 15 years while 20 million kids — 20 million kids — have died. We’ve spent a quarter of a billion dollars as an industry for a ban that does not have the authority to save one life. You guys are worried about what’s growing in Colorado. I’ll tell you what’s growing in Washington, D.C. It’s called the abortion weed. Child-killing regulations — that’s what National Right to Life is really good at — child-killing regulations prune the abortion weed and sanction its root.

National Right to Life promptly voted to kick the Colorado group out of the organization. Colorado Right to Life then hired an Abraham Lincoln impersonator to accost conference-goers with a revised version of the Gettysburg Address: "Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal...no exceptions!"

It was around this time that the “personhood” strategy began to see a national reemergence in the public eye, and along with it a legal theory that had long been dismissed even by leaders in the anti-choice movement.

The next post in this series will look at the debate within the anti-choice movement on how to best confront Roe v. Wade in the courts.

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.

Personhood Advocates Come Out Against 20-Week Abortion Ban Because It Includes Rape Exception

Next week’s scheduled House vote on a national 20-week abortion ban, to be held on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, is reviving a bitter public debate within the anti-choice movement about whether to support abortion bans that include exceptions for preganancies resulting from rape or incest.

Even as major anti-choice groups line up to support the 20-week ban, activists in the “personhood” camp of the anti-abortion-rights movement are warning that the ban’s exceptions sell out the movement’s principles.

Back in 2013, when the House Judiciary Committee was debating a 20-week ban based on National Right to Life model legislation, Democrats on the committee tried to amend the bill to add rape and incest exceptions, but were rebuffed by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Trent Franks, who declared that “the instance of rape resulting in pregnancy is very low.”

The Republican-led committee eventually approved the measure without the exceptions, but Franks’ comment had caused such a political firestorm that the House GOP leadership quietly added the exceptions in at the last minute and handed the public leadership on the bill over to a Republican woman, Rep. Marsha Blackburn.

Most of the major national anti-abortion groups didn’t support the added exceptions but backed the ban anyway, and it handily passed the Republican-controlled House. But the addition of the exceptions caused a very public split in the anti-choice movement. Georgia Right to Life, the state affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee, urged its state’s representatives in Congress to oppose the bill, a direct repudiation of the national group’s strategy. In return, National Right to Life kicked its Georgia affiliate out of the organization and replaced it with a new group called Georgia Life Alliance. Georgia Right to Life continued to exist as an independent group but also started a new national group called the Personhood Alliance to rival National Right to Life and push for no-exceptions abortion bans.

Now that Blackburn has reintroduced the bill with a rape and incest exception included, the Personhood Alliance and Georgia Right to Life are coming out to oppose it. In a statement yesterday, the Personhood Alliance’s president, Daniel Becker, lambasted Republicans for introducing a “message bill” with what he believes is the wrong message: "This a message bill. The president has already vowed to veto the bill, so why, in a Republican led House and Senate, send out a message that fails to embrace the essence of the pro-life movement."

Georgia Right to Life sounded the same note, saying that abortion bans should “protect all children in the womb who feel pain, not just those conceived by consent”:

"Last Fall, voters sent a clear message that they're fed up with political gamesmanship and lack of courage," [GRTL Executive Director Genevieve] Wilson said. "There's absolutely no need to compromise principles on any bill, especially one that President Obama has already said he will veto."

GRTL supported the 2013 version until an exception for rape and incest was added - which H.R.36 also has. We should pass bills that protect all children in the womb who feel pain, not just those conceived by consent.

Why Tennessee's Anti-Choice Measure Won, While Colorado's And North Dakota's Went Down In Flames

Yesterday, voters in Tennessee approved a ballot measure amending the state constitution to remove all legal protections for abortion rights, paving the way for state lawmakers to pass broad abortion restrictions. At the same time, voters in Colorado and North Dakota overwhelmingly rejected “personhood” measures that would have given the full rights of citizenship to zygotes, thereby criminalizing all abortion along with some forms of birth control. In Colorado, where the nation’s foremost personhood advocacy group is based, it was the third time such a measure had been rejected by voters.

Yesterday’s results are the product of a split among the anti-choice movement about how to achieve the goal of criminalizing all abortions. While most of the movement shares this end-game, its leaders are bitterly divided over the best strategy to achieve it.

The nation’s largest and best-funded anti-choice groups, including National Right to Life, Americans United for Life and the Susan B. Anthony List, favor an incremental approach to chipping away at the protections guaranteed in Roe v. Wade. The incremental strategy has had tremendous success in recent years as measures on the state level have forced scores of abortion clinics to shut their doors. Women in Cincinnati, for instance, still have a legal right to an abortion. But thanks to a recent law aimed at shutting down abortion providers, they may soon lose access to the city’s only clinic that provides the service.

And even in North Dakota, although zygotes won’t be given the legal rights of people (at least for the time being), anti-choice activists are targeting the state’s sole abortion provider, which was struggling to keep its doors open and was recently banned from administering medical abortions.

The personhood movement is angry at mainstream anti-choice leaders for being willing to accept “compromise” legislation that includes exceptions for survivors of rape and incest. But it also thinks that the incremental strategy won’t work. Instead, personhood advocates seek to take advantage of a loophole in Roe v. Wade by which, they believe, if a zygote or a fetus is defined by law as a legal person, Roe’s abortion protections will fall. Groups pushing the so-far unsuccessful personhood ballot measures have allies in this strategy in some far-right judges, most notably on the Alabama Supreme Court, who are trying to build a legal framework for undermining Roe.

On the electoral level, the personhood strategy’s biggest flaw may be it is just too honest about the goals of the anti-choice movement. While Americans are fairly evenly split between those who call themselves pro-choice and those who choose the label pro-life, 70 percent want to keep Roe v. Wade and only 24 percent want to overturn it. Americans have muddled views about circumstances under which they think abortion should be legal, but know that they don’t want it to be completely criminalized.

Groups like Americans United for Life and the Susan B. Anthony List know this and have stayed far away from personhood measures. When a Mother Jones reporter asked AUL for a comment on North Dakota’s measure, a spokeswoman replied, “AUL does not handle personhood issues.”

But other national groups have supported these measures. While National Right to Life’s affiliate in Colorado opposed that state’s measure , saying it would be “immediately overturned in court,” the national group’s North Dakota affiliate backed its state’s even more extreme measure. And while Colorado Republican senator-elect Cory Gardner ran away from the personhood issue, both of North Dakota’s senators supported the ballot measure in their state. The Family Research Council’s North Dakota affiliate also got behind the measure in its state, along with the state chapter of Concerned Women for America and the North Dakota Catholic Conference.

And despite the unpopularity of their bills at the ballot box, personhood advocates still have a strong hold in Congress, where “life at conception” bills have 22 sponsors in the Senate and 133 in the House.

But in the end, even as anti-choice Republicans won handily in Colorado and North Dakota, the personhood measures went down in flames, leading the proponents of the Colorado proposal to rejoice that they at least lost less badly than they had in the past.

The victory of the measure in Tennessee — which will allow legislators to broadly cut off access to abortion rights without explicitly criminalizing abortion — shows that, for now, the incrementalists’ strategy is winning. Even voters in dark-red states like North Dakota can’t stomach a bill that outright criminalizes all abortions. But the anti-choice movement’s strategy to approach the same goal through different means is, so far, working.

Linda Harvey And Molly Smith: Anti-Choicers Must Oppose Gay Rights Because Gay Rights Cause Abortion

Molly Smith, the director of Cleveland Right to Life, lost her group’s affiliation with National Right to Life Committee last year when she criticized Sen. Rob Portman for announcing his support for marriage equality after his son came out as gay.

The national group chided Smith [pdf] for taking on “an advocacy agenda that includes issues beyond the right to life,” but her group pushed back, saying that “any politician, including Portman, who supports the break-up of the American family and supports the denial of a mother and father for children has forfeited the right of support and endorsement of the prolife movement .”

Then, earlier this year, Smith was picked as the head of the National Personhood Alliance, a new group meant to be an even more extreme rival to National Right to Life.

Which is to say, feelings are still raw. The subject came up in Smith’s interview this month with anti-gay activist Linda Harvey, who wholeheartedly agreed with Smith that anti-choice activists must also oppose LGBT rights because, she said, LGBT rights lead to a greater incidence of abortion.

“The Planned Parenthood and anti-life lobby is heavily imbued and connected to homosexuality,” Harvey told Smith. “They’re in favor of opening up the doors and spreading the boundaries of sexuality all across the board. That includes homosexuality. The lines are very blurred, and unless you stand strong on this issue, you’re going to see much more, and you do see much more, out of wedlock sexuality and then of course, more abortion.”

Harvey said that she had seen Planned Parenthood march in the Columbus, Ohio, LGBT pride parade: “Why are they doing that? Because they know, you muddy the water, and you get a lot more of their business, abortion.”

Smith and Harvey then discussed polls showing rapidly increasing support for gay rights, which they decided must be skewed.

“I’m beginning to lose all kinds of respect for these polls,” Smith said.

“Yes, they’re inaccurate, they portray things in the wrong way,” Harvey agreed, adding that if polls gave people “all the information” about LGBT people “they would change their minds” and realize that “maybe these people are defending something that is not defensible and is, indeed, shameful.”

Anti-Choice Activist Who Clashed With National Right To Life Over Gay Rights To Head Rival Group

A new anti-choice organization meant to be an even more extreme version of the National Right to Life Committee has picked its first president — and they chose someone who embodies the growing schism within the anti-choice movement.

The National Personhood Alliance, which was formed last month by a disaffected former Georgia affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee, announced last week that it had named Molly Smith, president of Cleveland Right to Life, as its first leader.

Cleveland Right to Life caused a stir in the anti-choice movement last year when it vowed to oppose the reelection of Sen. Rob Portman, an abortion rights opponent, because of his support for marriage equality. This prompted National Right to Life president Carol Tobias to send Smith a letter informing her that her chapter could no longer be affiliated with the national group because it “embraced an advocacy agenda that includes issues beyond the right to life.” Smith then fought back, blasting National Right to Life for distancing itself from anti-gay politics in order to keep the support of Sen. Portman.

The most prominent split in the anti-choice movement is about the strategy of allowing rape and incest exemptions to abortion bans — National Right to Life has supported bills that include exemptions, arguing that such bills are better than no legislation at all, while the National Personhood Alliance’s members oppose any hint of compromise in abortion bills.

But Smith’s appointment as the new group’s president highlights the larger divide within the movement. As the anti-choice movement’s leaders get savvier about pushing their message to a wider audience in ways meant to appear more moderate (pushing for “health” regulations that close clinics rather than picketing them, for instance), they are inciting a backlash among those who see anti-choice activism as an integral part of a larger war.

Leaving the issue of LGBT rights alone is a smart strategic decision for leading anti-choice groups, as is the willingness to accept “compromises” like rape exceptions. But by rejecting this kinder, gentler makeover of the movement, the National Personhood Alliance reminds us of what is still at the heart of the opposition to abortion rights.

National Right To Life Speaker: Contraception And Abortion Are The Real War On Women, And They Come From 'The Pit of Hell'

The National Right To Life Convention kicked off this morning with a panel discussion featuring National Review Online editor Kathryn Jean Lopez, anti-choice activist Dr. Jean Garton, and radio host and crisis pregnancy center director Joy Pinto.

All three, along with National Right to Life president Carol Tobias, who introduced the panel, struck back against the “War on Women” label that has been used for legislative assaults on abortion rights, contraception access, equal pay, and domestic violence protections.

Pinto — who runs a crisis pregnancy center in Birmingham, Alabama, which, like many such centers appears to misleading claim to offer medical consulting for women considering an abortion — argued that the “real war on women” consists of legal abortion and access to contraception, particularly emergency contraception.

She added that this “war on women” came from the “pit of hell” and implied that women who have abortions are like Eve eating the forbidden fruit in the hopes of eternal life: "It's the same lie. It's the same war."

Spurned Georgia Group Launching Even More Extreme Rival To National Right To Life Committee

A no-compromise anti-choice group that was recently ousted as National Right to Life Committee’s Georgia affiliate is launching a new, even more extreme national group to compete with NRLC.

In April, we wrote about the drama in Georgia, where an upstart group backed by pundit Erick Erickson succeeded in booting Georgia Right to Life from its spot in the NRLC. Their feud was over not ideology, but strategy. NRLC and Erickson backed a 20-week abortion ban in the House that included exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest; Georgia Right to Life and other hardline groups said that those exemptions made the bill unacceptable:

While all the major anti-choice groups share the same goal — criminalizing all abortions under nearly all circumstances — they differ in how to go about reaching that goal in a post-Roe v. Wade world. This came to a boil last year, when the House voted on a bill banning all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. At the last minute, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor added rape and incest exemptions to the bill after the legislation’s chief sponsor, Trent Franks, stoked controversy when he said “ the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low .” The addition of rape and incest exceptions then caused the anti-choice movement to split.

National Right to Life supported the revised bill and included the vote on its congressional scorecard . But Georgia Right to Life, then the state affiliate of NRLC, opposed the revised bill because of its rape and incest exceptions and urged House members to “vote against this shameful legislation.” Two Georgia Republicans, including Rep. Paul Broun, who is now running for Senate, crossed party lines to vote against the bill, siding with Georgia Right to Life.

One of the loudest critics of Georgia Right to Life’s insubordination was Georgia-based conservative pundit Erick Erickson, who called the group the “Westboro Baptist Church of the pro-life movement.” A few weeks ago, a new group with Erickson on its board sprung up with the goal of replacing Georgia Right to Life as the official state affiliate of NRLC. And this weekend, they succeeded, as NRLC cut ties with Georgia Right to Life and took on Erickson’s group, Georgia Life Alliance, in its place.

Today, Georgia Right to Life struck back, announcing that it is forming the National Personhood Alliance, a new network of state-level groups that that support the no-compromise strategy. In a press release announcing the move, Georgia Right to Life President Daniel Becker takes a clear swipe at National Right to Life: “Compromise is not possible. This is not like roads or highways or agricultural subsidies; when we compromise - someone dies."

"The focus of NPA will differ from most national pro-life groups," Becker said. "The general consensus of many in the movement is that it's time for a fresh strategy for ending the disregard for innocent human life. We intend to be 'standard-bearers' as opposed to 'king-makers'. This will require the application, politically and legislatively, of a higher standard than is currently embraced by most national pro-life groups today."

Becker said, "There has been an overwhelming call from many within the movement to form a new national pro-life group which will represent us on Capitol Hill."

The new organization will be officially formed at a convention to be held in Atlanta, GA on October 10th and 11th. Representatives of existing pro-life organizations and leaders from across the country are invited. Attendees who affirm the founding charter will begin the process of electing a national board of directors representing each state.

"The pro-life movement is more than 40 years old," Becker said. "From its inception in the late 1960's, the focus has primarily been on ending abortion. Our concern must be expanded to encompass the dignity and value of each human being at any developmental stage through natural death.

"To achieve that goal, we must ensure that our strategies are consistent with our policies and objectives. Compromise is not possible. This is not like roads or highways or agricultural subsidies; when we compromise - someone dies."

Keith Mason, Personhood USA President: "Personhood USA looks forward to working with emerging groups like the National Personhood Alliance who share our commitment to never compromise on the lives of pre-born babies."

The new National Personhood Alliance has the support of Personhood USA and claims to have allied groups in 17 states. It has also racked up endorsements from Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver, talk show host Steve Deace, and a number of anti-choice activists.

Anti-Choice Infighting Escalates In Kentucky Senate Race

Last month, we reported that the infighting in the anti-choice movement has gone public in Kentucky, where the National Right to Life Committee and its Kentucky affiliate are endorsing incumbent Mitch McConnell, and a small fringe group called Northern Kentucky Right to Life is endorsing his Tea Party challenger, Matt Bevin.

Like in the similarbattle playing out in Georgia, the issue is whether anti-choice politicians should vote for abortion restrictions that include exemptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest. National Right to Life and its allies, while they oppose rape and incest exemptions, are willing to support bills that contain them if that’s the only way the bills can pass. The more hardline groups, like Northern Kentucky Right to Life and the national Personhood USA, oppose any bill that contains such exemptions.

McConnell has called for the Senate to pass a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, already passed by the House, that contains a rape exemption. Bevin, meanwhile, filled out a questionnaire from the Northern Kentucky group agreeing to its hardline anti-choice, anti-contraception demands.

This has caused some confusion in Kentucky, as Bevin has touted the endorsement of Northern Kentucky Right to Life, and National Right to Life and Kentucky Right to Life have scrambled to clarify that they are not affiliated with the Northern Kentucky group and in fact support McConnell.

Now, according to National Right to Life, Bevin is sending around a mailer that “questions the pro-life convictions” of McConnell, citing Bevin’s endorsement by the Northern Kentucky group. NRLC is furious, and is blaming Bevin for playing into the hands of pro-choice groups:

Today, leaders of National Right to Life and Kentucky Right to Life sharply criticized a mailer sent to Kentucky voters by Matt Bevin’s campaign, which questioned Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s strong commitment to the pro-life cause.

Both National Right to Life and Kentucky Right to Life reaffirmed their unwavering support of Sen. McConnell for re-election in a joint statement last month.

“Matt Bevin is trying to mislead pro-life voters,” said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life. “No U.S. senator has done more for unborn children than Mitch McConnell.”

Both Tobias and Montgomery reiterated that endorsements made by the organization Northern Kentucky Right to Life (which Bevin cites in the mailer) do not represent National Right to Life or Kentucky Right to Life. Northern Kentucky Right to Life is not affiliated with either National Right to Life, the oldest and largest national pro-life organization in the country, or Kentucky Right to Life, the state affiliate of National Right to Life and the oldest and largest statewide pro-life organization in the Bluegrass State.

Personhood USA Joins Battle Over Anti-Choice Leadership In Georgia

The radical anti-choice group Personhood USA has waded into the very public battle over the anti-choice movement’s strategy that is playing out in Georgia.

Over the weekend, a long-running feud among abortion-rights opponents broke into a full civil war when the National Right to Life Committee, the nation’s largest anti-choice group, cut its ties with Georgia Right to Life because of the Georgia group’s hardline, no-compromise strategy.

While all the major anti-choice groups share the same goal – criminalizing all abortions under nearly all circumstances – they differ in how to go about reaching that goal in a post-Roe v. Wade world. This came to a boil last year, when the House voted on a bill banning all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. At the last minute, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor added rape and incest exemptions to the bill after the legislation’s chief sponsor, Trent Franks, stoked controversy when he said “the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low.” The addition of rape and incest exceptions then caused the anti-choice movement to split.

National Right to Life supported the revised bill and included the vote on its congressional scorecard. But Georgia Right to Life, then the state affiliate of NRLC, opposed the revised bill because of its rape and incest exceptions and urged House members to “vote against this shameful legislation.” Two Georgia Republicans, including Rep. Paul Broun, who is now running for Senate, crossed party lines to vote against the bill, siding with Georgia Right to Life.

One of the loudest critics of Georgia Right to Life’s insubordination was Georgia-based conservative pundit Erick Erickson, who called the group the “Westboro Baptist Church of the pro-life movement.” A few weeks ago, a new group with Erickson on its board sprung up with the goal of replacing Georgia Right to Life as the official state affiliate of NRLC. And this weekend, they succeeded, as NRLC cut ties with Georgia Right to Life and took on Erickson’s group, Georgia Life Alliance, in its place.

NRLC’s decision has served to further split the anti-choice movement. Yesterday, Personhood USA – the group behind radical “personhood” laws – waded into the fight, with its president Keith Mason issuing an open letter to NRLC saying that he was “shocked” by the group’s decision and giving it an ultimatum: “We can have no conflict between us unless it is you who abandon our common aim to protect every human being's right to life. Only then will we part ways.”

National Right to Life,

What does it mean to be pro-life? Is it about protecting every innocent human being or about getting good marks on the NRLC scorecard? I was shocked when I read your decision to revoke affiliation with Georgia Right to Life.

….

It's time to decide what our standard is as a movement. If being pro-life is about getting good marks on the NRLC scorecard and voting the party line, like Eric Cantor, then we will continue to enable political opportunists who have no interest in ending abortion. If it is about protecting the lives and inherent dignity of every unborn child -- Personhood -- then we will praise statesmen who adhere to that standard rather than reprimanding them. That was the standard set by the GOP platform and the legislative agenda endorsed in President Ronald Reagan's Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation.

We are not enemies, but friends. We ought not be enemies, for we are allied in the same great struggle for human dignity. We seek unity with you toward that end. It is in your hands to decide which standard to follow. We can have no conflict between us unless it is you who abandon our common aim to protect every human being's right to life. Only then will we part ways. I ask you to reconsider your commitment to our movement's singular purpose and beg you to rededicate yourselves to protecting and defending Personhood for all, no matter the cost.

UPDATE (4/1/14): The personhood group American Right to Life, which makes no secret of its disdain for NRLC, has also  come out to defend Georgia Right to Life, writing in a press release that NRLC have "lost the vision for victory" and "ruined the term" "pro-life."

New Erick Erickson-Backed Group Ousts Hardline Anti-Choice Org In Georgia

Last week, we wrote about the infighting among anti-choice groups – between those that will settle for nothing short of banning abortion with no exceptions and those that are willing to take a more incremental approach to the same goal – that’s bubbling to the surface in contentious GOP Senate primaries in Kentucky and Georgia.

Georgia’s feud is particularly dramatic: Georgia Right to Life, the state affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee, broke with the national group last year when it opposed a federal 20-week abortion ban that the national group supported, refusing to endorse the legislation because it included exceptions for rape and incest.

Republican congressman and Senate candidate Paul Broun sided with the state group and voted against the ban because of the rape and incest exceptions; his fellow representatives Jack Kingston and Phil Gingrey, who are also running for the Senate seat, sided with the national group and voted for the ban. Former Susan G. Komen executive Karen Handel, another leading Senate contender, also supports rape exceptions to abortion bans.

Georgia Right to Life’s open split with National Right to Life over the 20-week abortion ban drew the ire of Macon-based conservative pundit Erick Erickson, who called the hardline Georgia group “the Westboro Baptist Church of the pro-life movement” and declared, “we need a new pro-life group in Georgia.”

Enter Georgia Life Alliance, a brand new anti-choice group that mysteriously sprung up a few weeks ago with the goal of taking Georgia Right to Life’s spot as the state affiliate of National Right to Life. Erickson quickly acknowledged that he was involved in the new organization and would be on its board.

And this weekend, Erickson completed his coup, as National Right to Life announced that it was ending its relationship with Georgia Right to Life and taking on Georgia Life Alliance as its new affiliate. In a press release, the national organization blamed the split on Georgia Right to Life's insubordination and defended its legislative strategy, claiming it “has helped save millions of lives.”

In short, by its own actions, Georgia Right to Life ruptured its relationship with National Right to Life.

National Right to Life and its affiliates seek to restore legal protection for all unborn children from the moment of their conception. Until the Supreme Court allows broad protections for unborn children, we work to protect as many children as possible by passing the strongest possible laws at the state and federal level. That legislative strategy has helped save millions of lives – and continues to save lives today.

Georgia Right to Life then lashed out in return, calling the national group’s decision a “tragedy”:

“It’s a tragedy that a pioneering, highly successful pro-life organization is considered unworthy to remain affiliated with National Right to Life (NRLC),” Becker said. “It’s especially hard to understand, since GRTL has accomplished so much.”

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Daniel Malloy caught up with Broun, who chided National Right to Life and said he wished everyone in the anti-choice movement would just get along:

“I’m saddened that those of us that believe in life are fighting amongst ourselves. We ought to be fighting to protect the lives of unborn children instead of quibbling about differences of opinion of strategy. I’m honored that Georgia Right to Life has endorsed my candidacy for U.S. Senate. …

“I know that Georgia Right to Life has been at the forefront in the state of Georgia fighting for life. What National Right to Life did is I think unfortunate for the people who have been involved with Georgia Right to Life for a long period of time.”

Anti-Choice Infighting Disrupts Georgia, Colorado Senate Races

In an echo of the electoral battle between Tea Party groups and the establishment GOP, Senate candidates in Colorado and Georgia are being caught up in a long-simmering conflict between purists and pragmatists in the anti-choice movement.

Rep. Cory Gardner of Colorado attracted national attention yesterday when he announced that he was reversing his previous support for radical and wildly unpopular anti-choice “personhood” laws. Personhood USA, the primary group pushing such laws, promptly responded with a press release declaring that "Cory Gardner has betrayed the Republican Party, his pro-life voters, and most importantly, unborn babies in Colorado” and (hilariously) insisting that Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election because he didn’t get behind personhood.

Now, the anti-choice site Life News is citing the Susan B. Anthony List's endorsement of Gardner in his previous congressional race to attack Personhood USA, accusing them of trying to sabotage the race. Reporter Steven Erkelt writes:

Unlike Harry Reid and his friends who control the Senate, Cory Gardner will give the pro-life movement another vote and the potential to actually pass legislation that will stop abortions and abortion funding. At a critical time when the rest of the pro-life movement is working in unison to win control of the Senate and stop abortion, Personhood USA should stop misleading pro-lifers about our pro-life candidates.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, anti-choice groups are also engaged in a public spat on strategy, linked to a contentious Republican Senate primary.

A brand new group called Georgia Life Alliance is reportedly challenging Georgia Right to Life, a prominent state anti-choice lobbying group that subscribes to the “all-or-nothing” strategy, for its spot representing Georgia within National Right to Life.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jim Galloway writes that the public feud between the Georgia groups “has everything to do with the U.S. Senate race,” in which anti-choice absolutist Rep. Paul Broun is vying with Karen Handel, an anti-choice crusader who nevertheless supports legal exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of a pregnant woman – and has been endorsed by the Susan B. Anthony List .

There’s an assumption in these quarters that this has everything to do with the U.S. Senate race. U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, R-Athens, is prominently featured on the current GRTL website, praised for his endorsement of the organization’s aggressive approach – which some critics have described as all-or-nothing.

Likewise, the group’s antipathy toward former secretary of state Karen Handel dates to the 2010 race for governor and beyond.

The major point of contention: The National Right to Life organization allows for exceptions to abortion bans in cases of rape and incest. GRTL does not, and has insisted that no politician who endorses those exceptions can be considered pro-life.

Last June, Broun voted against a “fetal pain” abortion bill backed by House Republicans that would ban abortions after a fetus is 20 weeks old. He and Georgia Right to Life blanched when House Republican leaders inserted exceptions for rape and incest.

The vote last year on the national 20-week abortion ban pitted National Right to Life, which supported the ban even though it contained rape and incest exceptions, against Georgia Right to Life, which sided with Broun in saying it didn’t go far enough, and subsequently endorsed him for Senate.

Two other Georgia representatives in the race, Rep. Phil Gingrey and Rep. Jack Kingston, sided with the national group voted for the bill with the rape and incest exceptions, with Kingston saying, “As we live in this post Roe v. Wade world, the reality is that we have to play chess, not checkers."

In response to Georgia Right for Life’s breaking of ranks on the 20-week bill, RedState blogger Erick Erickson called for the formation of a rival Georgia group, a wish that has apparently come true this week.

UPDATE (3/27/14): Surprise, surprise: It turns out that Erickson was involved in the creation of Georgia Life Alliance, and will be on its board

CORRECTION: This post has been updated to clarify that Life News was citing Susan B. Anthony List's endorsement of Cory Gardner in a previous race.

Dumped By National Anti-Choice Group Over Marriage Stand, Cleveland Right to Life Pushes Back

On Monday, Brian wrote about an interesting schism emerging within one of the nation’s largest anti-choice groups, National Right to Life.

When Ohio Sen. Rob Portman announced earlier this year that, inspired by his openly gay son, he had switched his position to support marriage equality, the National Right to Life’s Cleveland affiliate announced that it would no longer support Portman. In response, National Right to Life cut ties with the Cleveland group, citing its “public criticisms of and implicit political threats against a U.S. Senator who has supported the right-to-life position” over “a non-right-to-life issue.”

Although National Right to Life’s letter [PDF] was sent in July, it hit the news this week when Cleveland Right to Life decided to fight back, releasing the letter to the media,  alleging “coordination” between Sen. Portman’s office and the national group and asking, “How can you be for the child if you are not for the family?”

Yesterday, Cleveland Right to Life President Molly Smith took the group’s case to the Steve Deace show, where she speculated that National Right to Life dropped her chapter because they are “terrified about Sen. Portman’s position and the fact that they might lose his support on his pro-life stance.”

Smith told Deace that she had met with Portman and that “he assures us he’s never going to abandon the pro-life cause when it comes to abortion and the issues we’ve just spoken about.”

“But when it comes to gay marriage, he’s 100 percent behind his son,” she said. “That’s not pro-life!”

Deace was skeptical that Portman would hold onto his opposition to abortion rights.  “Does that mean that if he has a daughter that has an abortion, he changes his mind on that too, Molly?” he asked. Smith responded, “Absolutely.”

Smith concluded her interview with an odd caveat: “Even as I say all of this, Steve, I feel so terrible, because this is a very private matter for Sen. Portman’s family.”

NRLC Punishes Chapter Over Gay Marriage Stance

The National Right to Life Committee has cut ties with its Cleveland chapter after the local group announced that it would oppose Ohio Sen. Rob Portman’s re-election because of his support for marriage equality.

NRLC president Carol Tobias told [PDF] the Cleveland Right to Life that its “public criticisms of and implicit political threats against a U.S. Senator who has supported the right-to-life position” over “a non-right-to-life issue” has “violated National Right to Life policy, causing the chapter to disaffiliate itself from the NRLC.”

“We respectfully insist that you remove from your website the claim that you are affiliated with NRLC,” Tobias writes.

The Cleveland group blamed the disaffiliation on “coordination” between the national group and Sen. Portman’s office and reiterated that “any politician, including Portman, who supports the break-up of the American family and supports the denial of a mother and father for children has forfeited the right of support and endorsement of the prolife movement.”

Seeing that Portman became persona non grata among Religious Right organizations after he endorsed marriage equality, NRLC’s decision to stick by him is likely to provoke the ire of other anti-choice groups that are more vocal opponents of same-sex marriage.

AUL Report Highlights Rift in Anti-Choice Movement

The anti-choice movement has for several years been experiencing a quiet rift over extreme state-level measures would ban all abortions – and in some cases, in vitro fertilization and some forms of birth control – in a head-on challenge to Roe v. Wade. As Personhood USA and Janet Porter gain more and more success in pushing “personhood” and “heartbeat” bills at the state level, national pro-life groups who oppose the laws for strategic reasons find themselves in a bind.

In March, when North Dakota passed a “heartbeat” bill which would ban nearly all abortions in the state and strike directly at Roe v. Wade, it also passed two narrower measures banning abortion based on genetic abnormalities or the sex of the fetus. The national anti-choice group Concerned Women for America praised heartbeat the bill,  while Americans United For Life issued press releases that ignored the bill and praised the narrower measures. National Right to Life went even further, actively speaking out against the North Dakota bill and similar “heartbeat” measures in other states.

In an article for the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly this week, Americans United For Life’s senior counsel, William Saunders, lays out his fears of what would happen if the Supreme Court were given the opportunity to reconsider Roe v. Wade. While he praises the “admirable and inspiring” efforts behind the trio of new abortion restrictions in North Dakota, Saunders warns that a direct challenge to Roe will give the Supreme Court a chance to rewrite their 1973 decision on more solid “equal protection” footing.

Instead, he argues, anti-choice activists should target incremental measures at wearing away the opposition of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who voted to uphold the so-called “partial birth” abortion ban in Gonzales v. Carhart. “Can the statute be fashioned so as to make it as easy as possible for him (and the others) to go the one step (or two or ten) further than Gonzales in restricting abortion?,” he asks.

Taken together, these three laws provide significant food for thought.

While the persistent efforts of pro-life Americans at the state level are admirable and inspiring and must be encouraged, how does one evaluate the wisdom of any particular proposed (or enacted) law? First, I suggest, one must recognize the legal realities—what kinds of statutes will the courts certainly overturn? Of course, this is not to say that the courts should govern this matter. In fact, the usurpation of the political process by courts is, in my view, unconstitutional itself and should be resisted. However, if we know a law will be overturned by a court, we should consider the risk of such a decision. At least one significant risk is that the Supreme Court, in overturning a law, will entrench “abortion rights” more firmly in constitutional jurisprudence, perhaps under an “equal-protection”-based right, as Justice Ginsburg and three colleagues wanted to do in the Gonzales dissent.

Sad as it is to consider, Gonzales was decided by only one vote, that of Justice Anthony Kennedy. The opinion he wrote for the majority, while speaking of the right of the legislature to choose among divided experts in fashioning law and while recognizing that abortion harms at least some women, did no more than uphold the outlawing of one abortion procedure when others were available. Is such a person likely to uphold a ban on all abortions at any point in pregnancy? If so, what rationale for doing so (what basis) is likely to appeal to him? Can the statute be fashioned so as to make it as easy as possible for him (and the others) to go the one step (or two or ten) further than Gonzales in restricting abortion? Might a statute with a ban (or limit) early in pregnancy lead him to “protect” the “abortion right” and vote with Ginsburg and her colleagues in favor of a firm affirmation of a “constitutional” right to abortion? Is it better to move the ball gently, seeking to build momentum for the ultimate reversal of Roe/Doe, or to force the issue with a broad and early ban? While reasonable people can differ on the answers to these questions, the consequences of a possible forty more years of unlimited abortion due to another Casey-like decision by the Supreme Court counsels for very careful consideration of what prudence requires.

Todd Akin, Darling of the Religious Right, Wins Senate Primary

Missouri congressman Todd Akin eked out a win last night over  two rivals in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, adding to a list of Religious Right backed candidates winning competitive primaries, including Richard Mourdock of Indiana and Ted Cruz of Texas. Akin is more than just a dogmatic conservative-- he's a darling of the Religious Right, earning perfect 100% ratings from the Family Research Council, National Right to Life and Concerned Women for America . Akin has also worked Religious Right with activists Tony Perkins, Janet Porter, Rick Scarborough, Tom DeLay and David Barton, who even recorded an ad on his behalf.

Akin gained notoriety after he told Perkins on his radio show that “at the heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God,” a remark he refused to apologize for.

The congressman is also a virulent opponent of LGBT rights, pushing a ban on same-sex unions of any form in the military and as Think Progress noted, has co-sponsored nearly every piece of anti-gay legislation in the current House session. He thinks that “the liberal agenda has infiltrated our military” due to the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and tried to overturn Washington, D.C.’s marriage equality law.

He took to the House Floor in 2006 with a warning that “anybody who knows something about the history of the human race knows that there is no civilization which has condoned homosexual marriage widely and openly that has long survived.”

In a documentary for Truth in Action Ministries, he claimed that the left “will snuff out the light of freedom” by “rewriting the history of America,” and warned that the health care reform law is “an unbiblical threat” that violated the Ten Commandments. Akin even believes that Medicare is unconstitutional, wants to eliminate the Departments of Education and Energy and the Environmental Protect Agency, wants to impeach judges for “making decisions not based on the U.S. Constitution,” and likens student loan reform to “stage three cancer.”

Akin said that Thanksgiving should be remembered as a day to renounce “unbiblical” socialism and that the U.S. should use the Pilgrim society as a model because the Pilgrims used the Bible as a “blueprint” for economic, education and government policies.

He consistently pushes anti-choice legislation and even said that legal abortion is the reason for illegal immigration: “If you think about it we’ve aborted however many – 40 million – Americans through abortion. If those Americans had not been aborted, we might have more laborers here. Consequently, America is not reproducing itself in terms of our own internal repopulation of having a bunch of kids.”

Akin thanked God and Mike Huckabee for his primary success in his victory statement:

First, I want to give thanks to God our Creator who has blessed this campaign, heard your prayers, and answered them with victory. Through the months, we have seen frequent instances of His blessing and are reminded that with Him all things are possible!

I also wanted to thank Governor Mike Huckabee, who was with us from the start, stayed by our side, lifted us up in prayer, and tonight celebrates with us in victory. Governor Huckabee – I thank you, my family thanks you, and our volunteers thank you for your dedication to our campaign and devotion to saving the America we love.

From the depths of my heart I want to thank every single volunteer who served in our campaign and brought our winning message to the people of Missouri. Tonight one campaign ends…tomorrow another begins.
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