News & Politics

Meet ALEC's Equally Despicable Anti-Choice Cousin -- AUL

Think the anti-choicers in statehouses around the country are coming up with abortion bans all by themselves? Think again.

A sign at NYC's 2011 rally for women's health.
Photo Credit: Sarah Seltzer

When statehouses across the country started passing abortion bans at the seemingly arbitrary threshold of 20 weeks, was it a mere coincidence? When the "right to know" bills that required mandatory ultrasounds -- sometimes transvaginal ones -- before abortions were introduced or passed, in state after state, from Virginia to Texas to Pennsylvania, was that a matter of chance?

Of course not: none of these trends were the product of diabolical mind-sync on the part of anti-choice legislators. Instead, these bills arise from the tradition of blueprint legislation -- the practice of borrowing bill prototypes or model bills from a central national entity and then adapting them for introduction in statehouses. The practice is used on both sides of the aisle, but is particularly insidious in the case of anti-choice bills, part of the "war on women"-- the campaign to erode Roe until it's all but nonexistent.

Blueprint legislation has come to light recently thanks to the spotlight on the right-wing, corporate American Legislative Exchange Council, and in particular ALEC's hand in the proliferation of dangerous "stand your ground" laws, like Florida's, and discriminatory voter ID legislation.

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ALEC has taken a hit in recent days as progressive activists, including ColorofChange and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, have convinced major companies -- among them Mars, McDonald's, Wendy's, Kraft, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Intuit, plus the Gates Foundation -- to drop their affiliations with ALEC in light of the Trayvon Martin case.

Anti-ALEC campaigns have been a huge success for progressives so far. But with the spotlight shining so strongly on ALEC, many Americans may not realize that ALEC isn't the only organization of its kind. Another group that's been responsible for plenty of alarming legislation is Americans United for Life -- ALEC's anti-choice cousin.

From the pushback against healthcare reform to the efforts to delegitimize Planned Parenthood to the late-term abortion battles of the late aughts, AUL's imprimatur is almost always there. Each year, the group puts out a publication, Defending Life, which in the group's own words, "combines our model legislation, expert analysis, and 50 state report cards into a single nonpartisan guide for legislators, policy makers, the media, and interested Americans."

Like ALEC, AUL has been gaining a lot of state-level traction since the arrival of the Tea Party in 2010. Much of the reporting we've done at AlterNet this past year and a half on the erosion of reproductive rights and healthcare for all has focused on documenting legislative gains by anti-choice factions in state legislatures.

As a recent Guttmacher Institute study reminds us, the ground has shifted in a significant way thanks to this legislative assault. "In 2000, the country was almost evenly divided, with nearly a third of American women of reproductive age living in states solidly hostile to abortion rights, slightly more than a third in states supportive of abortion rights and close to a third in middle-ground states," Guttmacher director of policy analysis Rachel Benson Gold said in a statement announcing the report. "By 2011, however, more than half of women of reproductive age lived in hostile states. This growth came largely at the expense of the states in the middle, and the women who live in them; in 2011, only one in 10 American women of reproductive age lived in a middle-ground state."

If AUL is behind many of the recent anti-choice legislative attacks, who exactly is behind AUL? Jezebel's Erin Gloria Ryan recently took a look at the group's staff roster. Among the team members is former Mike Huckabee staffer Charmaine Yoest, who serves as AUL's president and CEO, and Abby Johnson, "a former Planned Parenthood employee-turned frothing anti-choice advocate who has toured the country claiming that Planned Parenthood is in cahoots with Satan." Johnson is AUL's senior policy adviser.

Yoest has another claim to infamy as well: She is "the woman who got Komen to defund Planned Parenthood," as a Washington Post headline described her.

As you may recall, earlier this year breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced that it had drawn up new funding guidelines, under which longtime Komen grantee Planned Parenthood would no longer be eligible. The move was widely interpreted to be politically motivated, and a huge backlash ensued. Komen soon had to backtrack, issuing a vague assurance that it would "continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood." (And indeed, at least for the time being, Komen is continuing to give grants to Planned Parenthood.)

The Post's Sarah Kliff delves into Yoest's and AUL's involvement in the ill-fated Planned Parenthood defunding saga. She notes that there was much focus on former Georgia gubernatorial candidate and now former Komen VP Karen Handel, but:

there's another woman who deserves equal credit: Americans United for Life President Charmaine Yoest. It's her group that issued a report last fall, " The Case for Investigating Planned Parenthood," that led to a probe by the Energy and Commerce Committee. And it's that investigation that puts Planned Parenthood in violation of Komen's new policy that bars funding of groups under investigation....

Americans United for Life has, for the past year, aggressively pushed Congress to end Planned Parenthood's federal funding. It has also drafted model legislation that states can use to bar abortion providers from receiving federal funds. Nine states have passed such laws, although the Obama administration has blocked their implementation.

"I have to say, it was some of the best news of my entire life," Yoest told Kliff in an interview just after Komen made its initial announcement. It's safe to say that sentiment didn't last.

Although the Komen ordeal was an utter failure for AUL, it's clear that AUL still has clout -- though how exactly it wields that clout remains unclear since, as Erin Gloria Ryan notes, its budget is allegedly only $4 million per year.

Regardless, AUL's messaging is obviously hugely popular among disciples of the "toss everything against a wall and see what sticks" school of anti-choice legislating. Its Defending Lifepublication goes into everything from fetal pain and "personhood" to late-term abortions and mandatory ultrasounds (in deceptive anti-choice-speak, a woman's "right to know"). The group is behind bills that would have legalized the murder of abortion providers and the lies about the Affordable Care Act expanding abortion access.

Anti-choice legislators didn't concoct this stuff on their own. There was a blueprint. And it came from AUL.


Sarah Seltzer is an associate editor at AlterNet and a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published at the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor, Jezebel and the Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @fellowette and find her work at Lauren Kelley is an associate editor at AlterNet and a freelance writer and editor who has contributed to, The L Magazine and Time Out New York. She lives in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter here.