In his book Abuse of Discretion, Clarke Forsythe goes through the legal history of abortion in America, a story that previously remained largely untold. (Read our interview here.) Forty-one years in, most Americans are not just ignorant of how Roe v. Wade came to be, but what exactly it is. The good news is that polling consistently shows that Americans do not prefer abortion; they prefer making sure women and children are safe and supported. They prefer restricting abortion — as a recent Marist poll from the Knights of Columbus finds — protecting women and the unborn, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy. This is why the abortion industry hides behind euphemisms to keep its stranglehold on our miserable politics on these issues.
Forsythe is senior counsel for Americans United for Life, which, like Pope Francis, recently caught the attention of Rolling Stone. As with the piece on the pope, Rolling Stone may not entirely get what’s going on, but there’s big news in the noticing. AUL’s annual compendium, Defending Life, and its accompanying “Life List” assess the state of the union when it comes to abortion policy and law. AUL shines a light on Planned Parenthood’s offenses against women’s health and its foundational role in our culture of death. And its Women’s Protect Project seeks to ensure that women know there are alternatives.
Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, talks about the latest abortion numbers from the Guttmacher Institute, AUL’s Life List, and the progress toward building a civilization of life and love. — KJL
Kathryn Jean Lopez: The big news this month is that the abortion rate is lower. What’s your reaction?
Charmaine Yoest: We are really pleased to hear that abortions nationwide continue trending downward, even from the Guttmacher Institute, the abortion industry’s own research arm. Nevertheless, with abortions continuing at a rate of over a million a year, we are still sobered by the staggering loss of human life those numbers represent. It’s also important to recognize that the abortion data in this country is deeply flawed. There is no standardized reporting to the Centers for Disease Control. And this report from Guttmacher is based on survey data that they collect themselves. Women are often told by abortionists to use emergency rooms if they experience complications — and furthermore to conceal the abortion by claiming it’s a spontaneous miscarriage. This kind of deception from the abortion industry is extremely dangerous to women’s health. Another element reported on in this latest study is the continuing increase in the use of chemical abortions. The abortion industry is shifting its business model to emphasize chemical abortion, which has an increased risk of hemorrhage. This is deeply troubling when we are looking at an unregulated industry that continues to emphasize secrecy and is marked by a lack of accountability. Overall, we are encouraged to hear of any decrease in abortion. But there are still underlying trends that continue to threaten women and the lives of unborn children by further cloaking the effects of a dangerous and profit-driven industry.
Lopez: What does it take to make your Life List?
Yoest: AUL’s annual Life List captures and quantifies the progress the 50 states are making toward protecting life in law. The states that top this year’s Life List — Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Texas — have consistently demonstrated a strong commitment to protecting women, the unborn, the dying, and the vulnerable, as well as to safeguarding our fundamental First Amendment freedom of conscience, which is increasingly under attack from the Obama administration, Big Abortion, and its allies.
The Life List’s top states make protecting human life a cornerstone of their legislative agendas. In 2013, at least 97 new life-affirming laws were enacted, including at least 69 requirements related to abortion. Top Life List states Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, North Dakota, and Texas made significant progress last year in advancing pro-life agendas. A primary focus of the 2014 Life List is how well the states are implementing the protective and cutting-edge laws featured in AUL’s new Women’s Protection Project. This initiative is focused on seven pieces of AUL model legislation designed to protect women from the harms inherent in late-term abortions, to empower women with information about abortion and its risks, to ensure that abortion clinics are meeting medically appropriate standards of care, to protect minor girls from an exploitative abortion industry, to prohibit impersonal and dangerous “telemed” abortion practices, and to ensure that protective laws such as these are appropriately implemented and enforced.
Lopez: What does Louisiana do so right?
Yoest: Louisiana tops the Life List for the fifth year in a row because of its decades-long history of enacting common-sense limitations on abortion. It also is one of two states that comprehensively protect health-care freedom of conscience and is one of only a small number of states that have adopted meaningful regulations on emerging biotechnologies such as destructive embryo research. For example, in recent years, Louisiana has enacted laws prohibiting abortions after five months of pregnancy, requiring abortion clinics to inform women that no one can coerce them into undergoing abortions, and prohibiting insurance companies from offering abortion coverage within the state insurance exchanges established under Obamacare.
Lopez: How does Pennsylvania pull off being somewhat pro-life in the Northeast?
Yoest: Pennsylvania’s efforts to protect women from the negative consequences of abortion have been groundbreaking, as memorialized in the landmark Supreme Court case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Pennsylvania led the way for other states by enacting measures like informed consent for abortion, a parental-consent requirement, and direct state funding of abortion alternatives, including the lifesaving work of pregnancy resource centers. Moreover, in the wake of the revelations about the squalid West Philadelphia “house of horrors” abortion clinic owned and operated by convicted abortionist Kermit Gosnell, Pennsylvania became one of only five states that require abortion clinics to meet the same patient-care standards as facilities performing other outpatient surgeries. Finally, like Louisiana, Pennsylvania has taken action to rein in emerging biotechnologies, banning destructive embryo research and regulating artificial reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization.
Lopez: If you’re heralding Texas, isn’t AUL betraying how out of step it is? Wendy Davis is considered to be a heroine even by the Girl Scouts.
Yoest: Actually, it is Wendy Davis and her pro-abortion allies who are out of step with the majority of Americans. Texans and their elected representatives in Austin accurately reflect the growing consensus in America that abortion harms women and that Big Abortion is a parasitic and insufficiently regulated industry that callously prioritizes its profits over women’s health and safety. As a result of aggressive legislative action over the past several years, Texas has become one of the most protective states in the nation and is a consistent Life List “All Star.”
The Texas legislature made national news last summer after abortion advocates used mob tactics during a special legislative session in an attempt to prevent the passage of common-sense abortion regulations supported by a majority of Texans, as well as a majority of Americans. Thankfully, those childish, self-indulgent tactics failed, and Governor Rick Perry signed into law a measure prohibiting abortion after five months of pregnancy, requiring abortion clinics to meet the same patient-care standards as other facilities performing outpatient surgeries, regulating the administration of abortion-inducing drugs such as RU-486, and mandating that abortion providers have admitting privileges at local hospitals to facilitate the treatment of abortion complications.
The evidence supporting the need for this measure was and remains overwhelming. For example, in just the past five years, at least 19 Texas abortion providers have been investigated or cited for violations of current state law including failure to meet facility health and safety standards and failure to comply with informed-consent requirements. Unlike abortion advocates, most Texans understand that easy access to abortion clinics does not ensure adequate protection for women’s health and safety, and they will not apologize for demanding the best care for Texas women.
Lopez: How is Washington the worst state for life, and can it turn around?
Yoest: Washington maintains very few laws protecting women from the negative impact of abortion or the dangerous practices of the abortion industry. To the contrary, it is one of only a small number of states that have adopted a state Freedom of Choice Act, legally enshrining unrestricted abortion into state law and effectively prohibiting the enactment of common-sense laws such as informed consent, parental involvement, and medically appropriate health and safety standards for abortion clinics. Washington explicitly permits physician-assisted suicide, making it more radical than even Oregon, which was the first state to allow physician-assisted suicide under any conditions.
AUL continues to work with allies in Washington to reverse this trend. Last year, we testified against and helped defeat a bill mandating that health-insurance plans covering maternity care also cover abortions. That’s a start.
Lopez: What are the kinds of legal and policy resources AUL provides?
Yoest: AUL maintains the nation’s largest and most comprehensive catalogue of life-affirming legislation. We currently have 50 pieces of model legislation. Many of these models deal with abortion, while others provide legal protection and recognition to the unborn in contexts outside of abortion, regulate emerging biotechnologies, protect those at the end of life, and safeguard freedom of conscience. Our model legislation is featured in our annual publication Defending Life — what many have called the “pro-life playbook.”
In the past three years, we have provided more than 3,500 copies of our model legislation to legislators and allies across the country and internationally, and our legal and policy experts have consulted with officials in 39 states on life-affirming initiatives. Our focus in 2014 will be the rollout and implementation of our Women’s Protection Project.
Lopez: What are telemed abortions?
Yoest: So-called “telemed” abortions represent yet another effort by the abortion industry to maximize its profits at the expense of women’s health and safety. Rather than personally meeting with the woman, under a telemed abortion scheme, an abortion provider consults with her over Skype or another teleconferencing system. The abortion provider never examines the woman before authorizing a third person to dispense a dangerous abortion-inducing drug such as RU-486 to her. The abortion-inducing drugs are often then dispensed in dosages and with usage instructions that contradict the FDA-approved protocols for the drugs.
There is nothing compassionate about placing women’s lives and health at risk. Abortion-inducing drugs are dangerous — and in many cases, more dangerous than surgical abortions. For example, in July 2011, the FDA reported 2,207 adverse events associated with the use of RU-486. Among those were 14 deaths, 612 hospitalizations, 339 blood transfusions, and 256 infections including 48 “severe infections.” Of the reported deaths, eight were from severe bacterial infection. All eight women had been administered the drugs in an “off-label,” unapproved manner.
Lopez: What’s the Child Protection Act, and is it really important?
Yoest: AUL’s innovative “Child Protection Act” has three major components designed to protect America’s girls. The first is a requirement that all those working in an abortion clinic — including administrative staff and volunteers, not just licensed medical personnel — report suspected child sexual abuse to state officials. The second component is a requirement that, when an abortion is performed on a girl under the age of 14, the abortion provider retain forensic evidence that can be used in any subsequent investigation or prosecution. The final component provides legal remedies for parents when a third party, such as an abortion-clinic employee or a teacher, attempts to aid a child in obtaining an abortion without involving her parents as required by the laws of her home state.
Evidence from across the nation has affirmed the need for such measures. Lawsuits have been filed both by young women who were repeatedly victimized by sexual predators after having sought services at abortion or “reproductive” clinics — clinics that were aware of the sexual crimes being committed but refused to take action to protect the girls — and by parents seeking to remedy situations in which they were not informed of their daughters’ decisions to undergo abortions. Videos released over the past few years by Live Action have also documented an apparent unwillingness on the part of some abortion-clinic personnel to comply with state laws requiring the reporting of suspected child sexual abuse.
We know that crimes of abuse such as statutory rape are all too common in the United States. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that half of all children born to minors are fathered by adult men. HHS has also found that 75 percent of girls under 14 years of age who have had sex report having a forced sexual experience.
Lopez: Isn’t this what Phill Kline once tried to help with against the efforts of Kansas Planned Parenthood and its allies?
Yoest: AUL’s Child Protection Act has recently been enacted, in whole or in part, in a number of states, including Arkansas, Illinois, and Mississippi. It is designed to address a very real problem — one among many problems inherent in the profit-driven practices of America’s abortion industry that Phill Kline’s efforts in Kansas exposed.
Lopez: What’s your favorite news of the year?
Yoest: I found the passage of the omnibus pro-life bill in Texas to be a really encouraging and meaningful headline. Ordinary citizens, faced with major-media disdain and hardball bullying tactics, joined together to win real pro-life protections, even after it seemed like legislative maneuvering meant that nothing could be done. And we saw real political courage, too. The abortion lobby behaved shamelessly — and many other times we’ve seen those intimidation tactics succeed. But not this time in Texas. The pro-life protections that have been sweeping the country are possible only because ordinary citizens have communicated to sometimes reluctant politicians and an often hostile media that life does matter, that people care, and that women and unborn children must be protected from an unregulated, unmonitored, and uncaring abortion industry.
Lopez: Don’t you feel odd being opposed to legislation with names like the “Women’s Equality Act” in New York, which the assembly in Albany passed just this past week?
Yoest: AUL was proud to help our allies in New York defeat Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act last year and will continue to help work against it. It’s a disingenuously named measure seeking to elevate abortion to a “fundamental” legal right in the state, giving it the same legal status as the right to vote or the right to free speech. It would eliminate all existing legal protections for women considering abortion, rescind existing protections for unborn victims of violence, and threaten freedom of conscience. The measure is not about providing enhanced legal protection to women. It is about empowering the abortion industry and stripping women of many of the legal protections they already enjoy.
Lopez: Isn’t all your model legislation a not-so-veiled attempt to end abortion in America?
Yoest: AUL’s abortion-related legislation is primarily designed to protect women and their unborn children from the harms inherent in abortion or to effectively regulate an abortion industry that prioritizes profits and political gain over women’s health and safety. Our legislation is part of a growing effort to ensure that everyone is welcomed in life and protected in law, and each year we are making progress -– state by state and law by law — toward a more pro-life America.
Given the abortion industry’s penchant for filing lawsuits against common-sense, life-affirming laws, it very well may be that our model legislation will prove to be a vehicle for the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, to reconsider prior abortion rulings and to bring about Roe’s ultimate demise.
Lopez: What have you learned in your years at AUL?
Yoest: I’ve learned that the human spirit cannot be dissuaded from looking for a way to do the right thing. It’s hard to work for pro-life protections and legal change for more than 40 years, but the hope and joy and potential in every human life makes it worthwhile, and every day I see men and women fighting to protect their fellow citizens because they care, because they’re right, and because they just won’t give up. I’ve been inspired by the people I’ve met, and encouraged to believe in the day when Roe v. Wade collapses.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a director of Catholic Voices USA.