Profiles On The Right: Americans United For Life

Americans United For Life

For more than 40 years, Americans United for Life (AUL) has chipped away at women’s reproductive rights—both within the U.S. and abroad. AUL’s president, Charmaine Yoest, has described the organization as the “legal architect of the pro-life movement,” pursuing “a military strategy,” “under the radar screen,” and “leapfrogging” over Roe by pushing state-by-state abortion rights restrictions.

AUL was founded by a group of conservative Catholics, most prominently L. Brent Bozell. Bozell had recently been arrested for organizing an anti-choice march on (and demonstration at) a university hospital, where one speaker referred to “sterilized murder factories.” Bozell’s increasingly militant anti-abortion ideology and tactics earned the criticism of former close colleague and brother-in-law William F. Buckley—but in the face of Roe, Americans United for Life quickly turned to the less controversial legal strategy it pursues today (with AUL Action providing a political advocacy arm since 2008).

In 1979, AUL took credit for its “pivotal role” in amending Ireland’s constitution to ban abortion. The next year, the organization helped cut off low-income American women’s access to abortion by successfully defending the constitutionality of the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal funding (such as Medicaid) from being used toward abortion coverage. Americans United for Life is also active in Latin America, where abortion rights are already severely restricted.

In 2011 alone, AUL tallied up credit for the passage of 92 anti-abortion laws, through its active promotion or drafting of “model bills” for state legislators. This is the same low-visibility tactic used effectively by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). After Trayvon Martin’s murder, ALEC came under scrutiny for its promotion of “Stand Your Ground” model bills, and the ALEC Exposed project continues to monitor the actions of the corporate-funded right-wing think tank. Yet, despite exposés of AUL by Mother Jones, The Progressive, Alternet, and Raw Story in mid-2012, the anti-abortion organization has slipped back out of the spotlight.

AUL stretches its four million dollar budget by operating largely behind the scenes and by trying to distance itself from anti-abortion “fringe” organizations like Personhood USA. The strategy is proving effective: The Christian Science Monitor hailed AUL as the “new voice” of abortion opponents, writing that “a less confrontational, more pragmatic force is behind a record number of anti-abortion laws and pro-choice’s ‘bad year.’” Yoest, who worked in the Reagan administration and for Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign, is lauded as the movement’s “kinder, gentler face …winning not just the legal war but the spin game at the moment.”

This PR strategy extends to AUL’s involvement in advancing state-level anti-abortion legislation. Legislation proposed by AUL often boasts innocuous names like the “Women’s Ultrasound Right to Know Act,” “Women’s Health Defense Act,” and “Women’s Health Protection Act,” which play up the right-wing frame that abortion causes harm to women. Translated, those bills would require unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds, an invasive procedure constituting a serious violation of women’s bodies; a ban on abortion after 20 weeks; and a slew of absurd restrictions on clinics that even mandated room temperatures in Kansas. Fortunately, some of AUL’s bills have been modified and/or or held up in court for constitutional violations.

And when you take a look at the substance of AUL’s proposed legislation, the terms “kinder,” “gentler,” and “moderate” are far from accurate. In 2011, AUL got caught pushing legislation that would “expand justifiable homicide statutes to cover killings committed in the defense of an unborn child”—in other words, legalizing the murder of a doctor who performs abortions. In a less than convincing response, AUL attempted to deny that was the bill’s purpose.

The idea of presenting a “kinder, gentler” Christian Right movement is reminiscent of the promotion of ex-gay therapy as a “compassionate” approach toward LGBTQ people. But as Exodus International, the most prominent ex-gay organization in the United States, expressed upon announcing its closure in 2013, that pretense of kindness has been deployed effectively to do serious harm to individuals and their human rights.

In 2012, Notre Dame law professor, and then-board member of AUL, Gerard Bradley admitted that he supports criminal penalties for pregnant women. Bradley also equated domestic violence perpetrators with women seeking to obtain an abortion (a departure from AUL’s propaganda portraying reproductive health care restrictions as benefiting women).Two of AUL’s current board members are affiliated with the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), which, in 1996, helped bring together 45 anti-abortion and Christian Right leaders to adopt a manifesto opposing abortion. More recently, the EPPC’s American Religious Freedom Program has been organizing “religious freedom caucuses” in state legislatures in conjunction with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the same organization leading the Hobby Lobby lawsuit to challenge the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.

The connections between “religious liberty” advocates and anti-abortion activists are unsurprising, and have been described in detail in the 2013 PRA report, Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights, by Jay Michelson. These connections and collaborations are ongoing. In 2014, AUL filed an amicus brief supporting the Hobby Lobby lawsuit, which Yoest claims is not about employees’ rights to health care, but rather “about freedom of conscience, it’s about fundamental American liberties.”

As of April, 2014, the homepage of AUL’s website prominently features a clip of Yoest defending the importance of Hobby Lobby on Fox News, as well as a video created by AUL about “the con”: the Obama administration’s “contraception con,” which the video says mandates coverage of abortion-causing drugs and violates First Amendment rights (complete with a quote from Thomas Jefferson).

Meanwhile, the organization continues its anti-choice activities on the state level, Next Profile arrowlaunching an updated packet of model bills misnamed the “Women’s Protection Project” at the end of 2013, and touting initiatives and victories in Mississippi, Indiana, West Virginia, and Nebraska in the first few months of 2014.

Profiles on the Right: Personhood USA

Personhood USA

As so-called “personhood” anti-abortion bills gain traction, the personhood wing of the anti-choice movement faces heavy criticism for causing internal division and pursuing a “fundamentally flawed” legal strategy. Its uncompromising agenda to ban abortion without exception, even in the case of rape and incest, has alienated many “pro-life” activists. More importantly, perhaps, attacks on rape exemptions have been particularly unpopular with the general public and also pose a suspect judicial argument. As such, mainstream “pro-life” advocates who do think personhood “sounds good” still question the tactic’s efficacy.

Such concerns, however, have not stopped organizations like Personhood USA from advancing an aggressively anti-choice agenda.  Founded in 2008, Personhood USA has taken the lead in arguing for legally recognizing “fetal personhood,” which would prohibit abortion at any time by stating that an embryo is a “person” from the moment of conception. The founder of the group, Keith Mason, previously served as a “missionary” for Operation Rescue, a militant and inflammatory anti-choice organization. During his time at Operation Rescue, “Mason drove a ‘truth truck’—a van plastered with pictures of dead fetuses, spreading the ‘abortion is murder’ message as he traveled across the country.”

On its website, Personhood USA advertises its visits to “over 500 college campuses and over 1000 high schools around the country.” Mason and his wife, both in their early 30s, hope their youth outreach will galvanize a new generation of anti-choice activists. Along with such individuals as Lila Rose of LiveAction, and Ryan Bomberger of the Radiance Foundation, Mason represents a new generation of anti-choice leaders (a trend that Malika Redmond has previously written about for Political Research Associates).

Another member of Personhood USA’s leadership team, Rebecca Kiessling, runs the organization’s “Savethe1” project, dedicated to attacking rape exemptions around abortion. Kiessling, who herself identifies as the child of a rape survivor, seeks to personalize the issue by accusing abortion rights advocates of pushing the “death penalty” for babies born in her circumstances. Savethe1 draws heavily upon emotionally fraught stories, told by children born following an assault, as well as stories by rape survivors who discuss regretting an abortion or promote their decision to give birth. The Gift of Life, a documentary featuring Kiessling’s story among others, is credited with winning over Texas Gov. Rick Perry. (Intriguingly, The Gift of Life was produced by Citizens United, a right-wing organization infamous for its role in the Supreme Court decision gutting campaign finance legislation restricting corporate contributions.)

“Personhood” as a tactic may cause controversy within the “pro-life” movement, but personhood legislation has received the backing of major, multi-issue Christian Right organizations such as the American Family Association, Focus on the Family, and Liberty Council. Mason’s organization lists prominent personhood supporters such as former Republican presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee; National Right to Life and Americans United for Life founder John Archibold, Esq.; Sen. Rand Paul; and Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King Jr. Despite its unpopularity with the general public, the concept of fetal personhood plays an important role in the Christian Right’s secularized “abortion as murder” frame.

Simply arguing that abortion is “immoral,” in the same way birth control or premarital sex is “immoral,” has limited efficacy in a secular society with a diversity of belief systems. Mason and Kiessling come to the logical conclusion that if opposition to abortion is about protecting a life, rather than punishing women’s sexual behavior, then rape survivors should not be exempted. The support for such exceptions poses a weak spot in the theoretical underpinnings of “abortion as murder.” So while an organization like Personhood USA takes the heat for its public and uncompromising public positions, other larger anti-abortion rights organizations less vocally put their weight behind a similar agenda.

For instance, even while major anti-abortion organization Americans United for Life (AUL) publicly criticized the personhood strategy, it was also covertly behind efforts to “expand justifiable homicide statutes to cover killings committed in the defense of an unborn child” (i.e. legalizing the murder of an abortion doctor). Though AUL denied that sanctioning the murder of abortion doctors was the purpose or intent of the legislation, its rebuttal came across as disingenuous. AUL may worry about being publicly associated with support for personhood legislation, but it seems that the organization may be more sympathetic when away from the public eye.

In 2013, the passage of a fetal personhood constitutional amendment in the North Dakota legislature, the first of its kind, was a significant victory for the personhood Next Profile arrowmovement. In November of 2014, the state’s voters will decide whether to accept the amendment, which defines personhood as beginning at “the moment of fertilization. Yet even if the amendment is rejected at the ballot, securing legislative approval already marks a major mainstream success for a concept that, until recently, had hovered on the movement’s outskirts.

Updating the Image of Anti-LGBTQ Bigotry

imago dei

The most recent “softer-language” campaign to launch from the Right is the Imago Dei Campaign, organized by a group of Christian Right leaders and Hollywood allies. The group, whose name translates from Latin to “image of God,” is seeking to alter its leaders’ well-established reputation as promoters of anti-LGBTQ bigotry and discriminatory legislation. The Campaign has been well received in the media—which often finds itself prematurely declaring the so-called “culture wars” at an end (or just about). And while the group is proposing some ostensibly welcome changes, there is also much about the Campaign social justice advocates, journalists, and scholars should be skeptical of.

Before we discuss the point for which the Campaign is best known—acknowledging that gay people are made in the image of God—we should note that the Campaign is unequivocal and uncompromising in its attack on reproductive justice and as an exercise in religious supremacism. The intended effect is to drive a wedge between LGBTQ equality supporters and defenders of reproductive justice—factions that have historically sought to make headway together.

The central statement of the Imago Dei Campaign is actually a profoundly anti-abortion declaration: “I recognize that every human being, in and out of the womb, carries the image of God; without exception. Therefore, I will treat everyone with love and respect.” [Emphasis added]

Thus, far from a de-escalation of the culture wars, as some have suggested, this effort is an opportunistic effort to further divide their political and religious opposition.  Many Christians (not to mention people of other and no religious traditions) not only see abortion as a moral decision and consistent with their Christian faith, but that it is no obstacle to seeing others as created in the image of God. But the Imago Dei Campaign, and by extension many in the Christian Right leadership, have sought to gain control of and own the definition of Christianity—projecting an image to the world that all Christians have the same opinion about a woman’s right to choose.

Leader of the Pack

Leading the Campaign is Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC). Joining him is Jim Daly, President of Focus on the Family; Mat Staver, President of Liberty Counsel (who also sits on the Executive Committee and General Counsel of NHCLC); longtime televangelist James Robison; and Hollywood TV and movie producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey (responsible for the popular movie Son of God – a spinoff of the mini-series The Bible, which aired on the History Channel in 2013).

“For the image of God exists in all human beings,” the Campaign declares, “black and white; rich and poor; straight and gay; conservative and liberal; victim and perpetrator; citizen and undocumented; believer and unbeliever.”

Declaring that “every human being” is made in God’s image is certainly a remarkable departure from the type of rhetoric we have heard for so many years from both opponents of marriage equality in the United States, and promoters of anti-LGTBQ sentiment in Africa and Russia. And it is arguably an improvement over previous efforts to reconcile Christian love with the alleged sin of homosexuality in the 1980s, when conservative Christians were urged to “hate the sin, but love the sinner.”

“The church of Jesus Christ and the word hatred should not even appear in the same sentence,” Rodriguez said. “What if every single person can recognize the image of God in the other? Wouldn’t that bring down the noise of the hateful rhetoric? Wouldn’t that build a firewall between intolerance and bullying? Wouldn’t that build a firewall against extremism?”

There is no question that words and tone are important, and all people of goodwill hope their efforts will make a difference. But these changes alone only serve to mask an ongoing campaign that is virulent as ever in its effort to combat LGBTQ justice. Indeed, it could actually be a hindrance to the fight for LGBTQ equality by lulling equality supporters into complacency while the Christian Right pursues its broader political and religious objectives.

For example, while this campaign of supposed brotherly love splashes across the media, the Christian Right leadership continues to claim that Christians are being persecuted in America—stirring the stew of bigotry and resentment on the farther right of American religious and political life. “This is not an issue of equality,” Rodriguez said, regarding marriage equality on a radio show in May 2012. “There is an attempt to silence the voice of Christianity, there is an attempt to silence the voice of truth, of righteousness and Biblical justice.” That talking point is followed with legislation that would condone commercial discrimination against LGBTQ people on religious grounds (such bills have appeared in Arizona, Georgia, Missouri, Mississippi, and Utah, and several other states).

The Other Shoe Drops

Let’s look at a few other things the Campaign has said—and a few things they have not.

First, let’s note that the Campaign’s leadership did not bother to apologize or ask forgiveness for the culture of personal and political bigotry and discrimination they have promoted for decades as individuals and via the organizations they lead. Nor did they say that they will in any way change or alter their activities or (even more importantly) their policies. The objective of the Campaign seems simply to come across as nicer while they pursue an oppressive political agenda against LGBTQ people.

Jim Daly has told reporters that the Campaign is seeking to avoid framing its message in warlike terms, such as in the “culture war” framing. But Daly’s remarks notwithstanding, there is little indication they are moderating their war of aggression on the civil and human rights of others. Indeed, the Campaign acknowledges that it has not changed its opposition to marriage equality or the idea that homosexuality is a sin. What’s more, the recent initiatives of Citizen Link—the national political arm of Jim Daly’s Focus on the Family—and its state political affiliates demonstrate that the changes in language may be superficial and are intended to distract from or take the edge off of their recent effort to legalize anti-LGBTQ discrimination for reasons of “sincerely held religious belief.”

Sarah Posner, writing at Al Jazeera America, noted that Citizen Link affiliates in Arizona, Idaho, and Kansas have been centrally involved in the development and promotion of similar bills. As I reported in The Public Eye magazine last year, these groups are  part of a well-coordinated national network of state “family policy councils” that have promoted anti-LGBTQ legislation and ballot initiatives—particularly against marriage equality and non-discrimination laws—since their formation in 1988. Daly would have us focus on his softer words and tone, turning a blind eye towards the horrific legislation he and his religious and political empire are promoting.

It is also worth noting that Tom Minnery, Executive Director of Citizen Link, is a longtime member of the board of directors of the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF, formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund). Acting as a Christian Right legal strategy network, the ADF was instrumental in drafting the Arizona legislation seeking to codify anti-LGTBQ discrimination.

In addition, Mat Staver heads the small Christian Right law firm Liberty Counsel, which is representing virulently anti-gay Christian Right activist Scott Lively in Federal District Court in Massachusetts. Lively is accused of committing crimes against humanity for inciting anti-LGBTQ violence in Uganda and for his role in the creation of that country’s recently enacted Anti-Homosexuality law. “This lawsuit against Rev. Scott Lively,” Staver declared in a press release when the suit was filed, “is a gross attempt to use a vague international law to silence, and eventually criminalize, speech by U.S. citizens on homosexuality and moral issues. This suit should cause everyone to be concerned, because it a direct threat against freedom of speech.”

Lively and other evangelicals have engaged in a wide ranging effort, as Eric Ethington has reported here, “to completely whitewash their own history of involvement with Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality law.” The same could be said of the Imago Dei Campaign by Christian Right leaders—seeking to whitewash their own history of involvement in the spread of damaging, un-Christianlike homophobia, and turning a blind eye to the gross excesses of others, to the point of pretending that they never even existed.

Anti-Shaming Rhetoric Used to Attack Rape Survivors’ Rights

“Rape survivors should not be shamed”: this sounds like a feminist statement. From SlutWalk and StopSlut to less controversially named anti-violence initiatives, denunciations of slut-shaming and victim-blaming are a staple of today’s mainstream feminist discourse.

But certain organizations that describe themselves as “pro-life” have also appropriated this rhetoric, as exemplified by a recent article, “Pregnant Rape Victims Shouldn’t Be Shamed for Having an Abortion.” These activists, however, pair the statement that rape survivors should not be shamed for “choosing” life with attacks on the right of survivors to choose at all: the endgame is to take away abortion rights even in the case of rape and incest.

image via

image via

Moreover, these same activists continue to keep shame on their agenda. The group Choices4Life, founded by a woman who identifies herself as born from a pregnancy resulting from gang-rape, uses a giant image of a gun pressed to a pregnant belly on to illustrate the woman’s decision is “premeditated murder.”

During the 2012 election season, some right-wing candidates sparked widespread shock and outrage when they claimed women had biological defenses against conceiving as a result of “legitimate” rape and called pregnancy resulting from rape a “gift from God.” This attention faded when the offensive speakers largely lost their bids for office. But conservative politicians like Todd Akin did not invent these ideas: such rhetoric has circulated in anti-abortion rights circles for decades. It typically stays out of the mainstream, however, because even opponents of abortion often blanch at forcing rape survivors to give birth against their will. As a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops spokesperson put it, it’s a “tough sell.”

Though unpopular, attacks on rape exemptions are integral to the Right’s “abortion as murder” frame, as described in Political Research Associates’ Defending Reproductive Justice Activist Resource Kit, updated and re-released in 2013. “Prochoice advocates sometimes point to rape exemptions as evidence that opposition to abortion is based on a desire to control women’s sexual freedom, rather than concern for the fetus,” the document advises. “Support for exemptions suggests most people do not believe that abortion is murder.” So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Savethe1, launched in the wake of the 2012 elections, was established by Personhood USA, an organization dedicated to recognizing fetal personhood from the moment of conception. Savethe1′s Rebecca Kiessling and Personhood USA have compared abortion after rape to sentencing the fetus to the “death penalty.”

Like the founder of Choices4Life, Kiessling says she was conceived in rape. After she appeared in a Citizens United documentary opposing rape exemptions, Kiessling met with Texas Governor Rick Perry during his most recent presidential campaign. After the meeting, Perry now insists that the life of the mother should be the only exemption for abortion.

But even amongst anti-choice politicians and activists, there’s disagreement. The attack on rape exemptions is not universally embraced (especially publicly), but is potentially an up-and-coming element of the movement. Ryan Bomberger, the face of the Radiance Foundation (notorious for its anti-abortion billboards targeting African-American communities), plays a dual role for the anti-choice movement as a rare Black leader and a child born following a rape, combining these elements of his background into a platform strongly pushing interracial adoption.

Advocates like Myers, Kiessling, and Bomberger aim to shift focus away from rape survivors and their needs, and toward the child born after rape—who can pull on an audience’s heartstrings. They claim to be the object of shaming and attacks on their existence, denouncing the discussion of “hard cases,” rather than focusing on the rape survivor. Savethe1 employs mothers who gave birth after rape and women who regret having a post-rape abortion, deploying them to speak against the right to an abortion. The reliance upon storytelling through film, with its visual ability to trigger emotion, has also yielded success for these anti-choice groups working to reframe the issue.

Opposition to rape and the defense of abortion rights share a fundamental theoretical basis: both attempt to secure women’s right and ability to exercise bodily autonomy, to make decisions for their own bodies, and to control what happens to their bodies. The successful appropriation of anti-shaming rhetoric by anti-choice activists, therefore, depends upon their ability to wield the tools of emotional manipulation and distraction. Otherwise, it quickly becomes apparent that their ostensible concern for rape survivors is, at its core, a concerted campaign to deny survivors agency and control of their bodies—this time legally.

Profiles on the Right: Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood


The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) is an evangelical organization established in 1987 to “defend against the accommodation of secular feminism” in the church and promote gender “complementarianism,” which teaches that “distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order.” CBMW’s mission is to counter the influence of gender justice activism and to push back against women’s, reproductive, and LGBTQ rights by making the case for complementarianism through biblical interpretation, “scholarship,” and arguments from “common sense.” Despite its modest resources and media footprint, CBMW’s work provides talking points and theological rationales against gender equality that reach a large swath of American evangelicals.

The organization’s priorities are laid out in its founding document, the Danvers Statement. It is CBMW’s position that forbidding certain roles to girls and women does not undermine gender equality, but rather that “masculinity” and “femininity” are equal in value but have distinct roles. In addition to promoting these “roles” within the family, CBMW opposes the ordination of female clergy, gender-inclusive Bible translations (which it calls “gender-neutral”), and church and societal acceptance of any relationships outside monogamous heterosexual marriage.

CBMW’s current executive director, Owen Strachan, has written that husbands are the “God-appointed ‘head’” of wives and households, and that women—not men—are “called to be workers at home” and “designed to be physically and spiritually nurturers of their children.” Strachan has also written that those who harass patients at abortion providers are “suffering with Christ” and risking violence from pro-choice advocates with “murder in [their] eyes.”

CBMW’s teachings on female submission and patriarchal headship have particularly disturbing implications within the context of intimate partner violence. Founder John Piper preaches that the wives of abusive men continue to have a divine obligation to “submit” to their husbands, though he concedes that their obligation to “submit” to laws criminalizing spousal abuse may outweigh “duties” to violent husbands. This is a “clarification” of an earlier teaching that wives may have to “[endure] verbal abuse for a season … [or] perhaps being smacked one night” before seeking support from the church.

CBMW council member Bruce A. Ware has asserted that wives resist showing appropriate submission to husbands because of sinfulness and that men “may be required, in response, to reestablish [their] God-given rulership over” their wives. While Ware teaches that abuse is a “sinful” method of exercising that rulership, his remarks imply that abuse is a natural response by husbands to “threat[s] to their authority.”

CBMW has a small and dwindling budget ($84,719 in 2012, down from $126,581 in 2010) and little visibility or direct political impact outside the evangelical world, yet it has deep connections and influence within some of the most powerful evangelical institutions in the United States. Its founders, John Piper and Wayne Grudem, are influential evangelical theologians and authors; Grudem is a former president of the Evangelical Theological Society. CBMW’s council members include Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), and Bruce Ware, a professor at SBTS and also former president of the Evangelical Theological Society. Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (the Southern Baptist Convention’s policy arm) and a former dean of SBTS, serves on the CBMW’s board. The current president of the Council, Presbyterian (PCA) pastor J. Ligon Duncan, is also president of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

Several board and council members are original signers of the Manhattan Declaration, which itself claims gender and sexual “complementarity” as a basis for opposition to reproductive and LGBTQ rights (see Fred Clarkson on the Declaration’s role in forging a new evangelical-Catholic alliance). Several members of CBMW’s board and council also belong to The Gospel Coalition, an increasingly powerful evangelical organization .

John Piper and Wayne Grudem are co-editors of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (RBMW), a large collection of essays published in 1991 under CBMW’s auspices. Essays in RBMW cite not only scripture, but also biology, sociology, history, psychology, and law as evidence for the “wisdom” of complementarian gender roles. Topics include “The Biological Basis for Gender-Specific Behavior” and “Psychological Foundations for Rearing Masculine Boys and Feminine Girls”—the latter is an essay by the now thoroughly discredited “ex-gay therapy” proponent George Alan Rekers. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood was honored by evangelical flagship magazine Christianity Today as its 1992 Book of the Year.

An abridged version of RBMW, “Fifty Crucial Questions: An Overview of Central Concerns about Manhood and Womanhood,” cites Rekers’ work as providing “clinical evidence that there is no such thing as a ‘homosexual child’” and instead that “there are dynamics in the home that direct the sexual preferences of [a] child.” Piper and Grudem write that fathers play a particularly crucial role in instructing children in the distinctions between “masculinity” and “femininity,” in “firm and loving affirmation of [those distinctions]” in their children, and in “[shaping] the sexual identity of their tiny children.” RBMW and “Fifty Questions” remain the primary publications touted by CBMW—they are available for free download from CBMW’s website—in addition to its Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood published twice annually.

CBMW’s messaging through its publications, its website, and the teachings and writings of its influential members reaches millions of American evangelicals through the network of evangelical organizations to which CBMW belongs. Its teachings are taking on new relevance as the Right increasingly turns its attentions to the anti-LGBTQ battles it feels more confident about winning, specifically against transgender communities. CBMW’s copious teachings on gender difference and “gender confusion” are sure to play an important role in evangelical messaging against transgender rights and equality—and given CBMW’s relative lack of visibility, perhaps a stealth role.

Next Profile arrow


The Adoption Crunch, the Christian Right, and the Challenge to Indian Sovereignty

While the demand for adoptable babies is increasing in the United States—driven in large part by evangelical Christians—the number of babies available for adoption is declining. Adoption agencies are now targeting tribal nations as a potential new source of babies to adopt, and forming alliances that threaten to undermine the sovereignty of Native American nations.

photo credit: The Post and Courier

photo credit: The Post and Courier

**This article appears in the Winter 2014 issue of The Public Eye magazine.**

On September 23, 2013, a child-custody battle that was nearly five years in the making came to its conclusion in Oklahoma when an Army veteran from the Cherokee Nation, Dusten Brown, handed over his daughter, Veronica, to Matt and Melanie Capobianco, a White couple from South Carolina who had raised her for the first two years of her life.1

Brown gained custody of four-year-old Veronica in December 2011, after a South Carolina court ruled that the adoption process had violated federal Indian law. Brown’s attorneys also argued that Christina Maldonado—Brown’s ex-fiancé and Veronica’s biological mother, who is Latina—had deliberately concealed plans to let the Capobiancos adopt her.2  As the custody decision was reversed following a 2013 Supreme Court ruling,3 and Veronica was tucked into the Capobiancos’ car to return to South Carolina, the scene was broadcast across national and social media to two polarized camps.  Read More

The Stuff of Which Religious War is Made

Gregory M. Aymond, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New Orleans

Gregory M. Aymond, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New Orleans

Gregory M. Aymond, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New Orleans, has declared economic war on anyone who participates in the construction of a new regional Planned Parenthood facility in New Orleans.

Yet another Catholic prelate denouncing an abortion provider might seem to some like a small, if dramatic, moment in the so-called culture war—but I think this incident may be a bellwether.

The archdiocesan newspaper Clarion Herald front-paged Aymond’s open letter, in which he declared that the Archdiocese and its related institutions will not do business with anyone, Catholic or non-Catholic, “involved in the acquisition, preparation and construction of this facility.” Aymond makes clear that even in the era of Pope Francis, the theocratic impulses that drive the so-called culture war are undiminished. “The archdiocese, including its churches, schools, apartments for the elderly and nursing homes,” he decreed, “will strive in its privately funded work not to enter into business relationships with any person or organization.”

Here is the key section in which the Archbishop declares he will punish not only Catholics but non-Catholics, even to the point of economic ruin:

This policy applies to all businesses, regardless of religious affiliation or non-affiliation. Our fidelity to Church teaching and our conscience necessitates this stance.

There is no justification, including economic hardship that will make a direct or indirect relationship with Planned Parenthood, or any abortion provider, acceptable.

The significance of this should not be underestimated. Aymond is the leader of the majority religious institution in the state’s largest city, and he has made clear he is willing to use its economic leverage against any person or business that defies him.

This was treated as unremarkable in an account published by Catholic News Service (the ostensibly independent news agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops), and syndicated to Catholic publications nationwide. CNS reported that Benjamin Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, was surprised but pleased by all of this.

“It should be a model for other religious leaders, not only in this state but in other areas,” Clapper said. “Most of the time, people expect the bishop to say things and to teach principles, but I don’t believe most people expect a bishop to make this real-life, declarative statement that actually impacts the corporate world.”

As dramatic as Aymond’s declaration certainly is, it is unclear how much economic leverage he actually has. Also, such tactics aren’t new, as businesses are often pressured by anti-choice activists not to do business with abortion providers. What is notable here, as Louisiana Right to Life leader Clapper observes, is that religious leaders don’t usually get directly involved, let alone lead the way.

Abortion is a legal and constitutionally protected medical procedure. It is considered a moral and responsible choice by many mainstream religious institutions and organizations, notably those affiliated with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, most of them Protestant or Jewish.

Aymond and his church have the right to their view of abortion of course, but others—religious and non-religious alike—are not under any moral or legal obligation to agree. Yet Aymond’s decree targets people who conduct normal business activities in keeping with the law and their own religious and moral conscience, regardless of the economic havoc it creates. This fundamental lack of respect for pro-choice religious and secular traditions, and for the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans, shows that at least this Catholic culture warrior is escalating, rather than moderating, his approach to the culture war.

As unlikely as it may be, we can hope that Aymond’s newly aggressive anti-choice efforts will turn out to be a local tempest in a teapot. But it is worth noting that this is the stuff of which religious war is made.

Issue Brief: This Month in Reproductive Justice

Credit: Charlotte Cooper/ctrouper on Flickr

Credit: Charlotte Cooper/ctrouper on Flickr

Every Friday, PRA brings you a monthly update on a different social justice issue. This week, we are recapping the last month in Reproductive Justice.

Cities in Maine and Pennsylvania Enact Buffer Zones around Abortion Clinics
In two unanimous rulings, both the cities of Portland , Maine and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania voted to create buffer zones around abortion clinics in an attempt to ensure that patients seeking healthcare would not be deterred by anti-choice protesters. In Portland the 39-foot buffer zone was voted into effect immediately. Zones of this nature, like the Massachusetts zone law, are up for review by the U.S. Supreme Court. While arguably justified based on the history of violence against clinics and harassment of clinic patients, the laws still raise questions about First Amendment rights. Thus far, the courts have ruled in favor of buffer zones protecting patient access to medical services since they do not keep the voices of protesters from being heard nor their signs seen.

Michigan Ballot Initiative Would Require Women to Purchase Separate Insurance for Abortion, Regardless of Circumstances Like Rape
An anti-choice group called Right to Life of Michigan has submitted 315,000 signatures to put a ballot initiative up for review by the Michigan Legislature. The initiative would require women to buy an additional rider on their health insurance, in advance of becoming pregnant, in order to receive coverage in the event of their needing an abortion. Reportedly, the majority of members in the House and Senate put their names to the petition, making it a strong possibility that the measure will pass into law if it comes before the Legislature. Of the four prior legislative ballot initiatives in the state of Michigan, three of them were aimed at restricting access to abortion in open attempts to erode the rights guaranteed by Roe v. Wade. Critics have pointed out that the initiative makes no exceptions for women who become pregnant as a result of rape, so women would have to pay for the additional insurance rider “just in case” they are raped.

Three Women Denied Abortions in Ireland Take Their Cases to the UN
Siobhain Murphy, Ruth Bowie and Amanda Mellet, three Irish women denied abortions in their home country and forced to go abroad to England to have the procedure, have brought their case to the UN. They allege Ireland’s Protection of Life in Pregnancy Act, which makes all abortion illegal except in cases where the mother’s life is in danger, constitutes “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” In all three cases the women had been told that the fetuses would not survive past birth and made the decision not to carry the pregnancies to term, at which point they were denied the service under Irish law. It is their intention that fetal impairment be added to the list of circumstances under which an abortion is permitted in Ireland and are working with the Center for Reproductive Rights toward this goal. There is some precedent for the situation in the UN’s KL v. Peru case, where the verdict established that “withholding abortion services in cases of fatal fetal impairments, regardless of legality, constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”

Iowa Judge Grants Temporary Stay in Telemedicine Abortion Restrictions
Iowa Judge Karen Romano ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s request to stay a ruling by the Iowa Board of Medicine. The ruling makes it illegal for doctors to prescribe Mifepristone pills to women after video exams—known as “telemedicine”—without establishing an in-person relationship with patients first. Telemedicine is both popular and important in the delivery of healthcare services to rural women who do not have the ability to travel to a clinic which in many cases is hundreds of miles away. Romano did not find the Board’s reason for tighter restriction of the delivery of the abortion pill by this method compelling, noting that it was “peculiar… that the board would mandate this for abortion services and not any other telemedicine practices in Iowa” The judge also pointed out that in the five years the practice has been in effect, there have been zero issues reported.

Senate GOP Introduces Measure to Criminalize Abortions After 20 Weeks
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced a bill that would make abortion procedures illegal after a period of 20 weeks, the point at which anti-choice activists have claimed that a fetus feels pain. Sens. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) are co-sponsoring the symbolic bill, which has virtually no chance of passing the Democrat-controlled Senate but represents the Right-Wing dedication to attacking reproductive autonomy by whichever angle they can work. The theory that a fetus feels pain at 20 weeks has been widely circulated and used as justification for multiple state-level bans already, even though it has been discredited .

Albuquerque Voters Come Out Against 20-week Abortion Ban
With record voter turnout, residents of Albuquerque, New Mexico voted 55 percent to 45 percent against a proposal that would have restricted abortions to the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. The ballot measure was the first of its kind, being a municipal vote instead of a state-wide or legislative vote, and victory for pro-choice activists against out-of-state anti-choice organizers is heartening. The measure would have been particularly harsh, not even providing exemptions for instances of rape, incest, and fetal anomalies. Albuquerque is one of the last places in the country with clinics providing third-trimester abortions, making it a hot target for anti-choice campaigns. In spite of those increased efforts however, the day went to reproductive freedom.

Senate Democrats Draft Pro-Choice Bill to Halt Nation-Wide Attacks on Abortion Access
In light of the continued state-level legislation making it more financially, physically and emotionally difficult for women to obtain abortions, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) is taking the lead on the creation of a bill called the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013. The legislation would require states to prove that any restrictions on women’s reproductive autonomy they enact are medically necessary. While the bill would not deactivate existing state laws, it would provide a framework to challenge state law in federal courts. The bill has little chance of passing the Republican-controlled House, but it marks the first time in a decade that a piece of national legislation has been introduced with the purpose of protecting abortion access.

Supreme Court to hear Hobby Lobby Abortion Coverage Case
The U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear the case of Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft stores that has been refusing to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s requisite that employer-provided insurance include coverage of some contraceptives. The lawsuit was filed last September. The fight iss over emergency contraception, which the Evangelical proprietors of Hobby Lobby, the Green family, consider to be “an abortion-causing drug” even though this is not the function of EC. Rather than comply, the company has been facing the threat of fines amounting to $1.3 million a day for every day of non-compliance. The issue up for review, as summarized by the Supreme Court, is whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) which states that the government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion,” extends to for-profit companies denying benefits “to which the employees are otherwise entitled by federal law, based on the religious objections of the corporation’s owners.” Can a company “exercise” religion and therefore be entitled to protection? The question is reminiscent of Citizens United case which ruled that corporations also enjoyed free speech protection. The United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit had ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby by that same logic. The ruling could have broad impact outside of even reproductive justice, and could also effect LGBT non-discrimination laws, where some companies argue that their ability to fire a person for being LGBT is protected by their right to exercise their religious beliefs.

New York Magazine Features First Person Abortion Stories
This past month, New York Magazine featured the personal stories of 26 women who had decided to end their pregnancies, framing the story with statistics from the past half-century of the societal split on the issue of abortion. In the spirit of the 1 in 3 campaign, the magazine features a range of women across different states, generations, socio-economic and racial backgrounds. The results of bringing these stories to the public sphere is tangible, with Planned Parenthood reporting that in the results of a survey they commissioned, when people were asked about specific circumstances that a woman could be facing surrounding her decision, they were more likely to oppose a 20-week limit on abortion coverage. The majority of those surveyed responded favorably to allowing women to obtain a legal abortion after 20 weeks.

RH Reality Check Publishes Infographic on the Sources of Anti-Choice Funding
Our friends over at RH Reality Check have published a new article deep-diving into how the Koch Brothers are funding anti-choice activists and legislators. It’s a great read, and includes the following infographic:

(Click the image to visit RH Reality Check)

(Click the image to visit RH Reality Check)


Profiles on the Right: Ryan Bomberger

Ryan Scott Bomberger Photo credit: Penny Starr, CNSnews

Ryan Scott Bomberger
Photo credit: Penny Starr, CNSnews

At the Family Research Council’s 2012 Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., where he was a featured speaker, Ryan Bomberger opened his remarks by saying “I’m as Black as Obama.” He explained that his biological mother was raped, became pregnant, chose to carry him to term, and put him up for adoption. He was accepted into a large family with White parents and other multicultural, multiracial adoptee brothers and sisters.1

Bomberger and his wife, Bethany, cofounded The Radiance Foundation in Atlanta, GA, in 2009. They both earned graduate degrees from Pat Robertson’s Regent University, and Ryan was Regent’s alumnus of the year in 2012. The Radiance Foundation is now based in Virginia Beach, VA, where Regent University is located.

Bomberger, who earned an MA in communications, is the “chief creative officer” at Radiance. His use of social media is highly sophisticated, and Radiance’s interactive website is rich with video shorts. The organization’s self-described mission is to “illuminate the intrinsic value each person possesses” through “creative ad campaigns, powerful multi-media presentations, and compassionate community outreach.”2

Bomberger has worked on a number of initiatives, including the notorious “Too Many Aborted” billboard campaign. Launched in Atlanta in 2010, the billboards juxtaposed images of African-American babies or toddlers with inflammatory statements. One compared abortion with the African genocide of the transatlantic slave trade. The campaign was endorsed by several national African-American antichoice leaders, including Dr. Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and director of African-American outreach at Priests for Life.3

“Too Many Aborted” was funded by Georgia Right to Life, a prominent antichoice institution with more than 30 chapters throughout the state. Registered as a 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organization, it pursues public education and outreach activities while also conducting substantial legislative work, including lobbying the Georgia state legislature and endorsing candidates.

Since conceptualizing the billboards, Bomberger has turned to creating ads that promote transracial adoption. One of his recent media campaigns, “Turn the Unplanned into a Loving Plan,” is a collaborative effort with the RealOptions Medical Pregnancy Clinics of California and Bethany Christian Services.4  The latter is an international adoption agency with reported revenue of more than $82 million in 2012.

The public service announcement they collaboratively produced shows images of White parents and a cast of multiracial children, reflecting the antichoice movement’s effort to broaden its appeal by highlighting diversity. Bomberger, through his personal story and his media savvy, is becoming an increasingly vital contributor to that goal.

Next ProfileThis profile also appears in the Summer 2013 issue of the of PRA’s Public Eye magazine.

1. “Ryan Bomberger speaks at Values Voter Summit 2012,” YouTube, Feb. 18, 2013,

2. “Our Vision and Mission,” The Radiance Foundation,

3. Penny Starr, Ryan Scott Bomberger, “A Rape Victim’s Child Speaks Up for Right to Life,” Catholic Online, Nov. 12, 2011,

4. “Turn the Unplanned Into a Loving Plan,” The Radiance Foundation,

Profiles on the Right: Lila Rose

Lila Rose at the 2009 Life Awards. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Lila Rose at the 2009 Life Awards. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Though only in her mid-twenties, Lila Rose is already a seasoned antichoice activist. In 2006, while still a freshman at the University of California, Los Angeles, she started an antichoice publication, The Advocate, which she claims is distributed to more than 300 high schools and colleges and has a circulation of 200,000. It offers a bit of pop-culture commentary but mostly provides a vehicle for Rose’s antichoice message, along with vulgar images of aborted fetuses.

Rose is also the president of Live Action, which “works to expose abuses in the abortion industry and advocate for human rights for the pre-born.” According to the Live Action website, it does so by “using new media to educate and mobilize both local and national audiences.”1

Live Action’s work often focuses on Planned Parenthood and borrows a tactic made famous by the “journalist” James O’Keefe, who is best known for the video that undermined ACORN, formerly an antipoverty advocacy organization. He and another activist entered an ACORN office disguised as a pimp and a sex worker, claiming that he maintained a prostitution ring and needed housing.

One of Rose’s own “investigations” in 2011 involved actors who enter Planned Parenthood clinics, claiming to be part of an underage prostitution ring. The Live Action website notes that “an encounter with any worker providing confidential health care services should be an opportunity for trafficking victims to get help to escape form [sic] slavery, but in abortion clinics, ‘confidentiality’ becomes the secrecy needed for abuse to continue.” Live Action reported that “seven Planned Parenthood clinics in four different states were willing to aid and abet the sex-trafficking of minor girls by supplying confidential birth control, STD testing, and secret abortions.”2  Planned Parenthood disputed the authenticity of the videos. As the Atlantic noted, they were in any case dubious from both a moral and a legal perspective.3

Nonetheless, Rose remains an important force within the antichoice movement, and she controls her image carefully. Fox News host Bill O’Reilly has helped spread her message nationally, and she appears regularly in the mainstream media. She also does the rounds at important right-wing events, including the annual Values Voter Summit.

As Rev. Patrick Mahoney, an antichoice activist with the Christian Defense Coalition, told the Los Angeles Times, Rose brings an element of youth and innovation to the antichoice movement. “There is this stereotype of who we pro-life leaders are,” Mahoney said, “and for the most part it would be white middle-aged religious men trying to impose their will on women … So now with Lila, you bring this young, fresh college student that completely blows any stereotypes away. No one is going to accuse Lila of being mean, vindictive and harsh.”4

Next ProfileThis profile also appears in the Summer 2013 issue of the of PRA’s Public Eye magazine.

1. “Live Action President Lila Rose,” Live Action,

2. “Exposing Planned Parenthood’s Cover-Up of Child Sex Trafficking,” Live Action,

3. Chris Good, “What Makes the Planned Parenthood Videos Different from the ACORN Videos,” Atlantic, Feb. 10, 2011,

4. Robin Abcarian, “Anti-abortion movement gets a new-media twist,” April 26, 2009, Los Angeles Times,