TPM Cafe: Opinion

New Anti-Abortion Debate: Just How Extreme Are We?

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AP Photo / David Goldman

But simply being hostile to abortion is no longer good enough for GRTL. Unlike many of the National Right to Life affiliates across the country, GRTL has been a vocal proponent for complete abortion bans with no exceptions, not even in cases of rape, incest of a pregnant person’s health being in jeopardy. Their website openly and passionately advocates for a “Personhood” amendment, which would ban almost all forms of birth control. Many of the National Right to Life affiliates across the country, by contrast, argue against such a policy, fearing that an aggressive, highly unconstitutional ban on abortion and potentially hormonal birth control could backfire and reaffirm the right to an abortion codified in Roe v. Wade.

These deviations from the National Right to Life’s playbook that has given an opening to a new anti-abortion group. So far, Georgia Life Alliance is little more than a web landing page and an email sign up, but its goal is to be the new Georgia affiliate for National Right to Life, leaving GRTL out on its own.

That GRTL has angered its national umbrella is undeniable. GRTL fought against the mothership this summer when it argued that a politician who refused to vote in favor of the federal 20-week abortion ban because it had exceptions for rape victims was actually more pro-life than those who voted for the ban. The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) considered the ban a must-pass vote. GRTL continues to balk at the idea of the incremental strategies to overturn Roe championed by major anti-abortion policy groups like NRLC and Americans United for Life, instead advocating for all-out bans or nothing.

The arrival of a new anti-abortion advocacy group is a clear signal that it’s time for GRTL to conform to the rest of the National Right to Life team talking points, or go independent. If GRTL does so, it won’t be the first “pro-life” group to lose its NRLC affiliation. Cleveland Right to Life was cut off in 2013 after it decided to go rogue and join the fight against in the gay marriage, and was told to remove any claims from its website stating that it was affiliated with the National Right to Life organization. Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati was also ousted when it decided to back “personhood” a few years earlier. Still, neither were as big as a statewide affiliate like GRTL. Losing Right to Life affiliation to another anti-abortion organization, especially a start up, would be particularly mortifying.

Mortifying or not, if Georgia Life Alliance does end up offering the slightly more moderate stances, like supporting the incremental change to abortion law that makes the national anti-abortion movement content, that could leave GRTL sitting alone as the fringe. If that happens, it would leave the state looking very similar to a number of other states across the country that have their anti-abortion policy groups divided into “mainstream” and “totally extreme.” When that happens, there tends to be a lot of fighting between the two as both groups struggle over who gets to make policy for the state.

Invariably, the biggest schism between the organizations will be over what type of abortion ban should be introduced at the state level. In Ohio, the more extremist Faith2Action not only bucked the state Right to Life affiliate by urging lawmakers to continually reintroduce a ban on abortions at the point in which a heartbeat can be discerned (in many cases at less than 2 weeks after a missed period), but actively targets pro-life Republicans who won’t support their efforts. It’s a battle that has been going on since 2011, when Ohio Right to Life was instrumental in blocking the heartbeat ban, concerned that a blatantly unconstitutional abortion ban would hamper their efforts to pass other bans that were just mildly unconstitutional, like a 20-week abortion ban.

Wisconsin, too, has developed the same infighting between its own anti-abortion organizations. Last summer Wisconsin Right to Life chastised its own ally, Pro-Life Wisconsin, for pushing ahead on a personhood measure of its own, which Wisconsin Right to Life ridiculed as so extreme that it was never going to become law.

“I don’t want to talk about the personhood amendment anymore. I’m done talking about the personhood amendment,” Sue Armacost, the legislative director of Wisconsin Right to Life, told Time Magazine. “This particular measure might sound good from a pro-life perspective, but it’s not going to save one single life.”

The biggest concern that Wisconsin Right to Life expressed over pushing for “personhood” was the potential money that would be wasted on a court battle, funding that could be better spent within the movement.

In fact, multiple states have these jockeying anti-abortion groups, and the conflict between the moderate and extreme sides of the anti-choice movement comes to a head primarily when it comes time for candidate endorsements. It’s in this arena where we are now starting to see whether it is the moderates or the extremists who hold the real power.

The 2012 election appears to have been a shifting point for anti-abortion extremism when it comes at least to statewide candidates, as we saw Republican politicians like Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin lose what should have been easy Senate pickups — due in part to their unwavering belief that abortion must be absolutely banned without exception.

Now, politicians are learning their lesson. “personhood” may be a perennial ballot issue in Colorado, but it has also failed every time it has been introduced, and Republican senate candidate Congressman Cory Gardner appears to have finally taken a lesson from that fact. Asked now if he still supports giving legal rights to fertilized eggs, Gardner has said, “I can’t support personhood now.”

Even in local races in Colorado, the bloom is coming off the extremist anti-choice rose. When a lone GOP candidate for a local house seat was asked where he stood on abortion during his party nomination meeting, he responded “100 percent opposed.”

Rather than lauded, he was chastised by potential voters who said they would vote for a Democrat instead, one of whom yelled “This is exactly why Republicans are losing elections.”

Anti-abortion policy groups like National Right to Life and Americans United for Life have spent decades developing an intricate blueprint to push just the right abortion restrictions through just the right states in just the right order so that they can create the circuit splits and favorable court rulings necessary to maneuver a favorable case in front of the Supreme Court. With the massive explosion in anti-abortion bills passing state legislatures since 2010, they are almost there, and can see their goal of overturning of Roe within their grasp.

However, that same success on the ground that has put those restrictions in place has also emboldened their own extremists, who demand they move faster. Turning the legality of abortion back to each state isn’t good enough, and they are refusing to be placated with anything less than complete legal protection from the moment of conception. The more successful these policy groups are at passing laws, the bigger this battle will become. Georgia is just the latest state to prove that the biggest threat to the anti-abortion movement is anti-abortion activists themselves.

Robin Marty is a freelance writer, speaker and activist, and the author of Crow After Roe: How Women's Health Is the New Separate But Equal and How to Change That. Robin's articles have appeared at Rolling Stone, Bitch Magazine, Ms. Magazine, In These Times, Truth Out, AlterNet, RH Reality Check and other publications.