Abortion issues were mostly treated as an afterthought on the main stage of this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). But in breakout panels, anti-choice groups had in-depth discussions with supporters about strategies to continue rolling back access to reproductive health care.
Representatives from the anti-choice groups Americans United for Life (AUL), Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List, and National Right to Life spoke to CPAC attendees Friday and Saturday at panels called “Baby Steps: The Pro-Life Success Story” and “Supply-Side Strategy: Exposing and Confronting the Abortion Industry as Big Business.”
AUL President Charmaine Yoest started one panel with stories about rogue abortion provider Kermit Gosnell, providing misleading anecdotal evidence that abortion, an exceptionally safe procedure, “harms women.”
“Why, as I’m talking about the abortion industry, am I so emphasizing women?” Yoest said. “It’s not something that the pro-life movement is necessarily known for.”
The answer, she said, involves legal strategy.
Since Supreme Court precedent from Roe v. Wade stipulates that the state has a compelling interest to protect women’s health, Yoest said, it stands to reason that the anti-choice movement has to pursue a “mother and child strategy.”
The strategy also includes putting shoddy evidence before courts and legislative bodies claiming that safe, legal abortion harms women more than it helps them, thereby creating a record that future courts or lawmakers can draw on regardless of scientific merit.
“Every time you introduce a bill in the legislature, every time that you’re engaging in a public debate over how we’re addressing abortion, the legislation you’re standing on gives you a chance…to further the conversation about how it affects women,” Yoest said.
“As we look at our legislative strategy, we need to tie that into our legal strategy.”
Also included in this idea is the so-called supply-side strategy of “educating” the public about the dangers of the “big business” of abortion. Yoest said that Planned Parenthood receives about $1.26 million of federal tax dollars every day—neglecting to mention that none of that federal money can go toward performing abortions.
But at another panel, Yoest acknowledged that since “most Americans have a positive view of Planned Parenthood,” anti-choice activists “need to be training ourselves to speak outside the echo chamber.”
“We’ve got to be careful about our rhetoric,” said National Right to Life’s Darla St. Martin. “At this point in time, this time, this place, this is not a good thing to ask your candidates to do publicly. To say, well, I’m opposed to Planned Parenthood. Because, you and us and everybody, we haven’t yet convinced the public. And that’s our job. We don’t want to put the people who we are trying to elect on the line to do the job that we should be doing.”
A better strategy, panelists argued, is to focus the rhetoric on so-called taxpayer-funded abortions. If more moderate voters can be persuaded by negatively tying the issue to Obamacare, so much the better.
AUL, as Rewire has reported, has led an intense legislative push at the state level to restrict insurance coverage of abortion care, even though the Affordable Care Act doesn’t allow federal money to be directly spent on the procedure.
Panelists said they focused specifically and narrowly on their top two legislative priorities, restrictions on insurance abortion coverage and 20-week abortion bans, which are unconstitutional and contradict Roe v. Wade.
That goes for the federal level as well as the state—a national 20-week ban bill was pulled after a GOP intra-party fight over rape exemptions, but it was replaced by an insurance coverage ban that passed the House.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA List, called the federal 20-week bill a “litmus test” for Senate candidates, and called the fight for that bill “the most important moment in the pro-life movement since 1973.”
St. Martin said she didn’t consider the 20-week ban “the end-all, be-all,” but it “builds momentum” for more anti-choice laws and candidates.
“One yard can make all the difference,” Yoest said, using a football analogy. “We’re marching down the field.”