This year, a rash of legislation has left the country inflamed and itchy with extreme abortion restrictions that, in many cases, would force a woman seeking to terminate her pregnancy to receive a medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasound. But if you think the legislation in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Texas sounds oddly similar, you're not imagining things. In fact, it seems that each bill was drafted after model legislation written by one lobbying organization. And it seems that the same organization has its fingerprints on much of the crappiest anti-abortion legislation for the last 41 years.
Anti-abortion group Americans United for Life publishes an annual guide to lawmakers called Defending Life. In the publicly available pamphlet, you can find information about the group's long-term strategy to gradually ebb away at abortion rights until they're codified out of existence as well as suggested "model legislation" for state and national legislatures. Guess what the Defending Life suggested in its 2010 issue?
The model legislation is called The Women's Ultrasound Right to Know act, and it's just the sort of Dark Ages junk you'd expect from a patriarchal law that unironically contains the words words "Women's" and "Right" in its name. The act purports to legally enshrine a woman's right to view an abortion ultrasound image and listen to fetal heartbeat 24 hours before her procedure, in the words of the incomparable Dr. Curtis Boyd, "as though women don't know what a pregnancy is."
Analysis of the text show that many of the twenty-five or so existing and pending laws requiring women to receive ultrasounds before having abortions closely mimic The Women's Ultrasound Right to Know Act model legislation. The Sunlight Foundation compared the legislation in 13 states to the AUL's model and found that 12 of the 13 samples at least partially matched, including Virginia and Texas.
That states look to national policy shops for guidance in crafting legislation is nothing new; lawmakers from both sides of the aisle routinely adopt language from model legislation in their respective territories. But what makes Americans United for Life's influence over the state-by-state erosion of women's rights so troubling is the extent to which it's been involved in anti-choice initiatives for decades, and the blueprint for eventual elimination of women's rights over their own bodies they've laid out.
AUL was a driving force behind the late 90's push to ban so-called "partial birth abortion," a deliberately inaccurate name given to a procedure that was often used during late term, wanted pregnancies so that parents would be able to mourn and bury intact fetal remains. The organization's also been a longtime proponent of the Hyde Amendment, a law restricting use of Medicaid funds for abortions. They're behind laws declaring (against scientific evidence) that fetuses can feel pain, parental notification acts for minors seeking to terminate pregnancy, and a doozy of a bill introduced in Nebraska in 2011 that opponents pointed out would technically have made it legal for people to kill abortion doctors. They called that the "Pregnant Women's Protection Act."
Most recently, Americans United for Life has set its sites on Planned Parenthood. The organization's rumored to be behind Florida Republican Cliff Stearns' push to launch and exhaustive and unnecessary investigation into Planned Parenthood's financial records.
They also backed Karen Handel's unsuccessful bid for governor in Georgia. Karen Handel later went on to join the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which later went on to — wait for it — defund Planned Parenthood. [Correction: They didn't endorse anyone in the GA governor's race, but they did publicly celebrate Planned Parenthood's defunding of Komen.] Model legislation in Defend Life suggests state legislatures introduce measures into their respective state governments that would make it more difficult for Planned Parenthood to operate by yoking abortion providers with more stringent requirements for operation.
Among the ranks of Americans United for Life is former President and CEO and Mike Huckabee staffer Charmaine Yoest and newly-hired Senior Policy Advisor 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. You know logic's on your side when you have to bring Satan into the discussion.
If you'd like to take a gaze through the magic crystal ball and into the future of the war on women, look no further than the latest issue of Defending Life. Some of the model legislation boasts misleading Girl Power!/Protect The Ladies! language — like "The Woman's Right to Know Act," "Coercive Abuse Against Mothers Prevention Act," and "Abortion Patients' Enhanced Safety Act,"— while others attempt to erode the rights of women over their bodies by addressing nonproblems — like "The Fetal Pain Awareness and Prevention Act," "The Born Alive Infant Protection Act," and the "Unborn Wrongful Death Act."
AUL's influence over the Great Uterine Invasion of 2011-2012 is profound. Arizona Republican Trent Franks has proposed legislation in the US House that would ban race or sex-selective abortions and allow a woman's spouse or parents to interfere with her right to choose by claiming sexism or racism, even though there's no evidence that sex- or race-selective abortions are a problem in the US. Presidential candidate Rick Santorum has adapted AUL-esque language in his assertion that prenatal testing leads to abortions and should be outlawed. The 24-hour waiting period favored by state legislature after state legislature is another great AUL refrain, as is the trope that women are somehow being misled about what abortion is, and what pregnancy is and need state-sanctioned intervention (and pervy vaginal probing) in order to protect them from the evil, predatory abortion doctors.
How Americans United for Life wields such ideological clout among pro-life circles is a bit of a mystery — after all, it allegedly operates on a $4 million per year budget. But whatever blackmail material it possesses on state legislatures, its influence in the pro-life arena in 2012 is unquestionable. And, even though AUL makes a lot more noise than actual legislation, if you ask them, they're winning.
Virginia ultrasound law is the image of a few others [Sunlight Foundation]