I recently came across a website called Pro-Life Profiles (hat tip: Lisa Graas), which evaluates the pro-life credentials of various center-right figures, from GOP candidates to conservative activists. The first thing that’s important to note about the site is that it’s a project of American Right to Life. ARTL proclaims itself the “personhood wing of the pro-life movement,” but according to the National Right to Life Committee, ARTL is a scam that does little more than raise funds from people who confuse them with the more well-known NRLC. Who’s right? I can’t say for sure, but I’m inclined to trust NRLC (despite some disagreements with them) based on my familiarity with all the work they undertake on behalf of the pro-life movement, whereas I know of ARTL doing no such work. (UPDATE: In the comments, ARTL spokesman Bob Enyart claims the ARTL that ran afoul of NRLC was a different, now-defunct organization.) I report, you decided.
Their website seems entirely devoted to tearing down other pro-lifers as traitors to the cause (or at least insufficiently devoted), and that’s the exclusive mission of Pro-Life Profiles. Admittedly, they have found several legitimate reasons for criticizing politicians such as George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and even Sarah Palin, and they’re correct to stress that the ultimate goal of the pro-life movement must be full, nationwide legal protection for the unborn as full human beings. Unfortunately, in their zeal to reach the ultimate goal, they make profoundly wrong moral and practical arguments against various valuable, common-sense pro-life policies.
For instance, in criticizing Concerned Women for America and its president, Wendy Wright, ARTL argues that pro-lifers should not support laws that require obtaining parental notification/consent, or require being shown ultrasounds, before obtaining an abortion. They claim that it’s immoral to support any law that tacitly accepts abortion’s legality, and that such laws are somehow counterproductive to the goal of legal protection for the unborn. Among their arguments (many of them are vapid & repetitive, and life is short, so I’m only going to address the highlights):
ARTL: They don’t actually reduce abortions, and in fact may increase abortions.
ME: Simply ask yourself: does having to inform or get permission from your parents to get an abortion, does that make seeking an abortion easier or harder? If a women sees an ultrasound showing that unborn babies aren’t simply a lump of tissue, is she more or less likely to go through with it? Though these laws won’t prevent abortions in all cases, it should be obvious which direction they move things in. In particular, does ARTL mean to deny the enormous power of ultrasounds to change people’s hearts and minds?
ARTL: It’s immoral to support any law whose end result still permits abortions to take place.
ME: You’re not giving abortion tacit approval by voting for something less than outright prohibition if outright prohibition is not an option available to you. If it pushes the law in the right direction, and if it saves lives, it’s not only moral, but necessary. Strategy is not an either-or proposition; you have to pursue every available avenue.
ARTL: “Thirty years of evidence also shows that the regulation strategy has failed to move the federal judiciary, which is mostly Republican and overwhelmingly pro-choice, toward the right-to-life position.”
ME: This is just stupid—who ever said they’re supposed to move the judiciary? Reducing abortions legislatively and getting good judges on the bench are both important goals, but one has nothing to do with another. Again, it’s not either-or.
ARTL: Such regulations “call upon our own judges to uphold laws that regulate killing the innocent, and thus turn conservative judges increasingly against the personhood of the unborn.”
ME: Their link claims that “Antonin Scalia has publicly stated that he would strike down any law that prohibited abortion in all fifty states, and Clarence Thomas has ruled that the public has the right to decide to legalize the killing of unborn children.” I don’t know what cases/remarks they’re referring to, but in Scalia’s case I suspect he was simply noting that, as a judge, he does not have the authority to criminalize abortion. And unfortunately, he’s right: judges are not policymakers, and even the language of the 14th Amendment discusses “born” citizens, making any judicial abortion ban shaky Constitutional ground. That’s why pro-lifers should fight for the Human Life Amendment.
ARTL: These laws “will keep abortion ‘legal’ if abortion is wickedly ‘returned to the states.”
ME: “Wickedly” returned to the states? Short of a constitutional amendment, you can’t make much legislative headway until you return it to the states by overturning Roe v. Wade (and popular support for state abortion bans will certainly come before enough support to pass a national constitutional amendment). Because abortion is not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, the states have the right to determine abortion policy. Reverse Roe, and abortion automatically becomes illegal in those states whose pre-Roe abortion bans remain in effect, and the rest of the states get a fighting chance. Pro-choice politicians would no longer be able to hide behind the Supreme Court. This scenario is bad why?
It’s absurd to think parental notification laws would prevent full abortion bans. Even if they did give tacit approval to the principle of choice (which they don’t), they’re mere legislative acts, and can be superseded by new legislative acts with a simple majority vote.
Absent in ARTL’s analysis is any recognition of Constitutional originalism, separation of powers, or judicial restraint. Understandably-frustrating though it may be at times, the Founders placed clear limits on how political goals—even noble and essential ones—may be pursued. In their view, how much should the pro-life movement respect the rule of law? If they think the ends justify the means, and that the Right should embrace judicial activism, they should come out and say so. But before that, they’d do well to brush up on how past leaders reconciled human rights and constitutionalism, and think twice before condemning the rest of us as traitors to the unborn.
3 thoughts on ““American Right to Life’s” Misguided Pro-Life Profiles (UPDATED)”
Hi Calvin, iron sharpens iron, and even though I’m a spokesman for ARTL, and have various disagreements with your article, I’m thankful that you want to get to the truth. Here’s I’ll only reply to one point, with this from ARTL’s Who We Are page: A Cautionary Tale: National RTL’s website presents a caution about ARTL which refers to a DIFFERENT organization that no longer exists. NRTL sued that former organization (no relation to American Right To Life) out of existence in the 1990s. NRTL could take that caution page down or at least clarify the matter so that NRTL would not misinform and confuse pro-lifers, but so far they chose not to. One of the founding board members of NRTL, John Archibold, is an advisor and supporter of our organization, and he’s opposing Nat’l RTL because of the immoral and counterproductive strategy they developed years ago of regulating child killing instead of advocating for personhood and the God-given right to life of the unborn. If you are interested, you can see John’s own explanation on Focus on the Strategy II [link: americanrtl.org/news/focus-strategy-ii] the video that presents the strategy of American RTL.
Thanks for the input; I’ve updated the original story to reflect your comments. While I stand by my criticisms of the Profiles page, I will say that I sympathize with the group’s frustration at unreliable pro-life leaders, and I share the belief that the fight for life should not end with repealing Roe, but with a federal Human Life Amendment.
As Mr. Enyart has already commented, ARTL is indeed a completely different organization than the one that was exposed as fraudulent many years ago. The new ARTL has no connection to that group.
I also want to express disagreement about the National Right to Life Committee being trustworthy, at least to the point of being the de facto authority for the pro-life movement. Although founded as a valuable means of providing a national organization to the various small grassroots pro-life groups in the 70s, and doing some great work into the 80s, they had lost respect as an effective cutting edge pro-life ministry by the early 90s. Political advocacy with a pragmatic approach has been their main focus for the past few decades, which involves compromise in my opinion, and often using funds raised by pro-life activists to elect pro-abortion candidates who happen to be less pro-abortion than their opponents. In avoiding what they perceive as controversies or extremes they have become lukewarm and simply an ineffective Brand-X.
While your conclusions about ARTL are logical, you are missing an important point. The ARTL page specifically addressing the Personhood philosophy, not whether anyone is legitimately anti-abortion. By your logic, it is true that some incremental laws may impede abortion to some degree, but they fail to recognize unborn humans as legal persons.
In the early 90s when I worked with organizations like Operation Rescue, I found myself usually alone in questioning whether we were wasting our time and money working for legislation that seldom offered any protection for unborn humans, and never approached the idea that the fetus was equally human. The focus was on abortion as a vice, or sometimes a necessary evil, rather than on unborn humans and the injustice in denying them equal protection.
At some point I was introduced to American Life League when one of their speakers gave a seminar at one of our local group’s events. The “Total Protection Seminar” given that evening introduced me to the concept of “personhood” and the phrase “equal protection” for all humans. Those were things I had believed instinctively, or perhaps as guided by the Holy Spirit, but had never known were existing principles. I was elated to find I was not alone.
Since then, the idea of personhood for all humans, rather than simply focusing on regulation of how unborn humans may be murdered, has grown and there are many pro-life leaders and organizations which promote personhood and refuse to compromise by working for laws which deny it.
According to the idea of personhood, and my knowledge of the people and organizations ARTL has profiled, they are not misguided at all. Rather, you have mistaken the idea of personhood with mere opposition to abortion.
Thanks for your earnest comments.