Americans United for Life

Americans United for Life (AUL) is the anti-abortion lobby’s legal and policy engine, flooding state legislatures with draconian model bills via its “pro-life playbook” and using state, federal and international courts to fight against reproductive rights. AUL ultimately aims to ban abortion via a constitutional amendment.


Summary Extremism Key Players Influence Related Orgs

Summary

When an anti-abortion bill is introduced in a state, chances are Americans United for Life had something to do with it.

Americans United for Life (AUL) is one of the oldest anti-abortion groups in America. Founded in 1971 by faith and conservative leaders in Chicago, AUL initially concerned itself with the “intellectual” side of the abortion debate. However, the group quickly shifted its focus to legal action, filing amicus briefs before the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade and other major cases. Since Roe, AUL has become the foremost legal entity in the anti-abortion movement.

Though AUL pushes an “incrementalist” approach to banning abortion by chipping away at abortion rights, its impact cannot be understated — AUL has filed more Supreme Court amicus briefs than any other anti-abortion group while also focusing on rolling back reproductive rights at the state level. AUL creates and disseminates model bills, allowing state legislators to introduce and enact legislation without the need to “research and write” the bills. Since 2011, more than 100 AUL model bills have passed on the state level — a number that does not include legislation inspired by AUL’s influence. The group also seeks to undermine abortion internationally, particularly in Latin America.

Extremism

AUL leaders want to make abortion illegal in all circumstances and oppose many methods of birth control.

Former AUL President Charmaine Yoest believes abortion should be illegal in all instances and opposes birth control.

“None of this, however, means that Charmaine Yoest is a moderate. For all her emphasis on women’s health, her end goal isn’t to make abortion safer. She wants to make the procedure illegal. She leaves no room for exceptions in the case of rape or incest or to preserve the health of the mother. She believes that embryos have legal rights and opposes birth control, like the IUD, that she thinks ‘has life-ending properties’ Nor does Yoest advocate for reducing abortion by increasing access to birth control.” [New York Times 11/2/12]

“AUL has worked with local legislators in Georgia to help push through a bill enacting an abortion limit at or after 20 weeks’ gestation, with no exemptions for victims of rape or incest. Arizona was the first state to enact AUL’s model legislation on banning abortions after 20 weeks. Yoest’s personal view on women made pregnant by rape or incest is this: ‘It doesn’t solve one tragedy to effect another.’” [Raw Story 5/25/12]

Former AUL board member Gerald Bradley believes in criminal penalties for pregnant women who seek abortions.

“Bradley believes in criminal penalties for anyone — including the woman having the abortion — who harms the fetus. He makes a Fourteenth Amendment claim, equating the perpetrator of domestic violence with the woman getting an abortion.” [The Progressive 4/26/13]

One AUL leader said the goal of AUL, and the anti-abortion movement as a whole, is to reform the Constitution to ban abortion after overturning Roe.

Laurie Ramsey, education director for Chicago-based Americans United for Life, emphasized that the antiabortion movement’s first goal is to overturn Roe. ‘Once that is accomplished,’ she said, ‘then we come in under the 14th Amendment and declare an unborn child is a person.’” [Chicago Tribune 12/3/89]

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AUL General Counsel Clarke Forsythe co-authored a radical anti-abortion manifesto in the 90s.

AUL Senior Counsel Clarke Forsythe helped write an anti-abortion manifesto in the 1990s that urged congress to adopt “criminal sanctions” for abortion providers and protect unborn children under the 14th Amendment.

“More consistent with their sense of moral urgency, was their referencing bills then being considered in Congress that would involve ‘criminal sanctions’ for abortion providers, and demanded that Congress ‘recognize the unborn child as a human person entitled to the protection of the Constitution…’ The authors of The America We Seek were a bipartisan group of significant leaders led by host George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (the official biographer of Pope John Paul II) and included…Clarke D. Forsythe of Americans United for Life.” [Political Research Associates 12/1/09]

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AUL’s current president/CEO and general counsel previously worked for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is classified as a hate group for its extreme anti-LGBTQ views.

Current AUL President and CEO Catherine Glenn Foster worked at the Alliance Defending Freedom for seven years before landing AUL’s top position.

Foster spent seven years with Alliance Defending Freedom at its Washington D.C. office, where she was litigation counsel advocating for the dignity of all human life in federal and state trial and appellate courts, and led ADF efforts in the areas of euthanasia, assisted suicide, excellence in care, and related topics.” [AUL.org Accessed 3/26/19]

Current AUL General Counsel and Chief Legal Officer Steven Aden served as the Alliance Defending Freedom’s senior counsel before joining AUL.  

“Americans United for Life is excited to welcome Steven H. Aden, J.D., to the organization as their new Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel, where he will be overseeing all legal operations of AUL. Steve comes from an extensive background in pro-life litigation and previously served as senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom.” [AUL.org 9/7/17]

The Alliance Defending Freedom has been recognized as a hate group based on its extreme anti-LGBTQ views and focus on the “recriminalization of homosexuality in the U.S. and abroad.”

“Founded by some 30 leaders of the Christian Right, the Alliance Defending Freedom is a legal advocacy and training group that has supported the recriminalization of homosexuality in the U.S. and criminalization abroad; has defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad; has linked homosexuality to pedophilia and claims that a ‘homosexual agenda’ will destroy Christianity and society. ADF also works to develop ‘religious liberty’ legislation and case law that will allow the denial of goods and services to LGBT people on the basis of religion. Since the election of President Donald Trump, the ADF has become one of the most influential groups informing the administration’s attack on LGBT rights working with an ally in Attorney General Jeff Sessions.” [Southern Poverty Law Center Accessed 3/26/19].

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Key Players

President & CEO

Catherine Glenn Foster

Catherine Glenn Foster is a lawyer who joined AUL in 2017 as its president and CEO. Foster’s introduction to the anti-abortion movement began as a teenager. At 19, Foster sought out an abortion and has since said she regrets her decision. Foster worked with AUL during her time as a law student, serving as an AUL fellow and organizing other law students around anti-abortion issues. Foster cut her teeth as counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a recognized anti-LBGTQ hate group, where she specialized in litigating anti-abortion issues. Foster also sat on the board of a Rockville anti-abortion pregnancy center.

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Chief Legal Officer & General Counsel

Steven Aden

Steven Aden joined AUL in 2017 as its general counsel after serving as the senior counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, a recognized anti-LBGTQ hate group, and also served as the director of its Center for Life Alliances. Aden was an enthusiastic supporter of Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court nomination process.

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Senior Counsel

Clarke Forsythe

Clarke Forsythe is the longest tenured senior staff at AUL. He has been with the organization for more than 30 years, previously serving as vice president, general counsel, and president of AUL. AUL described Forsythe as a “prolific writer,” frequently publishing anti-abortion screeds in law journals and conservative outlets such as The Wall Street Journal and National Review. Notably, Forsythe drafted the first example SCOTUS majority opinion which for overturning Roe v. Wade. He currently serves as an adjunct professor of bioethics at Trinity International University.

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Influence

AUL seeks to undermine abortion rights through its outsized impact on state legislation.

Americans United for Life sought to undermine federal abortion rights by introducing state legislation via the distribution of model bills.

AUL calls itself the “legal architect of the pro life movement.” [AUL.org Archive 8/22/18] 

Americans United for Life “pioneered” a strategy of pushing legislation in states in the hopes that such efforts would eventually undermine reproductive rights at the federal level.”

“AUL is the pioneer of the state-based model legislative strategy, which has exploded, in the past few years. AUL’s specific strategy works to save lives today while undermining the so-called “reliance” interest adopted by the Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey: the false idea that women ‘rely’ on abortion to succeed in American society.” [AUL.org Archive 8/22/18]

  • AUL hopes to undermine the decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey through state legislation.

“AUL’s specific strategy works to save lives today while undermining the so-called “reliance” interest adopted by the Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey: the false idea that women ‘rely’ on abortion to succeed in American society.” [AUL.org Archive 8/22/18]

Former AUL Chairwoman Charmaine Yoest: “We don’t make frontal attacks. Never attack where the enemy is strongest.”

“Yoest says her focus is on a ‘post-Roe nation’ in which states will again be the sole arbiters of when, where, and whether women can get abortions. ‘The real question is what do the states do,’ she says. ‘And so in a sense, we’re leapfrogging over [Roe].’ She believes AUL’s growing body of state laws will set precedents with the potential to eventually change federal abortion law. As she explained to National Catholic Register, ‘We don’t make frontal attacks. Never attack where the enemy is strongest.’” [Mother Jones 9/20/12]

AUL’S state legislative strategy relies on false theories and lies about abortion.

AUL’s legislative strategy revolves around the “mother-child strategy,” in which anti-abortion legislation emphasizes the alleged “harm” abortion causes to both women and their pregnancies.  

“Critical to many of AUL’s achievements is our Mother-Child strategy, our emphasis on protecting both women and their unborn children, most recently through our 2013 initiative, the Women’s Protection Project. Abortion is always deadly for an unborn child. The Supreme Court has repeatedly acknowledged ‘abortion is inherently different from other medical procedures, because no other procedure involves the purposeful termination of a potential life.’ However, a robust and growing body of evidence documents how dangerous abortion is to a mother’s physical and psychological health. Given the extensive health risks posed by abortion, which increase substantially with gestation, legislative and educational efforts to limit or prohibit abortions must be based on facts detailing the impact of abortion on both women and their unborn children.” [AUL Defending Life 2015 Archive Page 21]

AUL’s strategy chips away at existing abortion legislation rather than seeking to outright ban it.

“The group has scored its legal checkmates by breaking ranks with the other, more idealistic branch of the pro-life movement—the one that aims to end abortion entirely…The AUL, meanwhile, pursues a more pragmatic ‘incrementalist’ strategy, in which pro-lifers chip away at the total number of abortions by helping to enact new constraints.” [The Atlantic 7/16/15]

AUL offers 49 different model bills for state legislators to use so they do not need to “research and write the bills themselves.”

AUL produces model legislation, allowing state legislators to introduce bills without “needing to research and write the bills themselves.”

“‘Our model legislation enables legislators to easily introduce bills without needing to research and write the bills themselves,’ AUL’s website boasts. The organization’s foes see it as the pro-life equivalent of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the corporate legislation mill.” [Mother Jones 9/2012]

Currently AUL lists 49 different model bills available by request on its website. Eight of these aim to defund abortion providers and one calls for a state constitutional amendment to advance anti-abortion laws. [AUL.org Accessed 3/20/19]

  • These bills include model conscience protection bills for healthcare providers and pharmacists, “born alive” bills, parental consent bills and healthcare coverage exemption bills, amongst others. [org Accessed 3/20/19]

AUL is credited with the passage of a massive number of extreme state-level anti-abortion bills.

Vice News: “[From 2011-2018], the AUL has been responsible for about a hundred pro-life bills that eventually became law.” [Vice News 1/22/18]

  • “Because AUL only claims ‘victories’ over legislation it has drafted, rather than inspired, any assessment of the influence the group wields is likely to be an underestimate.” [Raw Story 5/25/12]

 

From 2011-2015, AUL claimed credit for one-third of the 220 anti-abortion state level laws passed.

“In the last four years alone, nearly 220 state laws protecting women and their unborn children from the dangers inherent in abortion have been enacted. Nearly a third of these laws are based on AUL model legislation or were otherwise assisted by AUL professionals.” [AUL Defending Life 2015 Archive Page 21]

From 2013 to 2015, AUL increased its involvement in state level legislation from ~17% of all enacted anti-abortion measures in 2013 to a whopping 30% in 2015.

“In 2013, AUL and AUL Action were involved in 13 of the 75 life-affirming, abortion-related measures enacted and/or resolutions adopted (or 17 percent).  By contrast, in 2015, AUL was directly involved in 13 of the 44 life-affirming, abortion-related measures enacted and/or resolutions adopted (or 30 percent).” [Americans United For Life Archive 12/20/17]

AUL can be credited for 26% of all state level anti-abortion laws passed in 2011. [Mother Jones 10/2012]

In 2011, AUL pushed a bill which would allow abortion providers to be prosecuted for murder.

“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.” [Political Research Associates 4/10/18]

A bill AUL helped Texas enact in 2012 reduced the number of abortion facilities in the state from 42 to 18 in just one year.

“Opponents of these restrictions argue that the rules have become unduly onerous in Texas, where they were enacted with AUL’s help in 2013. Texas abortion providers are trying to bring the matter before the Supreme Court. There are now just 18 abortion clinics in Texas, compared with 41 in 2012.” [The Atlantic 7/16/15]

AUL drafted a bill requiring doctors to lie to women about the false claim that abortion increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, which was passed in Texas. Similar laws were adopted in Alaska, Kansas, Mississippi and Oklahoma.

“The idea that abortion increases the risk of cancer is the basis of a Texas law that A.U.L. helped draft, requiring doctors to tell patients about the link. Alaska, Kansas, Mississippi and Oklahoma have similar mandates.” [New York Times 11/2/2012]

An AUL bill introduced in Virginia in 2012 would require an abortion provider to insert an ultrasound wand into a pregnant women’s vagina before the woman was allowed to have an abortion.

“A controversial version of this prefab legislation was introduced in Virginia this spring. Only after abortion rights supporters pointed out that it could effectively require doctors to stick a wand in pregnant women’s vaginas did its Republican sponsors amend it to require abdominal ultrasounds. [Mother Jones 9/2012]

  • AUL is seen as the originator of the “ultrasound bill” requiring women seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound before the procedure.

“The Sunlight Foundation recently compared ultrasound bills circulating in state legislatures with the AUL model legislation. It found matching text in 13 states, including Virginia.” [Raw Story 5/25/12]

Mother Jones: “Trying to shut down all the abortion clinics in Kansas? That was AUL, too.” [Mother Jones 9/2012]

In 2014, AUL helped pass an Arizona law which would allow the state to make unannounced visits to abortion facilities.” [AUL Defending Life 2015 Archive Page 21]

In the 1970s and 1980s, AUL pushed bills that would require married women to notify their husbands before getting abortions in Florida.

“Some states are now trying to circumvent this reasoning by passing legislation requiring women to notify their husbands rather than to obtain their permission…Their interest in the notification requirement is, according to Thomas J. Marzen, a lawyer for Americans United for Life (A.U.L.), ‘the assumption that any kind of notification will hinder women from getting abortions.’ The A.U.L was instrumental in Florida’s notification battle, where the requirement was upheld last October in the United States Court of Appeals. Notification laws are currently being litigated in Illinois, Utah, Florida and Nevada.” [New York Times 3/28/1982]

  • Notification laws were seen as an intimidation tactic, and can lead to abuse of women.

“According to Nan Hunter, a staff attorney on the American Civil Liberties Union Reproductive Freedom Project, ‘Where a woman’s afraid to tell her husband, notification is the same as consent. Most married women do tell their husbands, and when they don’t, there’s a good reason for it. We’ve seen battered women where the women are afraid they’ll be abused if they tell their husbands, and women whose husbands are not necessarily the father of the fetus.’” [New York Times 3/28/1982]

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AUL has also played an important role in federal anti-abortion efforts, which have helped deny more than 50 million women abortion access.

AUL defended the anti-abortion Hyde Amendment before the Supreme Court

AUL attorneys defended the Hyde Amendment before the Supreme Court.

“In 1980, Americans United for Life won a historic victory for pro-life America when we successfully defended the Hyde Amendment in Harris v. McRae before the U.S. Supreme Court. AUL. AUL attorney Victor Rosenblum argued the case before the Court, resulting in a favorable decision and ending a four-year court battle. This important court decision upheld federal and state prohibitions on public funding of abortion except in the case of the life of the mother.” [AUL.org 8/22/18 Archive]

The Hyde Amendment, as defended by AUL, banned Medicaid funds from being spent on abortion procedures, except in cases where the life of the woman was threatened.

“Introduced by anti-choice Congressman Henry J. Hyde, the Hyde Amendment barred the use of federal Medicaid funds for abortion except when the life of the woman would be endangered by carrying the pregnancy to term…However, in 1980 the Supreme Court decided Harris v. McRae (formerly McRae v. Mathews) and upheld the constitutionality of the original Hyde Amendment language containing a single exception for life endangerment.” [ACLU.org Accessed 3/20/19]

Since the AUL’s defense of the Hyde Amendment, its scope has been expanded, and it is presently used to deny over 50 million lower-income women abortion access.

“Federal restrictions on public funding for abortion affect women other than those who receive Medicaid. By the early 1980s, Congress had added restrictions similar to the Hyde Amendment to other federal programs on which an estimated 50 million people rely for their health care or insurance. “ [ACLU.org Accessed 3/20/19]

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AUL created a guide to imposing draconian anti-abortion laws for Latin American nations.

AUL says it plays an “essential role” in Latin America.

AUL claims it plays an “essential role” in fighting for anti-abortion legal action in Latin America.

“AUL published a groundbreaking study of pro-life laws in Latin America, Defending the Human Right to Life in Latin America that documents the pro-life laws, policies and preferences of the vast majority of Latin Americans. It plays an essential role in resisting the effort of pro-abortion forces to liberalize laws on abortion in what is currently the most pro-life part of the globe.” [Americans United For Life Archive 8/22/18]

AUL released legislative guidelines for Latin American nations, which advise nations on how to ban abortions via a constitutional amendment, ban all hormonal birth control and to refuse the ratification of UN resolutions regarding gender discrimination.

AUL’s guidelines for Latin America tell leaders that ratifying the UN convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women is “not a sensible move” since it has been used to oppose anti-abortion legislation.

“Pursuing the same objectives, the Convention created a Committee to examine the progress made by States Parties in the application of the Convention…However, the truth is that this Committee has breached its authority and powers several times. It has, for example, questioned the validity of laws that forbid or criminalize abortion, urging nations to review their national legislation in this matter, in order to enact new laws permitting the “termination of pregnancy” and the distribution of so–called emergency contraceptive methods…Based on the foregoing, ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women is not a sensible move.” [“Defending the Human Right to Life in Latin America,” AUL, 2012 Page 30-1]

AUL’s Latin America guidelines suggest the creation of a constitutional amendment to ban abortion.

“In this sense, the new constitutional text could consider the following: • That every person has the inherent right to life. • That every human being is considered a person from the moment of conception. • That this right shall be guaranteed at all times, without discrimination of any kind. • That every child needs special care due to his physical and mental immaturity. • That pregnant women must be specially protected. For this purpose, the state shall take positive measures to ensure women’s as well as the unborn’s well–being.” [“Defending the Human Right to Life in Latin America,” AUL, 2012 Page 20]

  • This parallels AUL ambitions to reform the 14th Amendment in the U.S. to effectively ban abortion.

“Laurie Ramsey, education director for Chicago-based Americans United for Life, emphasized that the antiabortion movement’s first goal is to overturn Roe. “Once that is accomplished,” she said, “then we come in under the 14th Amendment and declare an unborn child is a person.” [Chicago Tribune 12/03/1989]

AUL’s Latin America guidelines urge states to create an ombudsman for unborn children to use “judicial and extrajudicial measures” to promote the “rights” of the “unborn,” including punitive actions.

“The purpose of an Ombudsman for Unborn Children would be to look after the protection and promotion of their rights. For these purposes, “unborn child” means every natural person from the moment of conception until his birth… To foster judicial and extrajudicial measures—at his own initiative or at a party’s request—in every legal process in which an unborn child has interest legally guarded…To initiate actions with a view to the application of punishments for offenses committed against the rules on the protection of the unborn.” [“Defending the Human Right to Life in Latin America,” AUL, 2012 Page 22-23]

  • AUL also claims the ombudsman should supervise all facilities which provide healthcare to pregnant women.

“To supervise public and private entities devoted to assisting pregnant women, especially those in charge of providing health services. He shall report any irregularities that may threaten or violate unborn children’s rights.” [“Defending the Human Right to Life in Latin America,” AUL, 2012 Page 23]

AUL’s Latin America guidelines urge the ban of hormonal birth control like the Pill.

“The complete prohibition to manufacture, distribute and/or sell any drug that directly or indirectly causes the death of human embryos, either by inhibiting their implantation in the uterus or in any manner terminating pregnancy after implantation.” [“Defending the Human Right to Life in Latin America,” AUL, 2012 Page 21]

AUL’s Latin America guidelines urge states to issue laws and create public information campaigns to spread anti-abortion ideology. [“Defending the Human Right to Life in Latin America,” AUL, 2012 Page 26]

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AUL is a “key partner” of a group recognized as an international threat to human rights.

AUL is a key partner of the World Congress Of Families, recognized by Amnesty International as a threat to global human rights.

AUL partnered with the World Congress Of Families (WCF) in its 2014 conference.

“The 2014 WCF Conference, …[Featured] Russian and African far-rightists, together with WCF partners Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, Alliance Defending Freedom, and Americans United For Life” [Daily Beast 6/14/15]

Amnesty International: the World Congress Of Families has a goal to advance an anti-LBGTQ agenda internationally, and is a threat to global human rights.

“Human Rights watchdogs such as Amnesty International have consistently observed that wherever they go, WCF and its network represent a grave threat to the human rights of LGBTQ people and women. This battle has historically taken place in conservative, international venues, offering speakers and participants an element of impunity—what’s said in the company of friends, outside the media spotlight and beyond the critical gaze of human rights defenders, often goes unchallenged. Now, for the first time since its formation, WCF is hosting one of its large-scale convenings here in the United States.” [Political Research Associates 10/21/15]

  • WCF has strong ties to Russia, helping the nation a pass discriminatory laws domestically while Russia has blocked “every” major UN resolution to recognize alternative family structures.

“The World Congress of Families (WCF), founded by Carlson in 1997 under the auspices of the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society, itself a product of the Rockford Institute, devoted to ‘analyzing the damage done to America’s social institutions by the cultural upheavals of the 1960s… “The Russians might be the Christian saviors of the world,” said WCF managing director Larry Jacobs in June, 2013. That claim may be overstated, but the WCF-Russia partnership has borne a number of fruits. Inside Russia, WCF helped pass the notorious Anti-Propaganda Law, banning gays from any public displays of existence, and wrote the ban on gay adoption… And at the UN, Russia has blocked every effort to recognize multiple forms of family.” [Daily Beast 6/14/15]

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AUL played a “pivotal role” in amending the Irish Constitution to ban abortion.

On a “list of accomplishments,” AUL prides itself on helping Ireland add an abortion ban to its constitution in 1979.

“IRELAND: In 1979, AUL played a pivotal role in amending the Irish Constitution, requiring the equal protection of unborn human life and the life of the mother, making Ireland one of the strongest pro-life nations in Europe. In subsequent legal battles, abortion advocates pushed abortion through court decisions, and AUL was there to fight for life. Given that activist judges in the U.S. will use foreign decision advancing abortion as support for finding a right to abortion under international law binding upon the US, it is important to fight for life overseas.” [AUL.org Archive 8/22/18]

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