To many in the conservative movement it may seem as though the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) is the premier organization dedicated to ending abortion. But to others, the picture is laden with distrust, tension and ineffectiveness, even with NRLC’s own state affiliates.
Last week, Conservative Review took a deeper look into the symbiotic relationship between GOP establishment members, including as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and the National Right to Life Committee in regards to unifying their messaging against defunding Planned Parenthood in the latest budget bill. But we wanted to know, was this representative of the entire Right to Life organization across the national and state level or was this symbolic of a bigger problem — NRLC’s tendency to listen to put politics over people?
NRLC has 50 state affiliates, one for every state, designed to push local and federal politicians to support legislation that ends abortion. While state groups focus on local and state candidates, NRLC focuses strictly on federal candidates.
The most recent example of the friction between NRLC and its state organizations can be seen in Alaska. Alaska Right to Life (ARTL) severed its ties with the NRLC in April of this year because they have “irreconcilable differences with the strategy and direction of NRLC and that of Alaska Right to Life,” according to a statement released by ARTL in April. “The most notable difference would be NRLC’s willingness to include rape and incest exceptions in legislation purely for the purpose of protecting incumbent politicians from their constituents,” the statement continued.
However it’s not only the state affiliates that are severing ties to the NRLC, but in the past, after intense disagreements, NRLC has told multiple state affiliates they’re ending the relationship.
Georgia Right to Life (GRTL) received such notice that they were losing their affiliation to the NRLC in 2014 and Colorado Right to Life (CRTL) received word in 2007 that they were also losing their affiliate status. CRTL lost its status also for opposing rape and incest exceptions while also publicly disagreeing with NRLC on strategy. GRTL lost its status for its opposition to abortion in cases of rape and incest and its refusal to endorse candidates who supported those exceptions. The group [CRTL] was also punished for telling members of Congress not to vote for the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in 2013, as it contained exceptions for rape and incest.
The most recent example of NRLC and GOP leadership adding rape and incest exceptions to a bill is the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which failed to pass a Senate filibuster in September. The act, which would have outlawed abortions after 20 weeks, the halfway point in a woman’s pregnancy and when science has shown babies can feel pain, would have continued late-term abortions for babies conceived in rape or incest. GOP leadership wanted the exceptions included in the bill so its more moderate Republicans would vote for it, giving them cover to be able to campaign on being pro-life.
That’s a strategy many of NRLC’s state affiliates disagree with. They would prefer electing politicians who oppose abortion in every instance.
“The whole purpose of that bill was to protect Republican incumbents, not to protect babies,” ARTL president Christopher Kurka told Conservative Review. Kurka also begrudges NRLC for “throwing the babies under the bus to protect politicians.”
But it doesn’t stop there, according to Kurka. NRLC has endorsed candidates in the past who aren’t pro-life because they believe that having more Republicans in office, even if they aren’t pro-life, helps pass pro-life legislation because a GOP majority is more likely to pass such policy.
In 2004, when Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was up for her first election in the U.S. Senate, after being appointed by her father Gov. Frank Murkowski (R-AK), NRLC sent its members to Alaska to “brow beat” ARTL board members into endorsing her, despite the fact she is pro-choice. Why? “Because they wanted more Republicans,” Kurka told Conservative Review.
“They’d tell us we have to support her even thought she’s hostile to our position,” Kurka told Conservative Review. “Their policy is not to go against incumbent Republicans, even if they’re bad on life.”
“How can we say life begins at conception and then support candidates that don’t?” Kurka continued, “You cannot be effective with that approach. Not with a protection policy.”
Murkowski did not respond when Conservative Review asked how she would have voted or why she wasn’t present for the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act vote in September of this year.
“They support candidates with no thought to end abortion,” vice president of CRTL Susan Sutherland told Conservative Review. “These are not exceptions, these are human beings.”
The Conservative Action Project (CAP) recently released a letter opposing any federal funding of Planned Parenthood and people from various conservative organizations showed their support by signing on. Presidents and directors of Indiana Right to Life, Iowa Right to Life, Ohio Right to Life and Texas Right to Life, all current affiliates of NRLC, signed the letter.
Planned Parenthood has been under intense scrutiny since June when undercover videos by the Center for Medical Progress were released exposing the group for harvesting body parts from aborted babies and selling them for profit. Planned Parenthood performs approximately 330,000 abortions a year while receiving over $500 million in taxpayer funds.
But NRLC did not sign the CAP letter. Instead, NRLC’s president Carol Tobias said she doesn’t support an effort to defund Planned Parenthood through the Continuing Resolution because it could lead to a shutdown of the government. That’s a move she says would hurt the pro-life movement. She suggests Republicans wait until a pro-life president is in the White House.
Some of NRLC’s current state affiliates clearly disagree.
Executive Director of Iowa Right to Life (IRTL) Jenifer Bowen told Conservative Review that signing the letter is a “no-brainer.” IRTL responded to NRLC’s decision not to support preventing taxpayer dollars from being sent to Planned Parenthood by saying, “We see key weakness in the political assumptions and analysis offered by (NRLC) President Carol Tobias who uses pejorative terms to advocate against an assertive and appropriate parliamentary process.”
“Fidelity to our own board demands that we object to any implication or suggestion by NRLC President Tobias that her opinions were vetted and approved by the fifty state affiliates and their sub-entities in her claim about what ‘NRLC’ believes,” according to a statement by IRTL.
Ohio Right to Life (ORTL) president Mike Gonidakis told Conservative Review, “We respectfully disagree on strategy and tactics,” and that NRLC’s decision not to sign the letter “caught us all by surprise.” Gonidakis is also a board member of NRLC.
Texas Right to Life, Indiana Right to Life, and NRLC declined to comment on why NRLC isn’t supporting the measure but some of its state affiliates are publicly supporting.
Other national pro-life organizations signed onto the letter as well including March for Life Action, Students for Life of America, Concerned Women for America, National Black Pro-Life Union and others.
One issue of contention some state groups have with NRLC is that they focus on polls to a fault, instead of passing legislation to save the lives of the unborn, according to co-executive director of GRTL Genevieve Wilson, who has been with the organization for 30 years.
“They would say ‘Polling will tell you that the majority of Americans support exceptions,'” Wilson told Conservative Review. “It would be much easier to make decisions based on polling but in doing that you’re playing political games with human lives and we just don’t want to do that. It’s wrong.”
Wilson also said that focusing on polling is detrimental to the cause because part of a pro-life organization’s job is to educate people on abortion and create favorable poll numbers for their cause.
NRLC may be the largest and oldest pro-life organization in the country, but after more than 40 years since Roe v Wade and only one law limiting abortion and disaffection and disagreement with its own groups, some are asking for conservatives and pro-life advocates to take a deeper look at the organization’s motives, ending abortion or access to power and influence at all costs.
Blaze Bullock is a Political Reporter at Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @BullockBlaze.