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Women's health in 2014: The voice behind anti-choice legislation

Americans United for Life is dedicated to dismantling a woman's right to choose.
Charmaine Yoest
Dr. Charmaine Yoest testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, July, 1, 2010.

12/23/13; 4:45 p.m. This story has been corrected and updated throughout.  An Editor’s Note is appended.

Americans United for Life (AUL), self-described as “the nation’s premier pro-life legal team,” doesn’t have the same name recognition as Planned Parenthood. But it should: AUL has been an influential voice behind major anti-choice legislation for years.

Formed in 1971 – two years before Roe v. Wade - AUL is dedicated to dismantling a woman’s right to choose on the state level. It writes and distributes model legislation which has inspired successful anti-choice measures such as “fetal-homicide” laws now in effect in 37 states.       

AUL has supported efforts to enact so-called “justifiable homicide” legislation in cases where a pregnant woman believes she or her unborn child is at risk. The organization says its model policy, the Pregnant Woman’s Protection Act , is intended for victims of domestic abuse, and would, in effect, extend the “self-defense” claim to cover the fetus as well. However, critics argue that the legislation could also be used to defend the murders of abortion providers.

Other recent victories for the AUL include its push to implement mandatory ultrasounds for all women considering an abortion – an initiative that’s proven successful in a dozen states. Many physicians and women’s groups have argued that such ultrasounds are medically unnecessary.

It also became a player in the decision by the Susan G. Komen Foundation to cut funding to Planned Parenthood.  In the fall of 2011, AUL released a report entitled “The Case for Investigating Planned Parenthood.” That report helped spur an Energy and Commerce Committee inquiry of Planned Parenthood. Shortly afterward, the Komen Foundation pulled its funding, citing new rules to deny support to any group under Congressional review.  AUL President Charmaine Yoest applauded the Komen decision.

Yoest served in the Reagan administration, was a Family Research Council employee and advised former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s ill-fated 2008 presidential bid.  For more on Yoest, check out Emily Bazelon’s New York Times profile from November 2012.

Each year, AUL releases “Defending Life” a guide to pro-life initiatives and laws in each state. This year’s report details the group’s latest anti-choice strategy: encouraging private individuals to consider suing abortion clinics and even their employees.

The plaintiffs don’t need to be patients or former patients of the clinics; they don’t need to have any personal connection at all. They can simply file suit if they think a local clinic isn’t following state guidelines. Yoest told Bloomberg News that the initiative “expands the potential for people in their own communities…to hold the abortion industry accountable.”

But it’s a tactic that could keep women’s health clinics bogged down in expensive lawsuits. And the end result? Anyone may be able to interfere with a woman’s reproductive choices.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated throughout to correct factual errors and style.