Cracks in the Antiabortion Movement Reveal Frustration with National Leaders

By Christine Cupaiuolo — June 4, 2007

The Washington Post has an interesting story today about a growing rift in the antiabortion movement.

A coalition of evangelical Protestant and Roman Catholic groups that prefers to focus efforts on overturning Roe v. Wade instead of chipping at it incrementally is upset with Focus on the Family founder James C. Dobson, accusing him and other national antiabortion leaders of “building an ‘industry’ around relentless fundraising and misleading information.”

The rift came to a head following the Supreme Court’s recent 5-4 decision in Gonzales v. Carhart, which upheld the so-called Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. Alan Cooperman writes:

In an open letter to Dobson that was published as a full-page ad May 23 in the Colorado Springs Gazette, Focus on the Family’s hometown newspaper, and May 30 in the Washington Times, the heads of five small but vocal groups called the Carhart decision “wicked,” and accused Dobson of misleading Christians by applauding it.

Carhart is even “more wicked than Roe” because it is “not a ban, but a partial-birth abortion manual” that affirms the legality of late-term abortions “as long as you follow its guidelines,” the ads said. “Yet, for many years you have misled the Body of Christ about the ban, and now about the ruling itself.”

A Focus on the Family spokesman said that Dobson would not comment. But the organization’s vice president, Tom Minnery, said that Dobson rejoiced over the ruling “because we, and most pro-lifers, are sophisticated enough to know we’re not going to win a total victory all at once. We’re going to win piece by piece.”

Doctors adopted the late-term procedure “out of convenience,” Minnery added. “The old procedure, which is still legal, involves using forceps to pull the baby apart in utero, which means there is greater legal liability and danger of internal bleeding from a perforated uterus. So we firmly believe there will be fewer later-term abortions as a result of this ruling.”

Brian Rohrbough, president of Colorado Right to Life and a signer of the ads, disagreed.

“All you have to do is read the ruling, and you will find that this will never save a single child, because even though the justices say this one technique is mostly banned — not completely banned — there are lots of other techniques, and they even encourage abortionists to find less shocking means to kill late-term babies,” he said.

Though it is interesting to listen in on this debate, ultimately the story offers too little too late — it doesn’t include any responses to the inaccurate assertions about the procedure, and the issues raised by the internal fighting should have been probed earlier.

Really, what about all the money raised by groups asserting that upholding the ban would save lives? Rev. Bob Enyart, a Christian talk radio host and pastor of the Denver Bible Church, isn’t pleased with the propaganda some antiabortion groups put forth while drumming up support for the partial-birth abortion ban:

“Over the past seven years, the partial-birth abortion ban as a fundraising technique has brought in over a quarter of a billion dollars” for major antiabortion groups, “but the ban has no authority to prevent a single abortion, and pro-life donors were never told that,” he said. “That’s why we call it the pro-life industry.”

Well, we couldn’t agree more with that statement.

Yet while Enyart and others see the focus on incremental rulings as a calculated reluctance by Republican Party-backed antiabortion groups to fight for personhoood for a fetus — because that might turn off more centrist Republican voters — we see it as something far more critical than political gamesmanship: Lost in all the friction and uproar is the fact that they’re playing politics with women’s lives.

Plus: Over at Slate, Emily Bazelon writes about how the Supreme Court decision puts doctors in the hot seat in “Partial-Birth Confusion.”

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