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The Stealth War on Abortion

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Of the 30 states that have been actively pursuing the anti-abortion agenda, most, like Michigan, are also anti-union right-to-work states, where the alliance of powerful donors and corporate interests has been steadily working to change the political game. Thanks to the 2010 Citizens United decision, conservative dark-money groups have spent millions on political campaigns, much of it impossible to trace. "There's a lot of money behind this effort, and you have to ask, 'Why is that?'" says the Center for Reproductive Rights' Nancy Northup. "It's been apparent to me for a long time that this is part of a huge, larger agenda, and we're just the canary in the coal mine. What this is really about is democracy."

In Michigan, Amway scion Richard "Dick" DeVos, the 58-year-old former Republican candidate for governor, is a force behind what he refers to as the state's "freedom to work" legislation, which passed in 2012 despite a 12,000-person protest that locked opponents out of the state Capitol. DeVos has also funded a variety of religious-right groups, including Right to Life of Michigan and the Michigan Family Forum, which supported the state's "rape insurance" bill.

A similar scenario has played out in North Carolina, where millionaire Art Pope has single-handedly changed the face of state politics by pouring millions into state races since 2010, which gave Republicans control of the Legislature and also delivered the governor's mansion to the GOP in 2012. Since then, North Carolina has enacted some of the nation's harshest voter-suppression laws, as well as a sweeping package of TRAP laws that drew national attention last year, when lawmakers attempted to sneak it past the public's scrutiny by first attaching it to a bill ostensibly banning Shariah law, and then attaching it to a bill regulating motorcycle safety. Despite weekly protests, the "motorcycle-vagina bill," as abortion-rights advocates dubbed it, was passed and signed into law in July, threatening the state's 16 abortion clinics.

Unlike DeVos, a longtime Christian conservative, Pope calls himself a libertarian and has served as a national director of the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity. Koch money, through various "social welfare" organizations it supports, has helped fund a significant part of the pro-life agenda, even though the Koch brothers, like Pope, have never taken a personal interest in reproductive politics, and David Koch has even stated his support for marriage equality. "They know the policies they want wouldn't be attractive to enough people unless they also included the social-conservative policies, so what's happened is they've merged the social and economic agenda into a single product," says Rachel Tabachnick, an associate fellow at the progressive think tank Political Research Associates. "This is not new, it's a project that goes back decades," she says, "and it's one in which the war on reproductive rights is a non-negotiable part of the deal."

Connecting the fiscal and social agendas into a single, conservative "worldview" has been the goal of conservatives since the Reagan era. To outsiders, the Tea Party, with its focus on cutting taxes and spending, might seem to rule the party. But looks can be deceiving. Evangelicals, long outsiders in the GOP power structure, now hold large sway in the party through organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council. "I'd say it's kind of baked into the cake," Ralph Reed, the head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said recently on MSNBC.

"This is what progressives don't understand," says Tabachnick. "The public is so obsessed with the big battle between Democrats and Republicans that they miss the larger philosophical and legal underpinnings developed by this permanent think-tank structure that has been working behind the scenes for years. And now they're in a place where regardless of what's happening with the Supreme Court, they are ready to maximize every opportunity because of the extremely well-funded partnership between the free-marketeers and the religious right that's helping to overhaul the country from the bottom up."

This union has been the key to not just the success of pro-life legislation, but also the avalanche of other model legislation to defeat the federal government promoted by groups like ALEC, which receives heavy backing from the State Policy Network, the free-market coalition of "mini-Heritage Foundations," with branches in every state. Though they maintain their focus is strictly economic, many lawmakers who serve as state ALEC chairs also happen to be the leading proponents of anti-abortion legislation. At an ALEC conference last August in Chicago, Wisconsin Democrat Chris Taylor, a state senator, recalls that AUL had a prominent booth in the exhibition hall. "The relationship isn't formal," she says, "but they are clearly working in conjunction to help change the face of the legislatures."

The good news is that in states where some of the most extreme anti-abortion legislation has been proposed, the public is fighting back. On Monday, January 6th, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals began hearing arguments from pro-choice organizations on why the Texas laws requiring physicians to have admitting privileges and regulating how they can prescribe abortion-induced drugs were unconstitutional. And Wendy Davis, whose filibuster catapulted her to national prominence, is now running for Texas governor, hoping to reverse two decades of Republican control. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, voters rejected a 20-week ban that would have amounted to the first municipal abortion restriction in the country. But the victory, decided by 55 percent of Albuquerque voters, only came after abortion-rights groups poured close to $700,000 into defeating the measure, outspending anti-abortion organizations by more than three to one.

"Republicans are alienating women voters with these policies, and the number of women who are running and winning at the state and federal levels proves that women reject this regressive agenda," says Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily's List, which works to elect pro-choice Democratic women to state and federal offices. But while some on the left think the right may have overplayed its hand, others see these defeats as simply incidental. "This type of thinking is how progressives delude themselves," says Tabachnick. "The problem with the left is that it pretty much fights every battle from scratch. But the right is playing chess: They are willing to lose a pawn here or there to achieve the larger goal."

This story is from the January 30th, 2014 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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