‘Egg-as-Person’ Crusade Drives Big Money to Anti-choice Groups

Wendy Norris

In just five short years, the primary movers and shakers in the absolutist anti-abortion/anti-choice movement seeking to promote the “personhood” of zygotes (the single cell that forms after a sperm fertilizes an egg) have amassed nearly $58 million in tax-deductible contributions for their cause. A special investigative report by Wendy Norris for Rewire.

Wendy Norris is a freelance writer from Denver, Colorado working on special assignments for Rewire, including investigative research into the anti-choice movement at the state level.  She is currently covering the "egg-as-person" movement for Rewire.  Her most recent previous article on this issue for Rewire can be found here. Other posts on this issue  can be found by searching "personhood" and "egg-as-person" on our site.  Recent pieces include others by Wendy, analyses by Lynn Paltrow, and this cartoon.

Wendy’s work can also be read at the public policy blog, Unbossed.com.   

In just five short years, the primary movers and shakers in the absolutist anti-abortion/anti-choice movement seeking to promote the “personhood” of zygotes (the single cell that forms after a sperm fertilizes an egg) have amassed nearly $58 million in tax-deductible contributions for their cause.

Even the lead up to one of the worst economic periods in U.S. history has barely registered a blip in the group’s collective money-drawing power according to an examination of IRS and state campaign finance records conducted for Rewire. Four out of the five groups are raising more cash than ever with sophisticated fundraising operations, flush investment portfolios, and robust revenue-generating activities.

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This isn’t your grandma’s church bake sale by any stretch of the imagination.

American Life League

The fundraising champ among the five organizations profiled for this article is the American Life League (ALL), an ultra-conservative Catholic tax-exempt charity that describes itself as "supporting the social welfare of persons born and unborn." Its founder Judie Brown is better known as the "grandmother of the modern anti-choice movement" who popularized aggressive clinic blockades and sidewalk "counseling" tactics to harass health care providers and clinic patients beginning in the 1980s.

In 2007, the last year records are available, ALL raised a whopping $6 million — an impressive amount of money, without question, but still 17 percent less than its 2006 haul of $7.2 million, a decline mostly due to depreciation in the value of investment and asset sales that normally significantly pump up ALL’s annual income. Despite the lower total revenue, the amount of money brought in by donations alone has stayed relatively stable over the last five years ranging from $6.4 million in 2004 to $5.6 million in 2007.

To put it in context, ALL has raised a staggering $35 million since 2003. And it costs them just pennies on the dollar to raise those millions from direct mail appeals like one rather infamous letter that was addressed to "Dear Friend of God’s Preborn Babies."

The intermingling of hard line groups who share a common purpose to outlaw abortion, contraception, in vitro fertilization and stem cell research puts ALL’s fundraising prowess to the test as it plows millions of dollars into attempts to challenge Roe v Wade in the states and into groups that share their agenda.
Former ALL legislative director Gualberto Garcia Jones, for example, is now heading the recently founded Colorado chapter of Personhood USA — the nonprofit, tax-exempt umbrella group driving religious conservatives latest attempt to pass a constitutional amendment in Colorado, while at the same time seeking constitutional amendments or laws to ban abortion and contraception in an estimated 16 states. Personhood USA, founded by long-time Operation Rescue activists Keith Mason and Cal Zastrow, was awarded charitable status in 2009 and has yet to file its financials. 
ALL was a major backer of Personhood USA’s Jul. 17-18 "Personhood Summit" held in Las Vegas, Nev., which was tagged on to "The Revolution," a week-long series of clinic protests by the radical anti-abortion splinter group Operation Save America run by Rev. Flip Benham.

Human Life International

Another fundraising powerhouse is Human Life International, a Virginia-based organization that espouses strict Catholic orthodoxy and an odd blend of anti-Semitic and freemason conspiracy theories, according to Chip Berlet, an investigative reporter with Political Research Associates.

While its conservative Catholic ally ALL has stumbled a bit in raising funds, HLI’s ability to raise money continues to grow each year, peaking at $4.1 million in 2007. Over a five-year period, Fr. Tom Euteneuer has raised $16 million for anti-abortion and anti-contraception mission work in 87 countries.

In one of its more controversial claims to fame, HLI notes on its Web site that in Tanzania — where 5.7 percent of adults are HIV-positive — its "teen chastity outreach programs brought to national attention the United Nation’s designs to force young people to use defective condoms; HLI’s detective work resulted in the destruction of over 10 million condoms." 

While not as publicly well known as other hard line activists, HLI signed on to the infamous full page newspaper ads attacking Focus on the Family founder James Dobson for not being anti-abortion enough. The ad caused such an uproar that one of its backers, Colorado Right to Life, lost its official state affiliate status.

In response to the Dobson ruckus, with the help of HLI, ALL, Benham’s Operation Rescue/Save America, conservative activist and perpetual political candidate Alan Keyes, Missionaries for the Preborn and other radicalized groups, Colorado Right to Life formed American Right to Life Action in 2007 to challenge the anti-abortion street cred of its former parent organization, National Right to Life.
After getting behind the losing 2008 Colorado personhood ballot measure (which HLI also publicly endorsed), American Right to Life Action has since petered out after bringing in about $40,000 in one year’s time. But by its Dec. 2008 post-election report to the IRS, the group organized as a federal tax law section 527 political committee claimed to have raised just 80 bucks while posting $2,000 in expenses for a loan repayment to a supporter.

Colorado Right to Life

Though its spin-off group, American Right to Life Action, seems to be on life support, Colorado Right to Life (CRTL) has raised nearly $1 million between 2004-2007 between its tax-exempt 501c4 social welfare organization and its charitable education fund.
While CRTL’s means may be modest in comparison to their peers, they’ve used their bankroll to position themselves as a major player in the "personhood" movement.

The group was a key force behind the first Colorado personhood constitutional amendment drive then-headed by political neophyte Kristi Burton, a 19-year-old student attending an online Biblical law school.
Now, veteran CRTL anti-abortion activist Leslie Hanks is co-sponsoring the 2010 Colorado personhood ballot measure with former ALL staffer and Personhood Colorado’s Garcia Jones. The two struck up a friendship in March 2005 while protesting at the Florida hospice where Terri Schiavo was resident, the brain-damaged woman at the center of a fierce right-to-die court battle that re-ignited the social conservative movement.
Hanks continues to mentor Garcia Jones in the ways of political gamesmanship. At an Aug. 5 hearing before the Colorado Title Board to determine the precise ballot language, Hanks leaped to the podium to help a befuddled Garcia Jones, a George Washington University law school grad, who was having trouble fielding questions from the Title Board members.

Life Legal Defense Foundation

Another veteran of the 2008 Colorado "personhood" fight is the Life Legal Defense Foundation, which describes its mission as "giving innocent and helpless human beings a trained and committed defense."
That and $5.2 million raised over five years can buy a lot of motions to tie up the courts over socially conservative activist causes. Like Hanks and Garcia Jones, LLDF was also involved in the Schiavo debacle and a supporter of the Colorado ballot measure.
More recently the legal team has been defending numerous cases of protesters harassing clinic staff and patients. In 2007, LLDF broke the $1.4 million mark in expenses with $554,000 paying for case costs and the remainder covering administrative outlays, more than double the acceptable ratio for nonprofit overhead.

Students for Life of America

The Arlington,Va.-based group, Students for Life of America, has seen exponential growth in its fundraising capacity and its reputation within the anti-abortion movement.
From a paltry $8,180 raised in 2004 it rocketed to total revenue of $573,000, all tax- deductible donations, just three years later. Likewise, the group is spending considerably more money organizing college campuses and hosting an annual conference.

Sounds remarkable but the numbers don’t add up.
An audit of the group’s 2007 IRS Form 990 expenditures statement is overstated by $316,220 according to the line items listed on the form. It’s impossible to validate the accuracy of the revenue figures since they are not itemized.

Despite the fuzzy math, SFLA has won the approval of the Who’s Who of the white- gloved anti-abortion movement. The Web site sports rolling endorsements by the likes of the Eagle Forum’s Phyllis Schlafly, U.S. Rep. and 2008 GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul and Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life — folks who haven’t schlepped a book bag or roomed in a dorm in many a moon.

But the students do have a more contemporary role model in the personhood movement’s rising star Kristi Burton. SFLA endorsed the Colorado "personhood" ballot measure while Burton was featured at a "bonus" event hosted by ALL at the Jan. 2009 SFLA annual conference in Washington, D.C.
The road ahead
The cottage industry that has been borne of the "personhood" movement is certain to grow larger in years to come. Despite the crushing 3-to-1 electoral loss for Colorado’s amendment, ALL’s communication director Katie Walker made this startling admission to the Christian newswire OneNewsNow.com about the league’s future:

The idea of personhood in this movement is really the only thing, the only option left to us, and it’s one of the best options and one of the most beautiful concepts I’ve heard in a long time, she contends. We’re very excited about it.

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Leader to Remove Himself From Medical Board Case in Ohio

Michelle D. Anderson

In a letter to the State of Ohio Medical Board, representatives from nine groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Anti-choice leader Mike Gonidakis said Monday that he would remove himself from deciding a complaint against a local abortion provider after several groups asked that he resign as president of the State of Ohio Medical Board.

The Associated Press first reported news of Gonidakis’ decision, which came after several pro-choice groups said he should step down from the medical board because he had a conflict of interest in the pending complaint.

The complaint, filed by Dayton Right to Life on August 3, alleged that three abortion providers working at Women’s Med Center in Dayton violated state law and forced an abortion on a patient that was incapable of withdrawing her consent due to a drug overdose.

Ohio Right to Life issued a news release the same day Dayton Right to Life filed its complaint, featuring a quotation from its executive director saying that local pro-choice advocates forfeit “whatever tinge of credibility” it had if it refused to condemn what allegedly happened at Women’s Med Center.

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Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, had then forwarded a copy of the news release to ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis with a note saying, “Sandy…. Will you finally repudiate the industry for which you so proudly support? So much for ‘women’s health’. So sad.”

On Friday, ProgressOhio, along with eight other groupsDoctors for Health Care Solutions, Common Cause Ohio, the Ohio National Organization for Women, Innovation Ohio, the Ohio House Democratic Women’s Caucus, the National Council of Jewish Women, Democratic Voices of Ohio, and Ohio Voice—responded to Gonidakis’ public and private commentary by writing a letter to the medical board asking that he resign.

In the letter, representatives from those groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Contacted for comment, the medical board did not respond by press time.

The Ohio Medical Board protects the public by licensing and regulating physicians and other health-care professionals in part by reviewing complaints such as the one filed by Dayton Right to Life.

The decision-making body includes three non-physician consumer members and nine physicians who serve five-year terms when fully staffed. Currently, 11 citizens serve on the board.

Gonidakis, appointed in 2012 by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is a consumer member of the board and lacks medical training.

Theis told Rewire in a telephone interview that the letter’s undersigned did not include groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood in its effort to highlight the conflict with Gonidakis.

“We wanted it to be about ethics” and not about abortion politics, Theis explained to Rewire.

Theis said Gonidakis had publicly condemned three licensed doctors from Women’s Med Center without engaging the providers or hearing the facts about the alleged incident.

“He put his point out there on Main Street having only heard the view of Dayton Right to Life,” Theis said. “In court, a judge who does something like that would have been thrown off the bench.”

Arthur Lavin, co-chairman of Doctors for Health Care Solutions, told the Associated Press the medical board should be free from politics.

Theis said ProgressOhio also exercised its right to file a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission to have Gonidakis removed because Theis had first-hand knowledge of his ethical wrongdoing.

The 29-page complaint, obtained by Rewire, details Gonidakis’ association with anti-choice groups and includes a copy of the email he sent to Theis.

Common Cause Ohio was the only group that co-signed the letter that is decidedly not pro-choice. A policy analyst from the nonpartisan organization told the Columbus Dispatch that Common Cause was not for or against abortion, but had signed the letter because a clear conflict of interest exists on the state’s medical board.

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

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