Radical Anti-choice Group Rocked by Founder Resignations

Wendy Norris

Lost in the chaos of recent political debates was an unexpected and unreported schism in the hard core anti-choice movement fueling the state "personhood" ballot drives.

Lost in the chaos of the U.S. House vote on health care reform and the machinations of Rep. Bart Stupak was an unexpected and unreported schism in the hard core anti-choice movement fueling the state "personhood" ballot drives.

A Nov. 15 letter that only surfaced this week reveals the stormy resignation of the founders of American Right to Life Action, a Denver-based political organization created after a high profile catfight with national anti-choice groups and James Dobson of Focus on the Family. In the correspondence addressed to its former ally Colorado Right to Life, the two leaders cryptically refer to an "incident involving a key person in the Personhood movement" among other unspecified reasons for their immediate departure from the group.

The sudden split by President Brian Rohrbough and Vice President Steve Curtis caps off a series of controversial antics at the tax-exempt nonprofit ARTLA. In its brief two year tenure the group sought to end abortion within an unexplained 12 year timeline, "challenge the ‘wicked courts’ and oppose ‘child-killing regulations’" through state ballot measures, like promoting constitutional rights for fertilized eggs.

The group’s first salvo was launched after national anti-choice activists praised the Apr. 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding restrictions on late-term abortion. Rohrbough, then president of Colorado Right to Life, lead a public relations assault with a veritable Who’s Who of the absolutist anti-choice faction who seek nothing less than an unequivocal ban on abortion, contraception and assisted fertility care.

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Several weeks later, ARTLA published "An Open Letter to James Dobson" as full page newspapers ads condemning the incrementalist approach of the national groups who favor stacking Congress and the courts with reproductive choice foes to further restrict abortion services. But they reserved a special brand of vitriol for Dobson, whom the ads attacked as a "moral relativist" — a particularly nasty "your mother wears Army boots" insult in evangelical Christian circles.

Curtis signed the letter along with Operation Save America director Flip Benham, Human Life International president Rev. Tom Euteneuer and Judie Brown, president of American Life League. Denver Bible Church pastor Bob Enyart, who refers to himself as "America’s most popular self-proclaimed right-wing, religious fanatic, homophobic, anti-choice radio talk show host" also joined in.

The reaction to the ads was swift. National Right to Life immediately delisted its Colorado affiliate.

Rohrbough, a sympathetic figure in Colorado after his son, Danny, was tragically killed in the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, set about with Curtis, the former chair of the state Republican Party, and Enyart to challenge the street cred of the national anti-choice establishment by founding ARTLA in Nov. 2007 with the blessing of its ad partners.

The group feverishly attacked its former allies while promoting the "Abortion Vigilante Worksheet," a logically-convoluted justification for the so-called necessity defense infused with dark, violent Bible quotes.

And they wasted no time mixing it up on the presidential campaign trail to make their point. In Feb. 2008, ARTLA produced an email attack campaign and a series of television ads slamming Republican presidential primary candidate and Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney for his alleged flip flops on reproductive rights.

The group claimed credit for derailing Romney’s bid and then quickly upped the ante with increasingly more bold attacks on conservative Republicans they considered movement weaklings. Several month later in Sept. 2008, Enyart, his brother and a local anti-choice activist acting on behalf of the organization were arrested, fined and later jailed for staging a sit-in at Focus on the Family to protest Dobson’s endorsement of GOP presidential nominee John McCain, whom the trio also criticized for not being sufficiently anti-abortion.

In the meantime, ARTLA’s cause de jour — Amendment 48, the 2008 Colorado personhood ballot measure — was going down in flames and was eventually defeated in a 73-27 landslide.

Prior to the May 2009 sentencing for trespassing at Focus, the bombastic Enyart spurred fellow ultra-conservative Christian radio hosts to ambush acid-tongued conservative pundit Ann Coulter over her support of Romney. Said Rohrbough in a statement that accompanied ARTLA’s video of Coulter’s on-air freak outs:

Ann Coulter has misrepresented and even defended some of the most egregious and immoral behavior. When Ann covers up aggressively anti-marriage action, and pro-abortion legislation that actually funds the killing of unborn children, she apparently is motivated by a desire to distort the truth and deceive Christians for some personal gain.

So it all comes as more than a bit curious that Rohrbough and Curtis’ letter alludes to "the confusion of purpose that currently surrounds CRTL, Personhood CO and Personhood USA." All three groups are actively involved in a renewed but quixotic scheme to outlaw abortion, contraception, stem cell research and in-vitro fertilization in one fell swoop by awarding zygotes civil right protections via state constitutional amendments.

In a biting comment left at Jill Stanek’s blog about the dismantling of ARTLA’s leadership, Personhood Colorado director Gualberto Garcia Jones called Rohrbough and Curtis "irrelevant to our efforts."

Stanek attributes the falling out to Prolife Profiles, a Web site promising a rogues’ gallery of conservative icons ranked by their public commitment to promoting "personhood" laws. The site officially launched the day following Rohrbough and Curtis’ joint resignation letter. It attacks conservative heros Sarah Palin, Romney and others as anti-abortion hypocrites while holding up the Dobson ad signatories — including Rohrbough himself — as saintly paragons of the cause.

However, that would suggest a fairly drastic change of heart for Rohrbaugh and Curtis who were actively involved in and publicly crowing about ARTLA’s attacks on Romney, McCain and Coulter just two years ago.

One possible explanation for the rift is the letter’s mention about "recent press articles" — a reference to Garcia Jones’ penchant for spilling the beans about the true purpose of the personhood amendments. An Oct. 31 World Net Daily article extensively quoted the ex-American Life League legal analyst, who does not appear to be licensed to practice law in Colorado, about using the state measures to force a challenge to Roe v Wade in the courts.

That’s diametrically opposite the 2008 Colorado campaign, with which ARTLA was quite active, that religiously stuck to a strict set of talking points that avoided mentioning abortion or contraception bans. When an early spokesman dared to raise the specter of a Supreme Court case he was quickly hustled out of the campaign never to be heard from again.

It’s also just as plausible that ARTLA hasn’t quite become the cash cow and national force once envisioned by Rohrbough and Curtis, who jointly operate a nonprofit firm specializing in sinister anti-choice videos.

ARTLA has since missed three consecutive financial reporting periods this year though it contacted the IRS in Sept. to change its official name to "AMERICAN RIGHTS [sic] TO LIFE ACTION" a month after an Rewire investigation into the finances of anti-abortion groups behind the personhood movement. It’s a fairly common political campaign trick to use misspellings and all capital letters to thwart efforts at tracking records in case- and keyword-sensitive search engines.

Aside the record-keeping shenanigans and dramatic resignation of its founders, the situation doesn’t look so rosy for the group.

In the last quarterly filing posted on March 18, 2009 reflecting the post-election period thru Dec. 31, 2008: ARTLA reported a mere $80 in receipts and a $2,000 expenditure. The big outlay? It was the second of two loan re-payments totaling $9,000 to a suburban Denver woman, who coincidentally happens to be an office worker employed by none other than Rev. Bob Enyart.


News Abortion

Reproductive Justice Groups Hit Back at RNC’s Anti-Choice Platform

Michelle D. Anderson

Reproductive rights and justice groups are greeting the Republican National Convention with billboards and media campaigns that challenge anti-choice policies.

Reproductive advocacy groups have moved to counter negative images that will be displayed this week during the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Cleveland, while educating the public about anti-choice legislation that has eroded abortion care access nationwide.

Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee for president, along with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), Trump’s choice for vice president, have supported a slew of anti-choice policies.

The National Institute for Reproductive Health is among the many groups bringing attention to the Republican Party’s anti-abortion platform. The New York City-based nonprofit organization this month erected six billboards near RNC headquarters and around downtown Cleveland hotels with the message, “If abortion is made illegal, how much time will a person serve?”

The institute’s campaign comes as Created Equal, an anti-abortion organization based in Columbus, Ohio, released its plans to use aerial advertising. The group’s plan was first reported by The Stream, a conservative Christian website.

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The site reported that the anti-choice banners would span 50 feet by 100 feet and seek to “pressure congressional Republicans into defunding Planned Parenthood.” Those plans were scrapped after the Federal Aviation Administration created a no-fly zone around both parties’ conventions.

Created Equal, which was banned from using similar messages on a large public monitor near the popular Alamo historic site in San Antonio, Texas, in 2014, did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, said in an interview with Rewire that Created Equal’s stance and tactics on abortion show how “dramatically out of touch” its leaders compared to where most of the public stands on reproductive rights. Last year, a Gallup poll suggested half of Americans supported a person’s right to have an abortion, while 44 percent considered themselves “pro-life.”

About 56 percent of U.S. adults believe abortion care should be legal all or most of the time, according to the Pew Research Center’s FactTank.

“It’s important to raise awareness about what the RNC platform has historically endorsed and what they have continued to endorse,” Miller told Rewire.

Miller noted that more than a dozen women, like Purvi Patel of Indiana, have been arrested or convicted of alleged self-induced abortion since 2004. The billboards, she said, help convey what might happen if the Republican Party platform becomes law across the country.

Miller said the National Institute for Reproductive Health’s campaign had been in the works for several months before Created Equal announced its now-cancelled aerial advertising plans. Although the group was not aware of Created Equal’s plans, staff anticipated that intimidating messages seeking to shame and stigmatize people would be used during the GOP convention, Miller said.

The institute, in a statement about its billboard campaign, noted that many are unaware of “both the number of anti-choice laws that have passed and their real-life consequences.” The group unveiled an in-depth analysis looking at how the RNC platform “has consistently sought to make abortion both illegal and inaccessible” over the last 30 years.

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio last week began an online newspaper campaign that placed messages in the Cleveland Plain Dealer via Cleveland.com, the Columbus Dispatch, and the Dayton Daily News, NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio spokesman Gabriel Mann told Rewire.

The ads address actions carried out by Created Equal by asking, “When Did The Right To Life Become The Right To Terrorize Ohio Abortion Providers?”

“We’re looking to expose how bad [Created Equal has] been in these specific media markets in Ohio. Created Equal has targeted doctors outside their homes,” Mann said. “It’s been a very aggressive campaign.”

The NARAL ads direct readers to OhioAbortionFacts.org, an educational website created by NARAL; Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio; the human rights and reproductive justice group, New Voices Cleveland; and Preterm, the only abortion provider located within Cleveland city limits.

The website provides visitors with a chronological look at anti-abortion restrictions that have been passed in Ohio since the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973.

In 2015, for example, Ohio’s Republican-held legislature passed a law requiring all abortion facilities to have a transfer agreement with a non-public hospital within 30 miles of their location. 

Like NARAL and the National Institute for Reproductive Health, Preterm has erected a communications campaign against the RNC platform. In Cleveland, that includes a billboard bearing the message, “End The Silence. End the Shame,” along a major highway near the airport, Miller said.

New Voices has focused its advocacy on combatting anti-choice policies and violence against Black women, especially on social media sites like Twitter.

After the police killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black boy, New Voices collaborated with the Repeal Hyde Art Project to erect billboard signage showing that reproductive justice includes the right to raise children who are protected from police brutality.

Abortion is not the only issue that has become the subject of billboard advertising at the GOP convention.

Kansas-based environmental and LGBTQ rights group Planting Peace erected a billboard depicting Donald Trump kissing his former challenger Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) just minutes from the RNC site, according to the Plain Dealer.

The billboard, which features the message, “Love Trumps Hate. End Homophobia,” calls for an “immediate change in the Republican Party platform with regard to our LGBT family and LGBT rights,” according to news reports.

CORRECTION: A version of this article incorrectly stated the percentage of Americans in favor of abortion rights. 

Analysis Abortion

From Webbed Feet to Breast Cancer, Anti-Choice ‘Experts’ Renew False Claims

Ally Boguhn & Amy Littlefield

In a series of workshops over a three-day conference in Herndon, Virginia, self-proclaimed medical and scientific experts renewed their debunked efforts to promote the purported links between abortion and a host of negative outcomes, including breast cancer and mental health problems.

Less than two weeks after the Supreme Court rejected the anti-choice movement’s unscientific claims about how abortion restrictions make patients safer, the National Right to Life Convention hosted a slate of anti-choice “experts,” who promoted even more dubious claims that fly in the face of accepted medical science.

In a series of workshops over the three-day conference in Herndon, Virginia, self-proclaimed medical and scientific experts, including several whose false claims have been exposed by Rewire, renewed their efforts to promote the purported links between abortion and a host of negative outcomes, including breast cancer and mental health problems.

Some of those who spoke at the convention were stalwarts featured in the Rewire series “False Witnesses,” which exposed the anti-choice movement’s attempts to mislead lawmakers, courts, and the public about abortion care.

One frequent claim, that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer, has been refuted by the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. But that hasn’t stopped “experts” like Dr. Angela Lanfranchi, a breast cancer surgeon and anti-choice activist, from giving court testimonies and traveling around the world spreading that brand of misinformation.

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During a Thursday session titled “The Abortion-Breast Cancer Link: The Biological Basis, The Studies, and the Fraud,” Lanfranchi, one of Rewire’s “False Witnesses,” pushed her debunked talking points.

Throughout the presentation, which was attended by Rewire, Lanfranchi argued that there is “widespread fraudulent behavior among scientists and medical organizations to obfuscate the link” between abortion and breast cancer.

In a statement, the irony of which may have been lost on many in the room, Lanfranchi told attendees that sometimes “scientists in the pursuit of truth can be frauds.” Lanfranchi went on to point to numerous studies and texts she claimed supported her theories and lamented that over time, textbooks that had previously suggested a link between abortion and breast cancer in the ’90s were later updated to exclude the claim.

Lanfranchi later pivoted to note her inclusion in Rewire’s “False Witnesses” project, which she deemed an “attack.” 

“We were one of 14 people that were on this site … as liars,” said Lanfranchi as she showed a slide of the webpage. “Now when people Google my name, instead of my practice coming up,” Rewire’s story appears.

Priscilla Coleman, another “False Witness” best known for erroneously claiming that abortion causes mental health problems and drug abuse, similarly bemoaned her inclusion in Rewire’s project during her brief participation in a Thursday session, “The Conspiracy of Silence: Roadblocks to Getting Abortion Facts to the Public.”

After claiming that there is ample evidence that abortion is associated with suicide and eating disorders, Coleman suggested that many media outlets were blocking the truth by not reporting on her findings. When it came to Rewire, Coleman wrote the outlet off as a part of the “extreme left,” telling the room that “if you look deeply into their analysis of each of our backgrounds, a lot of it is lies … it’s bogus information.”

An extensive review conducted by the American Psychological Association in 2008, however, found “no evidence sufficient to support” claims such as Coleman’s that “an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion.”

Rounding out the medical misinformation pushed in that session was Eve Sanchez Silver, the director and founder of the International Coalition of Color for Life. According to the biography listed on her organization’s website, Silver bills herself as a “bioethicist” who focuses on “the Abortion-Breast cancer link.”

Silver, who previously worked at the Susan G. Komen Foundation but left, she said, after finding out the organization gave money to Planned Parenthood, spent much of her presentation arguing that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer. She also detailed what she referred to as the “Pink Money Cycle,” a process in which, as she explained, money is given to Komen, which in turn donates to Planned Parenthood. As Silver told it, Planned Parenthood then gives people abortions, leading to more cases of breast cancer. 

The seemingly conspiracy-driven theory has popped up in several of Silver’s presentations over the years.

Though Komen does in fact provide some funding to Planned Parenthood through grants, a July 2015 press release from the the breast cancer organization explains that it does “not and never [has] funded abortion or reproductive services at Planned Parenthood or any grantee.” Instead, the money Planned Parenthood receives from Komen “pays for breast health outreach and breast screenings for low-income, uninsured or under-insured individuals.”

On Saturday, another subject of Rewire’s “False Witnesses” series, endocrinologist Joel Brind, doubled down on his claims about the link between abortion and breast cancer in a workshop titled “New American Export to Asia: The Cover-Up of the Abortion-Breast Cancer Link.” 

Brind described the Indian subcontinent as the ideal place to study the purported link between abortion and breast cancer. According to Brind, “The typical woman [there] has gotten married as a teenager, started having kids right away, breastfeeds all of them, has lots of them, never smokes, never drinks, what else is she going to get breast cancer from? Nothing.”

When it came to research from Asia that didn’t necessarily support his conclusions about abortion and breast cancerBrind chalked it up to an international cover-up effort, “spearheaded, obviously, by our own National Cancer Institute.”

Although five states require counseling for abortion patients that includes the supposed link between abortion and breast cancer, Brind told Rewire that the link has become “the kind of thing that legislators don’t want to touch” because they would be going “against what all of these medical authorities say.” 

Brind also dedicated a portion of his presentation to promoting the purported cancer-preventing benefits of glycine, which he sells in supplement form through his company, Natural Food Science LLC. 

“If I sprain my ankle it doesn’t swell up, the injury will just heal,” Brind claimed, citing the supposed effects of glycine on inflammation. 

In a Thursday session on “the rise of the DIY abortion”, panelist Randall O’Bannon questioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) March update to regulations on mifepristone, a drug also known as RU-486 that is used in medical abortions. Noting that the drug is “cheap,” O’Bannon appeared to fret that the new regulations might make abortion more accessible, going on to claim that there could be “a push to make [the drug] available over the counter.”

O’Bannon claimed there are “documented safety issues” associated with the drug, but the FDA says mifepristone is “safe and effective.” A 2011 post-market study by the agency of those who have used the drug since its approval found that more than 1.5 million women had used it to end a pregnancy in the U.S. Of those women, just roughly 2,200 experienced an “adverse event.” According to the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, mifepristone “is safer than acetaminophen,” aspirin, and Viagra.

Speculating that misoprostol, another drug used in medication abortions, was less effective than medical experts say, O’Bannon later suggested that more embryos would “survive” abortions, leading to an “increased numbers of births with children with club feet, webbed toes, and fingers [and] full and partial facial paralysis.”

According to the World Health Organization, “Available data regarding a potential risk of fetal abnormality after an unsuccessful medical abortion are limited and inconclusive.”