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On Day Two, Right-Wing Confab Turns Up Heat on Abortion Issue

Adele M. Stan

On day two of the Faith and Freedom Coalition's Road to Majority conference, evangelical leaders clashed on abortion and economic policy. But opposing abortion was deemed a winning issue by movement elders like Phyllis Schlafly and young activists alike.

WASHINGTON, DC — Today, speakers at the Faith and Freedom Coalition “Road to Majority” conference made up for Thursday’s deficit in remarks about lady-parts with appeals for support of Rep. Trent Franks’ 20-week abortion bill, and with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush asserting the superior fertility of immigrants.

For Ralph Reed, a top Republican strategist and longtime organizer of the religious right, the Road to Majority conference represents a further step in his comeback from the Abramoff lobbying scandal, in which he was implicated but never charged. This year’s conference takes place in the rather plush J.W. Marriott Hotel that adjoins the National Press Building, and despite its small size compared to other national right-wing gatherings, nearly every politician whose name is mentioned as a possible candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination has made it his business to address the crowd.

As we previously reported, speakers at Thursday’s kick-off luncheon—which featured potential presidential hopefuls Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Marco Rubio (R-FL)—avoided use of the word “abortion” and spoke only obliquely of their anti-choice views. Neither mentioned contraception.

2016 Themes: Freedom and Fertility

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On day two of the conference, however, former vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), launched into a tirade in which he accused the Obama administration of trampling on the religious liberty of the Catholic church and other religious organizations that oppose the use of birth control. Paul used the framing outlined by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which opposes the requirement in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that mandates employer-provided health plans to include coverage of contraception without a co-pay.

Ubiquitous on the right is the myth that the ACA includes coverage for “abortifacients,” which it does not. That didn’t stop Ryan from repeating it. (Leaders of the religious right seem to purposely sow confusion by conflating emergency contraception with medical abortion drugs, even though emergency contraception prevents ovulation and therefore prevents pregnancy altogether.)

Ryan also inferred that the Internal Revenue Service had targeted religious groups that applied for non-profit status, saying that an Iowa antiabortion group had been asked to reveal the details of its members prayers.

“This is big government assaulting our first amendment rights,” Ryan said.

Jeb Bush, meanwhile, appealed to the largely evangelical Protestant audience to support immigration reform by citing Americans’ low birth rates, which he deemed an economic threat. (Earlier in the program, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), whom Reed said would have an even greater impact after she leaves office next year, gave a classic harangue against giving immigrants a path to citizenship.)

“Immigrants are more fertile, and they love families, and they have more intact families, and they bring a younger population,” Bush said. (He seemed to confuse birth rate with fertility; American women are likely every bit as fertile as immigrant women, but choose to have fewer children.)

Women Against Women

Later in the program, an all-women panel, moderated by Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America, took the stage, under the title, “Advancing the Pro-Life Movement.” Panel members attempted to paint Kermit Gosnell, who ran an illegal abortion clinic, as the face of the pro-choice movement, and to drum up support for the 20-week abortion ban sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) that passed through the House Judiciary Committee earlier this week on a party-line vote.

The passage of the Franks bill in committee was notable not because it stands a chance of becoming law in this session of Congress—it will never get through the Senate—but because it was passed by a Republican majority on the committee comprising only men. (There was also Franks’ rejection of a rape exception to the ban, which would bar all abortion after 20 weeks post-fertilization, because, he contended, the incidence of pregnancy from rape is low.)

Former Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO), now the chief lobbyist for the ironically named anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List, promised that when the Franks bill is introduced on the House floor next week, we would be treated to a host of “amazing women” speaking on its behalf. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) has been tapped as the bill’s floor manager. Blackburn was scheduled to take part in today’s Faith and Freedom Coalition panel, but did not appear.

Speaking of the post-Gosnell environment, Musgrave said: “This is a time for the pro-life movement like we have not had in decades. We must seize the moment.”

Right-wing commentator Kate Obenshain claimed that there is “a billion-dollar abortion industry” that cares nothing for women’s rights. She also cited a Time magazine story that assessed the success of the antiabortion movement. “We’re winning,” she said.

Day Gardner, founder of the National Black Pro-Life Union and a late addition to the panel, chided Republicans for not having African-American women in leadership in its anti-choice efforts to push back on Democrats’ claims that they are protecting the reproductive rights of women who are poor or belong to minority groups.

Rounding out the antiabortion speakers was Gary Bauer, the onetime president of the Family Research Council, who claimed that economic issues were not good ones for Republicans. Cutting Social Security, he scoffed, was not likely to be popular. The GOP “has it upside down,” Bauer said. Cutting taxes for the wealthy? Not a winner. But, he said, opposing abortion and same-sex marriage offered a road to victory.

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