Study: Local Newspapers Fail to Connect Anti-Choice Group To 20-Week Abortion Ban

Local newspapers in Mississippi, South Carolina, Kentucky, and West Virginia failed to show the connection between restrictive 20 week abortion bans currently being debated in their states' legislatures and a model bill by Americans United for Life (AUL) -- an anti-choice group dedicated to ending access to abortion in the United States.

Americans United for Life is denying responsibility for the legislation being pushed in Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, and West Virginia in a statement to Media Matters. While Americans United for Life has made passing 20-week abortion bans a priority and has successfully pushed model legislation, including 20-week abortion bans, in numerous states, no evidence at this time directly connects them to the bills referenced in this report.

AUL Authored 20 Week Abortion Ban Model Bill

AUL Crafted The “Women's Health Defense Act” Model In An Effort To Convince States To Ban Abortions After 20 Weeks. According to an article in Mother Jones AUL's 20 week ban model bill was premised on the “dubious premise that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks” and “emphasizes the potential harm to women”:

Then there's AUL's bill for banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy--often performed when tests that can only be done at this stage reveal severe birth defects. Though bans on late-term abortions are often pitched on the medically dubious premise that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, AUL's model bill, the Women's Health Defense Act, emphasizes the potential harm to women, citing the health risks as well as potential “emotional complications” such as depression and anxiety. Arizona passed a version of the bill earlier this year; AUL consulted on a similar law passed in Georgia. [Mother Jones, September/October 2012, internal hyperlinks removed]

State Papers Fail To Show Connection Between AUL And 20 Week Ban

A Variant Of The AUL 20 Week Ban Bill Has Been Introduced In Mississippi, South Carolina, Kentucky, and West Virginia In 2014. AUL has successfully had a version their 20 week abortion ban model legislation, the Women's Health Defense Bill, introduced in the state legislatures of Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, West Virginia. [Reuters, 2/13/14; Charleston Gazette, 2/13/14; The State, 2/6/14; Open States, 1/7/14]

Two Highest Circulating Newspapers In Mississippi, South Carolina, Kentucky, and West Virginia All Fail To Show Connection Between AUL And 20 Week Abortion Ban Legislation. A Media Matters research study revealed that none of the stories written in Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, or West Virginia mentioned AUL, the creator of the model bills used by state legislators to push for the 20 week ban:

Politico: AUL Is Active In Pushing 20 Week Abortion Bans In Multiple States. According to a report by Politico, AUL is making their push for 20 week abortion bans a priority:

While anti-abortion activists are eyeing the remaining dozen or so GOP-controlled states without 20 week bans, they know that election-year politics could affect their pace of success. Lawmakers tend to focus on their individual races and shy away from controversial issues while at work legislatively.

Activists have also helped to push through a recent spate of laws that regulate clinics or place certain requirements on women before they may have an abortion, which often can have more immediate effect in limiting the procedure. However, SBA List and other organizations say that 20 week bans will remain a priority.

“Clinic regulations are on the rise...but there is great interest in limiting abortion at five months of pregnancy,” said Kristi Hamrick, a spokeswoman for Americans United for Life. [Politico,2/14/14]

Abortions After 20 Weeks Are Rare And Often Medically Necessary To Protect The Mother's Health

Only 1.2 Percent Of All Abortions Take Place 21 Weeks Or More Of Pregnancy. A report by the Guttmacher Institute detailing the demographics of abortions shows that only 1.2 percent of all abortions take place after the 21st week of pregnancy:

[Guttmacher Institute, 2/14/14]

ACOG: Optimal Time To Detect Major Malformations In Fetus Is Between 18 And 20 Weeks. An American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) report concluded, the “optimal time for an obstetric ultrasound examination is between 18 to 20 weeks of gestation because anatomically complex organs, such as the fetal heart and brain, can be imaged with sufficient clarity to allow detection of many major malformations.” [American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Clinical Policy Bulletin, accessed 7/12/13]

Expert: Abortions After 20 Weeks Are Often Due To Major Birth Defects In The Fetus. According to Brookings fellow and chief of pediatric cardiology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Dr. Darshak Sanghavi, major birth defects, which no medical treatment can salvage, account for many of the abortions needed after 20 weeks:

Of the roughly 7 million American pregnancies each year, about 1 million end in abortion. However, almost all of the procedures are performed early in pregnancy. According to the Guttmacher Institute, only about 1 percent of abortions are performed after 20 weeks of gestation (a normal pregnancy is 40 weeks), which are those banned by the proposed Texas law.

Why do some women wait so long? The answer is that comprehensive fetal testing, such as anatomical sonograms and ultrasounds of the heart, are typically performed just before 20 weeks of gestation. Such scans are critical for uncovering major birth defects, such as anencephaly (severe brain malformations), major heart defects, missing organs and limbs, and other severe birth defects. Fetal development is a complex process that often goes awry. Roughly 2 percent of all pregnancies are complicated by a major birth defect, and of those about 0.5 percent have a chromosomal defect, such as an extra or missing segment of normal DNA. Birth defects are a leading cause of infant mortality, and in many cases of severe birth defects, no medical treatment can salvage a fetus's life or result in any measure of normal future health. [Slate, 7/11/13]

ACOG: Delaying Abortions In Non-Fatal Health Crises Can Risk Serious Injury To The Mother. According to ACOG, delaying abortions in cases when mothers experience health complications at or past week 20, including heart conditions, cancer, lupus, and diabetes, can put the “patient's health in serious jeopardy” and “compromise the physician's ethical duty to the patient.” [American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 9/11/12]

AUL Seeks To End Abortions Through Radical Anti-Choice Model Bills

Mother Jones: AUL's Goal Is To End Access To Abortion By Crafting Model Legislation For Every State. As reported by Mother Jones, AUL's initial goal was to reverse Roe v. Wade, but has since decided to attempt to push restrictions on abortion rights across the country by promoting model legislation that focuses on “chipping away at abortion access”:

Understated rhetoric aside, AUL's mission is to end all abortions in the United States. Founded in 1971 by a Unitarian minister from Harvard Divinity School, AUL first focused on reversing Roe v. Wade flat out, but in the 1990s it turned its attention to rolling back reproductive rights incrementally at the state level. Lately, it's been chipping away at abortion access at an ever-faster pace. Its team of lawyers has written dozens of model bills, which are collected in a playbook, Defending Life, and delivered to every state and federal legislator. [Mother Jones, September/October 2012, internal hyperlinks removed]

PFAW: AUL Aims To Eliminate Access To Abortions Through Incremental Restrictions. According to a report by People for the American Way (PFAW), AUL's strategy involved slowing chipping away at abortion access by creating tighter restrictions:

Since the Supreme Court affirmed a woman's right to choose an abortion in 1973's Roe v. Wade, anti-choice activists have been split on how to go about restricting abortion rights. Several major anti-choice groups, including Americans United for Life, argue for taking incremental measures in legislatures and in the courts to chip away at Roe's protections. AUL's general counsel once compared his group's approach to carving a Christmas ham: “Each slice makes it smaller and smaller until it is no more. [People for the American Way, accessed 2/24/14]

Mother Jones: In 2011, 24 AUL-Backed Laws Restricting Womens' Choice Passed Across The United States. According to Mother Jones, AUL “can claim credit for 24 new” anti-choice laws passed in 2011, including Virginia's transvaginal ultrasound bill and an attempt to shutdown abortion clinics in Kansas:

All told, 92 anti-abortion restrictions were passed throughout the country last year, an all-time record; AUL can claim credit for 24 new laws. So far in 2012, 17* laws promoted by AUL or based on its model legislation have been passed. Invasive vaginal ultrasounds in Virginia? That was AUL's bill. Trying to shut down all the abortion clinics in Kansas? That was AUL, too.

“Our model legislation enables legislators to easily introduce bills without needing to research and write the bills themselves,” AUL's website boasts. The organization's foes see it as the pro-life equivalent of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the corporate legislation mill. “It's troubling when you see the same bill language introduced in 27 states that you know came out of an anti-abortion think tank in Washington instead of coming from the concerns of the sponsor or that particular state,” says Jordan Goldberg, a lawyer at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is trying to block AUL-backed laws in Arizona, Kansas, and Texas. [Mother Jones, September/October 2012, internal hyperlinks removed]

The Guardian: AUL President Rejects Women's Right To Choose Even In Cases Of Rape Or Incest. AUL president and CEO, Charmaine Yoest, said she does not believe in abortions even in cases of rape or incest:

This year, AUL has worked with local legislators in Georgia to help push through a bill enacting an abortion limit at or after 20 weeks' gestation, with no exemptions for victims of rape or incest. Arizona was the first state to enact AUL's model legislation on banning abortions after 20 weeks.

[AUL President and CEO Charmaine] Yoest's personal view on women made pregnant by rape or incest is this: “It doesn't solve one tragedy to effect another.” She says “many friends” in the pro-life movement who have been victims in such cases agree. “They are the ones who are qualified to speak about this,” she said. [The Guardian, 5/25/12]

AUL's Model Legislation Tactic Similar To ALEC

AUL, Like ALEC, Manipulates The Democratic Process By Separating Politicians From Constituents. MSNBC commentator Krystal Ball explained how organizations like ALEC and AUL distort democracy by making it easier for elected officials to be steered by interest groups rather than constituents:

Rather than legislators gleaning policy ideas from their constituents, ALEC and AUL prompt them on the right legislation to promote. Rather than work with their staffs to draft legislation that works for their communities, legislators download boilerplate bills and in the words of former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson “disguise them a little bit, and declare that 'It's mine.'” ALEC and AUL then move in to provide expert testimony, talking points, briefs and any other resources they can to get the bill made into law.

While ALEC's focus has been on delivering favorable legislation for its corporate benefactors, AUL's has been eroding women's reproductive choices and options. As if this top-down big money perversion of our laboratory of democracy was not bad enough, AUL and ALEC's tax-exempt status means that they do not have to disclose their donors, and their donors get charitable contribution tax deductions. In other words, not only are corporations and other wealthy interests gaming our system but they're getting a tax write-off for doing it. [The Grio, 4/4/12]

The Weyrich Award Named After The Founder Of ALEC And The Heritage Foundation Was Presented To AUL In 2011. According to an AUL press release, the organization won the 2011 Weyrich Award for Grassroots Organization of the Year. The award is named after Paul Weyrich, co-founder of ALEC and the Heritage Foundation. [Americans United for Life, 2/9/12]


Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of the top two highest circulating newspapers in states where a 20 week abortion ban bill has been introduced this year. Those papers/states include, The Louisville Courier-Journal and Lexington Herald in Kentucky; The Clarion-Ledger and Sun Herald in Mississippi; The State and The Post and Courier in South Carolina; and The Charleston Gazette and Charlestown Daily Mail in West Virginia. The search focused on coverage of the 20 week abortion ban from January 1 to February 24. In conducting the search the term “20 week OR twenty week” was used to find articles about the legislation. Matching articles were then searched for mention of “Americans United for Life” or “AUL”