AUL appears to have two key things going for it: first, a pragmatic philosophy about how to restrict abortion (“We must address our culture as it is and not as we would like it to be,” declares the group’s mission statement); and, second, its charming, attractive, charismatic president, Charmaine Yoest. Watching Yoest debate the Virginia law on PBS, I was struck by the way she framed her arguments. She did not talk about fetuses. She didn’t cast abortion in moral terms. Instead, she talked about how ultrasounds protect women’s health and empower them.
On a Monday in early March, I interviewed Yoest in her spacious, light-filled office in downtown Washington. As soon as I arrived, she gestured for me to sit down at a table and help myself to a large bowl of salad. One of the nice things about working in an office full of women, she told me, is being able to order the kind of food that women like. Over her desk hangs a poster with a quote from Dr. Seuss’s cartoon elephant Horton, “A PERSON’S A PERSON NO MATTER HOW SMALL”; and on her bookshelf is a copy ofThe Feminist Papers. Unlike most Washington professionals I interview, who generally seem eager to get to their next appointment, Yoest gave the impression that she would happily speak to me for hours. As we talked, our interview felt less like a professional grilling and more like a woman-to-woman discussion about the moral implications of abortion. It reminded me of conversations I’ve shared with friends, late at night, over the question of whether we would ever consider having an abortion. In spite of my pro-choice views, I found myself liking her.