For nearly 50 years, Americans United for Life (AUL) has been on the cutting edge of the pro-life movement’s most effective strategies through well-planned and executed education, legislation, and litigation. The late Representative Henry Hyde, one of AUL’s most dedicated trustees and a lion of the pro-life movement, described our organization as a “thoughtful, strategic leader,” a role we have played since our inception.
Defending Life in Law
Throughout the 1960s, pro-abortion forces built the public case for the “liberalization” of abortion laws against little organized opposition. In 1967, Colorado became the first state to legalize abortion in cases of rape, incest, risk to maternal health, and fetal deformity. Within the next three years, a dozen more states followed. New York’s repeal of its abortion law in 1970, legalizing abortion-on-demand virtually throughout pregnancy, was a watershed event that ironically began to turn the tide in the other direction. The New York legislature undid the repeal a year later, only to see the new law vetoed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Efforts to legalize abortion in other states stalled, notably in Michigan, where a pro-abortion referendum in 1972 failed by a colossal margin.
Dennis J. Horan speaks during a February 1971 Loyola Medical Center Workshop
It was in the midst of this anti-life crisis, in August 1971, that a diverse group of pro-life activists, spearheaded by Brent Bozell, a colleague of William F. Buckley, gathered in Washington, D.C. to form Americans United for Life, the first national pro-life organization. George Huntston Williams, then-Hollins Professor of Divinity at Harvard, served as the board’s first chairman. They had the audacious aim of ensuring the protection of unborn life in the law. Since that day, AUL has worked for comprehensive legal protection of human life from conception to natural death. Its goal, as eloquently stated by former board member, the late Father Richard John Neuhaus, is an America where all unborn children are welcomed in life and protected in law.
Within a year of our inception, AUL’s first book project, Abortion and Social Justice, was published. Here was a manifesto that sought to rally Americans to the principles of justice and equality under the law that form the heart of the debate over abortion.
Roe v. Wade
January 1973 brought the catastrophe of Roe v. Wade. Dennis J. Horan, a nationally prominent medical attorney and managing partner of a major Chicago law firm, assumed the leadership of Americans United for Life. Horan’s vision was simple: Americans United for Life and the larger life movement needed to draft laws that would do what was possible to save unborn life, while at the same time laying siege to Roe by ensuring that such laws were properly defended in the courts. For several years, Horan and a handful of colleagues did this on nights and weekends, on top of their demanding legal practices. (Horan remained AUL’s driving force from 1973 until his death in 1988, and the focus on abortion’s harm to women became central to AUL’s advocacy.)
Committed to overturning the Supreme Court’s decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, AUL has filed briefs in Roe and every other abortion-related case considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Following the Roe decision, Horan and other board members, notably Dr. C. Everett Koop and Dr. Joseph Stanton, recognized the risk of the courts declaring constitutional rights to assisted suicide and euthanasia, as well as infanticide of handicapped newborns. AUL’s books, Death, Dying & Euthanasia (1976) and Infanticide and the Handicapped Newborn (1981) set forth the pro-life case against such developments. AUL attorneys played a key role in drafting legislation to give federal civil rights protection to handicapped newborns, enacted by Congress and signed by President Reagan in 1984.
Harris v. McRae
In 1976, AUL’s Chicago office hired Patrick Trueman, as our first Executive Director and the AUL Legal Defense Fund was born. Within four years, the AUL legal team of Horan, Trueman, Thomas Marzen, Professor John Gorby, and most notably, Northwestern professor Victor Rosenblum, accomplished what few could have predicted: winning before the U.S. Supreme Court in Harris v. McRae, which was argued by Victor Rosenblum. The case ultimately upheld the Hyde Amendment, prohibiting federal funding of abortion. A loss in this crucial case would have opened the floodgates to publicly-funded abortions—instead, our victory set the first of many major blockades against Roe’s unrestricted “right” to abortion.
AUL then took this proven strategy to the states. We developed the approach of moving between legislatures and courts to further contain Roe. AUL began to work strategically with state legislators to craft legislation that further restricted abortion, but would survive judicial scrutiny. Serving thousands of state and federal legislators with expert advice in drafting legislation, AUL’s model laws have been enacted in dozens of states and led to frequent court challenges in which AUL attorneys serve as key legal advisors.
AUL’s emphasis on the states not only offered the most immediate opportunity to save lives—it has also served to bolster pro-life policies, legal precedents, public attitudes, and coalitions that pro-life leaders can build upon in order to enact broader pro-life laws and prepare for the day when Roe’s eventual reversal returns abortion jurisdiction to the states.
For example, AUL advised on both the legislation and litigation in the pivotal 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Webster v. Reproductive Health Services – which successfully upheld a Missouri law restricting state funding of abortions.
Rep. Henry Hyde addresses Americans United for Life in April 1990
Planned Parenthood v. Casey
AUL played a similar role in the 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, which affirmed states’ rights to require a waiting period, parental consent, and informed consent before an abortion could be performed.
However, Casey was not a complete success. In Webster, four Justices had sought to reconsider Roe, but in Casey five Justices, including Anthony Kennedy (the new swing vote on the Court), voted to re-affirm it. Many pro-life activists were discouraged by Casey’s failure to overturn Roe.
Justice Kennedy had based his Casey vote on the argument that women had come to rely on abortion to achieve equality in society. AUL’s legal team has been implementing a long-term strategy designed to dismantle this notion by educating legislators and judges about abortion’s harms to women, through a series of cases built upon AUL model state laws protecting women from such harms.
During this time, AUL also successfully defended, in state courts and before the U.S. Supreme Court (Cruzan v. Missouri, 1990), the claim that there is no constitutional “right to die.” AUL attorneys also published a critical law review article “Suicide: A Constitutional Right?” cited prominently by the U.S. Supreme Court when it unanimously rejected the claim of a constitutional right to assisted suicide in 1997.
Paige Comstock Cunningham, President of Americans United for Life, testifies in opposition to the nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the U.S. Supreme Court in July 1993.
AUL has also promoted new strategies and introduced model legislation to humanize the unborn through partial-birth abortion bans and fetal homicide laws, which legally recognize the humanity of the unborn child. Clarke Forsythe, AUL’s Senior Counsel, was one of the first pro-life lawyers to focus on fetal homicide policies with a 1987 law review article entitled “Homicide of the Unborn Child: The Born Alive Rule and Other Legal Anachronisms,” published by the Valparaiso University Law Review. Later, AUL drafted and widely distributed state fetal-homicide model legislation. Since then, the number of states with these laws has increased from three in 1973 to 37 today, with 28 protecting the child from conception.
From 1997 to 2000, AUL worked with two-thirds of America’s state attorneys general to defend partial-birth abortion bans. But in a 2000 decision of stunning callousness and abuse of power, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned partial-birth abortion bans across 30 states in Stenberg v. Carhart.
In 2000 and 2001, AUL Vice President of Legal Affairs Denise Burke represented Arizona in a constitutional challenge to the state’s abortion clinic regulations, which imposed medically appropriate health and safety regulations on abortion clinics. “Lou Ann’s Law” was enacted in 1999 after a 32-year-old mother bled to death when her abortionist tore a two-inch laceration in her uterus and left her hemorrhaging to visit his tailor, refusing repeated requests from his staff to check her condition. This tragic, fatal abortion marked a turning point in the protection of women, with dozens of states increasing regulations on abortion clinics, many using AUL’s model act as a guide. In 2003, Ms. Burke also led the successful defense of “Lou Ann’s Law” in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. As a direct result of AUL’s expertise and involvement, after more than 10 years of litigation, “Lou Ann’s Law” finally went into effect in November 2010.
While AUL has had an active litigation presence since our founding, AUL’s litigation imprint has escalated in recent years. Between 2005 and 2012, AUL filed more than 45 amicus curiae briefs in cases involving issues ranging from partial-birth abortion to assisted suicide. In that time, we filed seven briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court, ten briefs in state supreme courts, two briefs in the Mexico Supreme Court, and more than twenty briefs filed in other federal courts.
Amicus clients have included state and federal legislators such as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner and U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, medical organizations such as the American Association of Pro-Life Pediatricians and the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and other high-profile individuals such as former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.
The legal expertise that AUL offered in these briefs has been widely recognized. For example, in 2012 in the case Planned Parenthood v. Rounds, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals utilized arguments advanced in AUL’s amicus brief to uphold the “suicide advisory” in South Dakota’s informed consent law. In 2010, the Washington Times editorial staff discussed a three-decades-long challenge to Illinois’ parental notice law and noted that AUL’s amicus brief in the case “made mincemeat” of the ACLU’s claims. In recent years, solicitors general in Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia and assistant attorneys general in other states have turned to AUL for litigation advice and assistance.
In 2004, AUL released the first “AUL State Report Cards,” which evolved in 2006 into the first edition of “Defending Life,” AUL’s annual, state-by-state legal guide to abortion, bioethics, and end-of-life issues. Defending Life makes AUL’s legal expertise accessible to pro-life legislators and activists across the country, and includes more than 40 pieces of life affirming model legislation. It quickly became the essential, one-stop legal source for pro-life legislators and activists. Also influential, AUL’s “Life List,” an annual ranking of the states based on their leadership in passing pro-life laws over the previous year. Governors and state leaders proudly note their state’s standing on the “Life List.”
Throughout our history, AUL has worked to protect life at all stages. AUL published the book Death, Dying and Euthanasia in 1980 and has been involved in every significant assisted-suicide court case. Growing areas of AUL’s work include bans on human cloning and destructive human embryo research, and protections of the healthcare freedom of conscience of pro-life doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and medical students. AUL has developed and promoted life-affirming model legislation in each of these areas as well.
Professor Michael New’s statistical studies provide evidence that AUL’s state-based abortion-regulation strategy has been effective. According to Dr. New’s research, policies pioneered by AUL – particularly parental involvement, informed consent, and public funding prohibitions – contributed heavily to reducing abortion by 25 percent from 1992 to 2006. Thus, Dr. New’s calculations indicate that many hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved by incremental legislation that AUL has originated, advocated, and defended in courts of law.
AUL’s approach has also made progress toward shutting down the abortion industry. Abortion clinics have closed in many states, fewer doctors and hospitals are willing to provide abortions, and according to the pro-abortion group, NARAL, 87% of U.S. counties have no abortion provider today.
In 2007, Justice Kennedy provided the crucial fifth vote and wrote the Court’s opinion in the landmark case of Gonzales v. Carhart, which upheld the 2003 federal ban on partial birth abortion and gave greater deference to the states to enact abortion regulations. This decision corrected Stenberg v. Carhart and resoundingly affirmed AUL’s long-term strategy of pursuing state legislation and legal arguments that focused on protecting women from abortion’s harms. In both Casey and Gonzales, Kennedy was concerned with the impact of abortion on women. Importantly, he based his Gonzales opinion, in large part, on what had become common knowledge: abortion harms women.
Chicago to Washington
In 2008, the Board of Directors appointed Dr. Charmaine Yoest as AUL President and CEO. Dr. Yoest, an author and political commentator, began her career in the Reagan White House and also served as a Senior Advisor for the Mike Huckabee for President Campaign. Her appointment brought higher visibility to AUL’s work as the legal arm of the pro-life movement. Moving AUL’s headquarters back to Washington, D.C. – just one block from the White House – also served to maximize our influence in the nation’s capital.
In 2009, AUL launched Advocates for Life (AFL), a non-partisan national association of pro-life law students. AFL has established almost two dozen chapters at law schools across the nation. These chapters sponsor speakers and provide opportunities for pro-life students to gain a solid foundation in pro-life legal developments through speaker programs and legal materials that can stimulate a richer classroom discussion and dialogue with fellow students and professors. In 2012, the Human Life Foundation specially honored AFL for innovative work.
After the enthusiastic response of law school and law students to the networking opportunity, AUL launched Lawyers for Life (LFL) a growing community of pro-life attorneys working who collaborate with AUL to achieve comprehensive legal protection for human life from conception to natural death. Lawyers for Life forms local chapters nationwide to network, to support life-affirming legislation, to keep up with legal developments, to pursue pro-bono research and litigation opportunities, and to encourage like-minded lawyers who share their talents and skills in support of life.
Dr. Charmaine Yoest, President & CEO of Americans United for Life, testifies before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in opposition to the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2009.
Activating our legal expertise and analysis, AUL exerted strong leadership during the fight against the confirmations of Judge Sonia Sotomayor and Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court. Promptly following Sotomayor’s nomination, AUL launched the website “Sotomayor411.com” to inform the public about Sotomayor’s pro-abortion activism. AUL provided our legal team’s extensive research into Sotomayor’s writings, speech, and legal scholarship.
Following Kagan’s nomination, AUL’s legal team drafted daily one-pagers on her judicial philosophy and her pro-abortion record. We also provided extensive commentary on the Kagan nomination in opinion editorials that appeared in major publications, participated in numerous radio interviews, and led an AUL-sponsored live press call with Judge Robert Bork and Notre Dame Law professor Gerald Bradley to discuss the Kagan nomination. After Kagan’s confirmation hearings, AUL Senior Counsel Clarke Forsythe spearheaded a special report exposing inconsistencies between Kagan’s Senate testimony and the content of memos from her years in the Clinton White House, particularly regarding Kagan’s involvement in Congressional attempts to ban partial-birth abortion.
Dr. Charmaine Yoest testifies before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in opposition to the nomination of Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court in July 2010
AUL also aggressively educated Senators and their staffs about Sotomayor and Kagan’s pro-abortion records. All of these efforts culminated in Dr. Yoest’s invitations to testify at both confirmation hearings. She was the only leader of a pro-life organization to receive such invitations.
During the 2009-10 healthcare reform debate, AUL’s “Real Healthcare Respects Life” initiative provided in-depth, comprehensive analysis of pending healthcare reform proposals. AUL’s legal team also provided numerous interviews, blog posts, opinion editorials, and analysis.
AUL’s research demonstrated how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as “Obamacare,” fails to prohibit public funding for abortions and insurance coverage for abortions, explicitly permits public funding for insurance plans that cover abortions within new state insurance Exchanges, requires many individuals to pay separate “abortion premiums” to their insurance companies, forces private insurance plans to cover life-ending drugs and devices, infringes on freedom of conscience, and threatens the sick and elderly with denial of care.
AUL’s legal analysis of why an Executive Order would not remedy the pro-abortion portions of the ACA was employed by opponents of the bill in debate on the floor of the House. Following the passage of the ACA, AUL released new model legislation to assist states in “opting out” of one of the pro-abortion provisions in the law and continues to assist states with this effort.
AUL attorneys have also carefully monitored the law’s implementation, and worked diligently in an attempt to stop the Administration from taking the law in increasingly anti-life directions. AUL attorneys have testified before the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and have submitted several official comments to the Administration. AUL has also launched a Freedom of Conscience project and continues to provide analysis and commentary on developments with the law, including the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold it.
In July of 2011, AUL released an explosive exposé, “The Case for Investigating Planned Parenthood,” which documents known and alleged abuses including misuse of federal healthcare and family planning funds, failure to report criminal child sexual abuse, failure to comply with parental involvement laws, willingness to assist those involved in prostitution and/or sex trafficking, dangerous abuse of the abortion drug RU-486, misinformation about so-called “emergency contraception,” including the new drug ella, willingness to give women deceptive and false information, and a willingness to refer women to substandard clinics.
In September 2011, led by U.S. Congressman Cliff Stearns (then Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations), the Energy and Commerce Committee launched the first ever investigation into Planned Parenthood’s use of taxpayer dollars and its institutional policies and practices – an investigation largely motivated by the troubling questions raised in this groundbreaking report.
Also in 2011, following tremendous pro-life gains in statehouses across the nation in the 2010 mid-term elections, AUL helped to enact 28 pieces of life-affirming legislation – through the use of AUL model language and with our active consultation – in more than a dozen states. AUL victories included working with Florida, Idaho, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Virginia to enact restrictions on insurance coverage of abortions within state insurance Exchanges created pursuant to the Affordable Care Act; assisting New Hampshire legislators to override the governor’s veto of a parental notification law; and providing model language to Kansas which enacted stringent abortion clinic regulations and to Oklahoma which passed a new law regulating the provision of RU-486 and effectively prohibiting dangerous “telemed abortions.”
While AUL’s influence garnered national media attention for the progress being achieved in protecting women and the unborn in the law, we paused to celebrate a milestone in November of 2011: Our 40th anniversary.
In a star-studded event that showcased the unique influence of AUL in the nation’s capitol, members of Congress joined pro-life leaders and honored guests to note the accomplishments achieved by the nation’s oldest pro-life group. Members of the House and Senate honored AUL and our President and CEO Dr. Charmaine Yoest, including Sen. Jeff Sessions, Rep. Renee Ellmers, and Sen. Orrin Hatch. The black-tie event took place overlooking the U.S. Capitol at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.
A highlight of the evening was the keynote address from Carly Fiorina, former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Hewlett-Packard Company, who spoke movingly about the personal meaning of the life issue through personal stories, such as that of her husband Frank, whose mother was advised not to have him. But she did it anyway.
“He has been the joy of her life, and he has been the rock of mine,” she said, noting that the power of his influence in her life contributed to her pro-life convictions expressed when she ran for a U.S. Senate seat from California.
With the goal of building on the pro-life majorities that make up American society, AUL continues a winning strategy of identifying areas of agreement, enlarging coalitions and creating tools that can win hearts and minds with the hope of a culture of life.