Americans United for Life: Bent on Ending Abortion at All Costs

Described as “a National Public Interest and Law Foundation Organized for the Purpose of Defending Human Right to Life From Conception to Natural Death,” AUL was founded in 1971 by a group of activists including zealous right-winger and media censor Brent Bozell.

In the past few years, its growth has been metastatic. According to AUL’s most recent IRS filing in 2009, the organization raised $3,683,717 and had only two full-time employees; today AUL lists more than 20 employees.

It is a 501(c)(3) non-profit foundation, which exempts it from paying federal taxes. Its overtly partisan sister organization, AUL Action, is a 501(c) (4), an IRS designation that allows more flexibility. That flexibility is evident in AUL Action radio ads attacking Bob Kerry, the former Senator and current Democratic candidate for an open Senate seat in Nebraska— “one of the most extreme, pro-abortion senators in U.S. history.”

Republicans in and out of office unstintingly praise the organization. House Speaker John Boehner says he has “teamed up with Charmaine Yoest…to carry on the fight for life.” Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn says AUL is “pushing the envelope in creative ways.” Former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee calls it the “premier pro-life organization in America.” Rick Santorum, predictably, has also genuflected at AUL’s altar.

Yoest has been an inside-the-Beltway fixture for more than 25 years. Her mother was a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan. Yoest herself worked in the Reagan White House, then moved to Gary Bauer’s Christian-right Family Research Council. In 2007, she went to work as an advisor to Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign. (Huckabee currently divides his time between Fox News and his own anti-abortion crusade.)

After Huckabee, Yoest went to work for AUL. Considering her CV, it is no surprise that the organization she directs is an arm of the Republican Party. In the press release, Yoest writes that the lawsuit includes “even more evidence that the American taxpayer is being defrauded by Planned Parenthood.”

“This case bravely brought by AUL’s Senior Advisor Abby Johnson is more evidence of Planned Parenthood’s harmful and dishonest practices and cannot be ignored,” Yoest writes. “With such evidence consistently building, the American public deserves answers.”

“Evidence” used three times in three sentences. There’s a lot to unpack here.

Johnson, the whistleblower who brought the lawsuit in 2010, is a part-time AUL employee living in Texas; Yoest hired her after she filed the suit. The suit is not being litigated by AUL but by a Christian law firm based in Arizona. And what Yoest characterizes as evidence against Planned Parenthood are actually allegations.

A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast characterized Johnson as “a former employee who is currently a paid anti-choice spokesperson and advocate [who] continues to recycle unfounded allegations about our services and mission, using a variety of venues from speeches to lawsuits. This recent politically motivated lawsuit is part of a coordinated effort to undermine Planned Parenthood and, more disturbingly, women’s access to the primary and preventative care they need.”

The lawsuit was filed two years ago in federal district court in Texas. Because it is a qui tam action, by which a plaintiff (in qui tam terms a “relator”) sues to collect money for the government (and keep part of what is collected), it remained sealed while federal and
state authorities decided if they wanted to participate.

The suit was unsealed on March 6, after the United States Department of Justice and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott declined to join as parties.

By hiring Johnson after she filed her lawsuit, Yoest lay claim to the court pleadings alleging Medicaid fraud and opened up another front in AUL’s campaign against Planned Parenthood.

AUL has targeted Planned Parenthood and is on a remarkable run in the signature issue in a broader campaign to end abortion.

There has been one failure. In fall 2011, AUL published a report called “The Case for Investigating Planned Parenthood.” Florida Congressman Cliff Stearns seized on allegations in the report to open an investigation by a subcommittee he chairs.

Then things went awry.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation used Stearns’s investigation to justify cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood, because, as Komen CEO Nancy Brinker explained, the foundation could not fund an organization under investigation by Congress.

Brinker reversed her decision when confronted by a public backlash, and a groundswell of support was instantly measured in about half a million dollars in donations to Planned Parenthood.

Yet Stearns continues his investigation. And in February, Tennessee Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn wrote Speaker of the House John Boehner, demanding “a full series of Congressional investigations to expose the harm that Planned Parenthood has caused our nation.” (Boehner was the recipient of AUL’s Henry J. Hyde Defender of Life Award in 2010.)

At the state level, AUL took a page from the play- book of the American Legislative Exchange Council, another non-profit advocacy group that serves as an extension of the Republican Party.

ALEC produces “model bills” that any state legislator can adapt by filling in the blanks. Last year, AUL, which has worked in concert with ALEC, drafted its own anti-abortion bills and made them available to state legislators.

When researchers at the Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit group that promotes transparency in government, used an automated textual-analysis program to analyze state legislation that required an ultrasound before an abortion, they found 13 bills that included language lifted from AUL’s model legislation. In some instances, entire AUL passages were replicated, with the exception of one word.

Last year set a record for anti-abortion legislation, and Yoest claims that 28 of the 86 anti-abortion bills introduced in state

legislatures were shaped by AUL. The Texas lawsuit is just getting underway, Johnson’s attorney Michael Morton told me on the phone. Morton, who served as a U.S. Attorney in the Reagan and Bush I administrations, works for the Alliance Defense Fund, the Phoenix-based Christian law firm that is litigating the case.

Morton said money is a secondary issue. “The primary goal is to expose healthcare fraud,” he told me. “Obviously the Alliance Defense Fund has another goal. We’re very strong in protecting the sanctity of life.”

Johnson said she is not interested in the money. She said she started working on the lawsuit soon after leaving Planned Parenthood, where she had worked for almost nine years, after watching an ultrasound screen as an abortion was performed. (The detailed allegations in her lawsuit suggest she was working on the suit while still at Planned Parenthood.) Johnson also founded a ministry, And Then There Were None, which proselytizes workers in abortion clinics.

I asked if her work at AUL discredits her as a plaintiff suing Planned Parenthood.

“That doesn’t take away from the fact that they were filing false [Medicaid] claims,” Johnson said, citing allegations she makes in her lawsuit.

Johnson said that her objective in filing the suit is shutting down Planned Parenthood’s new clinic in Houston. “I believe in what AUL is doing,” she said.

What AUL is doing is promoting the most extreme anti-abortion measures imaginable.

Yoest believes abortion should not even be allowed in instances in which a pregnancy is the result of rape. She has also expressed misgivings about abortion when childbirth would put the woman’s life at risk.

The Christian Science Monitor describes her as “the kinder, gentler face” of a movement that’s winning not just the legal war but the spin game.