In the often heated debate over abortion, a less confrontational, more pragmatic force is behind a record number of antiabortion laws and pro-choice's 'bad year.'
With an easy laugh and ample charm, Charmaine Yoest doesn't at all appear to be Public Enemy No. 1 for the pro-abortion rights community. But the foundation of her rising influence - the accessibility of her approach - becomes clear when she settles in for an unexpectedly frank conversation about the stunning 2011 antiabortion legislative juggernaut that she has helped orchestrate.
This mother of five - who is not a physician, attorney, or lawmaker - has set the stage for sweeping antiabortion victories at the state level on the strength of her seeming candor, warmth, and camera-ready smile.
And so, she engages on the question of what animates her interest in advocacy like any smart girlfriend might. She says it was a miscarriage - which came early in her first pregnancy - that rocked her world. The intensity of her sadness caught her by surprise. It rained as she and her husband drove home from her physician's office, and Ms. Yoest says she felt that heaven wept with her. The experience made her wonder anew how anyone would opt to terminate a pregnancy voluntarily. And it stoked her already fervent belief that a society that presents abortion as an option is putting women in harm's way.
"We were so excited because it was my first pregnancy," she says. "I told everybody instantly. And within a few days I miscarried. And it was so awful, the whole physical process of going through that."
Yoest, the president and chief executive officer of Americans United for Life, a group that offers 39 pieces of model legislation for state lawmakers and advocates, is one of the key actors pushing a wave of highly restrictive - the other side would say dangerous and illegal - initiatives limiting access to abortion. AUL's goal is to eat away at the underpinnings of the protections provided by Roe v. Wade - the landmark United States Supreme Court decision that extended the right to privacy to a woman's decision to have an abortion - not necessarily to challenge it outright. At least not yet.
So far this year, AUL and other like-minded groups have caught their adversaries flat-footed; some 22 states have enacted a record 86 new measures in 2011, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which studies sexual and reproductive health and supports abortion rights.
Just two years after the election of a pro-abortion rights Democratic president, it appears the antiabortion movement has been reborn.
"We were expecting a bad year - we weren't expecting this bad of a year," says Elizabeth Nash, a Guttmacher public policy associate.
Yoest boasts that 22 of the 86 measures began in some form with AUL guidance. Taken in full, the reforms are sweeping and go much further than bills debated in recent years - like parental notification or consent - around which there might have been some, albeit limited, cross-party agreement, say abortion-rights advocates.
For example, some of the AUL-influenced results this year include:
- A Texas mandate that women seeking abortion undergo a sonogram, hear a description of the fetus from the provider, and wait 24 hours after this exchange before having the procedure.
- Kansas clinic regulations that essentially shutter abortion providers with stringent rules ranging from the temperatures of procedure rooms to the drugs and equipment that must be on hand. A federal judge temporarily blocked this law last month.
- Legislation in several states - including Idaho, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Virginia - permitting the exclusion from state health insurance exchanges of companies that allow coverage of abortions.
This flurry of activity comes in large part as a result of GOP victories in 2010 that provided …