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
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
"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
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
Just two years after the election of a pro-abortion rights
Democratic president, it appears the antiabortion movement has been
"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
For example, some of the AUL-influenced results this year
- 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 Republicans with control of 21
statehouses and governorships, compared with 11 for Democrats,
according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. …