Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The war on abortion rights—and a leading fighter

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I find the woman described in this article to be highly unsettling in her arrogant authoritarianism: I’m in favor of allowing people to decide for themselves rather than bringing the government in to make the decision for them, but this is a large-government fanatic who believes that her decision is right for you, regardless of what you think, as you can see from the article by Emily Bazelon in the NY Times Magazine:

One day in the spring, I went with Charmaine Yoest, head of Americans United for Life, a pro-life advocacy group, to meet two of her five kids at a Barnes & Noble near her office in Washington. We sat down in the Starbucks corner of the bookstore, and James and Sarah, who are 8 and 11, told me about the March for Life on the National Mall. They go every year, scouting out heating vents to stand on when it’s cold and competing over who can hand out the most Life Counts posters. “We start up chants,” Sarah volunteered, looking up from her Frappuccino with whipped cream. “Like ‘Fight Planned Parenthood.’ ”

Yoest put her arm around her daughter and finessed the slogan a bit. “We’re fighting Planned Parenthood to protect women,” she said. “When those babies aren’t born, that is a loss for their mothers, and that’s part of why they need a chance to live.”

It’s the kind of deft reframing of the abortion debate that has put Yoest (pronounced “yoast”) at the center of anti-abortion politics and enabled her to help push through the greatest number of abortion restrictions since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. In 2011, after Republicans made gains in statehouses across the country, 24 state legislatures passed 92 abortion restrictions — more than double the total for any previous year. The pace slowed in the first half of 2012, with 40 new provisions passed in 17 states. Around one-third of the bills, with names like the Abortion Patients’ Enhanced Safety Act and the Women’s Health Defense Act, were written by A.U.L. They made it impossible for clinics to operate in some states, made the procedure harder to access in the first trimester and barred it outright later in pregnancy.

Though she has helped usher in hard-hitting changes in women’s health care, Yoest is especially good at sounding reasonable rather than extreme. She never deviates from her talking points, never raises her voice and never forgets to smile. While the organization that she runs is relatively small — its budget is about half that of the National Right to Life Committee — her personal appeal gives her outsize visibility. She’s the one making the case against abortion on the PBS “NewsHour.”

“The pro-life side realized, to their credit, that they had to rethink their image,” says Frances Kissling, former president of Catholics for Choice. “A lot of people in the middle were looking at them and saying, ‘You care about the unborn babies, but what about the mothers?’ So they started talking about protecting women, too, and Charmaine Yoest is the perfect face for that.”

Yoest got into politics early. When she was a teenager, she and her brother went door to door for a Republican candidate for Congress. Yoest’s mother and father are academics and Protestant evangelicals, and though they opposed abortion as a matter of course, that position didn’t define their politics. It didn’t define Yoest’s initially either: after college, she turned down a job with A.U.L. to work in the Reagan White House. There she met Gary Bauer, then chairman of Reagan’s Special Working Group on the Family, and in the late 1980s moved with him to the conservative Family Research Council, where she worked on promoting adoption and child care. In the early ’90s, Yoest married and left the council to have a family and get a Ph.D. in politics from the University of Virginia. She directed a project on work-life balance in academia, writing a dissertation called “Empowering Shakespeare’s Sister,” about the effects of paid parental leave on achievement for women.

The work-life balance hit home when she got an offer to be senior adviser for Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign in 2008. Yoest didn’t think she could go on the road as the job demanded, but her husband, Jack, who now teaches business at Catholic University, said that she should. Eventually they took the children out of school and piled into the family Suburban to spend weeks campaigning. After Huckabee pulled out of the election, Yoest was offered the job running A.U.L. This time, she threw herself into the anti-abortion cause.

The Yoests live in a D.C. suburb (she asked me not to name it) where the politics skew liberal but where Yoest says she feels at home. In 2009, when she had six months of chemotherapy to treat breast cancer, the mother of one daughter’s classmate organized a lunch-making brigade for all the Yoest kids, and every school day, one family or another dropped off the lunches in a cooler by the front door. “We called it the magic fridge,” Yoest said. When she’s at one of her children’s baseball games or crew regattas and a parent asks about her work, she tries to deflect the question. “I tend to say, ‘Oh, gosh, it’s Saturday, it’s sunny — have you seen any good movies?’ ” she told me. After that, she’ll say she works at a nonprofit. If pressed further, she sticks to her TV talking points. “I explain that we work on moving forward legislation about informed consent, and making sure women get the best standard of medical care — the things most people agree on. So there’s a parallel between our public strategy at A.U.L. and my private discussions.”

None of this, however, means that Charmaine Yoest is a moderate. For all her emphasis on women’s health, her end goal isn’t to make abortion safer. She wants to make the procedure illegal. She leaves no room for exceptions in the case of rape or incest or to preserve the health of the mother. She believes that embryos have legal rights and opposes birth control, like the IUD, that she thinks “has life-ending properties.”

Nor does Yoest advocate for reducing abortion by increasing access to birth control. When I asked what she thought about a study, published in October, which found a 60 to 80 percent drop in the abortion rate, compared with the national average, among women in St. Louis who received free birth control for three years, she said, “I don’t want to frustrate you, but I’m not going to go there.” She referred me to a critique of the study’s methodology in National Review. “It’s really a red herring that the abortion lobby likes to bring up by conflating abortion and birth control,” she said when pressed on PBS last year. “Because that would be, frankly, carrying water for the other side to allow them to redefine the issue in that way.”

Yoest doesn’t like to speak this bluntly — she was taken aback when I reminded her of the PBS quote. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 November 2012 at 12:46 pm

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