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September 21. 2013 11:10PM

Pro-life leader says abortion rights don't empower women


Charmaine Yoest, president & CEO of Americans United for Life, during in interview at the New Hampshire Union Leader on Friday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Charmaine Yoest, president & CEO of Americans United for Life, during in interview at the New Hampshire Union Leader on Friday. At right is Ovide Lamontagne. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Charmaine Yoest wants to reclaim the Women's Rights Movement for her own.

Yoest is president and CEO of Americans United for Life, a national pro-life organization that focuses on the legal arena. The group is working to change states' laws, including in New Hampshire, and reverse the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade.

Yoest was here last week for a fundraiser to benefit the Care Net Pregnancy Center of Concord. She stopped by the New Hampshire Union Leader for an interview, along with Ovide Lamontagne, the Manchester lawyer and 2012 Republican gubernatorial nominee who became general counsel for AUL last May.

Yoest calls the pro-life movement "the great civil rights struggle of our day."

"We believe that abortion is about human rights for human beings," she said.

An evangelical Christian, Yoest is married and has five children. She counts herself "part of that generation that feels betrayed by the feminist movement."

It was that movement, she said, that linked female "empowerment" with abortion rights. And those on her side need to work harder to break that link, she said.

"Pro-life women have got to be a dynamic part of the conversation in rebutting this argument that we need abortion to be powerful in our culture because I find that to be a deeply offensive argument," she said.

"Frankly, women are the ones who have to speak up and say: I don't need abortion to be a powerful woman."

Yoest came to the pro-life cause later than most.

She has a Ph.D. in politics and a resume that includes serving as vice president at the Family Research Council and as senior adviser to Mike Huckabee's 2008 presidential campaign.

"Being involved in the larger pro-family movement and seeing the effect of abortions on women really did radicalize me," she said.

She took the helm at AUL in 2008 and wryly notes her "good timing."

"Don't you like joining a pro-life organization two months before Barack Obama is elected President and the economy goes south?"

Yoest calls Obama "the most pro-abortion President we've ever had" and says her organization has chosen to focus on changing states' laws. And it's having success, she said.

"We're seeing an absolute tidal wave of pro-life legislation coming across the states in the last two years."

AUL provides model legislation, including measures to ban abortion after 20 weeks, regulate abortion clinics and mandate "informed consent." The organization's focus this year, Lamontagne said, will be on "women's protection."

The Legislature here has rejected new restrictions on abortion in the past two sessions. But Lamontagne offered to work with lawmakers who want to sponsor such measures. "I'm an optimist," he said.

Rep. Kathleen Souza, R-Manchester, has already filed a Legislative Service Request for a bill to license outpatient abortion clinics.

Lamontagne said AUL takes a "common sense" approach: "This is the law, these are the opportunities; let's take the gains we can where we can and keep moving the ball forward."

AUL is also working on the national level, he said, filing amicus briefs in Oklahoma and Arizona cases that could end up before the Supreme Court.

For a long time, much of the pro-life movement focused only on unborn babies; women entering clinics often faced harsh treatment from protesters.

Yoest is trying to change the conversation.

"Abortion is about two people. A baby is destroyed in an abortion, but so is the woman. She's deeply, deeply affected by it, and that must be an essential part about any discussion about abortion."

Asked why government has any business getting involved in such a deeply personal decision, Yoest talks about women who have died after abortions, including Karnamaya Mongar, who died in a Philadelphia clinic. In May, the clinic's 72-year-old doctor, Kermit Gosnell, was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of three babies born alive during botched abortions.

"And I do not understand why the self-anointed defenders of women's health are not more concerned about the fact that women are dying in these clinics," Yoest said. "Why are they not marching in the streets?

Polls taken over the past three decades show deep division - but little change - in how Americans feel about abortion.

In a recent Gallup poll, 52 percent said they believe abortion should be "legal only under certain circumstances." Twenty percent said abortion should be "illegal in all circumstances" and 26 percent said it should be "legal under any circumstances."

So why hasn't the pro-life message taken deeper root in the American public?

"In any good murder mystery, you want to follow the money, right?" Yoest replied. "And the truth of the matter is that Planned Parenthood gets a million dollars a day in federal, state and local taxpayer money."

"They're practically an arm of the government."

Jennifer Frizzell, senior policy adviser for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said in New Hampshire, "Less than 20 percent of the money we get for providing health care services to low-income individuals and needy women and families comes from federal funds." The rest is from insurance and Medicaid reimbursement, fundraising and donors, she said.

Frizzell also said abortion represents less than 3 percent of the services her agency provides here.

Yoest said she hopes Roe v. Wade will be overturned in her lifetime. But she said there's an equal chance it "becomes irrelevant."

"I think that it's an anachronistic piece of constitutional jurisprudence that even legal scholars on the left agree was abysmal," she said.


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