Pro-Life Response to Roe: State Organization and Development
NRLC State Affiliates:
Grassroots RTL Power
By Dave Andrusko
"Whither the Democratic Party" is a recurring feature every time the party's embrace of abortion costs it another slew of seats in Congress and the Presidency. But when a political party is as tied to the Abortion Establishment's hip as Democrats are, pro-lifers take it with a grain of salt when a few prominent Democrats wonder aloud how to "handle" the abortion issue.
Not that the party shouldn't quickly jettison its militant support for abortion, as Professor Keith Cassidy's analysis on page 14 illustrates. The party's abortion-forever-and-always position has pushed out tens of millions of pro-lifers, whose departure has seriously weakened the party.
But even if some prominent Democrats are moderately sincere, having sold its birthright as a "party of the little guy" to win the support of NARAL and NOW and Planned Parenthood, for now the national Democratic Party will only make conciliatory-sounding gestures.
More quietly but just as regularly is another post-election feature. In panels you see aired on C-SPAN prominent Democratic Party strategists will demonstrate a grudging admiration for the one asset money can't buy pro-abortion Democrats - - the Pro-Life Movement's grassroots strength.
Pro-lifers have two prominent assets. The cause they champion is right and just, and they have an unrivaled presence in cities and towns and hamlets across the nation. But how has that come to pass?
While each NRLC state affiliate is different, there are many commonalities. With respect to importance, explains Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Executive Director Scott Fischbach, at the top "is identifying pro-lifers and educating local chapters whose day-to-day work is critical to success."
Fischbach told NRL News that MCCL has 241 chapters, 77,000 contributing families, and 500,000 identified pro-life households. "More than ever MCCL reaches out to newcomers to find out where they stand on abortion," he said. If they oppose abortion, they are invited to join MCCL.
And making contact with people new to the neighborhood is just one of the many ways MCCL identifies pro-lifers. This day-in, day-out outreach allows the organization to grow in its ability to pass legislation, which includes a Woman's Right to Know Law.
In the upcoming session, MCCL will propose the "Positive Alternatives Act," which would provide women with a wide range of resources through pregnancy care centers, adoption agencies, and maternity homes.
In the fall, MCCL "takes the office on the road," Fischbach told NRL News. Four nights a week, during September and October, staff members meet for two-hour training sessions with local chapter members "to explain what we've done in the previous year and what we plan to do - - educationally and at the state legislature." This year, MCCL conducted 56 such gatherings, with another 10 specifically geared to Minnesota's rapidly growing Hispanic population.
Such persistent outreach explains why state affiliates such as MCCL and Arkansas Right to Life (ARTL) are able to pass pro-life legislation, change public opinion, and, through their PACs, are able to provide pro-life candidates for public office with an average net advantage on the abortion issue that is as high as 8% to 10% in Minnesota.
Rose Mimms, ARTL executive director, told NRL News that "our outreach has greatly improved our presence in the community and given us a very positive image." So how is ARTL working to meet its goal of having a chapter or contact person in every one of the state's 75 counties?
Like MCCL, "We have petitions at every county fair, which is very helpful," Mimms said. "We continue to start new programs, such as Black Americans for Life, which educates a population targeted by abortionists and brings new people into our local and state organizations."
Working in a relatively small state, ARTL has become expert at using free or low-cost communication, such as radio, the Internet, and the yellow pages. "And we are putting on more and more events, such as the recent visit by Angela Franks (author of the forthcoming book Margaret Sanger's Eugenic Legacy)," Mimms said.
ARTL has also succeeded in passing legislation. Since 1997, it has passed a ban on partial-birth abortion: a "Fetal Protection Act," which amended the state homicide law to make the killing of an "unborn child" of 12 weeks or greater gestation murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree, manslaughter, or negligent homicide; and enacted a Woman's Right to Know Law.
Holly Gatling, executive director of South Carolina Citizens for Life (SCCL), illustrates the range of experiences executive directors bring to their job. While Fischbach worked as a political organizer and Mimms in retail sales, Gatling was a reporter for 20 years, including 14 years with South Carolina's largest daily newspaper, The State.
Asked how she measured SCCL's progress, Gatling cited two criteria. "Our principle gauge is the declining number of abortions, which are down 53% since 1988, and the correlation between this reduction and our ability to pass pro-life legislation," she told NRL News. "Since 1990 pro-lifers have passed seven life-protecting laws and have been successful in modifying other, potentially pro-abortion legislation to keep them abortion-neutral."
This has been possible by bi-partisan outreach. "In West Virginia, we work closely with both parties," said Karen Cross, executive director of West Virginians for Life. "Without the support of our pro-life Democrats and our pro-life Republicans, the many successes we have achieved in recent years would not have been realized.'"
Cross added, "We anticipate the passage of several pro-life bills under the leadership of our new pro-life governor and the majority of both state houses."
All four executive directors agreed a major ingredient in continuing success is harnessing the power of an increasingly pro-life younger population.
"We have made a huge outreach to young people to be sure they get the pro-life message," Fischbach said. At any one time, there are 3 to 12 interns working in the MCCL office, and MCCL maintains a working relationship with 15-20 pro-life college organizations.
But nothing has been more effective than the "Student Day at the Capitol," Fischbach said. "The first year we planned for 100 participants and two hundred arrived."
The second year MCCL planned for 200 and 400 came. "This year we capped it at 500," Fischbach said. "We could have had even more."
Students who come from around the state first meet with the MCCL staff at the Capitol in St. Paul, where they hear about the legislative agenda for the upcoming year. Then they meet with legislators.
"The kids are great with them," he said. "Students won't take no for an answer." If a legislator gives them a "wishy-washy" answer, as some will try to do, "they'll pin them down," Fischbach said. "They are really awesome."