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Abortion opponents have a new voice

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.'

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Yoest calls AUL the legal wing of the modern antiabortion movement. The group is fed by individual and foundation donations and has an annual budget in the modest ballpark of $4 million. Its bread-and-butter resource, in addition to its staff of seven attorneys and two paralegals, is its annual report – Defending Life: Proven Strategies for a Pro-Life America – which gives local law-makers resources for building their own bills. The telephone book-sized guide outlines which states are the friendliest, and not, for antiabortion legislation and ranks them on their laws governing legal recognition of the unborn and newly born, end of life matters, and bioethics, among other issues.

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"I think AUL has become the premier pro-life organization in the country," says Huckabee. "I think their approach has been far more objective, a great deal more thoughtful. They're working not toward just raising an issue, but also toward changing minds and hearts, engaging people in honest, thoughtful discussion as to why every life matters."

And that's what pro-abortion rights advocates worry about. It's easier to address an extremist adversary, not so one who talks with some sensibility about her underlying belief system. And perhaps it's why, time and again, when asked for direct reflection on AUL or Yoest, her foes prefer to deflect to a discussion of the ways her group's legislation fits into a larger effort to restrict the reproductive health freedoms of the nation's women.

Yoest's backers, of course, do not refrain from praise. Ellen Kolb, the legislative affairs director for New Hampshire's Cornerstone Action, a conservative public policy group involved in passage of that state's parental notification law, says the Republican sponsors of the state's bill went to AUL for guidance about what has worked across the nation. Ultimately, Granite State lawmakers in June overrode the veto of Democratic Gov. John Lynch.

"I know of no other organization that is a better clearinghouse for current legal information on life issues," Ms. Kolb says.

When a pro-abortion rights president is in the White House, the push at the state level is always more intense, observes Jordan Goldberg, state advocacy counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York. But she says she is "deeply troubled and of course angered by the agenda" AUL and others are pursuing.

"I don't know that I would be too proud of it if I were them," she says of AUL's collection of model bills. Ms. Goldberg says legislation passed so far this year – including AUL-backed clinic regulations so restrictive that in Kansas, for example, all three abortion providers would have had to close their doors – make it impossible for women to access the range of health-care services they need.

In Texas, the AUL-backed sonogram measure is under review of a federal judge. A Center of Reproductive Rights lawsuit asserted that the law hijacks the doctor-patient relationship and "imposes stress and emotional strain on women as they prepare to undergo a medical procedure."

"Basically these laws say to women, 'We don't trust you or think you know how to make a decision,' " Goldberg says. "These kinds of regulations, in addition to being clearly and overtly sexist, they are also somewhat insidious because they regulate the practice of medicine that is not based on standards of care."