The pamphlets, handbills, and brochures sent a unanimous message: though ending the constitutional right to abortion was a long-awaited victory, there was still plenty of work to be done.
That is where lawmakers affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) could step in.
At ALEC’s 50th annual meeting, held in late July in Orlando, lawmakers were fed a steady diet of hardline anti-abortion materials by groups such as the National Right to Life Committee and Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America (SBA Pro-Life America).
“This is the moment we’ve been fighting for, some of us for decades, others just getting engaged,” one pamphlet proclaimed. “If we each do our part, we will WIN—beginning a new era in the pro-life movement where we finally use the law to save babies and protect mothers.”
As a bill-mill that peddles pro-corporate model legislation, ALEC shies away from publicly taking a stance on abortion and other controversial issues, having lost hundreds of members due to successful campaigns by progressive groups that shamed image-conscious corporations into leaving. Previous involvement in social issues “has not ended well for ALEC,” CEO Lisa Nelson said in 2021.
ALEC’s strategy to get around this self-imposed restriction has been to help create front groups and effectively outsource model legislation on controversial social issues, and to sell right-wing groups access to ALEC’s legislative members at convenings.
At this year’s annual meeting, hardline anti-abortion groups had open access to ALEC’s legislative members and came armed with materials filled with falsehoods and right-wing talking points.
Trading in Falsehoods
The materials anti-abortion groups circulated at the meeting contained substantial misinformation about fetal development and the safety of various abortion methods.
For example, the National Right to Life Committee, which considers itself the nation’s oldest pro-life organization, distributed materials that promote conflicting information about “fetal heartbeats,” a misnomer that actually describes cellular electrical pulses unrelated to cardiovascular activity.
In its 84-page report The State of Abortion in the United States, the group claims that a fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as 22 days after conception, while a different pamphlet circulated by National Right to Life’s educational arm claims that fetal heartbeats begin at 18 days and that “human life is conceived at fertilization.”
The same pamphlet promotes an “abortion pill reversal hotline” that claims to have received thousands of calls from “women who have changed their minds after taking the first drug.”
Despite more than 100 scientific studies that have confirmed the abortion pills mifepristone and misoprostol to be safe and effective, some of the information given out at the ALEC meeting claims that medication abortion poses imminent danger, including pregnant people perishing from “uncontrolled hemorrhages,” “ruptured ectopic pregnancies,” and “dangerous infections.”
The handout titled “Dangerous Mail-Order Abortion Pills” circulated by SBA Pro-Life America suggests that medication abortion is entirely unregulated and forces pregnant people to make significant medical decisions without the assistance of any medical professionals, despite the fact that abortion pills have been regulated by the Food and Drug Administration for more than 20 years. “Democrats say, ‘abortion is between a woman & her doctor’ but there’s no doctor anymore, not even a nurse,” the pamphlet reads.
Promoting Voter Suppression
In addition to promoting anti-abortion talking points, SBA Pro-Life America — the group formerly known as Susan B. Anthony List — also called for “election integrity” reforms, the Right’s coy term that uses disproven fears of widespread 2020 election fraud to justify a host of voter suppression measures. The group claims that they are working to pass “election integrity legislation” in order to “set the stage for electing a pro-life President in 2024.”
“Pro-life Americans deserve to have their voices heard in fair elections, which is why we’re working to pass election integrity legislation in the states and oppose the federal takeover of state elections,” the brochure states before including the link to the website of the Election Transparency Initiative (ETI), a project led by right-wing operative and former Trump appointee Ken Cuccinelli.
ETI was launched in February 2021 by SBA Pro-Life America and the American Principles Project with the express idea that making it harder to vote would make it easier to elect anti-abortion candidates, a fair assumption given that an overwhelming majority of Americans support access to abortion.
“The pro-life movement must engage in election transparency and integrity reform or their ability to elect pro-life, pro-family lawmakers — and pass laws that save lives — will be greatly diminished, if not extinguished,” Cuccinelli said in a press release.
Cuccinelli’s angst reflects a longstanding view among religious Right leaders that suppressing the vote helps them win elections and advance their agenda. Paul Weyrich, an early leader of ALEC and founding president of The Heritage Foundation, stated the connection most clearly. “I don’t want everybody to vote,” Weyrich told a gathering of supporters in 1980. “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
Correction: A reference to Support After Abortion materials distributed at the ALEC meeting was removed, as the group does not take a position on abortion bans.