At the recent August annual conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Dallas, one lunchtime presenter flashed a picture of Bruce Springsteen on a motorcycle, along with the lyrics to “Thunder Road.” The speaker said Springsteen represented “the personification of the American dream” and the “freedom” that ALEC members cherish.
Note to all of the conservative men who use Springsteen to make their political points: He isn’t with you!
On the other side of the wall, in the adjacent convention hall, were a half dozen groups working overtime to take away women’s most basic freedoms. These groups included Americans United for Life, National Right to Life, the National Pro-Life Alliance, and the Susan B. Anthony List, which supports candidates who are against the freedom to choose.
Contrary to ALEC’s professed themes of “limited government,” these groups want the government to have massive power in dictating women’s private medical decisions. Though ALEC professes to be about “getting government out of the way,” it unites with groups that put government in the examining room, between women and their doctors.
What ALEC, its affiliates like Club for Growth, and the anti-choice movement understand is that politicians who push the ALEC agenda to eliminate workers’ rights and corporate income taxes will also push the anti-choice agenda of outlawing abortion, especially when these groups spend thousands of dollars to support their elections and reelections.
After the 2010 Tea Party takeover in Congress and in governors’ mansions and state legislatures, the ALEC agenda of repealing collective bargaining rights for public employees, scraping environmental protections, and advancing voter suppression laws like Voter ID engulfed Wisconsin and the nation.
Simultaneously, an unprecedented number of anti-choice bills flooded state legislatures and became law. More anti-choice laws were enacted between 2011 and 2013 than were passed in the entire previous decade. According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than 200 restrictions on abortion have been passed by state legislatures since 2011.
The links between rightwing “free market” groups and the anti-choice movement at the national level have been researched and reported by RH Reality Check and Politico. ALEC funders Charles and David Koch have been creating pass-through entities like “Freedom Partners” to secretly funnel millions of dollars to anti-choice groups including Americans United for Life Action, Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee, and the Susan B. Anthony List.
The structure of these organizations and the complicated layers of pass-through entities shield the disclosure of individual donors, making the tracing of money virtually impossible.
In Wisconsin, this interconnection was recently revealed with the unveiling of documents from a second “John Doe” investigation of alleged illegal campaign coordination between Scott Walker and so-called independent groups. The Club for Growth was at the center of a scheme to coordinate with Walker and funnel money to independent groups to defeat recall efforts. The beneficiaries from this laundering network were not just business groups like Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, but Wisconsin Right to Life, which received almost $350,000.
Last year, Wisconsin Right to Life pushed through bills to force women contemplating abortion to undergo invasive vaginal ultrasounds, to require hospital-admitting privileges for abortion providers and to restrict medication abortion. Wisconsin Family Action, an anti-gay-rights group that also lobbied extensively for these anti-abortion policies, received $1.2 million.
In the ALEC convention hall in Dallas, anti-choice groups displayed their wares—dozens of model policies and pink or blue little feet pins to wear on your lapel (the colors are a recent addition). The National Pro-Life Alliance touted itself as more “grassroots than the other group,” but had a “niche” in pushing forced ultrasound bills, identifying Wisconsin as having one of the “strongest” (i.e., most invasive) ultrasound laws in the country.
The group leading the legislative charge, however, is Americans United for Life. It boasted that it had more than 50 pieces of “model” legislation, and it displayed over a dozen different model bills. Many of these “model” policies, including mandatory hospital admitting privileges for abortion providers, excluding abortion coverage from health care exchanges, and defunding Planned Parenthood, have already passed in Wisconsin.
As I chatted with the young woman in the booth about the group’s and its messaging shift towards the debunked notion that abortion hurts women, her male co-worker circled behind me, looking at my nametag and then my face. He finally stated, “You did a nice job at the hearing,” though he obviously had not enjoyed my testimony several weeks before in front of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in support of the federal Women’s Health Protection Act, co-sponsored by Wisconsin’s Senator Tammy Baldwin. This Act would invalidate state abortion restrictions that are not related to improving women’s health and safety and result in restricting access to abortion.
The American Life League guy later tweeted that I had taken all of their model bills and wondered if I had changed my position. I responded that I had not, but hoped that one day he would stop interfering with women’s personal, private decisions.
At ALEC conventions, you hear a lot of incessant talk about “freedom” and “liberty.” But ALEC is willing to disregard “freedom” and “liberty” when its political interests align with a movement committed to denying women their most basic freedoms and liberties.
Women know that we are in the best position to make decisions about our reproductive health care. We are in a better position than Scott Walker or the Koch brothers and even the American Life League guy behind the table. And no amount of Koch money will ever change that.
Wisconsin State Representative Chris Taylor writes about ALEC for The Progressive.