“The [pro-life] opponents are engaging in some incredibly distasteful behavior to try to achieve their means,” said Gloria Totten, the founder of the Public Leadership Institute. “We have to arm progressive policymakers with bills that will help mainstream some of these issues. We are not going to let you cut this service off, and marginalize and villainize [abortion] and the women who decide to have this procedure.”
Abortion foes have long used bills pre-written by lobby groups to enact abortion restrictions in the states. To name just one example, in 2015 Arkansas enacted HB 1578, based on Americans United for Life’s “Women’s Right to Know Act,” which requires doctors performing abortions to describe “the probable anatomical and physiological characteristics of the unborn child.”
Just like Americans United for Life, the Public Leadership Institute uses a “playbook” of model pro-choice bills, which it hands over to advocacy groups and legislators. Some of their ideas strike aggressively at the other side. One bill would force crisis pregnancy centers to state plainly that they don’t provide abortions or other medical services—a blow to the organizations, many of which attempt to imitate abortion providers in an effort to persuade women to keep their babies.
Americans United for Life spokeswoman Kristi Hamrick acknowledged the similarity between the two, saying via email, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, meaning that pro-life legislators and advocates nationwide should be flattered by the abortion industry's backhanded acknowledgment that protecting life at the state level has been effective.”
Nan Little Kirkpatrick, from the Texas Equal Access abortion fund in Dallas, said PLI’s help was instrumental for her tiny, mostly volunteer staff. “I know how to get the people out, but writing a resolution is not really in my wheelhouse,” she said. PLI said it wants to get the “Abortion is Health Care” resolution introduced in Texas, as well.
In Minnesota, Representative Erin Murphy on Monday introduced the “Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act,” which would enshrine insurance coverage of birth control in state law. Murphy said she worries the Affordable Care Act will be repealed by the Trump administration, taking the law’s free access to birth control with it. (The contraceptive bill is not from PLI’s playbook. However, PLI believes Minnesota lawmakers will introduce another of its bills this month.)
PLI and other pro-choice groups, Murphy said, “bring together the legal research, policy work, and on-the-ground strategies and organizing in order to move people to support legislation like this.” A coalition of abortion-rights groups lobbied for the introduction of a similar contraception-coverage bill in New York recently.
In addition to PLI’s work, the Center for Reproductive Rights, famous for litigating the Whole Woman’s Health Supreme Court case that struck down abortion restrictions in Texas last year, is convening a gathering of progressive state legislators this June to discuss pro-choice legislation. In Virginia, the group pushed for the “Whole Woman’s Health Act,” which prohibits the enforcement of any abortion restriction that doesn’t have a legitimate health benefit.