I have had the privilege of working with a number of pro-life organizations over the last seven or more months. Iowa Right to Life, the Iowa Catholic Conference, Dubuque County Right to Life, Concerned Women for America (Iowa), Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, American Principles in Action, Iowans for Life, and others have worked tirelessly in unison all session to get meaningful pro-life legislation passed. Members of this coalition met before the session, designed a great legislative agenda, informed other stakeholders of the plan, and have stayed in lock-step through a very difficult session. I commend them.
The FAMiLY Leader, however, has been notably absent from this coalition. Why? Let’s explore the history:
The Iowa Family Policy Center (aka: FAMiLY Leader) has always avoided working with other organizations. They have never been one to join coalitions or share information with others on a consistent basis. Our opposition on many of the issues is too adept at coalition-building for this to be a winning strategy and IFPC/FL has been invited to participate many times to no avail. Would-be friends on the issues have navigated this relationship successfully for years and, in large part, respected IFPC (especially Chuck). Because Chuck Hurley was cheerleading efforts to keep Carhart out of the state through a late-term abortion ban as early as November, the coalition had little reason to worry. The FAMiLY Leader has owned the marriage issue, and it was assumed their focus was going to be on that issue.
On December 30, 2010, Chuck sent out an email to supporters mentioning Rep. Matt Windschitl was sponsoring a bill to ban late term abortions and stated, “We anticipate easy passage in the House…” No indication The FAMiLY Leader had any reservations about it, especially since Chuck had, at least privately, praised Nebraska’s late term abortion bill.
Three freshman Representatives surprised the pro-life community early in the session by actively working to defeat the late-term abortion ban until a “personhood bill” they authored was voted on. Their bill received support from most everyone in the pro-life community, making their resistance unexpected. The FAMiLY Leader sent out an email on January 14 stating it was “listening to both arguments in an effort to take a position…”
It became apparent by February that, even though the FAMiLY Leader was registered “undecided,” they were against the late-term abortion bill. They were lobbying against every bill that wasn’t “personhood.” They remained silent as our “friends” called us “evil” for championing the late-term abortion bill and other pro-life legislation we committed to before the session. This was done in spite the fact most of us registered “FOR” their bill and encouraged legislators the entire session to vote for all of them.
By March, we were seeing emails from Bob Vander Plaats insinuating existing pro-life organizations in the state were the “Old Guard” and claiming the FAMiLY Leader was now carrying the banner for the pro-life cause. Wow. And that, friends, is textbook bridge-burning – the kind of opportunistic and marginalizing behavior he has perfected over the years (two examples of many here and here). We saw emails go out misquoting and taking out of context political party platforms to justify their position, making the rest of the organizations working on the issue appear to The FAMiLY Leader’s supporters like they were abandoning the cause. The truth is, most of the organizations in the pro-life coalition, unlike The FAMiLY Leader, were registered in favor of ALL pro-life legislation – not just one long-shot bill!
Throughout the session, veteran public policy and political activists who were watching the situation kept saying “This isn’t the Chuck Hurley I know!” I agree. But Chuck no longer calls all the shots in his organization. We tried, consistently throughout the session, to convince supporters of the all-or-nothing pro-life bill to pass it and the other bills out of the House and fight the good fight with us in the Senate. No cooperation. The House did, however, pass it late in the session’s regular schedule – much to their credit!
In May, long after the session was scheduled to be over, Danny Carroll did some great work with us trying to make amendments germane to bills in the Senate protecting life and keeping Dr. Carhart out of Iowa. I still appreciate his help that day. The about-face for The FAMiLY Leader, however, had started.
And yesterday we see an email from The FAMiLY Leader letting their supporters know they are “‘…For SF 534 [late term abortion ban] as amended by the House.” This is, in large part, the same bill they tried to kill all session!
So, I applaud The FAMiLY Leader for registering in favor of the late term abortion ban! I especially applaud the Iowa House for passing the late term abortion ban TWICE in spite of the drama surrounding the issue!
I have been asked how The FAMiLY Leader could work against a bill and burn relational bridges all session and then be in favor of that same bill at the very end. Some in their school of thought have stated that they had to fight for their preferred bill first and solely and, when that was defeated, their conscience would then be freed up to support a “lesser” bill. If that is true, wouldn’t prudence dictate that, in the meantime, you should avoid burning every possible bridge to passage of that “lesser” bill? Wouldn’t prudence dictate that, as much as possible, one should keep a respectful relationship with your fellow Christian brethren and potential allies (Romans 12:18, 13:1, John 13:35, Matt 10:16)? Is name-calling and character assassination a Biblical value, especially when the target of the vitriol are organizations and individuals registered in favor of their bill and did nothing to stand in its way?
Some may say that The FAMiLY Leader felt they had to act alone and in conflict with their fellow believers in an attempt to find some relevance on an issue other than marriage after the lost momentum on the Marriage Amendment. Some contend they feared freshman Representatives and members of the media if they didn’t go their way. I hope that they are simply with us on the issue now. I also hope that The FAMiLY Leader learns to work cooperatively with other organizations, being willing to share credit and/or blame, for the good of the cause in the future. It’s clear they share the same convictions on the issue that the rest of us in the pro-life community do. It’s clear they want to adhere to a Biblical worldview as do many in the pro-life community. I question their prudential judgment – not their convictions.
Have we learned anything from this session? Time will tell. In any case, after more than five months of drama, I felt the sudden but predictable about-face needed context. The pro-life organizations around Iowa should be commended for taking the high road this year and (largely) not responding to the vitriol and slander spewing from surprising sources (Not, generally, from The FAMiLY Leader, although they remained silent). As an independent contractor, however, I am free to and promised that I’d publicly outline some of the context of the debate if it went down as it has and, as a man of my word, here it is. As of today, the Legislative session continues. Contact your Senators and ask them to act! It’s not too late!
(The opinions expressed in this post are mine alone)