A coalition of pro-life groups is breaking with the national movement against abortion over its willingness to support legislation that includes exceptions for rape and incest.
The National Personhood Alliance (NPA), officially launched on Monday and headed by Georgia Right to Life (GRTL), has gained backing from national organizations like Personhood USA and local groups like Cleveland Right to Life. The organization views personhood, or the belief that humanity begins at conception, as the crux of the modern abortion debate. But it doesn’t plan to limit its activism to abortion issues. NPA also will address bioethical issues, including stem cell research, cloning, and reproductive technology.
“The pro-life movement is more than 40 years old,” GRTL President Daniel Becker said. “From its inception in the late 1960s, the focus has primarily been on ending abortion. Our concern must be expanded to encompass the dignity and value of each human being at any developmental stage through natural death.”
Some pro-life organizations, including National Right to Life (NRL), support legislation with exceptions for rape and incest. But NPA separates itself from both the exceptions approach and the “all-or-nothing” approach to pro-life legislation. Instead, the organization promotes “principled incrementalism,” said Genevieve Wilson, co-executive director of GRTL.
NPA’s policy supports incremental abortion bans, like fetal pain bills, except those with rape and incest loopholes. According to Wilson, rape and incest exceptions discriminate against babies based on how they were conceived. “We are singling out a class of human beings, and that is wrong,” she said. NPA does support exceptions for cases involving the life of the mother, but only after exhausting all other medical options.
In March, NRL voted to disaffiliate with GRTL due to disagreement over abortion exceptions. GRTL encouraged members of the U.S. House of Representatives to vote against last year’s federal Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, because it included exceptions. NRL considered the law a “top priority.”
NRL did not return several requests for comment for this story.
Becker described the ouster as “a tragedy” but said his group would stick by its 14-year-old policy of consistently opposing laws with exceptions for rape and incest. David O’Steen, NRL’s executive director, said earlier this year that his group and Becker’s share a long-term goal of eliminating abortion. But short-term, he said, the national group is willing to support legislation that reduces the number of abortions, even if it has exceptions.
And that strategy has helped save millions of lives, NRL President Carol Tobias said in March. “Until the Supreme Court allows broad protections for unborn children, we work to protect as many children as possible by passing the strongest possible laws at the state and federal level,” she said.
But for NPA, compromise isn’t an option.
“We must ensure that our strategies are consistent with our policies and objectives,” Becker said. “This is not like roads or highways or agricultural subsidies. When we compromise, someone dies.”
GRTL cites Georgia’s legislative success with the personhood approach as indication that the strategy will succeed nationally. Georgia has passed eight pro-life laws in the past 10 years, and none include exceptions for rape and incest. The emphasis on personhood is starting to catch on nationally. Last year, the North Dakota state legislature passed a personhood amendment, and Michigan has passed pro-life laws without rape and incest exceptions. Wilson also said that 16 states have active personhood organizations. But personhood movements have suffered losses in several states, including Mississippi, Florida, Virginia, and Washington.
NPA will hold its first convention in October, when individuals and groups who adhere to NPA’s charter will begin the election process for a national board of directors. Members also will work to identify future goals.
“The general consensus of many in the movement is that it’s time for a fresh strategy for ending the disregard for innocent human life,” Becker said. “This will require the application, politically and legislatively, of a higher standard than is currently embraced by most national pro-life groups today.”