Anti-Abortion Activists Air Their Drama via Presidential Race

American RTL 3, Romney 0”: So boasted a press release from a new and little-known anti-abortion group. American Right to Life Action, a 527 that formed in November, seems to be dedicated entirely to opposing Mitt Romney.

The group started with an ad in Iowa (“Mitt Romney, willing to sacrifice children, lying for your vote,” it concluded), although it’s not clear how widely it was placed. “We have tested this ad with focus groups,” said the group’s president, Steve Curtis, “and it has everyone laughing, laughing with us, at Mitt Romney for being such an obvious liar about the most important issue for any leader in America: abortion.” ARTL updated the ad for South Carolina, while issuing press releases denouncing Romney endorsers Bob Jones III and Ann Coulter. And in Florida, the group sent out half a million anti-Romney e-mails. “The evidence is indisputable — Mitt Romney is lying to get Christian votes,” said Brian Rohrbough, the ARTL’s vice president.

According to Curtis, ARTL “went head-to-head” with Romney, who indeed lost those three elections—although claiming credit for Romney’s losses is somewhat analogous to the American Family Association’s constant boasting that its anti-gay boycott is the cause of the Ford Motor Company’s rust-belt woes.

But despite its dogged pursuit of Romney, ARTL is not your typical flash-in-the-pan anti-Mitt outfit (like Janet Folger’s new front group). One clue was this gratuitous swipe at the National Right to Life Committee after the latter endorsed Fred Thompson:

Denver-based “American Right To Life Action also calls National RTL’s support of Mitt Romney a betrayal of the innocent,” said Curtis. NRTL is playing the odds, and “doubled down,” officially endorsing anti-human life amendment Fred Thompson, while supporting their own longtime general counsel for serving as a “key advisor” to the Romney campaign. “The Republican National Committee has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to NRTL, which calls into question NRTL’s loyalty to the unborn,” added Curtis, “especially now that its political architect, James Bopp, is endorsing a pro-abortion candidate like Mitt Romney who plainly lies to deceive pro-lifers.”

Huh? Paul Weyrich, a Romney backer, accused NRLC of selling out when it picked Thompson, but it seems a little far-fetched to make it out to be a secret, Br’er Rabbit-like endorsement of an opposing candidate.

In fact, American Right to Life was founded to counter the National Right to Life Committee, which ARTL vice president Rohrbough calls the “Judas” of the anti-abortion movement.

Last year, Rohrbough—who also heads Colorado Right to Life—was at the center of a factional dispute between anti-abortion groups. A coalition of absolutists placed newspaper ads attacking James Dobson, a hero on the Religious Right, for his supposed backsliding. The offense? Dobson had praised the Supreme Court for upholding the “Partial Birth Abortion Ban”—a major shift in the court’s stance on reproductive rights, but short of a total ban.

The National Right to Life Committee jumped to Dobson’s defense, only to have its own Colorado state affiliate fire back:

“What happened in the abortion world is that groups like National Right to Life, they’re really a wing of the Republican Party, and they’re not geared to push for personhood for an unborn child — they’re geared to getting Republicans elected,” he said. “So we’re seeing these ridiculous laws like the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban put forward, and then we’re deceived about what they really do.”

NRLC dropped its ties with Colorado RTL, setting up a division between absolutists and incrementalists: the latter backing candidates and stressing judicial nominations, while Rohrbough and friends turned to “personhood” amendments and came together to form American Right to Life.

So far, the dispute has kept to bitter comments—and to the presidential race—but Curtis and Rohrbough should watch their back: A previous NRLC knock-off, also called American Right to Life, was sued by NRLC and that “Judas” Bopp several years back.