A new anti-choice organization meant to be an even more extreme version of the National Right to Life Committee has picked its first president — and they chose someone who embodies the growing schism within the anti-choice movement.
The National Personhood Alliance, which was formed last month by a disaffected former Georgia affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee, announced last week that it had named Molly Smith, president of Cleveland Right to Life, as its first leader.
Cleveland Right to Life caused a stir in the anti-choice movement last year when it vowed to oppose the reelection of Sen. Rob Portman, an abortion rights opponent, because of his support for marriage equality. This prompted National Right to Life president Carol Tobias to send Smith a letter informing her that her chapter could no longer be affiliated with the national group because it “embraced an advocacy agenda that includes issues beyond the right to life.” Smith then fought back, blasting National Right to Life for distancing itself from anti-gay politics in order to keep the support of Sen. Portman.
The most prominent split in the anti-choice movement is about the strategy of allowing rape and incest exemptions to abortion bans — National Right to Life has supported bills that include exemptions, arguing that such bills are better than no legislation at all, while the National Personhood Alliance’s members oppose any hint of compromise in abortion bills.
But Smith’s appointment as the new group’s president highlights the larger divide within the movement. As the anti-choice movement’s leaders get savvier about pushing their message to a wider audience in ways meant to appear more moderate (pushing for “health” regulations that close clinics rather than picketing them, for instance), they are inciting a backlash among those who see anti-choice activism as an integral part of a larger war.
Leaving the issue of LGBT rights alone is a smart strategic decision for leading anti-choice groups, as is the willingness to accept “compromises” like rape exceptions. But by rejecting this kinder, gentler makeover of the movement, the National Personhood Alliance reminds us of what is still at the heart of the opposition to abortion rights.