Controversy as new group challenges Georgia Right to Life for National Right to Life affiliation
NORCROSS, GA, March 26, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A scuffle within the pro-life movement in Georgia is brewing as a brand-new pro-life advocacy group has emerged in the state, announcing its intentions to replace Georgia Right to Life (GRTL) as the state affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC).
Georgia Life Alliance (GLA), which was founded March 13, notified GRTL in a hand-delivered letter this week of its plans to seek NRLC's state endorsement. Now NRLC must decide at its March 29 executive meeting whether to maintain its 43-year relationship with Georgia Right to Life, or give its endorsement to GLA. As a matter of policy, NRLC maintains official ties to only one pro-life group per state.
Dan Becker, president of GRTL, has condemned the challenge, saying, "This newly formed organization claims it will do a better job of promoting, pursuing and achieving the primary goals of National Right to Life. That's unbelievable since our guiding principles are the same as NRLC's."
But GLA founder Emily Matson told LifeSiteNews that she feels that after more than four decades of domination by GRTL, Georgia is ready for “exciting new representation” for the pro-life movement. She said her group represents “a long list of people” who want to expand the movement’s influence in Georgia. She said her group doesn’t want to supplant GRTL’s work so much as supplement it.
“Georgia Right to Life has been around a long time, and should not be concerned that there is another organization that wants to jump alongside of them in promoting the protection of life,” Matson told LifeSiteNews. “The people that are behind Georgia Life Alliance, some of them have worked with GRTL in the past, and some are just new people, new faces, with new ideas.”
Asked why GLA chose not simply to join forces with Georgia Right to Life, Matson said GLA will have a more expansive agenda than GRTL, focusing on issues like foster care and human trafficking in addition to abortion.
GRTL spokeswoman Genevieve Wilson told LifeSiteNews that she believes this broader agenda is one reason that GLA shouldn’t receive affiliate status from NRLC. “That’s fine, but then they wouldn’t be an affiliate of National Right to Life,” she said. “National Right to Life is a single issue organization.” Last August, NRLC had cut ties with Cleveland Right to Life after the state group criticized Ohio Sen. Rob Portman over his stance on gay “marriage,” citing its single issue policy.
Wilson argued that Georgia already has many groups devoted to foster care and trafficking issues, adding that GRTL has been seeking pro-life activists in Rome (where GLA was just founded) for some time without any of GLA’s founders volunteering.
Political compromise on rape/incest exceptions at heart of dispute: Erickson
According to GLA co-founder Erick Erickson, editor-in-chief of conservative blog RedState.com and a radio host, who has long been critical of Becker and GRTL, the biggest difference between GRTL and its newly-formed rival comes down to one thing: political compromise.
Since 2000, GRTL has frustrated some politicians by taking a no-exceptions approach to the life issue, refusing to endorse legislative proposals or political candidacies that make allowances for abortion in the case of rape, incest, fetal anomalies or the vaguely defined “health of the mother.”
Instead, GRTL believes the only exception to laws protecting unborn children from abortion should be to save the mother’s life – and then only if an attempt is made to save the baby, too.
NRLC also opposes all abortions, including in cases of rape and incest, but the group is willing to support legislation that includes the exceptions for political reasons. For example, during last year’s fight over the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in the U.S. House, NRLC raised no public objections when Majority Leader Eric Cantor added exceptions for rape and incest to the bill to head off a potential media feeding frenzy over a stray remark made by Trent Franks on the rape issue.
“Georgia Right to Life's stance against the 20 week abortion ban was not hardline; it was stupid,” Erickson wrote in an e-mail to LifeSiteNews. “It was the first pro-life legislation in years and they made a conscious decision to be on the side of abortion activists.” He accused GRTL of “political games,” putting strict ideology ahead of the lives of real babies.
In June, Erickson was even more brutal in his assessment of GRTL, calling the group “morally vacant,” “pharisaical,” and “the Westboro Baptist Church” of the pro-life movement in a blog post. He concluded, “We need a new pro-life group in Georgia.”
GRTL spokeswoman Wilson told LifeSiteNews that she believes if anyone is guilty of playing political games with babies’ lives, it’s those who support what she calls watered-down pro-life legislation that fails to protect some children because of the way they were conceived, or because they might be disabled.
“I don’t think anyone would come out supporting legislation saying we’re going to protect all children in the womb except those that are black. This is no different,” Wilson said. “Whatever the exception is, whether it’s race, whether it’s the way they’re conceived, whether it’s their abilities or disabilities, this is the number one social injustice, and people are willing to say it’s okay just so they can make political progress.”
“This isn’t about politics, it’s about morality,” Wilson added. “What is right and wrong at the most deepest core level. We’re talking about people’s lives. That’s what’s so troubling about all of this.”
Who’s-who political team backs GLA
Debbie Dooley, an Atlanta-based Tea Party leader and political insider, told LifeSiteNews she believes GLA was created for one purpose: to replace GRTL as the state’s NRLC affiliate in order to obtain pro-life endorsements for Republicans who do not meet the group’s standards.
She argued that GRTL's high standards haven’t hurt GRTL's political track record, pointing out that eighty-nine percent of Georgia Right to Life’s primary candidates have won their races, 113 in all.
“[GRTL] has been extremely successful here in Georgia,” Dooley told LifeSiteNews. “They’re the group pro-life activists look to, that everyone respects, even the elected officials. They don’t allow themselves to be co-opted by political consultants or even by political parties.”
Dooley observed that the board members listed on GLA’s founding paperwork includes a who’s who list of behind-the-scenes Georgia political operatives, most with strong connections to moderate Republicans who have been spurned in the past by GRTL.
“The Secretary of State's website shows board members of this newly formed group to be people never involved in the life issue. Never campaigning for life at the Capitol, and never heard of in the pro-life community,” she wrote in a Facebook post about the issue.
One member of GLA’s board is Lance Cooper, a personal injury lawyer who lost his 2004 race for state Senate after GRTL withdrew its endorsement when they learned he had donated thousands of dollars to pro-abortion Democrats at the federal level.
Cooper declined to give an interview for this story, referring LifeSiteNews.com to his former campaign consultant, Joel McElhannon, whom he described as “the coordinator, for lack of a better term,” behind GLA. However, McElhannon did not respond to requests for comment either.
LifeSiteNews did hear back from GLA founder Emily Matson, who adamantly denied any direct involvement by McElhannon with GLA, pointing out that his name is not on the founding documents. “Joel’s not an incorporator,” she said. “I’ve had no phone conversations with him about any of this.”
Another member of the GLA board is Kristin Radtke, who is married to Trip Radtke, a longtime friend of McElhannon’s and one of the principals of Stoneridge Group – a political direct mail firm that works hand-in-hand with McElhannon’s consulting firm to elect Republican candidates. LifeSiteNews.com reached out to the Radtkes, but did not hear back by press time.
Some of the Stoneridge Group's clients have sought and failed to secure GRTL’s endorsement – including Cooper as well as Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston, a Republican who self-identifies as pro-life, but who has consistently fought to include rape and incest exceptions.
Like Erickson, Ralston sees these exceptions as acceptable compromises, allowing Republicans from less conservative districts to vote for abortion restrictions with a reduced risk of backlash.
GLA’s views not yet formulated: founders
GLA's views are still a matter of speculation. When asked for specifics on their positions about hot-button Georgia life issues like limiting the number of embryos created during in vitro fertilization, or allowing for rape and incest exceptions, both Cooper and Matson were evasive.
“The group is still very much in the formation stage,” Cooper said, declining to give specifics.
“We’re formulating,” Matson also told LifeSiteNews. “We don’t have, or have not produced or published, our position on all of those issues. There are a lot of people involved in this, and so we are still finding our position on a lot of those things.”
In a blog post written in response to LifeSiteNews’ questions, Erickson elaborated that the group will at a minimum support privatizing the adoption and foster care system, birth certificates for stillborn children, and school choice. “A pro-life organization should support school choice because there can be no pursuit of life, liberty, or happiness if a child is forced into a failing government school with no way out,” he wrote.
But he stopped short of making any firm statements on the finer points of the abortion issue, other than to say he thinks it’s unfair for people to jump to conclusions about their views “without knowing who we are or what positions we will take.”
Matson told LifeSiteNews.com that NRLC should approve GLA's petition to become the official state affiliate, even though the group has not yet compiled its mission statement, because the one thing GLA's principals all agree on is that they will toe the NRLC line.
“Here’s the bottom line,” Matson said. “First and foremost, people that are involved in Georgia Life Alliance align and agree with the National Right to Life Committee and what it has done, and what it is doing so far. We definitely can all stand together on that point.”
Asked if that means her group will favor exceptions to abortion restrictions when seen as politically necessary, Matson said GLA wants “to stop any abortion that we can, okay? And so that would be Georgia Life Alliance’s position.”
“To the extent we can lessen the number of abortions that are being performed in our state in any way, we would do that,” Matson added. “Any abortion that is stopped by any new law would be an accomplishment for the Georgia Life Alliance.”
Both GRTL and GLA say they will continue on with their respective missions regardless of who NRLC chooses to represent them after this weekend’s meeting.
Calls and e-mails from LifeSiteNews to NRLC seeking comment for this article were not returned.