Charmaine Yoest’s Cheerful War on Abortion
One day in the spring, I went with Charmaine Yoest, head of Americans United for Life, a pro-life advocacy group, to meet two of her five kids at a Barnes & Noble near her office in Washington. We sat down in the Starbucks corner of the bookstore, and James and Sarah, who are 8 and 11, told me about the March for Life on the National Mall. They go every year, scouting out heating vents to stand on when it’s cold and competing over who can hand out the most Life Counts posters. “We start up chants,” Sarah volunteered, looking up from her Frappuccino with whipped cream. “Like ‘Fight Planned Parenthood.’ “
Yoest put her arm around her daughter and finessed the slogan a bit. “We’re fighting Planned Parenthood to protect women,” she said. “When those babies aren’t born, that is a loss for their mothers, and that’s part of why they need a chance to live.”
It’s the kind of deft reframing of the abortion debate that has put Yoest (pronounced “yoast”) at the center of anti-abortion politics and enabled her to help push through the greatest number of abortion restrictions since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. In 2011, after Republicans made gains in statehouses across the country, 24 state legislatures passed 92 abortion restrictions — more than double the total for any previous year. The pace slowed in the first half of 2012, with 40 new provisions passed in 17 states. Around one-third of the bills, with names like the Abortion Patients’ Enhanced Safety Act and the Women’s Health Defense Act, were written by A.U.L. They made it impossible for clinics to operate in some states, made the procedure harder to access in the first trimester and barred it outright later in pregnancy.