Written by Wendy Norris for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.
Lost in the chaos of the U.S. House vote on health care reform and the machinations of Rep. Bart Stupak was an unexpected and unreported schism in the hard core anti-choice movement fueling the state "personhood" ballot drives.
A Nov. 15 letter that only surfaced this week reveals the stormy resignation of the founders of American Right to Life Action, a Denver-based political organization created after a high profile catfight with national anti-choice groups and James Dobson of Focus on the Family. In the correspondence addressed to its former ally Colorado Right to Life, the two leaders cryptically refer to an "incident involving a key person in the Personhood movement" among other unspecified reasons for their immediate departure from the group.
The sudden split by President Brian Rohrbough and Vice President Steve Curtis caps off a series of controversial antics at the tax-exempt nonprofit ARTLA. In its brief two year tenure the group sought to end abortion within an unexplained 12 year timeline, "challenge the ‘wicked courts’ and oppose ‘child-killing regulations’" through state ballot measures, like promoting constitutional rights for fertilized eggs.
The group’s first salvo was launched after national anti-choice activists praised the Apr. 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding restrictions on late-term abortion. Rohrbough, then president of Colorado Right to Life, lead a public relations assault with a veritable Who’s Who of the absolutist anti-choice faction who seek nothing less than an unequivocal ban on abortion, contraception and assisted fertility care.
Several weeks later, ARTLA published "An Open Letter to James Dobson" as full page newspapers ads condemning the incrementalist approach of the national groups who favor stacking Congress and the courts with reproductive choice foes to further restrict abortion services. But they reserved a special brand of vitriol for Dobson, whom the ads attacked as a "moral relativist" — a particularly nasty "your mother wears Army boots" insult in evangelical Christian circles.
Curtis signed the letter along with Operation Save America director Flip Benham, Human Life International president Rev. Tom Euteneuer and Judie Brown, president of American Life League. Denver Bible Church pastor Bob Enyart, who refers to himself as "America’s most popular self-proclaimed right-wing, religious fanatic, homophobic, anti-choice radio talk show host" also joined in.
The reaction to the ads was swift. National Right to Life immediately delisted its Colorado affiliate.
Rohrbough, a sympathetic figure in Colorado after his son, Danny, was tragically killed in the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, set about with Curtis, the former chair of the state Republican Party, and Enyart to challenge the street cred of the national anti-choice establishment by founding ARTLA in Nov. 2007 with the blessing of its ad partners.
The group feverishly attacked its former allies while promoting the "Abortion Vigilante Worksheet," a logically-convoluted justification for the so-called necessity defense infused with dark, violent Bible quotes.
And they wasted no time mixing it up on the presidential campaign trail to make their point. In Feb. 2008, ARTLA produced an email attack campaign and a series of television ads slamming Republican presidential primary candidate and Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney for his alleged flip flops on reproductive rights.
The group claimed credit for derailing Romney’s bid and then quickly upped the ante with increasingly more bold attacks on conservative Republicans they considered movement weaklings. Several month later in Sept. 2008, Enyart, his brother and a local anti-choice activist acting on behalf of the organization were arrested, fined and later jailed for staging a sit-in at Focus on the Family to protest Dobson’s endorsement of GOP presidential nominee John McCain, whom the trio also criticized for not being sufficiently anti-abortion.
In the meantime, ARTLA’s cause de jour — Amendment 48, the 2008 Colorado personhood ballot measure — was going down in flames and was eventually defeated in a 73-27 landslide.
Prior to the May 2009 sentencing for trespassing at Focus, the bombastic Enyart spurred fellow ultra-conservative Christian radio hosts to ambush acid-tongued conservative pundit Ann Coulter over her support of Romney. Said Rohrbough in a statement that accompanied ARTLA’s video of Coulter’s on-air freak outs:
Ann Coulter has misrepresented and even defended some of the most egregious and immoral behavior. When Ann covers up aggressively anti-marriage action, and pro-abortion legislation that actually funds the killing of unborn children, she apparently is motivated by a desire to distort the truth and deceive Christians for some personal gain.
So it all comes as more than a bit curious that Rohrbough and Curtis’ letter alludes to "the confusion of purpose that currently surrounds CRTL, Personhood CO and Personhood USA." All three groups are actively involved in a renewed but quixotic scheme to outlaw abortion, contraception, stem cell research and in-vitro fertilization in one fell swoop by awarding zygotes civil right protections via state constitutional amendments.
In a biting comment left at Jill Stanek’s blog about the dismantling of ARTLA’s leadership, Personhood Colorado director Gualberto Garcia Jones called Rohrbough and Curtis "irrelevant to our efforts."
Stanek attributes the falling out to Prolife Profiles, a Web site promising a rogues’ gallery of conservative icons ranked by their public commitment to promoting "personhood" laws. The site officially launched the day following Rohrbough and Curtis’ joint resignation letter. It attacks conservative heros Sarah Palin, Romney and others as anti-abortion hypocrites while holding up the Dobson ad signatories — including Rohrbough himself — as saintly paragons of the cause.
However, that would suggest a fairly drastic change of heart for Rohrbaugh and Curtis who were actively involved in and publicly crowing about ARTLA’s attacks on Romney, McCain and Coulter just two years ago.
One possible explanation for the rift is the letter’s mention about "recent press articles" — a reference to Garcia Jones’ penchant for spilling the beans about the true purpose of the personhood amendments. An Oct. 31 World Net Daily article extensively quoted the ex-American Life League legal analyst, who does not appear to be licensed to practice law in Colorado, about using the state measures to force a challenge to Roe v Wade in the courts.
That’s diametrically opposite the 2008 Colorado campaign, with which ARTLA was quite active, that religiously stuck to a strict set of talking points that avoided mentioning abortion or contraception bans. When an early spokesman dared to raise the specter of a Supreme Court case he was quickly hustled out of the campaign never to be heard from again.
It’s also just as plausible that ARTLA hasn’t quite become the cash cow and national force once envisioned by Rohrbough and Curtis, who jointly operate a nonprofit firm specializing in sinister anti-choice videos.
ARTLA has since missed three consecutive financial reporting periods this year though it contacted the IRS in Sept. to change its official name to "AMERICAN RIGHTS [sic] TO LIFE ACTION" a month after an RH Reality Check investigation into the finances of anti-abortion groups behind the personhood movement. It’s a fairly common political campaign trick to use misspellings and all capital letters to thwart efforts at tracking records in case- and keyword-sensitive search engines.
Aside the record-keeping shenanigans and dramatic resignation of its founders, the situation doesn’t look so rosy for the group.
In the last quarterly filing posted on March 18, 2009 reflecting the post-election period thru Dec. 31, 2008: ARTLA reported a mere $80 in receipts and a $2,000 expenditure. The big outlay? It was the second of two loan re-payments totaling $9,000 to a suburban Denver woman, who coincidentally happens to be an office worker employed by none other than Rev. Bob Enyart.