Steven Aden, chief legal officer and general counsel for Americans United for Life (AUL), one of the country’s preeminent pro-life legal organizations, discusses recent anti-life legislation as well as AUL’s annual Life List, a ranking of every state in regards to the status of their pro-life laws. Aden focuses on North Carolina’s placement specifically, and what can be and is being done to move our state higher in the rankings.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thank you for joining us for Family Policy Matters. Many of us have been horrified—and even sick—in recent weeks when we’ve heard about efforts in various states across our nation that are on an abortion bandwagon. Several states like New York, Virginia, Rhode Island, and Vermont have attempted to, or successfully expanded, abortion laws to horrifying degrees. New York even did so on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade as a symbolic gesture that just shows how far this battle has gone.
Each year, Americans United for Life, one of the country’s preeminent prolife legal organizations, evaluates the status of laws protecting the unborn in all 50 states across the nation and publishes its annual Life List. This year North Carolina ranked a disappointing 23rd on AUL’s Life List.
Today we’re joined by AUL’s Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel, Steven Aden, to discuss the status of pro-life laws nationwide, and what we here in North Carolina can learn from the top-ranked states. Steven oversees all legal operations at AUL. He has appeared in court dozens of times to stand up for life and against the abortion industry, including having been appointed by the attorneys general of six states to defend pro-life laws.
Steve, welcome to Family Policy Matters. It’s great to have you on the show.
STEVE ADEN: Well, thank you John, it’s great to be here.
JOHN RUSTIN: We appreciate your time and appreciate your great work. Steve, as we begin our conversation, tell us about Americans United for Life’s annual Life List. What does it take into consideration and how long has AUL been producing it?
STEVE ADEN: I’d be happy to John, thank you. Americans United for Life has been around since 1971, two years before Roe v. Wade. We’re the oldest and most active pro-life organization in the US. For the last 15 years or so, we’ve been issuing what we call our annual Life List, right around the time of the March for Life. We issue a list of rankings of all the states, 1-50, in order of their commitment to protecting the sanctity of life. We issued our 2019 AUL Life List several weeks ago. Some states have moved up, others have moved back. As you mentioned, North Carolina is at number 23, but showing some good leadership among the states in protecting life.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, thank you for that information and all the great work and information that you all provide. This Life List is important so that folks around the country can see, in comparison with other states, how their state is performing. They can also see areas for improvement, and areas where they may need to really consider changing their laws in order to become more pro-life. Steve, from your perspective, what were the major takeaways from this year’s Life List analysis?
STEVE ADEN: Well John, a number of states have shown very strong gains; we call them our stars. In fact, three states shot up by three points, or three spaces, if you will. For example, Nebraska is up to number 10 from 13. Nebraska this year defunded the abortion industry in its appropriations legislation. Alabama is another good example of a state star; they’re up three from 18 to number 15. Alabama amended its Constitution to declare there is no right to abortion and no right to public funding of abortion, and that was passed by a wide measure of Alabama voters. Similarly, in West Virginia, they moved up three from 30th number 27. They also amended their Constitution to declare that there’s no right to abortion and no right to funding. That vote last year was a come-from-behind victory that really showed the pro-life stripes of the state.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well congratulations to those states. We certainly want North Carolina to enter that kind of company, and hope to do so in the near future. Now, the 2019 Life List was published, Steve, before news broke about New York and Virginia’s radical abortion proposals that we’ve heard much about recently. Let’s start with New York: how does the adoption of the “Reproductive Health Act” change the status of abortion in the Empire State?
STEVE ADEN: New York has done so much, even before Roe v. Wade, to promote and encourage abortion on demand. But, even New York found new ways, amazingly horrific ways, to promote abortion in this recent bill. One of the things it does is it strips out of the State Statutes any protections for babies born during an abortion. It strips out what is called the “Born Alive Infant Protection Act.” Second, it strips out all references to abortion in the criminal code. What that does is it makes it harder for prosecutors to prosecute an abortionist who does such a bad job that it’s criminally negligent, or even manslaughter. It also eliminates a supervision that calls on County Coroners to do an autopsy on a woman who’s died in an abortion, if you can believe that, as a way of hiding the connection between abortion and death. Last year an abortionist in New York, in Queens, Dr. Robert Rowe, pled guilty to negligent homicide for killing a woman in an abortion. That kind of prosecution will be much more difficult now in New York, unfortunately, due to the law that Governor Cuomo signed. It does other things, but the point I make about New York is “What more could New York do to promote abortion on demand?” It’s sad and horrifying that it’s stripping out these protections in law, but in point of fact, it’s always been an abortion destination even before Roe v. Wade. Yet, if you look at the numbers of abortions done in New York they continually drop year by year, and by large numbers, dropping like a rock. That tells us that whatever the pro-life movement is doing in New York, and generally across the US, it really should keep doing because it’s saving a lot of lives and driving down the demand for abortion.
JOHN RUSTIN: Now Steve, closer to home for us here in North Carolina, Virginia recently considered another horrific abortion bill. One of the delegates even admitted in committee testimony that the bill would allow abortion even after the mother went into labor. Virginia’s newly elected governor, Ralph Northam, who is a pediatric neurologist, went so far as to say, and I quote, “If a mother is in labor the infant would be delivered, the infant would be kept comfortable, the infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired. Then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.” I guess he means a discussion of whether the baby lives or dies. What do you make of all this? It was really not only disturbing, but incredibly surprising to many of us who heard these remarks.
STEVE ADEN: Once in a while the mask slips and you get a glimpse of how horrible abortion really is, and what abortion advocates really propose. The governor here was given an opportunity to walk those comments back and he doubled down. He really didn’t have a choice because if he had separated himself from the agenda of radical abortion on demand all throughout gestation, Planned Parenthood—that’s given him millions of dollars in donations—and other organizations on the left, would have cut him off at the knees. That’s the way they are now. You’re finally understanding what the liberal pro-abortion agenda really entails. It entails the right to obtain an abortion at anytime, for any reason, from anyone—it doesn’t have to be a doctor anymore—and to have it paid for by you and me. So the horror is two-fold: first, the horror is hearing a elected official defend infanticide; but second, seeing finally that this is really their political agenda. Despite what Governor Northam has said, it’s not true that most of these abortions happen because of so-called fetal defects. That would be an absolute shame if that were true, because especially babies that have challenges in life deserve life, love and compassion, and not to be dismembered. As a doctor, he should know better. He should also know that what he described is a little bizarre: the mental picture of a baby lying on the table between life and death while the doctor and the mother debate whether the baby should live or die. That’s not really how it happens. The doctor and the mother, before the baby is delivered, decide if the baby’s viable or if it has a chance at viability. If it does, what they will do too keep it, resuscitated and strengthen it. All those decisions are made before birth, so I don’t know what he’s talking about, but I do just assume that he got caught flat-footed in trying to defend the truly indefensible procedures.
JOHN RUSTIN: It did seem like the curtain was pulled back some and we got to see a vision of what we know already occurs. Now Steve, AUL ranked North Carolina, as we’ve already talked about, in the middle of the pack at number 23 on this year’s Life List. From your perspective, what has North Carolina done well and what are some areas that we can improve in?
STEVE ADEN: Oh, it’s done a lot. It’s taken steps to protect the health and welfare of women and unborn children. It’s enacted a prohibition on sex selection abortions. The Informed Consent law protects unborn victims of violence from conception until birth. Our rankings are comprehensive though; it’s not just about abortion. It’s about suicide by physician, it’s about human cloning, destructive embryo research. In some of those areas, North Carolina lags a bit behind. In our report and recommendations for North Carolina this year, we’re recommending things like enhancing the penalties and enforcement mechanisms for abortion laws, enhancing regulation of RU-486—drug induced abortion—strengthening parental involvement, things like that. But it’s already obviously a pro-life state. There are many good minded folks there, so our hats off to the Tar Heel state. It’s one of my favorite places, I love to come down and visit.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thanks for those recommendations, and I will say that it’s not from a lack of effort and a lack of trying on many of the issues that you mentioned where we could improve. We have had bills introduced and have been advocating for those for years, and just need folks to get involved. We need citizens across the state to engage and contact their legislators and let them know how important those initiatives are.
Steve, as we close our conversation I kind of want to end on that note and just ask you from your experience, especially as we look at protecting life from the youngest ages to the oldest ages, how important is it for citizens to get involved and engaged and to contact their elected officials to express their interest and concerns about these issues?
STEVE ADEN: Oh, I can’t overstate how important that is. Legislators need to know that folks, by and large, especially in places like North Carolina, really care about life. It is a from-conception-to-the-grave commitment to bringing everyone into the human community and affirming our status together as made in the image of a loving, heavenly father. To the extent that legislators can hear that from more and more people, they’ll understand what they need to do and who they’re accountable to. Another thing to do is they need to get involved in 40 Days for Life, in pro-life pregnancy centers, mother’s ministries, men’s ministries, discipling men on how to take care of the family, how to take care of children, and how to be true to their commitments. All of those things make for a culture of life. Those are the things that Americans United for Life stands beyond.
JOHN RUSTIN: Before we leave, Steven, I want to let our listeners know where they can go, as you mentioned several times during our conversation, to gain access to a lot of the great information that Americans United For Life has on your website, and that’s AUL.org. I definitely want to encourage folks to avail themselves with those great resources, including the 2019 Life List.
And with that, Steven Aden, I want to thank you so much for your great work and for being with us on Family Policy Matters.
STEVE ADEN: Thank you John, and God bless you and your listeners.
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