An influential anti-abortion think tank says science is on its side

June 7, 2024
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The institute is often described as the anti-abortion movement’s answer to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy group that supports abortion rights. Skop and her peers have provided conservative officials with their own bench of experts.

“Abortion activists dominate the scientific community,” Skop told NBC News by email. “CLI research is one of the only voices to counter the biased, abortion-affirming research.”

Over the past decade, the institute’s studies, including ones assailing abortion medication and promoting crisis pregnancy centers that counsel women against abortion, have been cited by politicians and judges alike.

Mary Ziegler, a historian and expert on abortion law, said the group’s work may help give legislators “political cover.”

“The scientific arguments that CLI is making,” she said, “are just one more arrow in the quiver of legislators who already think abortion is contrary to God’s law.”

Named for one of the first female physicians in the U.S., the Charlotte Lozier Institute was launched in a different era for abortion rights. Roe v. Wade was still the law of the land, and Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America was working to elect candidates who would make it harder to access abortions.

The institute’s job, under the guidance of its founder and first president, Chuck Donovan, a veteran of the anti-abortion movement, was to provide data to help them. In a 2018 promotional video, a series of state lawmakers praised the group as a source of “facts” and “credibility.”

Kristi Hamrick, a spokesperson for Students for Life of America, said the institute plays a “very important role” by providing “an alternative scientific voice that looks at data” that groups like hers can use in their campaigns.

The institute’s influence extends to state legislatures, where its team testified in favor of bills that would prohibit most abortions after 20 weeks, and require that patients be told about a process called “abortion reversal,” a disputed treatment that abortion opponents claim can undo a medication abortion. 

Skop and others on the institute’s roster of staff and representatives are open about their religious beliefs. On a recent episode of a podcast affiliated with the American Family Association, a right-wing Christian activist group, she launched into a fierce critique of other abortion research.

“The abortion industry drives the narrative. They publish poor-quality studies. The mainstream media, of course, promotes abortion and picks it up,” she said. “So the American people have been gaslighted.”

In an interview, Rachel Jones, a principal research scientist with the Guttmacher Institute, said its work holds up under scrutiny. “We’ve been doing research for over 50 years on abortion, and we haven’t had any studies retracted,” Jones said, noting that the group is transparent about its data and its shortcomings. “Our track record speaks for itself.”

As patients with pregnancy complications in restrictive states like Texas go public with experiences of being denied treatment, the Charlotte Lozier Institute, like many anti-abortion groups, has argued that these have resulted from a misreading of the laws, rather than the bans themselves.

“Rather than blame pro-life laws when confused physicians have withheld emergency medical care, a result of abortion advocates’ fear mongering, state medical boards must provide guidance to clarify confusion, but many have not done so,” Skop said in a statement to NBC News.

But doctors have said the bans — which call for stripping medical licenses, and imposing fines or criminal charges on violators — create a chilling effect, and the institute itself cites guidance that discourages abortions as an emergency intervention.

When it’s necessary to perform what Skop calls a “separation of the mother and her unborn child” in the second trimester, she has cited the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, of which she is a member, in arguing that doctors should perform cesarean sections or induce labor, rather than an abortion procedure commonly called dilation and evacuation (D&E). More OBGYNs have the skills to perform C-sections and induction, Skop has noted, and in some cases they could preserve a chance of saving the fetus’ life.

Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi, an OB-GYN who practices in Texas, serves as the board chair for Physicians for Reproductive Health, which supports abortion rights. She sees recommendations like these as an attempt to limit doctors’ ability to provide necessary care. In many cases, she added, it’s clear that a fetus won’t survive, and to imply otherwise is misleading.

“They view it as more dignified in some way for the fetus,” she said of the institute’s stance that doctors should avoid D&E’s. “What’s left unsaid in that statement is that it’s at the expense of any dignity, humanity or care for pregnant people themselves.”

Skop pushed back on the assertion that some patients might prefer a D&E to induction in these cases, referring to it by a term commonly used by abortion opponents.

“When experiencing a tragic loss, I have never had a pregnant mother prefer a dismemberment abortion over induction because mothers want to hold and bury their babies, which assists in their grief,” she wrote.



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