Thursday, May 13, 2010

Shame on you, Arizona Right to Life

At the risk of burning a lot of bridges, I am going to share some things about my recently-ended employment, and about a conversation I had yesterday.

The non-profit for which I worked was Arizona Right to Life, which prides itself on being the oldest, largest, and strongest pro-life organization in the state. Well, it may be the oldest, but I do not believe it is either the largest, or the strongest, anymore. I'll say this up front: I believe that everybody there truly wants to save babies. And I even believe that they believe that what they think or do is the best way to do it.

There were some things I enjoyed about working there: I got to meet some amazing people: Congressmen Trent Franks, Sam Brownback and John Shadegg, countless Arizona State Representatives and Senators, Dr. David Prentice, Jim Sedlack, Joseph Scheidler, Janet Porter, Dr. Alveda King, Father Frank Pavone,  Bobby Schindler, and other amazing people who have worked tirelessly and thanklessly doing this incredible thing of saving babies. I never would have had a chance to rub elbows with these folks if not for my position at AZRTL and for those opportunities, I will always be grateful.

I have also had some amazing coworkers. AZRTL has a terrible habit of hiring tremendously talented people and then under-utilizing their talents. But every single one of my coworkers over the past 5 years has given their best anyway, and strived to function as best they were able in the parameters they were allowed.

However, I also believe that several people in leadership there have gotten caught up in politics, to the detriment of the organization and its credibility and effectiveness.

I resigned  for two main reasons: one was due to personal conflicts with the leadership which I won't detail here. The other was because the organization refuses to get involved in Embryo Adoption and to treat embryos in dishes and freezers as equally important lives as babies in the womb.

I was the Events Coordinator.  One of my jobs was to plan the Annual Pro-Life Conference. The conference typically offers a combination of joint sessions, and topic specific workshops. The workshops can be either specific or generic, and can essentially cover any pro-life issue. Sometimes it's broad like "Abortion: Just the Facts" and other times, it's very tightly focused like, "using Social Media to promote the Pro-Life message."  Sometimes it applies to everyone, at other times, it's been specifically for one group, such as post-abortive women, leaders of local chapters of AZRTL, men, college students, whatever.

To their credit, the conference we put on last year was incredible. It really was. I think it was effective, informative, relevant, and dynamic. I know that I was a major contributor to that success, but I also know that the relationships the organization has established over the years with pro-life leaders around the country, and the talent of my wonderful coworker (the Director of Education), Melanie, were huge factors, too.

I went to Melanie last year when we were putting together the curriculum for the event and mentioned that I wanted to offer a workshop on Embryo Adoption. Embryo Adoption is without question, a pro-life issue. 400,000 embryos are in frozen storage in this country.  There are 5 options for these lives: the parents who had them created can choose to transfer, carry, birth and raise them; the parents can donate them to Embryonic Stem Cell or other kind research, all of which kill the embryo; the parents can ask the lab that stores the embryos to destroy the embryo; the parents can leave them frozen indefinitely and when the bill for their storage stops being paid and/or the parents die, the embryos will be destroyed; or, the parents can place the embryos for adoption with another couple, who will transfer, birth and raise them. Obviously, number 1 is the best option, but the reality is that some people won't choose that, and some people can't choose that, even if they wanted to. Of the 4 remaining options, only one respects the life, dignity, personhood, and individuality of the embryo: Embryo Adoption. All others treat the embryo like it is non-human, disposable, and/or research material.

So, it should be a no-brainer that it's a life issue, and that a pro-life organization would affirm this. Our boss interjected and said that the conference would not cover the issue, because Embryo Adoption fell outside their mission. Excuse me?

The mission of Arizona Right to Life is:
The mission of Arizona Right to Life is to restore respect for and promote the protection of all innocent human life - the unborn, the elderly, the chronically ill, people with disabilities and others who cannot speak for themselves. Ultimately, our mission is to preserve, protect and promote the sanctity of innocent human life. Arizona Right to Life is a non-sectarian, non-partisan, non-profit, 501(c)4 organization committed to articulating and protecting the right to life of all human beings, born and unborn. (Emphasis mine)

Which part of Embryo Adoption falls outside that mission statement? No one has ever been able to explain that to me. I was also told it was too specific, which is silly because they did lots of workshops on very specific topics.

They did say that they also object because they fear it would be perceived as an endorsement of IVF. That's just ridiculous, because babies are conceived through LOTS Of ways they find objectionable, and that doesn't mean the babies that result don't need our support and protection, nor does it  mean that anyone has ever said Arizona Right to Life supports THOSE things, even though they support life for the children. Arizona Right to Life MUST learn to separate the circumstances of conception from the child's life and its worthiness of protection. Your position on IVF is irrelevant to whether or not the child who results from it is worth your advocacy.

Some have even said that a promotion of EA would result in people doing IVF JUST to place the embryos for adoption. They must not know how expensive, painful, invasive, and emotionally distressing IVF is. No one goes through it just to give away the end product. And some say it might encourage couples who might not have done IVF before, to do it now, knowing that they can do EA with their "extras." Well, I guess that's a risk we have to take in order to save the other 400,000.  And we would never say that we shouldn't support traditional adoption because it encourages teenagers to have sex. This is the same thing. It might be an unfortunate end result, but so far the data doesn't support that, and the fact remains that there are still 400,000 in peril while we do nothing.

Without ever saying it, I think a huge part of it is the refusal of the Catholic church to support Embryo Adoption.  This is purely speculation on my part and I own it as such, but a lot of the leadership of the organization is Catholic and I think they are hesitant to take a position on something that their church might still (wrongly!) denounce. But like I said, I'm just speculating. And if that's not the reason, damned if I know what the reason is, because none logical exists. Other Right to Life Groups (Georgia, for example) support Embryo Adoption, so refusing to support EA is not part of the organization's national program or creed.

I almost resigned at that time. But I thought that I would try to stay on, and perhaps change some minds, and increase the awareness about EA. But I've been unsuccessful.

Yesterday, I had a talk with one of the organization's board members, John Jakubczyk, who was Vice President until recently, and President of the organization for years before that and who has been around the pro-life movement in Arizona and Arizona Right to Life since they started. The conversation was public, in front of many other people. Nothing about the conversation was private or confidential.

The AZRTL PAC was meeting last night to vote on whether to endorse JD Hayworth, or John McCain for Senator in our state.

As long as I've worked there, the policy that was always told to me about our endorsements was:

  • That the most pro-life candidate receives the endorsement

  • That all other things being equal, the incumbent receives the endorsement for all the hard work and pro-life votes they've already offered

  • The candidate must be electable in their estimation

This policy has never (or at least, not for 5 years) been written down (until I asked them to do it recently for the new website they're designing), but it was consistently what I was told to tell people when I answered the phone, I've distributed hundreds of voter guides with that explanation, and they've told candidates they don't qualify because they've failed to meet one of those criteria.

I debated John yesterday, who expressed his desire that the PAC endorse McCain. John J is a voting member of the PAC.

To address the points above:

  • John McCain and JD Hayworth are not equally pro-life.  Senator McCain has a 75% Pro-Life voting record, according to National Right to Life. JD Hayworth has a 100% pro-life rating. The main distinction between the two candidates is that John McCain supports Embryonic Stem Cell Research (voting as recently as 2007 to expand it) and JD Hayworth does not. 25% is a huge disparity. 400,000 lives is a huge issue. One candidate would jeopardize those 400,000, the other would not. One would kill my children and the other would defend them. Make no mistake. I appreciate Senator McCain's 75% that he did get right, and countless lives have been saved due to his efforts. But call me an idealist-I want those last 25%!

  • John McCain is the incumbent. However, JD Hayworth was also in office, and so he has a voting record, too, mitigating the "proof is in the pudding" argument. Hayworth HAS taken a stand for life. Additionally, incumbency has only historically mattered when all other factors were equal. As I've just demonstrated, they are not equal in this case.

  • JD Hayworth is electable, as evidenced by the fact that he did hold office for many many years, and more importantly, as evidenced by the fact that in this race alone, he is separated from McCain only by a handful of points. He closed the gap from 22 points to 5 points in 3 months, and we still have 3 months before the election. Considering that 5 points is the margin of error for most polls, they could easily be neck and neck. And historically, incumbents with less than 50% support are sitting ducks. So there is no way Arizona Right to Life can authoritatively say that one of these two men is more electable than the other. Clearly, Arizonans find both to be nearly equally viable, so this factor needs to be removed from the equation. And as David Roney points out, for President, Arizona Right to Life endorsed Mike Huckabee. Anyone who has ever voted can tell you that candidates tend to win their home state, and Huckabee was no where near McCain in the polls. But despite those "electability" factors, they endorsed Huckabee anyway. (And McCain has donated since that endorsement, so no loss of contact occurred in that case).

When I pressed John on point one, he said that he talked to McCain and McCain had changed his mind. I literally laughed out loud. For one, our answer to that has always been "prove it." Conveniently for McCain, the issue hasn't come up for vote since this alleged change of heart. So all we have is his promise that he would do the right thing, versus Hayworth's demonstration that he DOES do the right thing.

Second. He's John Maverick McCain. Changing his mind is what he does! He's a shoot from the hip, loyalty to no one or no cause, kind of guy. What on earth makes them truly believe that this change of heart, even if currently authentic, will be lasting? "Danged fence," anyone? How convenient that we applaud the same trait that we've (rightly) blasted others for.  Even though the change is currently in our favor, it's not safe to assume that it always will be, especially with this Senator.

John also argued that if RTL endorsed Hayworth and McCain won anyway, AZRTL would lose its access to Washington. Bull. First of all, if John McCain is the principled Pro-Life man they think he is, then being ticked off at RTL won't compel him to start whacking babies. And if it DOES, then we REALLY don't want him there.

Second if he is pro-life, he'll vote that way anyway, even if he doesn't consult AZRTL. Closing a relationship with RTL would not mean he'd close his relationship with every single pro-life advocacy group.

Third, even if said access IS lost, AZRTL has good relationships with Senator Jon Kyl, Representative Trent Franks, Representative John Shadegg, Representative Jeff Flake, not to mention with countless previous officials, and officials in other states and in other governmental capacities. So even if the John McCain door closed, that by no means would bar the RTL access to Washington, or even to Congress specifically.

Fourth, it's not like the "access" is that wonderful to begin with. In all my years there, I was never aware of John McCain or his office consulting RTL on how to vote on life issues. Never did he show up to any of our events, even when virtually all of Pro-Life his colleagues did (banquet 2006, Rally 2010).  He's departed from us on life issues (above-mentioned stem cell research) so even if he did consult their opinion, he's not respected it. Yes, he's thrown some money at the organization ($5000-$10,000 per year; I'm not divulging anything confidential. It's public information). But that's the only thing detectable he's provided in the way of support or "access." Versus JD Hayworth attended and supported their events, many times.

Fifth, even if John's right, and they DO lose access, it's short lived at best. John McCain won't live forever. And even if they burned that bridge in the name of principle, nothing says that all future access to Washington would be barred. But Arizona Right to Life is not willing to take that short term, limited risk, and instead, is making the much larger and more devastating risk of telling voters that McCain is the most and best pro-life candidate, when it simply is not true. An endorsement of John McCain would throw their entire credibility out the window, which is a far larger cost than a few years of McCain not speaking to you.

John J also told me he spoke to JD, and that JD understood why they "have" to endorse McCain. You know what? Even if that's the case and JD is being kind and gracious about this, it doesn't excuse Right to Life from doing the right thing.

Arizona Right to Life has endorsed John McCain in the past. But in the past, he wasn't challenged by someone who met all of the criteria. This time, he is. The game has changed, and Arizona Right to Life needs to do the right thing and change with it. The only right choice in this specific case is to endorse JD Hayworth.

This time around, Arizona Right to Life cannot truthfully tell the voters of Arizona that John McCain is the best and/or most pro-life choice.  I looked John square in the eye and told him that he cannot say that the man who would kill my children is more pro-life than the one would not. John dismissed that point completely and gave me a look that told me he thought I was exaggerating. But as Arizona Right to Life would tell you in every other conversation, they ARE children, and embryonic stem cell research kills them.

I learned today from multiple, reliable sources that Arizona Right to Life made the decision to endorse McCain. And with that, combined with the Embryo Adoption impotence, the organization lost every last shred of credibility it had with me. You cannot be pro-life and so blatantly disregard the tiniest and most vulnerable of the lives you claim to protect.

I'm well aware that I'm probably burning some bridges, and that saddens me. I know people will think this is unprofessional and/or in bad form or taste, but I have to make the sacrifice of people's good opinion of me and honor my conscience. And any true friend would want me to choose conscience over comfort.  And anyone who cares about Arizona Right to Life or the pro-life cause would want me to as well.  I cannot sit idly by and watch Arizona Right to Life mislead and misinform voters about such a life-or-death decision. Their arguments are illogical, their evidence refutable, and their decision laughable.

As of this writing, I have no affiliation with JD Hayworth. So this position is unbiased from a personal standpoint. (Well, as far as the persons of McCain and Hayworth are concerned. As far as the persons of my children are concerned, it's completely personal). However, this issue has me upset enough that I have decided I will be supporting his campaign, with whatever time and dollars I have to give.

Why do this? I've got to stand up for my children and the 400,000 others like them, always, but especially when others who should, won't. I must inform other Arizona voters of what's at stake when making a pro-life choice in this election. I must warn them that they can't trust the recommendation of who should be and has previously been an authority on this subject.  I do this to challenge Arizona Right to Life to do the right thing and change their mind.  I do this to encourage other voters to challenge them too. And I do it to call public scrutiny on the organization if it does not change its mind.

Though the endorsement and the Embryo Adoption thing are not directly related to each other, they are in that they both jeopardize these same tiny little lives.

What can you do? If you're a pro-lifer in Arizona, put the pressure on Arizona Right to Life. Call them at 602-285-0063 . Spread the word to other pro-lifers.  You can also vote for JD Hayworth. I understand if you don't vote for him because of other reasons, but if the life issue is your deciding factor, he is the most pro-life choice. Call National Right to Life and encourage them to endorse Hayworth.

Also challenge every pro-lifer you know, including Arizona Right to Life, to become educated on the issue of Embryo Adoption and to incorporate it into any pro-life advocacy. Encourage them to put Embryo Adoption in their curriculum. Ask National Right to Life to do the same. If you're in other states, call your local Right to Life affiliate(s) and other pro-life groups and see what THEY'RE doing about Embryo Adoption.  Make SURE they're making wise decisions with their endorsements. Call them on it when they're not.

I've said all of these things to multiple members of the organization's leadership, so I have no discomfort with sharing them publicly. I did try addressing my concerns with them. In my opinion, they did not adequately address them.

If by chance, my sources are wrong (and I don't believe they are), I will publish a retraction of my statement that their endorsement is of McCain. My conversations with the organization however, and the fact that they even considered endorsing him for the above reasons, remain the same regardless of their final decision.

Updated, May 18th, 2010: It has just been made public that the PAC endorsed John McCain. I rather wonder that it took them so long to announce this decision, given that it was made nearly a week ago. It inclines me to believe that they had misgivings about the decision. I therefore urge you to withdraw any support you may have been giving to Arizona Right to Life, encourage your friends to do the same, and make sure the organization knows why.

As a point of interest, here's a running list of former associates of Arizona Right to Life who are distancing themselves from the organization over this issue:
Shane Wikfors, former Executive Director
David Roney, former Executive Committee Member, Chair of the PAC
Rachel Alexander, former member of the PAC

There are others too, but they don't have a web presence for me to link to them.

Also, a former coworker pointed out to me that on the issue of Embryo Adoption, I should not want my fellow pro-life laborers to depart from their Catholic positions to do their jobs. Of course not and I don't intend to communicate that. My apologies if I did. But those persons put in conflict should either then change the mission statement of their organization to omit the reference to "non denominational" or they should resign from their positions if they cannot be both good Catholics and good pro-lifers. Considering that most of their objections are not even life issues (the Catholic church makes references to surrogacy, the dignity of the embryo, the baby's right to be born to genetically related persons, etc), those arguments should be completely left out of decisions that the organization makes.


  1. in my opinion your article is very nice and helpful

  2. The smartest thing Hayworth could do is get you to fill out a W2 tomorrow morning and get to work.

    After reading the Catholic Church's opinion that you quoted in your previous post, and the outline of AZRTL's opinion on embryo adoption in this post, I think you're right that they leadership of AZRTL doesn't want to take an opinion that differs with the CC. Their arguments against EA are the same as the CC's It's fine if they want to align their values with those of the Pope, but then they should change their mission statement to eliminate the line about being nonsectarian.

    And for the record, it's absurd to be against stem cell research but not support the only reasonable option for un-implanted embryos that doesn't result in their destruction. It seems to me that if you believe life begins at the point where egg and sperm join, that destroying the resulting embryos is only a tiny margin better than conducting scientific experiments on them. It's ideologically incompatible. These aren't people I know, but I would question the sincerity of their opposition to embryonic stem cell research.

  3. Well written. Thanks for the insight. If so-called pro-life groups want to stop the killing of the unborn, all this harmful, pragmatic thinking has got to stop.

    Though it is not an issue in this instance, the highly subjective criteria of "electability" is just plain wrong. Only God knows who will be "electable." Why not endorse the best pro-life candidates every time, to give the unborn the best chance at life?

    I already knew that Arizona Right to Life had a problem with this from previous experience. Sadly, the McCain endorsement, as absurd as it is, does not surprise me.

  4. Dearest Sister-in-Christ,
    I am so blessed by your blog. I have been posting on my Facebook, writing John J, and others with my grievences after receiving the letter about this endorsement. Please feel free to befriend me on Facebook and comment to my postings on this sad state of a misuse of influence and abuse of responsibility. Thank you for being courageous and standing for Righteousness and Truth. I have contacted J.D.'s campaign office, as well, sharing my contempt for this display of political play of outright deceit. As you mentioned, the response I too received from J.D.'s campaign staffer was very gracious. Of course, we would not expect anything less, would we?
    Keep up the good work, Jennifer for our Lord and all those created in His image, no matter how tiny. I pray I will see you, again in the near future. God bless and keep you and yours.
    Yours for Life,
    Beth K. Straley
    40 Days for Life Admin. Metro Phoenix,

  5. [...] Jun Portions of my blog entry, Shame on You Arizona Right to Life were recently printed in the most recent edition of “The Caleb Report,” a newsletter by [...]