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February 26th, 2013

Right to Life: A Movement Divided

By Craig Robinson

Despite what one may think of the current administration of the Republican Party of Iowa, they should be commended for their Celebrate Life event on Saturday.  The low dollar event isn’t going to solve the party’s fundraising woes or help the party heal the wounds from the 2012 caucus to convention process, but what it did do is bring together the different factions of the pro-life movement in Iowa, for a few hours at least.  If you think that’s an easy accomplishment these days, think again.

Sadly, the pro-life movement in Iowa is fractioned.  This is something that the readers of this website have known for a few years, yet many Iowans are unaware of the situation.  Some of the groups involved in the movement try to avoid conflict, while others want to debate their differences head on.  A number of speakers helped the event live up to its name, “Celebrate Life,” but if you paid close attention, the differences between the groups were on display for all to see.

The best way to describe what transpired at the event is to focus on a handful of speakers at the event.   Not all were aligned with a group, but each of the following speakers represented a key faction of the movement.  Together, they perfectly encapsulate what’s going on in the pro-life movement in Iowa.

Jan Mickelson, WHO Radio

Thousands of Iowans tune in to listen to Jan Mickelson every weekday on WHO Radio.  His is that familiar voice that we all expect hear in the mid-morning discussing politics or the news of the day.  Mickelson is no stranger when it comes to speaking at conservative events across the state, but his remarks on Saturday were different.  This time, they were deeply personal.

Mickelson told the story of his sister, who before having two children had an abortion.  It was a decision that would continue to haunt her.  His sister would go on to be involved in post-abortion counseling. The story then transitioned to Michelson’s niece, who was a skilled jewelry maker in California before a major car accident amputated some fingers and broke her neck.  She would survive, but doctors also told her that she would not be able to conceive a child of her own.

Wanting a family, Mickelson’s niece went through the adoption process and was selected to have a child placed with her.  At the same time and against all medical odds, she also got pregnant with her own child.  Preparations were made for two babies instead of one, but there were complications with her pregnancy.  Major defects were discovered and she ultimately lost the baby.  At the same time, the birth mother of the child she was scheduled to adopt had second thoughts and chose to keep her child.

The devastation from losing her own child was only compounded by the birthmother’s decision to keep her baby.  Worse yet, her confused body was producing milk for the baby she was supposed to have given birth to.  Mickelson’s niece pumped and froze the milk, she produced so much milk that she had to go out and purchase another freezer.

Mickelson’s niece would be selected as an adoptive parent again, and this time, the 15 year-old mother didn’t back out.  In fact, the birth mother wanted to be adopted by her, too.  It was a powerful story that underscored how precious life is, how those who have abortions are haunted by the decision years after the fact, and how all life is in the image of God, those born into loving families, or those raised by adoptive families.

My recollection of Mickelson’s speech doesn’t come close to doing it justice.  If there was one speech I wish we would have recorded, it was this one.  Maybe it’s hearing a strong man with a gift for speaking struggle to get the words out, or maybe it’s as simple as opening up and sharing a part of one’s personal life. Whatever it was, Mickelson kicked off the event on a fitting note.

Tom Shaw, State Representative

While Jan Mickelson brought many of the attendees to tears, State Representative Tom Shaw didn’t mince any words when it came to the current status of the pro-life movement in Iowa and across the nation.  If anything, Shaw’s comments showcased a growing frustration among some pro-lifers who feel they are no closer to ending the practice of abortion today than they were 40 years ago.

Early in his speech, Shaw said, “We are not to regulate abortion.  We are not to fight abortion.  What we need to do is fight for the person.  We need to change our entire way of thinking.  Stop playing defense and go on offense.”  Shaw then took issue with every attempt to reduce abortions in Iowa and America.  He said the long fought war against partial birth abortions was meaningless.  In summing up his criticisms on the partial birth abortion fight, Shaw said, “what if we would have spent 15 years fighting for the person instead of being against just one procedure.”

Shaw then criticized the Republican Party for only paying “lip service” to the life issue.  He said that House Republicans caved on the life issue when they agreed to follow part “a” of the Hyde Amendment in regards to the Human Services budget.  The Hyde amendment allows Medicaid dollars to be used for abortions in the case of rape and incest.  State dollars were used to pay for 15 abortions due to fetal anomalies.

Shaw’s blunt remarks were well received.  Some said “Amen” to some of the statements he made, while most of those in attendance gave him a standing ovation when his remarks concluded.  In a separate panel discussion, Shaw continued to attack anyone who wants to regulate abortions.  He also blasted other pro-life organizations for covering for legislators who didn’t stand for banning all abortions in the budget process, despite the fact that the Iowa Senate didn’t agree to the House version of the bill.

Shaw’s frustration is understandable, but his willingness to fight those in the pro-life movement who don’t agree with his personhood or bust approach is dividing the pro-life movement in Iowa.  While Shaw is outspoken, he doesn’t name names when he’s criticizing legislators or pro-life groups.  Doing so would most likely illustrate how few people actually support Shaw’s position.

In Shaw’s world, State Senators like Brad Zaun are either pro-life frauds or pro-choice because Zaun supports fetal pain legislation and wants to ban web-cam abortions in the state.  Mike Huckabee, the keynote speaker of the event, is also either a pro-life fraud or pro-choice according to Shaw’s rationale.  Huckabee’s record as Governor of Arkansas includes a bills he signed into law that merely regulated abortion.  Suggesting that either of these two are pro-life frauds is ridiculous.

Maybe more interesting, is what Iowa’s pro-life community would look like had Shaw’s current bill been enacted into law years ago.  Many of Iowa’s pro-life leaders have first hand experience with abortion.  Under Shaw’s law, they could be charged with murder.  So, Jan Michelson’s sister who went on to dedicate her life to post-abortion counseling may have never had the opportunity to do so.  Mickelson’s niece, who battled infertility and went on to adopt an unwanted child, may have never been born.  It definitely gives us something to think about.

Marlys Popma, Iowa Right to Life

Marlys Popma has been involved with Iowa Right to Life for as long as I can remember.  Her speech, which directly followed Shaw’s, was no easy task.  While Shaw never mentioned Iowa Right to Life as a group he disagrees with, it was abundantly clear that that was the case.

Instead of arguing against Shaw’s claims, Popma began her speech by saying that she has felt called to serve Iowa Right to Life.  She then added that other people maybe called to serve other organizations, like Personhood.  Instead of trying to sway people to support her organization, she urged people to go where they are called.  However, she reminded people that, while we are all called to do a lot of different things, we are also all called to just one great commission, to make disciples.

Popma made it clear that Iowa Right to Life’s mission is to save every baby that they can on their journey in saving them all.  She also reminded the audience that there is more that unites the pro-life movement than what separates them. “We all need to realize we are more like each other than we are like Planned Parenthood,” Popma said.

Popma’s remarks were also awarded with a standing ovation from the audience.  Mike Huckabee praised her for her remarks during his speech.

A Movement Divided

The event did more to expose the division within the pro-life movement than help united it, but maybe it’s better that the division among the pro-life ranks is out there for everyone to see.  While all of our hearts break over the number of babies that are being aborted every day in America, the inability of the movement to unite or coexist is extremely sad and unfortunate.  The harsh tone that was on display by some at the event seems to indicate that the movement is likely to experience more division and turmoil in the future.


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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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