Image: Lorie Shaull (Flickr)
Edited by Donald Shaw
Conservative lawmakers in a number of states recently passed some of the most restrictive anti-abortion legislation in history. In the first five months of 2019, legislatures in Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Ohio passed bans on abortions after six weeks, a point at which many women don’t know they’re pregnant. Missouri approved an eight-week abortion ban, Arkansas and Utah passed 18-week bans, and Alabama enacted the harshest law so far this year, a near-total ban on abortions. Governors of these states signed the laws, but none are in effect, either because of legal challenges or future enactment dates.
Reports show that these extreme efforts to ban abortion were inspired by the confirmation of conservative Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who opposes abortion. Despite his claim that he considers the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade an “important precedent,” the nation’s biggest anti-abortion groups think that Kavanaugh’s replacement of former Justice Anthony Kennedy may be what they need to overturn the decision and outlaw abortion once and for all.
A web of state and national groups spent millions of dollars on organizing and lobbying in the states to pass this year’s abortion bans. But where did the money come from to make this all possible?
Sludge identified 182 funders behind 20 organizations directly involved—through advocacy, bill writing, lobbying, and legislative testimony—in 2019 abortion bans in the nine states that passed them, and in South Carolina’s six-week ban, which passed the state House. From 2013 to 2017, major donor-advised funds, family foundations, and corporate charities poured over $9.1 million into these groups.
The funders include giant donor-advised fund the National Christian Foundation, the family foundation of Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.), and the corporate foundations of General Electric and Pfizer.
Some of the biggest funders also combined to give tens of millions of dollars to national groups such as Alliance Defending Freedom and Americans United for Life that may not yet be directly linked to individual state abortion bans but have been on the front lines of abortion opposition in recent years and praised this year’s “fetal heartbeat” bills. (The bills’ proponents claim that a fetus has a detectable heartbeat at around six weeks after conception, but this contradicts established science; at six weeks, a pea-sized embryo, not yet a fetus, begins to emit electrical impulses from a cluster of cells, eventually, a heart will grow.)
On March 16, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin signed his state’s abortion ban, which makes it a felony to perform an abortion once the so-called “fetal heartbeat” can be detected. A federal judge temporarily blocked the law the following day. Heather Gatnarek, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, told Sludge that what’s happening in her state is part of a larger effort.
“What’s happening here is part of a decades-long strategy by anti-abortion politicians, lobbyists, and national organizations that have left increasingly vast areas of our country with few or no abortion providers. Apart from violating people’s basic rights to health and decision making, these abortion bans have dire consequences for women’s health and families’ economic stability.”
Donor-advised fund (DAF) sponsors—charities that manage individual accounts for donors and pass along their clients’ donations anonymously to other charities—are by far the biggest donors to organizations involved in the abortion bans this year.
The National Christian Foundation, a large DAF that Sludge has shown to be a major donor to anti-LGBTQ and anti-Muslim hate groups, delivered the most money to anti-abortion outfits from 2013 to 2017, according to Sludge’s findings, including over $610,000 to the Alabama Policy Institute. In the process that led to Alabama enacting its six-week abortion ban, which offers no exceptions, even for rape and incest, and makes it a crime for a doctor to perform an abortion, an Alabama Policy Institute fellow testified before a state House committee in favor of the law. On May 15, the day the state Senate passed House Bill 314 and sent it to the governor’s desk, the Alabama Policy Institute applauded the law’s passage. “The Alabama Policy Institute, in our own efforts and through the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, has supported the ban on abortion since its inception,” it said. The National Christian Foundation’s donations represent 13% of the Institute’s total contribution revenue from 2013 to 2017. Combined, all funders identified by Sludge for this report constituted one-third of the Institute’s total donations and gifts over that period, or close to $1.5 million.
To the Family Foundation of Kentucky, the National Christian Foundation gave nearly $350,000 from 2013 to 2017. On its website and on Facebook, the foundation encouraged people to call their legislators in support of Senate Bill 9, which makes it a felony to perform an abortion when a fetal heartbeat has been detected, with no exceptions for rape or incest. The National Christian Foundation gave other six-figure amounts to groups that lobbied for the anti-abortion bills, including Concerned Women for America ($347,150); the National Right to Life Education Trust Fund ($344,600), and the Susan B. Anthony List’s Charlotte Lozier Institute Legal Defense Fund ($143,550).
Concerned Women for America, which, along with its Legislative Action Committee, received over $1.4 million from Sludge-identified donors from 2013 to 2017, works with state-based affiliates to pass abortion bans. Lobbyist Bev Elhen confirmed to Sludge that she lobbied in favor of Missouri’s abortion ban for Concerned Women of Missouri.
National Right to Life also coordinates with its state affiliates, including the Georgia Life Alliance, the Ohio Right to Life Society, and South Carolina Citizens for Life, on anti-abortion legislation, according to details on the group’s legislative and lobbying strategies included in its FY2017 tax form. The National Right to Life’s Committee and its Educational Trust Fund combined to take in over $1.9 million from Sludge-identified donors from 2013 to 2017.
The Susan B. Anthony List and its Charlotte Lozier Institute, which received nearly $2 million from Sludge-identified donors from 2013 to 2017, help write and pass anti-abortion bills. Sue Swayze Liebel, who runs Susan B. Anthony List’s National Pro-Life Women’s Caucus, is registered to lobby in Missouri for the Susan B. Anthony List and “was at the Missouri Statehouse to champion a bill that would ban abortions after the eighth week of pregnancy,” according to The New York Times. The Charlotte Lozier Institute offers legal arguments “to lawmakers and the courts by staff members and associated scholars,” according to its website.
Among a number of other groups that helped pass abortion bans this year and receive National Christian Foundation contributions is Faith2Action, a small organization with under $50,000 in revenue per year run by right-wing activist Janet Porter, who wrote the model legislation that Alabama lawmakers used to create the states six-week abortion ban and lobbied for Ohio’s 2019 abortion ban. According to the group, dozens of evangelical leaders and politicians support her bill. Faith2Action, which the Southern Poverty Law Center considers an anti-LGBT hate group, got $9,200 from the National Christian Foundation from 2013 to 2017.
While the National Christian Foundation is the most prolific donor to abortion ban-supporting groups, it’s by no means the only donor-advised fund sponsor helping to bankroll these organizations. The donor-advised fund linked to Fidelity Investments, the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, gave a total of over $890,000 from 2013 to 2017 to 14 anti-abortion organizations identified by Sludge. The recipients include the Charlotte Lozier Institute Legal Defense Fund ($638,125), Concerned Women for America ($82,775), National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund ($77,913), and the Ohio-based Life Issues Institute ($46,000), a “grassroots partner of the Susan B. Anthony List Education Fund.”
Schwab Charitable, a DAF linked to the financial firm Charles Schwab, has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups behind the recent abortion bans. While Schwab touts its commitment to advancing women’s careers, it’s connected DAF donated to the Charlotte Lozier Institute Legal Defense Fund ($78,200), the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund ($62,250), the Alabama Policy Institute ($35,750), and the Family Council of Arkansas ($20,000) from 2013 to 2017. When lawmakers filed a bill banning abortion after 18 weeks, Jerry Cox, Family Council president and lobbyist, wrote that his group “strongly supports” the bill and encouraged people to ask their state representative to support it. The Family Council also encouraged its readers to ask their legislators to back Senate Bill 149, which would immediately ban abortion in the state if Roe v. Wade is overturned and make administering an abortion a felony.
“Schwab Charitable is an independent public charity that facilitates grants on behalf of individuals to 501(c)(3) charitable organizations of their choice,” a Schwab Charitable spokesperson told Sludge. “Grants that are recommended by our donors in no way reflect the values or beliefs of Charles Schwab & Co., the Charles Schwab Foundation, Schwab Charitable, or their management.” The spokesperson pointed out that Schwab Charitable delivered funds to nearly 87,000 charities in 2018, including Planned Parenthood.
Before approving a grant, Schwab Charitable “follows a strict review and approval process,” said the spokesperson, which begins with verifying that the recipient is an IRS-certified 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit that is not “under active investigation by the IRS, state regulators or law enforcement.” After Schwab Charitable confirms a potential recipient’s 501c3 charitable status, Schwab Charitable makes sure the “grant dollars are issued for qualified charitable purposes and go to an organization whose purpose is entirely charitable,” and that “the grant complies with IRS deductibility rules and protects the philanthropic intentions of the Schwab Charitable account holders.”
The other top donor-advised fund sponsors have little or no criteria for their donation recipients apart from an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit certification from the Internal Revenue Service. Sludge’s reporting has shown that without any standards, these funds are funneling large amounts of money to a variety of hate groups.
The DAF sponsor associated with investment adviser Vanguard, Vanguard Charitable, gave large amounts of money to the Charlotte Lozier Institute Legal Defense Fund ($135,000) and the Alabama Policy Institute ($32,500).
Many smaller community foundations, most of which are DAF sponsors, have also funded the abortion ban movement from 2013 to 2017:
- Tulsa Community Foundation ($700,000 to the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund)
- California Community Foundation ($300,000 to the Charlotte Lozier Institute Legal Defense Fund; $155,000 to Concerned Women for America)
- Greater Houston Community Foundation ($140,750 to Concerned Women for America; $102,500 to the Charlotte Lozier Institute Legal Defense Fund)
- San Diego Foundation ($113,000 to the Charlotte Lozier Institute Legal Defense Fund; $5,000 to the Louisiana Right to Life Foundation)
Issue-focused DAF sponsors such as the Colorado-based Christian Community Foundation, also known as WaterStone, which gave $25,000 to the Charlotte Lozier Institute Legal Defense Fund, are also part of the abortion ban funding network.
Large corporations often create affiliated foundations that match separate employee donations to nonprofit organizations. At least fifteen companies donated to groups involved in 2019 abortion ban legislation, though most gave small amounts of a few hundred or a few thousand dollars.
From 2013 to 2017, the foundation of the drug giant Pfizer donated $550 to the Family Foundation of Kentucky, $100 to the Life Issues Institute, and $113 to the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund.
Pfizer states on its website that it is committed to women’s health and gender equality. “Investments in women’s health and gender equality must be prioritized to help create healthier communities worldwide, not just on International Women’s Day, but every day,” its website reads. “By harnessing our collective efforts to press forward for gender equality, we can make a difference in the lives of women who need it most.”
The Pfizer Foundation emphasizes its commitment to women’s health around the globe: “The Foundation provides grants to organizations to help improve access to family planning services.” Why, then, would the company donate money to groups promoting abortion bans, which health experts say significantly endanger the health of women.
“The Pfizer Foundation works to expand access to quality health care for underserved communities,” Pfizer spokesperson Sally Beatty told Sludge. “We currently support a program that focuses on improving access to immunization and family planning services for women in developing countries. The foundation “matches U.S. employee contributions to any non-profit, charitable health care, education, civic or cultural organization recognized by the IRS as a 501c3 organization.” Beatty did not mention any other criteria for approving the matching donations.
“Our employees support a broad range of organizations that reflect their diverse interests,” said Beatty. “We are proud of the diversity of our colleagues and respect their right to support organizations that are meaningful to them and their communities.”
Popular Information recently named Pfizer as a top corporate funder of the lawmakers, governors, and lieutenant governors behind recent abortion bans in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, and Missouri. The company and PAC “donated at least $53,650 to politicians that advocated for and enacted abortion bans” in the six states.
Alabama Power, an electric utility owned by Southern Company, gave over $115,000 to the Alabama Policy Institute from 2013 to 2017. The donations seem to conflict with Alabama Power’s corporate image: “iCan was founded by a group of Alabama Power engineers on a mission to introduce,empower and inspire young, female minds to explore their abilities and the opportunities presented to them specifically in the engineering field.” Southern Company touts its commitment to diversity, including gender diversity, and attends women-focused conferences. Alabama Power and Southern Company’s spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.
On Shell Oil’s website, the company touts its effort to “close the gender gap” and “to be a pioneer of LGBT inclusion in the workplace.” But the company’s foundation, which includes a donation-matching program, gave $300 to the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund and $200 to the Charlotte Lozier Institute Legal Defense Fund. Shell did not return a request for comment.
Major drug lobbying group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) donated $25,000 in 2015 to the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee, which opposes abortion and has likened it to the Holocaust. PhRMA member company Pfizer manufactures a medical abortion drug, and several PhRMA members produce contraceptive drugs. Concerned Women for America has opposed the Violence Against Women Act and legislation to crack down on hate crimes. PhRMA did not answer Sludge’s questions about the reasons for the donation.
Other corporate foundations that have fueled the abortion bans include the GE Foundation, the AmazonSmile Foundation, and the Intel Foundation.
The Van Curler Foundation, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, gave $25,000 to Janet Porter’s Ohio-based Faith2Action from 2013 to 2017. The foundation has been funding Faith2Action since 2003, when it donated $20,000 to the fledgling ministry. President of the foundation is Carol A. Van Curler and was previously led by her late husband, Donald E. Van Curler, a businessman in architecture, construction, and property management.
The Van Curler Foundation has heavily funded by the Ft. Lauderdale, Florida-based Coral Ridge Ministries, which became Truth in Action Ministries and later turned into D. James Kennedy Ministries, named after Coral Ridge’s founding pastor who was also a co-founder of anti-LGBT hate group Alliance Defending Freedom. D. James Kennedy Ministries, where Porter worked in the 1990s, is considered an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Coral Ridge was a major supporter of former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice and alleged pedophile Roy Moore, providing funding for Moore’s Foundation for Moral Law.
According to his obituary, Donald Van Curler was a “dear friend” and mentee of Kennedy and a Coral Ridge Ministries Media board member.
In 2006, Coral Ridge Ministries came out with a film featuring far-right media personality Ann Coulter that compared Adolf Hitler’s oven to Darwinian evolution. The foundation of Richard and Helen DeVos, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ in-laws, have donated handsomely to Coral Ridge Ministries.
The Van Curler Foundation has also donated to the Chalcedon Foundation, a California-based anti-LGBT hate group. In 2017, the foundation contributed to anti-LGBT hate groups Clarion Fund ($10,000), Faith2Action ($5,000), and D. James Kennedy Ministries ($60,000)
DeVos’ parents, too, have contributed to the abortion ban movement. The Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation gave $5,000 to Concerned Women for America and $1,000 to the National Right to Life Committee.
The Gary and Diane Heavin Community Fund, the foundation of Gary Heavin, the founder and chairman of fitness chain Curves International, gave $600,000 to the National Right to Life Committee.
The foundation of engineering executive John Watson, the John H. Watson Charitable Foundation, gave $145,000 to the Alabama Policy Institute.
The foundation of major charter school proponents Laura and John Arnold, a former hedge fund manager, gave $78,000 to the Alabama Policy Institute in 2014.
The foundation of at least one current elected official is also spurring on anti-abortion legislation. The family foundation of Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte (R), gave $200,000 to the Charlotte Lozier Institute Legal Defense Fund and $25,000 to the Family Policy Foundation from 2013 to 2017. Since joining Congress in 2017, Gianforte has co-sponsored several federal anti-abortion bills, including Rep. Steve King’s (R-Iowa) “Heartbeat Protection Act of 2017,” a six-week ban.
The Charles Koch-funded State Policy Network,a group of conservative political and policy outfits, gave $65,000 to its member the Alabama Policy Institute from 2014-17.
Conspicuously missing from Sludge’s data set is the Thirteen Foundation, which is funded by billionaire fracker Farris Wilks of Texas. Farris and his brother, Dan, are part of Charles Koch political donor network and known to fund anti-abortion groups and “crisis preganancy centers,” but most two of the foundation’s publicly disclosed tax forms don’t include the required Schedule I, the section where nonprofits must list their grantees. In 2015, the Thirteen Foundation gave over $1.3 million to the National Christian Foundation, and it pledged to give another nearly $1.5 million in 2016. Because the National Christian Foundation is a DAF, which anonymizes its clients’ donations, there’s little chance of finding out where the Wilks’ money went after entering the DAF. The Thirteen Foundation did not respond to Sludge’s request for this information.
What About Other Major Anti-Abortion Groups?
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is a massive network of evangelical Christian lawyers who oppose abortion and LGBTQ rights. The nonprofit is considered an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and it has gone as far as to defend state-sanctioned sterilization of transgender people abroad.
Sludge did not link ADF directly to the specific abortion bills that passed in 2019, and donations to ADF are not included in Sludge’s overall data for this report. But The New York Times writes that the group “offer[s] legal counsel as the [anti-abortion] laws take shape.” In 2018, ADF employees spoke about their organization’s plan to overturn Roe v. Wade by passing abortion bans at the state level. “We have a plan to make Roe irrelevant or completely reverse it,” said Kevin Theriot, vice president of ADF’s Center for Life, at the Evangelicals for Life conference.
ADF’s plan last year was to help pass 15-week abortion bans to “bait” legal challenges from pro-choice groups that it hoped would end up in the Supreme Court. The group was involved in 15-week abortion bans in Mississippi and Louisana in 2018. In past years, ADF has worked directly with state attorneys general of Arizona and Oklahoma to defend anti-abortion legislation. It’s likely ADF will be involved in the inevitable legal challenges to the six- and eight-week abortion bans passed in 2019.
Selected top donors to ADF from 2013 to 2017 include (bolded donors are those already mentioned above):
- National Christian Charitable Foundation: $32,381,645
- Fidelity Charitable: $1,750,051
- Jon L. & Beverly A. Thompson Foundation: $1,600,000
- Schwab Charitable: $1,097,630
- Carl G. Olson Foundation: $1,000,000
- God’s Gift: $950,000
- WaterStone: $644,750
- Vanguard Charitable: $505,950
- The Trzcinski Foundation: $450,000 (family foundation of The Original Mattress Factory founder)
- M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust: $375,000 (The late Murdock was the founder of electronics manufacturing company Tektronix.)
- The Minneapolis Foundation: $289,000
- Templeton Foundation: $250,000
- Gianforte Family Charitable Trust: $200,000
- Richard & Helen DeVos Foundation: $150,000
- Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation: $130,000
- The Anschutz Foundation: $75,000
The GE Foundation ($27,105), the Pfizer Foundation ($21,155) and the Shell Oil Foundation ($16,233), and the Intel Foundation ($6,100) also gave to ADF.
ADF itself donated to two groups involved in 2019 abortion bans: the Family Policy Foundation ($50,000) and the Family Council ($17,000) from 2013 to 2017.
Like ADF, another major national organization, Americans United for Life, advises state lawmakers as they write anti-abortion legislation, according to The New York Times, but it takes a different approach to dismantling Roe v. Wade. The group generally believes in an incremental approach to overturning Roe, and its senior counsel says Alabama’s abortion ban may be the “least likely to attract Supreme Court review.” Sludge found the sources of more than $5.1 million given to Americans United for Life from 2013 to 2017 but did not directly link the group to any of the 2019 bills.
Here are some donors to Americans United for Life from 2013-17:
- Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation: $2,876,207
- M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust: $340,000
- Ochylski Family Foundation: $300,000
- Fidelity Charitable: $220,840
- Aimee & Frank Batten, Jr. Foundation: $200,000
- National Christian Charitable Foundation: $108,350
- Vanguard Charitable: $91,500
- Schwab Charitable: $66,621
- The New York Community Trust: $25,000
- The San Diego Foundation: $11,000
- Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation: $10,000
Corporate donors include:
- GE Foundation: $3,183
- AmazonSmile Foundation: $1,622
- Motorola Solutions Foundation: $700
- The JPMorgan Chase Foundation: $390
- American Express Foundation: $264
Neither ADF nor Americans United for Life responded to Sludge’s questions about any involvement in the 2019 abortion bans.
Other national groups that vehemently oppose apportion, such as Focus on the Family and the hate group Family Research Council, are allied with organizations directly involved with the 2019 abortion bans but may not be directly linked to action on the bills themselves.
Candid, an organization that collects data on nonprofit organizations, provided Sludge with data on all donations in its database of nonprofit spending from 2013 to 2017 to 39 anti-abortion groups identified by Sludge. Some recipients were national, and others were state-level organizations in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, and South Carolina. Sludge used recent 990 tax forms of certain donors to add data for years missing from the Candid data. The result was $9.1 million from 182 donors to 20 organizations that were directly involved in one or more 2019 abortion bans. Donors to ADF and Americans United for Life added tens of millions of dollars more.