How the group behind the Supreme Court abortion drug case is expanding its fight worldwide

London — British anti-abortion activist Isabel Vaughn-Spruce says she did not protest as she stood quietly in a protected zone outside an abortion clinic near her church in Birmingham, England.

“I reasoned internally that my silent thoughts could certainly still take place within that zone. My prayers. So I went to pray quietly outside the abortion center, initially just as it was closed, and I was arrested twice because of it.” Vaughn-Spruce told CBS News.

British law determines protected zones around abortion clinics. They are intended to protect women seeking help from protesters. The zone boundaries are marked by signs around facilities that provide abortion services.

Abortion rights groups in Britain have said silent prayer outside abortion clinics amounts to harassment of women seeking care.

Rachael Clarke, chief of staff at Britain's Pregnancy Advisory Service, Britain's largest provider of abortion services, told CBS News partner network BBC News in November that silent prayer caused “the overwhelming majority of fear, alarm and intimidation” for women visiting abortion clinics entered. .

Vaughn-Spruce said that after her arrest, she contacted a legal group with American roots — Alliance Defending Freedom International — for help. Ultimately, she was not convicted of any criminal offense.

“Standing up for these issues and for freedoms, whether it's in America or any other country, it's still essentially the same. So the roots of an organization, whether it's American or English, in a sense, doesn't really make any difference to me,” Vaughn-Spruce said. “The work that [ADF] doing is absolutely amazing.”

What is an alliance that defends freedom?

ADF International UK is a registered charity in Britain supported by donations from ADF in the United States, financial disclosures show.

Founded in 1994 and with a network of more than 4,500 attorneys, ADF describes itself as “one of the leading Christian law firms committed to protecting freedom of religion, freedom of expression, marriage and the family, the rights of parents and the sanctity of life.”

It provides legal support to people whose case is consistent with its causes.

ADF attorneys argued on behalf of plaintiffs seeking a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that would have restricted access to the widely used abortion pill mifepristone nationwide, but the court rejected their argument in a ruling made on Thursday, thus maintaining access to the drug. The group also supported the Mississippi case that ultimately went to the Supreme Court Overturning Roe v. Wade.

Supreme Court of the United States
Lorie Smith, a Christian graphic artist and website designer in Colorado, center in pink, accompanied by her attorney, Kristen Wagoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom, bottom center, walks out of the Supreme Court on December 5, 2022 after arguments in a lawsuit. lawsuit filed by Smith, who refused to create websites for same-sex weddings.

Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images


ADF says it has played a role in a total of at least 74 Supreme Court victories and represented 15 parties that achieved victories at America's highest court.

ADF's rapidly growing international activities

“I think Americans know very, very little about what these American organizations are exporting in terms of rights-violation policies to other countries,” Heidi Beirich, founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, told CBS News. “What's happening is that a very powerful, far-right movement is emerging that targets certain communities and attacks the human rights of people all over the world.”

Beirich previously worked as an expert on extremism at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which listed ADF as an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group in 2016.

The SPLC says it made the designation because ADF “has supported the idea that being LGBTQ+ should be a crime in the U.S. and abroad, and believes that [it] It's okay to put LGBTQ+ people in jail for consensual sex. It has also supported laws requiring the forced sterilization of transgender Europeans.”

A representative for ADF International UK told CBS News that the group rejects the hate group characterization.

ADF International has offices located in European power centers including Geneva, Brussels, Strasbourg and London.

“It leads to lawsuits at the European Court of Human Rights. They are active in Latin America,” Beirich said. “I mean that millions of dollars are being poured into their efforts to change not only the United States toward their Christian nationalist vision, but now other countries, including the United Kingdom and the EU.”

According to its 2022 to 2023 financials, ADF International's UK branch saw its revenues increase by 514,729 British pounds (approximately $655,036) to 1,068,552 ($1,360,079) in that one-year period. Spending also rose by 220,751 pounds ($280,982) to 993,118 ($1,264,090) over the same period.

According to the group's financial disclosures, that money was used to provide legal analysis and instructions to various members of the British Parliament, to engage in public commentary and to “assist those who may not be in line with Christian principles and ethics.” can live and worship. for example, by engaging at a local level or with key decision makers.”

ADF has ties to some of the most prominent conservative names in the American political landscape.

Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Johnson is a former attorney for the group. While working for ADF, Johnson unsuccessfully lobbied for a 2004 ballot measure in Louisiana that would have banned same-sex marriage, according to The Associated Press. In a Opinion from 2003 for a local newspaper in Louisiana, Johnson wrote that homosexuality was an “abnormal lifestyle” and “dangerous sexual behavior.” The piece's byline identifies Johnson as an attorney for Alliance Defense Fund, the former name of Alliance Defending Freedom.

Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett also gave at least five paid speeches between 2011 and 2015 for the Blackstone Legal Fellowship, a program for young conservative lawyers administered and funded by ADF.

During the day her confirmation hearing in 2020 Barrett was questioned before the Senate Judiciary Committee about her ties to the group. When asked when she knew that the Blackstone Legal Fellowship was administered by ADF, Barrett responded: “As far as I can remember, I learned that ADF was funding the Blackstone program when I received the honorarium for my presentation, or perhaps when I use the signature line in an email.”

Barrett told the committee she had “no specific knowledge” of the ADF's decades-long efforts against LGBTQ+ rights, including opposition to same-sex marriage.

ADF's global activities

ADF International originally agreed to provide a spokesperson for an interview with CBS News, but canceled twice at the last minute and then withdrew completely. When CBS News subsequently sent questions to the group, it responded with a four-paragraph statement saying, “Despite baseless claims from those who disagree with our values, there is nothing unusual about the money we receive – we adhere to all rules set by charity regulators.”

“Our UK office is staffed by local team members who are committed to upholding human rights in Britain – including, among others, freedom of expression and freedom of religion,” the statement said. “As a global organisation, we receive funding from many different countries, as do many UK charities on both sides of the abortion debate.”

Beirich said Americans should be aware of ADF's activities abroad because the group has been so effective in helping change laws through the courts in the US.

“This is an organization that wins, and they use the courts to shape their policies,” she told CBS News. “We really need to pay attention to them because they have already fundamentally changed American society with these statements, and the same can happen in other places.”

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