Now the league is on a mission that critics and supporters alike are applauding: construction of a 70-acre educational center devoted to abortion-related issues, a combination college campus and boot camp that would teach about everything from stem-cell research to the history of Roe v. Wade to how to handle media interviews. The aim of the "Campus for Life" is to be a national clearinghouse, a central spot for a divided movement still reeling from the legalization of abortion 30 years ago.
"It became apparent that there was a gap and someone needed to stand in it," said Joe Giganti, spokesman for the 300,000-member group, which has grown from a $1 million annual budget in 1985 to $7 million today.
The campus will emphasize scientific issues -- including the use of stem cells, cloning and the biological and psychological impacts of abortion -- which abortion opponents say reflects a shift in their movement, from a focus on ethics and religion to science. Technological and scientific advancements, such as sharper ultrasound equipment and the use of human embryos for lifesaving therapies, have forced themselves upon the abortion debate over such questions as when life begins.
"I think the fact is that science is forcing a reevaluation of some positions on both sides," said Sean Tipton, spokesman for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the country's largest medical association of fertility doctors.
There are other antiabortion organizations that gather scientific data: the mainstream National Right to Life Committee has a research director; the National Catholic Bioethics Center focuses on the relationship between Catholicism and the fields of medicine and science; and the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center has a research arm. But none is as broad as the American Life League's project, which aims to have TV and radio production studios and college-level courses that at least one college has said it is open to accepting for credit. The site overlooks Interstate 95 in Stafford.