Nebraska Attorney General Has Close Relationship With Extreme Anti-Choice Group


Americans United for Life, the extreme anti-choice bill mill, seems to have been particularly worried by the Women’s Health Protection Act, which was debated in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee this summer.

Intended to block many of the anti-choice laws that have been passed in recent years, the bill has virtually no hope of passing the Republican-controlled House, and is seen by many pro-choice advocates as largely symbolic.

Yet, in an email sent to Nebraska’s attorney general, Jon Bruning, AUL Nebraska’s state director, Suzanne Gage, struck an alarmist tone.

The bill “would eliminate virtually all pro-life laws in the country if enacted,” Gage wrote in July 9 email to Katie Spohn and David Cookson, two of Bruning’s senior staff.

“Senator Grassley is the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he has requested support from Attorney Generals [sic] in drafting letters opposing this legislation,” Gage continued. “I realize this is last minute, but would Mr. Bruning be willing to draft such a letter addressed to Sen. Grassley expressing his concern about how this bill would affect Nebraska? We could get it into his hands if sent to us by COB Monday.”

Bruning never did write such a letter, according to a spokesperson. And Grassley’s office did not immediately respond to our requests for confirmation of his role in this effort.

While there is nothing illegal about citizens communicating with their elected officials, the series of emails obtained by RH Reality Check through public records requests demonstrates that Nebraska’s attorney general, like numerous others throughout the country, has particularly close relationships with extreme sections of the anti-choice movement, and that many extreme right-wing and fundamentalist Christian groups enjoy a high degree of access with government officials.

And though Bruning did not grant Gage’s request this July, last summer his staff members were happy to satisfy an AUL request.

In a June 5, 2013, letter to the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary, Bruning touted his anti-choice credentials.

“I believe life begins at conception and have been a consistent and staunch supporter of strengthening pro-life measures in Nebraska,” he wrote.

The two-page letter went on to detail the various regulations and prosecutions relating to abortion in Nebraska. It was one of many written by state attorneys general as part of a failed attempt to unearth rogue abortion providers throughout the country.

A few days later, Gage reached out to Spohn and requested a copy of Bruning’s letter. Spohn was only too happy to oblige.

“It was a please [sic] speaking to you yesterday,” wrote Spohn, a deputy attorney general, on June 11, 2013. “Attached is a copy of the letter you requested. Please let me know if you have any difficulties in opening the file. Thanks!”

Gage replied: “I thank you for providing us with a copy of the letter sent from your office and appreciate your assistance and timely response.”

Gage characterized her emails—and the warm reception they received—as a normal part of her advocacy work.

“It’s courteous to let office holders know as well when possible, when an issue might impact their governmental concerns,” she wrote in an email to RH Reality Check. “Not surprisingly, talking to Nebraskans about life issues at play is an important part of pro-life advocacy.”

Also included on Gage’s recent note to the attorney general’s office were two high-ranking people within the anti-choice movement—Greg Schleppenbach and David Bydalek. Neither immediately responded to our requests for comment.

According to news reports, Schleppenbach was recently named director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, the lobbying and public policy division of the state’s three dioceses.

His wife, Jacqueline, is also politically connected. A former staffer at the White House, the U.S. Department of Labor and for the governor of Virginia, she was also one of the plaintiffs in a key lawsuit—the Halbig case—that could dismantle the Affordable Care Act by undoing the tax credits available to purchase health insurance on the federal exchange. Halbig was Jacqueline’s maiden name, according to local news reports.

David Bydalek is policy director at Nebraska Family Alliance, which recently merged with Family First, a group affiliated with the extreme Christian group, Focus on the Family.

He and Gage work together for two other groups: Heartland Home Schoolers and the Nonpartisan Family Coalition, according to public records. A spokesperson for the Nebraska Family Alliance told RH Reality Check that Bydalek was no longer affiliated with the home schooling organization, but that he was “unavailable” to respond to our other questions.

Asked why she had included Schleppenbach and Bydalek on the email to the AG’s office, Gage didn’t mention any other affiliation, but simply said: “It’s common to talk with pro-life allies about life issues affecting Nebraska.”

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  • Thomas Irvin

    This article presented absolutely nothing surprising or remarkable whatsoever and dressed it up like it was some sort of big deal. It should come as no surprise that a deputy A.G. might send a letter in response to a query from an advocacy group of some sort, be they liberal or conservative — particularly if that group’s goals align with the A.G.’s policies.

    • Arekushieru

      Ugh, the point flew RIGHT over your head, didn’t it?

      • Thomas Irvin

        Well, I would imagine that the point of the article would be to point out to people who are already staunchly pro-choice that the Nebraska A.G. is staunchly anti-choice (which is true). Furthermore, the subtext is to point out that without grassroots support for pro-choice candidates — and pro-choice thinking in general — people like Bruning get elected (true again).

        But the way the article goes about achieving that end is by taking an occurrence that is extraordinarily common (a deputy A.G. writing a letter to an advocacy group) and making it seem like some sort of grand conspiracy. There’s no conspiracy; it’s just a bunch of people who all generally agree on their pro-life agenda.

        This happens on both sides of the aisle — conservatives lambast the president for appointing people who have ties to green energy companies to various posts at the EPA. They see some sort of liberal conspiracy in those actions, when it’s just like-minded people working together for the benefit of the environment.

        Or perhaps there’s another point here which I missed? I’d be glad to hear your thoughts as to what that is.

        • Arekushieru

          Actually, no, I think I missed the point of your comment. My apologies.

          • Thomas Irvin

            Quite alright.

  • Cait McKnelly

    About the best you can say is that he’s not Phill Kline.

  • bckrd1

    “I believe life begins at conception and have been a consistent and
    staunch supporter of strengthening pro-life measures in Nebraska,” he
    wrote.

    Every time I read a story like this it makes me feel like we are being invaded by aliens who are imposing their will on us and taking over the world. I feel like they are our own little Taliban but using the judicial system and legislative system and basically infiltrating every system and taking it over and destroying this country from within trying to turn us into their own little Caliphate.

    That is their evil plan right out of a mini-series plot. If we don’t want this to happen we had better start fighting back at the voting booth. Pretty soon if you don’t display your religion for all to see you will be punished or even killed like ISIS and ISIL. You think that can’t happen here? Think again. The crazy rhetoric that passes for entertainment by it’s producers or as real news when it is anything but is inciting aggression and anger.

    The SC allowed this by saying lying is free speech. Well I say it is akin to screaming fire in a crowded theater. People are getting killed from the anger and hateful spewing of misinformation with a dash of lies and a splash of obsurdity that comes out of radio and cable shows. They are designed to rile people up and get them angry with lies and innuendo cast as facts.

    We have to take a stand as citizens for sanity and maybe hit the sponsors in the wallet and boycott these divisive shows. It might be an uphill battle but we have to do something. This country is really scary with the nuts I see in Congress and the damage they are doing to this country with their ideology and religion imposing inclinations. This is not a good path to go down. We must stay a secular society at all costs.