When I later contacted Unruh to clarify what seemed to be discrepancies in her marriage, motherhood, and abortion history, her assistant responded via e-mail: "I talked to [Leslee] on the phone and your facts are wrong." After repeated attempts to speak directly with Unruh, I finally got a callback. Yes, she said, she had been married before Allen, to a man named Larry Kutzler. He was the father of her first three children. And she said she was pregnant with Kutzler’s baby, not Unruh’s, when she had the abortion. She said she was not yet married to Unruh at the time of the termination. She refused to elaborate further, except to say that she has not discussed her first husband publicly because, "I had given him my word I would not ever name him." Kutzler, 57, a pastor in Minneapolis, is founder and executive director of CitySites Media, a ministry that uses media to spread the Gospel. In a brief phone conversation he declined to comment about his ex-wife. According to South Dakota Department of Health records, the couple was married on February 10, 1973 — six months before Nathan’s birth — and they filed for divorce on September 15, 1977.
Whatever the circumstances of her life before she married Allen, Unruh’s abortion propelled her into a career of increasingly effective and controversial advocacy. Although at first she confined her activities to protesting in front of abortion clinics, in 1984 she opened the Alpha Center for Women, the kind of "crisis pregnancy center" that advertises in the yellow pages under "abortion" but actually is devoted to persuading women not to have the procedure. In 1986, Unruh opened the Omega Maternity Home, a place where unwed mothers could live rent-free. But the following year, the Alpha Center was charged with 24 counts of unlicensed adoption and foster care practice, and false advertising.
According to the indictment, several young women stated that they had been offered money to carry their pregnancies to term and then give their babies up for adoption. On the center’s behalf, Unruh entered a plea of no contest to five counts (the rest of the charges were dismissed) and paid a $500 fine. Unruh continued to run the Alpha Center (which is still in operation; the Omega Home closed in 1997). But after working with hundreds of women who got pregnant unintentionally, she says she began to realize that this kind of counseling put the cart before the horse in women’s lives. To truly empower women, she became convinced, you have to "save them from sexual activity."
Unruh began speaking to teens at churches and school groups about the importance of purity; she also lobbied state legislators to replace sex ed with abstinence ed. Even at that early stage, she was not the only person to link chastity to abortion prevention or to be horrified by what she felt was pornographic material in her child’s grade-school science textbook. The 1990s in the United States were for sex what the late Middle Ages in Europe was for Christianity: a time when politics, economics, and epidemiology (the plague in the 14th century; HIV/AIDS in the 20th) created fertile ground for a few determined visionaries to transform the status quo.
One of the most prominent in the nineties was Robert Rector, a young analyst at the Heritage Foundation, the preeminent conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. At about the same time that Unruh turned to abstinence activism, he began drafting legislation that would require all federally funded sex-education programs to teach that any sex outside marriage was likely to be harmful. Around the country, activist preachers and parents were mounting purity campaigns of their own. Unruh began reaching out to these fellow chastity advocates, who agreed, as she would later testify to the House Ways and Means Committee, that such an important effort was "too great" for anyone to undertake alone. For that reason, she told the committee, "I accepted leadership of the project, and the Abstinence Clearinghouse officially became operational in 1997."