Toymaker's Donations Spark Pro-Life Protests

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Some political conservatives are urging a boycott of the popular American Girl Dolls because they say the maker donates money to an organization that supports abortion. The organization is Girls Incorporated — a national group of about 1,500 clubs mostly in poor neighborhoods.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

With the Christmas season comes shopping, and sometimes boycotts of retailers. One of the latest targets is American Girl, a Wisconsin company that produces dolls and books to celebrate girls, as NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY reporting:

It's been a controversial year for American Girl. The company produces contemporary dolls but is best known for dolls that represent fictional characters of the past. Last winter, Latino activists were upset with the depiction of a Chicago neighborhood in an American Girl book. Now conservative activists say the doll company has crossed the line and is supporting abortion rights through its charitable giving.

(Soundbite of demonstrators)

Unidentified Women: (Singing) American Girl, tell us why unborn babies have to die.

CORLEY: The Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League has been demonstrating outside the company's American Girl Place. As shoppers lined an entire city block waiting to get in the New York store, a small group of demonstrators, parents, grandparents and children, passed out leaflets, including nine- and 11-year-old brothers Christopher(ph) and Charles Recks(ph).

Unidentified Boy #1: We're protesting.

Unidentified Boy #2: We're protesting against the American Girls dolls because their--part of the money supports abortion, and our parents don't think that abortion's right.

Unidentified Boy #1: I don't think that they realize that since they made a big donation to abortion, that's only worsening their business, because less children, less dolls sold, less money.

CORLEY: As part of its charitable giving this year, American Girl donated $50,000 to the non-profit youth group, Girls Incorporated, and most of the proceeds from the company's I CAN bracelet campaign go to Girls Inc.'s programs designed to develop leadership and athletic skills as well as math and science literacy. Ann Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, says American Girl should drop the association. She says Girls Inc. may run some good programs, but she claims the group's Web site shows it condones lesbianism and supports abortion.

Ms. ANN SCHEIDLER (Pro-Life Action League): As a friend of mine pointed out, if you baked a batch of brownies with chocolate and sugar and eggs and all kinds of good stuff, and you put just a teaspoon of dog poo in there, who's going to want to eat them, you know? Go let them do these good things, but don't mix it up with also fostering the killing of unborn children.

CORLEY: Scheidler says she and other conservatives are disappointed with American Girl and hope the boycott during the holiday season will make the company mend its ways. A Catholic high school in suburban Milwaukee canceled an American Girl fashion show it planned to have as a fund-raiser because of the I CAN controversy.

Company representatives would not talk on tape, but in a statement, American Girl said its efforts have been misconstrued, and it continues its support of Girls Inc. In its own statement, Girls Inc. says it's become the target of false, inflammatory statements, and says it's worked to advance the rights of girls since its founding more than 140 years ago.

(Soundbite of music from "The Nutcracker")

CORLEY: These days, the sounds of Christmas music mixes with traffic outside the American Girl Place store in Chicago. Inside, it's crowded. Holiday shopping is in full swing. There's a stack of the controversial I CAN bracelets at each checkout station. Cashier Dahlia Richards(ph) says in-store sales of the bracelets have been strong.

Ms. DAHLIA RICHARDS (Cashier): Some people buy them just because of the negative press, you know, that they've gotten. This one lady bought 37. So they have been selling a lot.

CORLEY: Many shoppers don't know about the boycott. Some who do say there's no reason not to support American Girl. Linda Irwin(ph) from Dowagiac, Michigan, was buying a doll for her granddaughter. She calls herself pro-life, and says she'd be concerned if American Girl was supporting abortion through its donations.

Ms. LINDA IRWIN (Shopper): But it doesn't look like they're supporting those parts of the group. So if none of the money goes towards that and it only goes towards what they say it's going towards, then I wouldn't have a problem with it.

CORLEY: American Girl says its partnership with Girls Inc. comes to an official close the day after Christmas, when its 2006 campaign gets under way. The Pro-Life Action League says the boycott may have helped speed the process. The company's fourth-quarter earnings, to be released next year, may tell if the boycott had any impact.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP (Host): And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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