The Christian girl’s group has seen its membership increase more than 40 percent over the past few years, now standing at 32,000 members around the globe, including in all 50 states and in 14 countries. In early 2012, the organization had 17,000 members in 44 states.
The Girl Scouts, while still vastly outnumbering American Heritage Girls, has nevertheless seen a drop in its membership. They had about 2.2 million members last year, down from about 2.8 million in 2003, the Associated Press reported, and saw a similar decline in adult volunteers: from 986,000 to 890,000.
At a time when the Girl Scouts have come under scrutiny from conservative groups — including accusations of liberal bias — American Heritage Girls appeals to families with more right-leaning values.
At the crux of the current Girl Scouts debate over the Girl Scouts is the issue of abortion, which the organization says it takes no official position on. This is precisely where American Heritage Girls sees its opening.
“They say they take no position and when one takes no position, they do take a position. That’s a concern for me as a leader of a girl’s organization,” Patti Garibay, executive director of American Heritage Girls, told TheBlaze. “These are issues that girls do have to deal with — and if you’re going to be a character-driven program … [abortion] is an issue that we can’t just sweep under the carpet.”
In keeping with that, American Heritage Girls this week unveiled a new “Respect Life” merit badge for girls to earn.
Garibay said the badge was not purposefully unveiled at the same time that socially conservative groups are organizing boycotts over Girl Scout cookies over social media posts from the national Scout organization that linked to an article featuring Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, both Democrats who support abortion rights.
Instead, Garibay said American Heritage Girls members had been pushing for a way to honor girls’ involvement in pro-life activities.
“They really wanted to have something that would recognize those efforts … there was even a troop up in Michigan that created their own patch,” she said, adding that the new badge fits perfectly with American Heritage Girls’ “biblical worldview that respects life.”
Kelly Parisi, a spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts, said the organization believes matters like abortion are for families, not the Girl Scouts, to decide.
“Our consistent stance on family issues has been one of privacy: private issues of a private matter are best left to the family to discuss at home,” Parisi said. “We believe Girl Scouts, as the world’s preeminent organization for girls, is no place for the discussion of sensitive issues best handled by families.”
The Respect Life Patch isn’t only about commemorating the lives of unborn babies, Garibay said, but also to honor the elderly and disabled.
American Heritage Girls members can earn the patch by participating in any pro-life activity, such as helping collect diapers for a pregnancy care center, participating in a March for Life rally or volunteering at a hospice house.
For any parents on the fence and unsure about which group to enroll their girls in, Garibay said that American Heritage Girls is a perfect — and principled — fit.
“[We respect] life and we put our beliefs into action. And we’re very clear about what we stand for,” she said. “American Heritage Girls would be a great landing spot to become a woman of integrity.”
Rather than taking on a competitive spirit, Parisi told TheBlaze that the Girl Scouts welcomes any group that helps build young women up.
“Our mission regards building leadership skills in girls so they may become individuals of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place,” she said. “To this end, we honor and respect any individual or group who decides to organize for the purpose of empowering women to lead.”