With the election of a new president with a record more pro-abortion than NARAL and the loss of several prominent pro-life races, where should the pro-life movement go from here? Kathryn Jean Lopez asked Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president and chairman of the board of the Susan B. Anthony List, a nationwide network of over 145,000 Americans dedicated to advancing, mobilizing and representing pro-life women in the political process, to assess the situation.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: How many losses did you sustain Tuesday?
Marjorie Dannenfelser: In the House, there is a net loss of 15 pro-life votes. In the Senate, we lost Sununu and Dole, so that’s two, three if we lose Coleman, and four if we lose Chambliss. Our net loss will be somewhere between 2 and 4.Overall for SBA List, thirteen of our endorsed candidates failed to win election on Tuesday. That includes four incumbents (Marilyn Musgrave, Elizabeth Dole, Tom Feeney, and John Sununu), six challengers (Melissa Hart, John Kennedy, Tim Bee, Anne Northrup, Deborah Honeycutt and Jennifer Horn), and three candidates in open seat races (Sydney Hay, Martin Ozinga, and North Carolina gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory). These losses accounted for a little less than forty percent of our entire slate of pro-life candidates. It was a hit, but certainly not something we won’t recover from.
Lopez: What’s your good news?
Dannenfelser: There is plenty, but my favorite is from Minnesota. Reports of the political death of rising star pro-life rep. Michelle Bachman (R., Minn.) were greatly exaggerated. Despite dire predictions and floods of last minute money from the Left and the NRCC pulling out it’s support, Bachman won handily. She is crafted along the mother of five, barracuda lines. In politics, if you are going to shoot a bear, you’d better kill it. Knowing her, Michelle will come back fighting, healed and strengthened from any minor injuries.
Lopez: Back to the bad news: Is it just that you’re so outnumbered by EMILY’ List?
Dannenfelser: Even in a bad political environment, our successes are keeping pace with EMILY’s List. In head to head races with Emily’s List in 2006 we won 62 percent of the time. This year, we won in 56 percent of our head to head match-ups. They may have more resources, but their message certainly isn’t ensuring victory for every one of their candidates on Election Day.
Lopez: Which loss hurts the most?
Dannenfelser: It is hardest to process the result that Marilyn Musgrave has lost her seat to EMILY’s List-endorsed Betsy Markey. This loss is not just the loss of another pro-life Congressman. This is a loss of a trailblazing heroine in Congress. As I’ve told her many times, she is the model of who we were after when we started the SBA List. I have worked very closely with Marilyn defending the unborn since she came to Congress. She is a friend and great ally. Last session, we helped pull together the House Pro-life Woman’s Caucus. She and Rep. Jeanne Schmidt served as co-chairs. She is at once the most tenacious and kind member of Congress I have had the pleasure of getting to know. So the way she was figuratively stripped and placed in the public stocks, mocked, ridiculed, and abused by the wealthiest, most powerful pro-abortion, anti-traditional marriage ideologues in America (lead by Tim Gill) is particularly painful to this movement. Personal authenticity and integrity which Musgrave has mean nothing to these people. They wake up in the morning with anger and hatred of our cause, spend the day leveraging the energy from it into brilliant strategy, and go to bed thinking they have saved the world from anger and hatred.
Lopez: What happened to Elizabeth Dole?
Dannenfelser: Honestly, she got caught up in the same swamp so many of our losing candidates did. Hers is a great loss for us. She is the only pro-life woman in the U.S. Senate. I notice that merciful lack of the use of the word Tsunami this election. I will be the first I know to employ it. She succumbed to Tsunami II. One assumes the odds are against lighting or tsunamis striking twice, but that’s assuming the predictable laws of nature. Political realities aren’t so.
Lopez: How bad is it that there is no pro-life woman in the Senate?
Dannenfelser: It is bad. No question about it. We will be bereft of the pro-life, pro-woman perspective when and if the first Supreme Court President Obama nominee arises. This is an important and necessary perspective to counter the Boxer/Feinsten/Mikulski feminist axis who no doubt will work very closely again with Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and NOW on the next nomination process.
Lopez: How are you keeping spirits up?
Dannenfelser: Drinking? No. I was thinking of taking up smoking. Maybe not. I am, however, praying with determination and conviction there is much ground to be gained in the next two years.
The sun came up again yesterday, and with it a new focus and new opportunity. The pro-life movement has indeed suffered a great political set-back and is on the defensive. Almost 4,000 children will continue to die every single day the sun does come up. And every day, another mother will add another level of grief to a difficult crisis.
We have suffered a set back, but we did not lose this ground on our own playing field. We lost on the economic playing field, starting September 15th when major economic institutions like Lehman Brothers started to fail. Folks started to lose ¼ value of their homes, retirements, and stock. This economic downturn was the turning point. The pro-life movement though is strong. Witness the fact that 1) Obama talked continually of seeking “common ground” and “reducing abortions” despite his promises otherwise (the Freedom of Choice Act) and 2) felt the need to run from his position on the Born Alive Infant Protection Act. The pro-life movement will grow much stronger now. If the movement does its job, we can gain great ground in this climate. With our backs up against the wall because of FOCA, and all three branches of government under pro-abortion control, the movement will retrench, reorganize and re-energize as it did after Clinton came into office.
Lopez: Who is President Elect Obama? What is the sort of change he’s looking for when it comes to abortion?
Dannenfelser: He purports to want to reach “common ground” but FOCA precludes all common ground protections. His record is of the most pro-abortion presidential candidate in history. Will he be the most pro-abortion president despite his expressed desire to want to reduce abortions? The tale will be told in his court appointments and by whether he follows through on his campaign promise to pass FOCA as his first act.
Lopez: Did you ever give any thought to what Susan B. Anthony might have thought about Sarah Palin?
Dannenfelser: Yes, thought Susan B. Anthony did not have children, she had a core that embraced all human rights and human dignity. She stood up for rights for slaves, women, and unborn children. She lived consistently, as does Palin. She lived with backbone and determination and confidence. So does Palin. She was castigated by most, then many, then just a handful for pricking the consciences of the elites. So too Palin. She never backed down from her fight, and even though she died before she saw women’s suffrage, she never wavered. When you see Palin’s unblinking, confident, firm-jawed statements about the unborn and children with special needs and protection of women in Muslim nations, you can detect a lot of Susan B. Anthony’s spirit.
Lopez: What are you closing thoughts on the Team Sarah effort? What’s the contribution it made?
Dannenfelser: It was exciting, and is continuing to be even post-election. Look there, the almost 50,000 folks (mainly women) who signed up within a few months are furious over Palin’s post-election treatment. This is the beginning of a new populist women’s movement.
Palin invigorated the ticket and at the same time ignited an populist movement, attracting tremendous crowds. So many Americans hungry for sincerity and authenticity in their office holders have found it in her. She connects with real human beings. She has confidence and charisma, but most importantly provides a new model of feminism Amercian women have been waiting for and have more in common with that the worn out Steinham-Boxer-Fonda model. The phenomenon of Team Sarah reveals the enthusiasm, talent, ingenuity, and intellectual prowess it has attracted since its inception — in its leadership and grassroots. Palin’s candidacy provides a foundation on which to build politically for campaigns to come. She and/or women along her lines have bright political futures ahead.
Lopez: Who are the prospective pro-life leaders in this next Congress?
Dannenfelser: The House Pro-life women’s Caucus lost Marilyn Musgrave, but the Caucus is still alive and well with Reps. Blackburn, Fallin, Schmidt, several other strong women — and with new blood. I expect Cynthia Lummis (R., Wy.) will be a strong leader in the Caucus. As always, Chris Smith, Mike Pence, Jeff Fortenberry, and Joe Pitts will provide strong leadership. Rep Smith lead this battle in the exact same defensive posture for the first two years of the Clinton Presidency. These guys and gals know House Rules and how to press the minority view forward. They know all the trap doors on the stage set. In the Senate, Senators Brownback and Coburn will no doubt lead with the courage they always have, even in the face of losses. We were happy to give great assistance to Senators McConnell, Coleman, and Chambliss because of their strong pro-life stances.