By Bonnie Finnerty, Education Director
Conversion. Risk. Progress. Betrayal. Resilience. Words familiar to some inside the pro-life movement, and words that Marjorie Dannenfelser knows well.
Words that can be found in Life is Winning: Inside the Fight for Unborn Children and their Mothers, a fascinating, informative, and encouraging book. As president of the Susan B. Anthony List, she provides a masterful summary of pro-life politics during the last few decades.
Once the pro-choice chair of her College Republicans club, Dannenfelser had viewed abortion as a “necessary evil.” But she then encountered “for the first time a principled and coherent argument against abortion on legal and moral grounds,” leading her to become passionately pro-life.
While interning at the Heritage Foundation, a mentor offered sage advice. To succeed in politics, figure out “what is missing, what needs to be done that no one else is doing, then put yourself in a position to fill that need.”
A few years later, working for a pro-life Democrat on Capitol Hill and immersed in battles over abortion legislation, Dannenfelser discovered that need: Identify and elect more pro-life women to political office. Thus, in 1993, the Susan B. Anthony List was born and Marjorie its first president.
Pitted against the older and very influential Emily’s List which raises millions each election cycle to promote pro-abortion candidates, the SBA List faced a multitude of challenges from the very beginning.
First, raising money. Then, overcoming the view that abortion was a losing issue and should be discussed as little as possible. And then finding candidates to endorse.
But likening this endeavor to the field of dreams, Dannenfelser believed if you build it, they will come.
SBA List launched just as the Clinton presidency began. While in 1986, Clinton went on record as opposing abortion and government funding of abortion, by 1993, he was completely in line with the Democratic Party’s pro-abortion platform. In addition to signing executive orders that overturned more than a decade’s worth of pro-life gains, he would veto a ban on partial-birth abortion twice.
Dannenfelser reminds us that a certain Democratic Senator from Delaware voted to override both vetoes. Unfortunately, Joe Biden has since fully embraced the party’s radical pro-abortion stance.
Although birthed during an unfavorable administration, the SBA List made incredible progress in a short time. Just one year into their mission, eight of the 15 SBA List-endorsed women won in the 1994 election, outperforming Emily’s List.
Eventually, SBA List discerned that its true mission was not to elect women to office but to end abortion. They decided to endorse pro-life male candidates.
In 2011, SBA List launched the Charlotte Lozier Institute to focus on science and statistics related to life issues. Then in 2013, they created the National Pro-Life Women’s Caucus to build pro-life politics from the bottom up—on the local and state levels.
Offering a clear timeline of elections, events, and legislation, Dannenfelser also provides lesser known information, a behind-the-scenes look at the political landscape surrounding the abortion issue during the last 27 years.
While recounting risks taken and successes gained, Dannenfelser is honest about setbacks, some crushing. She notes that some pro-life candidates wanted to call a “truce” on the abortion issue, feeling it was an unpopular issue that compromised their campaigns. Citing several election results as proof, Dannenfelser says there is no evidence that downplaying the life issue is advantageous to candidates.
And then there is Donald Trump. Initially very skeptical about him prior to the 2016 election, Dannenfelser relates why she slowly embraced his candidacy, only to grow into an enthusiastic supporter. She came to believe that Trump was finally a Republican nominee who would not “hide his pro-life light under a bushel” as so many had before.
And right she was. She details both well-known pro-life accomplishments of the Trump administration as well as personal anecdotes that demonstrate his sincerity where vulnerable life is concerned.
Published several months before the November 2020 election, this book builds a strong case for a second Trump administration. Although that seems unlikely at this point, it is important to note the tremendous pro-life outcomes of the election, fruit of the SBA List and many other pro-life organizations across the country.
A historic number of pro-life women have been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. In addition to the existing 11 pro-life Congresswomen, seventeen more won their races, including eight who defeated a pro-abortion incumbent. And another pro-life woman was added to the US Senate, with the hope of yet one more after the Georgia election.
Dannenfelser believes these results prove a sleeping giant has been awakened in the pro-life movement. There is much work to do but the pro-life movement is bigger, stronger, and more united than ever before, and momentum continues to build on the side of life.
Dannenfelser’s vision and determination are an inspiration and her story well worth reading. She and the SBA List are a big reason why Emily’s List is losing and life is still winning.