The following comes from an article dated Oct. 27 in the New Yorker.
One afternoon in May, Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, took the Senate floor to ask for a vote on a provocatively named bill: the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortions after twenty weeks of gestation. “There are only seven countries in the world that allow elective abortions at this stage,” he said. “At twenty weeks, people have been born and survived.”
Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California, offered a sharp rebuttal. The law would “drive more women to rogue doctors,” she said, and added a charge that is frequently aimed at Republicans these days: “It’s a war on women.” This was a spirited debate, though not a suspenseful one. Graham knew that Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader, would not allow a vote on his bill. But he wanted to be seen trying to do something about abortion in America.
A few minutes later, Graham walked out to the Capitol Visitors Center, to join Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, for a press conference. Their purpose was to promise that, if Republicans won a majority in the coming elections, they would pass the bill. Accompanying them was one of the bill’s strongest supporters, Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a small but savvy group that has emerged as a leading combatant in the abortion wars. For politicians seeking to limit abortion, Dannenfelser is a valuable link to the grass roots of pro-life activism—a committed activist who understands the art of messaging. In a brief talk, she praised Graham’s “ability to speak in an attractive way across all demographic lines, meaning Republican, Democrat, women, and men.” She described the act as “very modest, very reasonable,” the kind of bill that “women—more than men, even—support.”
Dannenfelser’s group is named for the pioneering feminist, and modelled on EMILY’s List, the powerful pro-choice organization, but it has little in common with most feminist groups; its sole aim is to abolish abortion. The S.B.A. List supports politicians who are pro-life (this, and not “anti-abortion,” is their preferred term) and, ideally, female—the better to deflect the old but effective charge that the battle against abortion is necessarily a battle against the half of the population that might potentially undergo one. Like all pro-life groups, the S.B.A. List takes pride in its status as an underdog, outspent by its liberal opponents and embraced by the Republican élite only when it’s convenient. And yet, even as another conservative project, the defense of traditional marriage, is failing, the movement to limit abortion retains its momentum. Last summer, in Texas, the state senator Wendy Davis made headlines for filibustering an abortion-regulation bill, but two weeks later the bill passed anyway. Thirteen states have moved to prohibit abortions after twenty weeks, and Dannenfelser envisions these bans as a precursor of Graham’s federal ban.
Dannenfelser didn’t start out pro-life: she grew up in Greenville, North Carolina, in a devout Episcopalian family that was conservative but pro-choice. In college at Duke, she was a pro-choice leader of the College Republicans. After graduating, she fell in with a crowd of Catholic intellectuals who converted her first to the pro-life cause and, eventually, to Catholicism; like many converts, she found that her new faith was stronger than her old one. (Although the S.B.A. List is strictly focussed on abortion, Dannenfelser personally believes in a “culture of life,” the Catholic teaching that also opposes contraception, euthanasia, and the death penalty.) She has a knack for shifting, almost imperceptibly, between passionate paeans to human life and dispassionate analyses of political realities, often delivered with a crooked smile. “When I was really strongly pro-choice, I didn’t go to bed thinking, Oh, my gosh, women can’t be free unless they have abortion; what am I going to do tomorrow?” she says. “Now I’m going to sleep thinking, Oh, my gosh, thirty-eight hundred children are going to die tomorrow. What am I going to do to actually save some of them?” She calls this phenomenon “the intensity gap”—a simple way of understanding why her side hasn’t lost this war, and may yet win it….
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