Culture > Q&A
James Allen Walker for WORLD

Called to a cause

Q&A | The pro-life movement won over Marjorie Dannenfelser, and now she's working to help it win over Congress

Issue: "Pro-baby," Jan. 30, 2010

The year 2010 may see the most tumultuous congressional elections since 1994. One of the key players will be Marjorie Dannenfelser, president and chairman of the board of the Susan B. Anthony List, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, 280,000-member organization with an attached political action committee that helps pro-life women to run for political office.

Q: How did you become pro-life? I grew up in North Carolina in an Episcopalian family, very strongly pro-choice. I was co-chair of the College Republicans at Duke University because they wanted balance: Balance meant you had to have a pro-choice and a pro-life chair. So I was a pro-choice chair, and for that reason I was the target (in a good way) for a lot of people who knew that the intellectual underpinnings of my position were false. They approached it on a philosophical level but they also approached me as friends; they didn't judge me, though I was very outspoken on the issue, and they just engaged me in conversation in love.

Q: You went to work in Washington, started the House Pro-Life Caucus, and met your husband. Marty was chief of staff for Congressman Chris Smith in New Jersey. We were forced to work together on pro-life stuff. Work hours turned into dating, and now five kids. But there was marriage in between, I promise.

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Q: You and other women started the Susan B. Anthony List in 1991. When did it become your major project? When I quit work and began raising children. It was basically out of my closet with a fax machine, no emails then. The truth about the pro-life movement is that we don't necessarily embrace it: It takes over and embraces us. The List grew and expanded incrementally. We really have taken off in the last few years.

Q: How much money were you able to send to candidates through the SBA List in the last election? We raised $8 million dollars overall, and a little over $1 million went directly to the candidates. A lot of the money we spend is either through independent expenditures-educating voters on the candidates and issues-or issue advocacy and informing voters about how their guys and girls in Washington are voting, so that when elections come around they hold them accountable.

Q: What are you trying to communicate to GOP leaders? When a candidate assesses a district and says, "I know I'm pro-life and pro-marriage, but I think I'd better duck and hide," it's a mistake. It doesn't mean that has to be your only issue or the No. 1 thing that you do, but when you're attacked as a candidate on one of those issues and you hide in the corner, they define you and you never get to articulate the deep roots of why you believe what you believe. Therefore, they don't respect you. Chris Smith has been the congressman in New Jersey for quite some time in a pro-choice district. They respect him.

Q: Is the pro-life cause in better or worse shape now than it was last Jan. 20? We are in such better shape, without question, even though we're the minority in the House, the Senate, the White House, and we're not looking so good on the Supreme Court. We are still looking way better, mainly because of what is happening on the ground in America. The tea parties, the town hall meetings, and the debate over healthcare have awakened a great force in the country.

Q: What's happened regarding U.S. funding of abortions abroad? One of the first things that fell in the Obama administration was a policy instituted by Ronald Reagan, which basically said we weren't going to use America's tax dollars and send them overseas for abortions. That means we weren't sending money to International Planned Parenthood so they can refer young women in other countries for abortions, or help them get them. That policy protected us on many levels. One purpose was to engender respect from Muslim countries, Christian countries, Catholic countries that don't believe in our very liberal abortion policy. That was the first thing to go.

Q: In domestic policy, what about the undermining of measures that protected conscience? The Bush administration promulgated regulations that protected healthcare workers from being in any way involved in abortion. As soon as Obama got into office, [his appointees] rescinded those regulations. He's been saying, "We're going to take care of it. We didn't really like the way those other ones were written." Well, it's been a long time and they haven't taken care of that.


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