Outlook: Could ignoring abortion cost Republicans the midterms?

Marjorie Dannenfelser
President, the Susan B. Anthony List
Monday, March 15, 2010; 9:00 AM

"(T)he more the GOP ignores abortion and focuses on economic populism -- taking up the "tea party" cause -- the more the party risks leaving crucial votes behind in November," writes Marjorie Dannenfelser in her Outlook article: If Republicans keep ignoring abortion, they'll lose in the midterm elections

Dannensfelser was online Monday, March 15 at 10 a.m. ET to discuss the piece.

Marjorie Dannenfelser is the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a national organization dedicated to advancing and representing pro-life women in politics.


Marjorie Dannenfelser: Glad to join everyone to discuss my opinion piece this weekend. Looking forward to a good converstation.


Philadelphia, PA: Why do you and people in your organization place more value on the malformed fetus that was killing my sister's body, than on my sister's life? It could not have survived outside her body; she could not have survived carrying it full-term. How is it "pro-life" to advocate for the death of a healthy, living person just because something - that absolutely can never be a life - is growing inside her?

Marjorie Dannenfelser: Good question. Formerly pro-choice too, I did not see the issue as a matter of how to help the two patients--mother and child. the early feminists did see it that way and saw abortion as the "ultimate exploitation of women" (Alice Paul, originial author of the ERA)

No one should require a mother to give her actual life for her child. but this situation is very very rare in the world of modern medicine.


Cedar Rapids, IA: Mrs. Dannenfelser, I appreciate all the work the SBA-list has done regarding the pro-life issues in the current healthcare reform. I applaud and appreciate the courageous stand of Rep Bart Stupak and the pro-life democrats. I don't appreciate your negative comments regarding the republicans. The republican house members have worked for the pro-life issues for years and deserve our support, respect and prayers. Has any current congressional member done more for the pro-life cause worldwide than Congressman Chris Smith? We need to encourage all pro-life members to stand firm for life. Please comment.

Marjorie Dannenfelser: You are 100 percent right that we need to encourage our allies. My point was only that since this issue is central to the survival of the bill, it should get the central focus it deserves.


Uniontown, PA: Have you read TR Reid's article showing how much lower abortion rates are in countries that provide better access to ALL health care? Our senator Casey has a longer Pro-life record than almost any representative. If you REALLY want to REDUCE the number of abortions in USA, why not support his language and get health care coverage to the many women who might otherwise feel forced to abortion?

washingtonpost.com: T.R. Reid: Universal health care tends to cut the abortion rate (Post, March 14)

Marjorie Dannenfelser: funding abortion in healthcare has been shown to increase its incidence dramatically because it is a weighted choice. Any member who votes for this bill can never call him/herself pro-life again. It is the most pro-abortion bill since Roe v. Wade to reach the Floor


New Market VA: Whether this translates into Republican victories in the fall is beside the point, Ms. Dannenfelser. Your organization and others similarly inclined are simply using backdoor tactics (healthcare reform, GOP votes) as a smokescreen for your true agenda: taking away the legal right to safe abortion.

You can skew statistics all you want but the fact remains that the majority (76%) favor legal availability in a least some circumstances. After all these years, when will you "pro-lifers" understand that the personal choices of others are none of your business?

Marjorie Dannenfelser: personal choice is one issue. funding the choice when one is morally opposed or ambivalent to the practice is another. that is the issue at hand right now.


Denver: I'm not sure about your basic premise. If the pro-life vote is so powerful, why did the Democrats win everything in the last election?

Marjorie Dannenfelser: the difference between polling numbers and results at the ballot box is intensity. how much do people think that by voting for candidate A, the issue can move in my direction. If candidates articualte in a publicly how outrageous it is that all americans should pay for others' abortions and contrast that view with their opponents, it will work to the pro-life candidates advantage every time.


Dallas, TX: You say that abortion is paid for in these bills, but both bills explicitly wall off Federal funds from any abortion coverage other than rape, incest, or physical endangerment of the mother. Why can't you tell the truth about these bills?

Marjorie Dannenfelser: As approved by the Senate, this bill provides for direct funding of elective abortion in community health centers, provides federal subsidies for health plans that cover such abortions, violating longstanding federal policy under the Hyde Amendment and similar laws, will force families to choose between their health needs and their consciences on abortion, by forcing all enrollees in many health plans to pay a separate fee solely for other people's abortions, and fails to apply longstanding federal policy on the conscience rights of pro-life health care providers to the new funding provided under this bill.

Marjorie Dannenfelser: The truth about this bill is that it provides for direct funding of elective abortion in community health centers, provides federal subsidies for health plans that cover such abortions, violating longstanding federal policy under the Hyde Amendment and similar laws, will force families to choose between their health needs and their consciences on abortion, by forcing all enrollees in many health plans to pay a separate fee solely for other people's abortions, and fails to apply longstanding federal policy on the conscience rights of pro-life health care providers to the new funding provided under this bill.


Madison, WI: Thank you for your article and for taking questions. Perhaps one reason Republicans have largely abandoned abortion as a political issue is because most people realize that government can't "solve" the problem of abortion without precipitously increasing the size and power of government. Plus, more and more pro-life advocates simply sound like anti-sex advocates, calling for reductions in access to contraceptives. Just what do you want government to do? Explaining that could go a long way toward gaining more political support for your cause.

Marjorie Dannenfelser: The debate now is whether we should all be asked to fund others' abortions -- on a dramatic scale, given the scale in which this healthcare bill would take over the economy. This is a loser of an issue for 70 plus -- in some of these democratic districts even 80 percent of the population


Bethesda, MD: Don't you think there are just as many - if not more - pro-choice advocates? Would you forgo the chance to provide health care coverage to millions of Americans for the sake of preventing abortions? How can you balance those issues.

Marjorie Dannenfelser: Polling for the last 15 years shows americans of every demographic trending pro-life.

Gallup in May showed 51 percent labeled themselves "pro-life" Pew research backed that up.


Rockville, MD: Dear Ms. Dannenfelser, In your estimation, what proportion of voters -- Republican or otherwise -- base their vote primarily on the anti-abortion issue? In a time of economic crisis, is it reasonable to believe that those who are in deep economic straits would elevate this issue above others? Thanks.

Marjorie Dannenfelser: Yes -- everyone has a basket of issue they consider when voting. The question is does this add to the coalition for the winining candidate. In every election in recent history, of the people who considered abortion a priority issue, the sizabel majority voted for the pro-life candidate.


Austin, TX: Ms Dannenfelser, I was wondering if you could provide a little history as to how the pro-life side of the abortion debate became a "conservative" value. To my understanding, conservatives traditionally want the government kept out of our everyday lives, yet pro-life legislation is one of the most personally intrusive things that the government could do. How do old-school conservatives rationalize this?

Marjorie Dannenfelser: Not protecting the right to life is taking away our freedom at its core; it's encroaching upon the most fundamental right we have.

Marjorie Dannenfelser: It is Constitutional protection of individual rights at the base of the question. It is not a choice of vanilla and chocolate. That being inside is either human or not human. If it is, it has the inalienable right to life. so we have to minister to both mother and child.


Washington, DC: In recent days, other pro-life leaders have taken a second look at the Senate langauge and found it acceptable. I have no problem that different and sincere pro-life leaders can come to different conclusions.

But another fact has emerged that on other legislation than this health care bill, Republicans and pro-life groups have not objected to language very similar the Senate bill.

This question does seem to be a matter of judgment, wouldn't you agree?

Marjorie Dannenfelser: Without question, the Senate bill is the largest expansion of abortion since Roe. There are folks posing as pro-life or religious groups who make that claim.

The fact is, if this were not case, the Democratic House leadership would not have made the promise to "fix" the bill later after original House passage. Every bit of proposed language rejected by Stupak and the GOP has been cynical, PR oriented language. None has been a permanent, bill wide fix.


"funding the choice": "personal choice is one issue. funding the choice when one is morally opposed or ambivalent to the practice is another. "

Sorry, but this doesn't wash. Taxpayer money is used to fund issues across the board that each individual could find morally reprehensible. I, for one, don't like my tax money used to fund wars, corporate bailouts, or certain social programs. However, part of living in this country is understanding that you don't get to pick and choose where your tax dollars are spent.

Let's call a spade a spade. This isn't about funding, it's about the pro-life movement ending choice. That's what it's always been, and the funding issue is nothing more than a smokescreen for the bigger agenda.

Marjorie Dannenfelser: Funding the taking of human life or maybe taking of a human life is more fundamental


Accomac, VA: Please explain to me how you rationalize the possibility of blocking health care to 45 million Americans with a concern uniquely to reelect Republicans at the cost of those living and breathing and fearful Americans already here? I would like to comment as well that Susan B. Anthony struggled her lifetime to give women freedom and control over their bodies. It is wrong to use her name to endorse those who do not uphold her principles.

Marjorie Dannenfelser: Susan B. Anthony was a true egalitarian who believed in equal rights for all- even extending that to unborn children. Furthermore, she called abortion "the horrible crime of child murder."


Dearborn, Mich.: Can you please define Pro-life? Does it mean protecting life after birth as well as before? If so, do you support health care for everybody? Otherwise, you are anti-life for those without insurance.

Marjorie Dannenfelser: Pro-life? Protecting the right to live.


Vienna, VA: Nobody who is actually Pro-Life could possibly take the position that federal funding for abortion is the only problem with any of the Democrat health care plans, all of which will amount to a government takeover of health care either all at once or incrementally but inevitably. Similarly, to attempt to make people believe that a tiny minority of Congressional Democrats pretending to be Pro-Life in order to facilitate their party's takeover of the health care industry somehow means that Democrats are standing with Pro-Lifers is ludicrous at best. From a Pro-Life standpoint, there is so much more to hate about the Democrats long-planned takeover of the health care industry. Sadly, in my Grandmother's party there are no more Congressional moderates, Congressman Stupak included. I say this as someone who considers himself an independent, even though my positions and values often lead me to support Republicans currently. You are correct to say that too many Republicans appear ashamed of the Pro-Life factions within their party and underestimate the support for real Pro-Life issues but don't be fooled or don't try to mislead readers, the only truly Pro-Life position on any bill that would lead to a government takeover of our imperfect but still best in the world health care system, is to do everything possible to ensure that bills swift and final defeat.

Thank you.

Marjorie Dannenfelser: There are certainly many problems with the bill. My job however is to address the one issue which now is holding it up -- and point to the reality of the power behind that. It transcends party and is a powerful block looking for committed leadership.


Anonymous: Dear Ms. Dannenfelser, You seemed to brush off Uniontown's question about work showing that better access to healtcare would tend to reduce the abortion rate. This argument makes solid sense: a woman or family who has good basic coverage will more likely be willing to see a pregnancy through if they know that the pregnancy, delivery, and child will be covered. Someone with no coverage would seem more likely to choose to end a pregnancy. How, then, is it possible to make the argument that the entire bill, which would provide coverage to many who have none, should be defeated? There is solid evidence that Americans are dying from lack of coverage -- is it not pro-life to support coverage of those who cannot even afford to see a doctor?

Marjorie Dannenfelser: If the Democratic leadership and the President had followed through on their promise to maintain the status quo and keep abortion out of the bill, we could move on to this conversation. but the nation and this Congress have said "fix this first." All fingers should be pointed at the Democratic Leadership and the President for allowing this to go down over abortion!


Fairfax, VA: I am one of those voters who looks first and foremost at a politicians stance on the issue of abortion. So thank you for pointing out the way the Republican Party is taking the pro- life vote for granted. Are there any other democrats, besides Stupak, who are pro-life. I switched to the Republican Party years ago because I could not, with a good conscience, vote for anyone who supported abortion rights. However, your article seems to allude to the fact that we have a choice.

Marjorie Dannenfelser: There are quite a few in Congress right now. It predict there will be more and more pro-life candidacies of both parties in the run up to 2012,the next Presidential race. This President's position is getting more visibility and will be much harder for him to keep many of the same votes as in 2008


London, U.K.: Dear Ms Dannenfelser,

First, let me thank you for your well-written article. I find it disheartening that those who value the sanctity of life are 'set aside', when this concerns, in so many ways, perhaps the most fundamental human right (i.e. the right to life).

What saddens me most about the current debate is that nothing is said about the loss of life from a father's point of view. Having lost a child to abortion myself, I can attest to the emotional trauma and absolute lack of power that fathers have in these circumstances. Instead, fathers are typecasted as either being the ones pressing for the abortion or not caring at all. There are others who, like me, continue to mourn for children they never met.

My question therefore is: What can be done to raise awareness of this side of the debate? (I am already writing a memoir that I hope will be a contributing step).

Best wishes,

Tony Perry

Marjorie Dannenfelser: you point to something heart-breaking and true. There is a ripple effect that is well documented among other family members, and especially fathers. The healing ministries for post-abortive families are the most underpublicized aspects of this issue.

This is a movment of LOVE.


Atlanta: The reality is that with Ronald Reagan making abortion such an issue, a whole generation of women have been raised who will never ever not ever consider voting for a republican because they think that they are evil. There isn't anything to change their minds.

Until and unless the republicans accept everyone into their tent, they will have a tough time.

I think most people think that abortion should be (as Clinton said) safe legal and rare. Does anyone really want to go back to the idea of women dying because of abortions?

In any event - the discussion isn't about whether or not it's right it is about whether or not it should be legal.

IF the republicans can focus on an economic agenda (it's the economy stupid) and show that they are wanting to REALLY go back to their roots of a smaller federal govt and lower taxes AND lower spending, then they can win...they can't win on the social agenda.

Marjorie Dannenfelser: No one is arguing outlawing abortion right now. The issue is whether you and I and everyone should be paying for most abortions that occur in the nation.

Gallup (May 2009) shows the majority of women label themselves "pro-life."

Having been pro-choice, i understand your discomfort. However, from a purely strategic standpoint, this issue is needed in order to build a winning coaltion.


Winnemucca, NV: I consider myself pro-choice, but that doesn't mean that I support abortions on demand. If I were pregnant and the child would be born with severe birth defects that would pose extreme emotional and financial devastation on our family, I would want a choice as to whether to carry that child to term. Is there any room in your agenda to facilitate supporting an abortion under those circumstances? Or are you hell-bent on denying abortion, period?

Marjorie Dannenfelser: We are focused, from a woman's perspective, on teh early feminists approach. Help mother and child. Don't allow them to be exploited by men who don't want to deal with the consequences.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton said: When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women to treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.

Right now, Roe v. Wade prevents almost any reasonable protections from standing. Third trimester abortions of perfectly healthy children are fully protected.


Washington, D.C.: To the extent that unhealthy behavior of pregnant women is a factor in the nation's high premature birthrate (and thus our high infant mortality), shouldn't figuring out what the government can do to change these behaviors also be a component of your policy agenda? Does your organization do any work to support federally-funded behavioral interventions or research into these issues?

Marjorie Dannenfelser: The research shows, when women get the practcial and emotional support they need they are far more likely to choose life for their unborn chidlren. 2300 centers set up to provide just that now exist. There shoudl be more and they should be better funded.


Funding the taking of human life or maybe taking of a human life is more fundamental: Following this logic, what if everyone who opposed a particular war withheld their funding of it? Didn't the Supreme Court declare that un-Constitutional back during the Vietnam War?

Marjorie Dannenfelser: The purpose of war should be to prevent the deaths or more than would have occurred without the war. The purpose of pro-life protections is to protect lives also.

This bill would fund the deaths of hundreds of thousands of unborn children per year. The vast majority of Americans do not think this is a good use of their money and care enough that it will affect their vote on election day.


Marjorie Dannenfelser: I have really enjoyed this and your astute questions.

I applaud the GOP and handful of House Democrats who are standing strong.


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