Marjorie Dannenfelser, 56, is president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which works to end abortion by electing antiabortion leaders. She was national co-chair of Pro-Life Voices for Trump and is the author of "Life Is Winning: Inside the Fight for Unborn Children and Their Mothers." She lives in Arlington, Va.

You were involved in starting the Susan B. Anthony List in [1992] and have turned it into a major political force.

I’d begun to really see the real damage of not having women speaking out on this issue. And I knew that there were large percentages of women that shared my view as a convert to [the pro-life movement], who were not politically engaged. And that’s why it grew.

You had been a pro-choice Republican leader on campus at Duke University — what experiences shifted that for you?

Well, the first is that I thought I was pregnant. I had a boyfriend in high school that was really pro-life. And I just thought it was annoying, you know? My boyfriend, others that were pro-life, I thought their arguments were not compelling at all. So I didn’t even think about the issue very deeply, to be perfectly honest. I thought, Mm, I’m definitely not one of them. Right? And that’s a real thing, you know, the tribe you want to be in, especially when you’re that age, just figuring out your identity and all that. Well, I was not in that tribe. So I was at the first day of freshman orientation at Duke, still not knowing whether I was pregnant or not. I had my mom and dad with me and — back when they had phone booths — I called to find out. I mean, it was a miracle that I wasn’t [pregnant] because all signs pointed to it. But I wasn’t. And we already knew what I was going to do. Had the plan.

You were going to have an abortion?

Oh, definitely I was going to have an abortion. I didn’t think one second about any alternatives, about what would be happening during an abortion, what that thing was, all those questions. And even though I didn’t have to follow through on my decision, and I just moved on, all those questions lay simmering on my conscience.

At Duke I was the pro-choice co-chair of College Republicans. But I eventually just could not answer the question: What is happening? What is the object of the abortion? Is that a person with equal moral standing as you and me? Is it the equivalent of an appendectomy? Is it “my body, my choice”? Is it two bodies? The truth is, I started to just care what the answer was. And when I cared what the answer was, I had to at least say, “I don’t know.”

And then, what do you do with “I don’t know”? It seemed the burden of proof was on me then to prove that it was not another human being. Because I would never, you know, spray bullets in a dark room not knowing if there was a person there. So literally that analogy is what I wrote in the Duke newspaper after I changed my mind. I thought it was an earth-shattering, brilliant new epiphany for everyone. I’m sure nobody really read it, but that was important for me to write it. I became a philosophy major, and that also kind of pushed me into being clear on the syllogisms in my life. To be very clear about the reasons I believed what I did. And actually being loyal to logic and not just recoiling with fear, which is what I think “my body, my choice” ends up being. I mean, that [had been] my mantra, and I just couldn’t even say it anymore because it begs the question, right?

Yes, I’ve heard you say before that “my body, my choice,” became shallow for you. I think a lot of people think of it as pretty profound and fundamental about one’s body.

At the expense of alienating … [Laughs.] I guess I say that because I know how I felt when that changed. Because I knew there were two bodies; it's not my body, my choice anymore. There already is another person there who needs care, love and attention as well as I need. Before she's there, or he's there, it's not that.

I was listening to an interview recently with [former Planned Parenthood head] Cecile Richards, who was saying that having the government make a decision for a woman about her pregnancy, about her ability to control her body, is sort of the definition of authoritarianism.

Well, the real question is, is this a human rights question or not? I believe that it is. So you can never build human rights on the broken rights of other people. You would never say that about child abuse. You'd never say that about an infant just born that was perfectly healthy, no reason to let it die on a table. You'd say that is a human and therefore has rights that a human has. The mom has rights who has just delivered that baby. And both sets of human rights must be served. And the reason that Planned Parenthood and the reason the abortion movement has gone into decline is that they've never been able to figure out how to argue against the humanizing, as they put it, of the fetus. They don't have an argument that is satisfied.

The Supreme Court recently heard arguments in the challenge of the Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks and could lead to Roe v. Wade either gutted or struck down. How do you make sure that the fundamental right of people to control their bodies is not overstepped if government steps in and says a woman has to carry her pregnancy?

Do I worry about authoritarianism? Absolutely. Do I worry about government overstep? Certainly. Do I think that protecting mother and child by saving the life of a developing child is authoritarianism? Absolutely not. There's only one way that a human comes into the world. Until that changes, it's not controlling the body; it is protecting the new life within her. Before that, there's no desire to control a woman's body. There is only a desire to protect an unborn child and serve her if she is in need.

The other side has to answer the question: Is there any point where there is an acknowledgment of the human rights of that child? When is that? Is it 15 weeks? Is it 20 weeks? Is it 20, 39? Is it when they're born? It is, I think, vital to actually come to some consensus. An overwhelming majority, 76 percent, want limits that Roe doesn't allow. So are they all wrong? What are they thinking? Are they thinking that it's okay to control women's bodies? No. They're thinking that there is a human right at some point. Beyond which, it's just beyond the pale.

On the idea of trying to get to consensus, I wonder whether you’ve been able to have conversations with your counterparts on the other side of the issue, particularly in recent years. Consensus is a great objective; I don’t know if you think we can actually hit that.

I think if Roe is overturned, that's the only way that will happen. Because there is a real debate. Both extremes won't be satisfied. But the vast majority of people in the middle will be more satisfied than they are right now. So, in answer to your question, I would like to have those conversations.

I think we won't necessarily agree. But we can say: Look, in North Carolina, a 15-week limit, or a 20-week limit makes sense. It's overwhelmingly supported by North Carolinians. And, along with that, there are going to be a lot of women who are having babies that were not normally going to have them. So what do we do together to serve them and their children, whether through adoption, or if they keep their children — all the things that led her to that moment. And then all the needs that come after are absolutely part of that consensus, in my view. It's really easy to flash big solutions across the board, but the hard part — and the part that really is effective — is really going in and looking at what's available for housing, education, child care, medical care for mom and baby, all those things. And where there are gaps, we're morally obligated to attempt to fill them. Because both of their lives matter.

How do you have those conversations in a world of sound bites and polarization?

So far, it has not been possible. But I'll just mention this: You only compromise when you must. The abortion lobby has not had to compromise because Roe has been their shield for everything. So when more is [at stake], that's when you obviously have to compromise. So while there hasn't been an environment of compromise before now, if Roe is overturned I think that there's probably going to be individuals in that world who will step forward and acknowledge that there ought to be some consensus.

Stepping back just a bit, you described your decision to put the muscle of the SBA List behind then-candidate Trump in 2016 — a candidate you had not supported originally and had called “disgusting” — as “prudential.”

It was prudential judgment to truths we’re seeing right now. We would not be talking about Dobbs [v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization] and the potential overturn of Roe v. Wade had we not made that decision, in my strong opinion.

There are more forces, but our organization was the one who received the promises he signed related to the judiciary. And so that is my reflection on our support of Trump. And when you’re faced with a decision between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and which is more likely to appoint justices who will receive a case challenging Roe, our bet was Trump.

Is that sort of an equivalent of saying that the ends justify the means?

It’s politics. [Laughs.] It means you don’t have all the choices you want. And you make the best decision you can possibly make in the time. And when you’re making those decisions, yes, you’re thinking about what those ends are. What are your goals? Who’s going to help you reach those goals best? And I would not have predicted that in the compact period of time from 2014 until now that we would see this. I mean, it was our goal to be at this place, but I would not go to the track with that bet. [Laughs.]

Were there strategic mistakes on the side of the pro-choice movement?

I think that they overreached so profoundly on the national level that they started losing persuadable voters all over the place. And an [overestimation] about being able to get certain groups — just the assumption that all people, including women, would be opposed to any limit on abortion.

When this case is handed down in June, July, and if it overturns Roe or is a substantial gutting of it, what do you think ramifications for elections in the fall will be?

I think both sides are energized. We don't know yet which side is going to have more intensity. But I do think for almost 50 years when pro-lifers flexed their muscles, got involved, they knew that these debates were largely academic and theoretical because there was going to be no limit on abortion because of Roe vs. Wade. So the level of intensity and strength, without any realistic hope of success, is breathtaking. So now, when there is a realistic hope of success — it's not a theoretical and academic debate anymore — if your governor says, "When I get elected, I want to sign a 15-week limit into law," they know that can happen. That is motivating.

No matter which side you're on, you better communicate. If candidates try to hide, they will absolutely get hammered. They'll get hammered from their opponents. They'll get hammered in the media. The blood will be in the water. The sharks start to circle. And those guys will lose. [Terry] McAuliffe tried his best to make his position on abortion central in defeating Glenn Youngkin [in the Virginia gubernatorial election], and he failed. It's a lesson for Democrats, I think. But there's also a lesson for Republicans: Don't let the world define you. You better define yourself.

Having spent nearly 30 years working on this issue as, at least legally, an underdog, what does it feel like now to be winning?

[Laughs.] It’s incredibly satisfying, obviously. I look to all the people that have made sacrifices to do this work for all the right reasons. And I’m very proud. And I’m just so incredibly hopeful that the whole goal of this — protecting children and serving women — is just possibly around the corner.

And do you feel an added responsibility now to sort of expand your work into helping women, especially poor women who might not have as many options?

Yes. I very much see that the next frontier is serving. The consequence of limiting abortion, I hope, will be fewer unplanned pregnancies, but there will be unplanned pregnancies. And so, yes, what I think the next chapter here after limiting abortion, is serving them, helping them.

For young people who are pro-choice, as you once were, and might see this change as a real curtailment of their rights, of the recognition of their humanity, their personhood, their ability to self-determine their path, what do you tell those people? What would you tell your young self?

I invite them in. I would like to see a complete embrace of their bodies, their lives. And also make clear the distinction between their body and the two bodies. And it can never be a curtailment of your life to save the life of another person. Unexpected healing and joy comes from handling a situation in a life-affirming way rather than one that undermines life. So thinking creatively, believing in each other, that we can actually surmount obstacles ahead of us. Women have come so far in our abilities to rise to the occasion. So that the sisterhood is strong when a woman is in need. And that building our rights on the broken rights of others is impossible. So be careful not to have a baby. [Laughs.] And, if you do, we'll be there for you.

KK Ottesen is a regular contributor to the magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @kkOttesen. This interview has been edited and condensed.