National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Efforts to Elect Pro-Life Women Are Paying Off

In short time, political neophytes' initiative has become a growing force

BY Joseph Esposito

November 22-28, 1998 Issue | Posted 11/22/98 at 1:00 PM

 

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—In a decade in which the importance of money in election campaigns has reached new heights, a unique pro-life political action committee (PAC) has become a growing force. The Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List helped re-elect eight members of the House and one new senator in the Nov. 3 election.

Named after the 19th-century women's rights leader, the SBA List was founded in 1993 to help seat more pro-life women officeholders. It was a response to the influx of pro-abortion women elected to Congress in 1992, which was called the “Year of the Woman.”

The effort was launched also to compete with EMILY's (“Early Money is Like Yeast”) List, which was started in 1985 and had become a mainstay of pro-abortion Democratic politics. They identify themselves as “the nation's biggest source of contributions for federal candidates.”

The SBA List's first public event was held at the National Woman's Party building at Washington, D.C., in February 1993. Susan B. Anthony was selected as the patron because she was a staunch opponent of abortion, calling it “infanticide” and “child murder.”

The early organizers of the SBA List were dedicated, but lacked any campaign background. Susan Gibbs, one of the founding board members and now director of communications for the Archdiocese of Washington, said, “None of us had political experience. None of us had PAC experience. We just had a passion for being pro-life.”

That soon changed. First Marjorie Dannenfelser and then Jane Abraham, both of whom had worked in politics and government, were brought in to run the effort. Dannenfelser is now chairman of the board, and Abraham, the wife of Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.), is president.

In the 1994 elections, 15 women were endorsed and financially backed for House, Senate, and gubernatorial contests. Eight of those were elected, and the number of pro-life women in the House quadrupled. Two more were elected in 1996, while the List helped return five others.

Last year, the organization became a 501(c)4 not-for-profit organization to provide educational outreach. The PAC continues, but is now known as the Susan B. Anthony Candidate Fund and is attached to the parent entity. This structural change allows for issue advocacy and training schools.

The training schools, which are for candidates, future candidates, and political staffers, comprise what Abraham calls “a state-of-the-art campaign academy.” Candidates have a virtual one-to-one consultation on how to articulate their message and work on such things as dealing with a hostile press.

In addition to political activists, the faculty includes Helen Alvaré of the U.S. Catholic Conference and Mary Ellen Bork, both of whom are columnists for the Register. Another instructor has been Carol Long Tobias, the PAC director of the National Right to Life Committee.

“There are some great pro-life women candidates,” Tobias told the Register. “But like many pro-lifers, they are not always sure what to do. The school helps prepare them.”

This activism has paid off. Membership for the List has increased from 2,000 to 9,500 over the past year and a half. That's still only about 20% of the membership of EMILY's List, but its leaders are excited about the progress.

They're also pleased with the results of the Nov. 3 election.

All eight of the endorsed pro-life House members were re-elected, even though several were locked in tight races. This year, for the first time, men were endorsed in a pilot program, and all three were successful. One of those was Peter Fitzgerald, a Catholic state senator who unseated pro-abortion incumbent Carol Moseley-Braun in Illinois.

This was partly accomplished by a rapid increase in fund raising. Money raised has climbed from $60,000 in 1995 to $262,000 in 1996, $475,000 in 1997, and $806,000 in 1998. In short, more than $1.2 million was available for this last two-year “election cycle” to support candidates and run the education component of the SBA List.

While such fund raising is impressive, it still pales in comparison to money contributed to EMILY's List. A total of 66,000 people—21,000 more than its membership—contributed at least $13 million over the past two years. Still, all this money was not enough to elect many key pro-abortion candidates.

Moseley-Braun was strongly supported by EMILY's List. In addition, all three endorsed gubernatorial candidates lost, three of its six senatorial candidates were defeated, and only five of its 11 nonincumbents were elected. Its six endorsed House incumbents were re-elected, but this was a year in which 98% of all members there were returned.

Abraham said, “I'm disappointed we missed the opportunity to elect some very talented pro-life women. But we can look back as a pro-life movement and take a lot of encouragement from this election.”

This is the kind of competition the SBA leadership is seeking to promote. However, in addition to political success, it seeks, as Susan Gibbs notes, “to give extra confidence to other women and to be a role model for younger women.” Such encouragement will help them better present the pro-life message in all venues.

Because of this positive message, the list of prominent supporters continues to grow. Mary Cunningham Agee, a member of the executive committee, told the Register, “This is one of the bright lights in the pro-life movement.”

Aformer board member and now vice chairman of the executive committee, Cathy Deeds of the U.S. Catholic Conference staff discussed the significance of the SBA List. “Working as a staffer on Capitol Hill and in the pro-life movement, I know the importance of pro-life women publicly engaging in the abortion debate.

“SBA seeks qualified women who are committed to public service in their state. We also need more pro-life votes in Congress. We seek dedicated spokespersons who will elevate the abortion issue, educate their colleagues and the public, and end this national tragedy.”

Twelve past and current members of Congress also serve on the advisory board. Among these is Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), who said, “The Susan B. Anthony List helps to get our grass-roots, pro-life citizens involved in the political process.”

Serrin Foster, an SBA List advisory committee member and executive director of Feminists for Life of America, added, “They have proved they are a force to be reckoned with on the national level. My hope is that one day the Susan B. Anthony List will extend itself to the state level, and do similar work there.”

For those associated with the SBA List, politics and morality intertwine. Many faiths are represented on its executive and advisory committees, and a large number are Catholics, according to Gibbs.

This Catholic involvement is appropriate, she said, because “we're called to understand the Church's pro-life teaching, accept it, and believe it. The Susan B. Anthony List is one way to carry out the teachings of the Church.”

As the Second Vatican Council said in its December 1965 “Message to Women”: “The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling.”

The Susan B. Anthony List can be contacted at 228 South Washington St., Alexandria, Va. 22314; telephone: (703) 683-5558.

Joseph Esposito writes from Washington, D.C.

Jane Abraham (at podium), president of Susan B. Anthony List, with Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC), a member of the List's advisory committee.