The Journey From Pro-Choice to Pro-Life is a Journey of Grace

Susan B. Anthony fought a lifelong battle for women’s rights — and was entirely opposed to abortion.

American civil rights leader Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) in a photo taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston around 1900.
American civil rights leader Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) in a photo taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston around 1900. (photo: Register Files)

Watching coverage of the March for Women and the March for Life, it’s striking what a great divide there is in this country on the issue of abortion. Because let’s face it, the March for Women was really about protecting what many of its participants called “reproductive rights,” which is just a kinder, gentler term for abortion. For many women who came of age since Roe v. Wade, the “right” to abortion is all mixed up with women’s rights. If you’re pro-woman, you must be pro-abortion, right? At least that’s the line young women in particular have been fed for years.

Reading Matthew Bunson’s recent piece about Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, I was reminded of an interview I did with her for Salvo magazine. Dannenfelser, now head of President Trump’s national pro-life coalition, was an outspoken supporter of abortion rights in college. I asked her what changed her mind:

You know, it's hard to explain grace. I was chairman of the College Republicans at Duke, and my pro-choice position was out there. So some of the smartest, best people I knew decided it was important for me to change my opinions. They were nonjudgmental, they were very smart, and they were people I admired for other reasons. It was definitely a religious and an ideological change that happened at the same time.

I think what happens when you give up on the pro-choice argument [is that] you have to open your heart, and some of this other stuff gets in there, too. Once I gave in, it just opened the door for all sorts of other graces to come in. I went from being pro-choice to pro-life, moved toward the Catholic Church, and changed my major from pre-med to philosophy. I was trying to find God's will for me without even knowing that's what I was doing.

And of course, Susan B. Anthony fought for women’s rights but was entirely opposed to abortion. I asked Dannenfelser why she named her organization after the famous suffragette:

She understood the rights of women and she also affirmed the rights of unborn children. There was no word "abortion" then, but she was firmly against it. She called it child murder, and said that it would burden a woman's conscience for life and burden her soul in the grave. She understood that you couldn't build human rights on the broken rights of other people.

Susan B. Anthony has also made news lately as the subject of a “Saturday Night Live” skit. A group of modern young women who’ve just toured her homestead in Rochester, New York magically conjure up the pioneering feminist who appears in their midst. When they’re finished fawning over her and preparing to leave, the skit ends with Susan B. Anthony admonishing them with the words, “Abortion is murder!”

Kathryn Jean Lopez writes about the significance of the skit at National Review Online. She quotes Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Foundation:

Given the many conflicting messages these days about what it means to be a woman, to be a feminist, I appreciated the skit and its humorous poke at a sound-bite culture that is lacking a deeper understanding of the inherent dignity and vocation of woman... I appreciated that the skit depicted Susan B. Anthony’s stance on respecting and protecting life from conception.

Let’s hope that real young women get that message, too.