By Jonathon Van Maren
On May 22, 2018, President Donald J. Trump walked out onto the dais in front of a packed hall at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. to thunderous applause. He was comfortable and relaxed, and seemed almost taken aback by the enthusiastic reception. “Thank you. Wow. Thank you very much. Thank you, Marjorie. Thank you, Marjorie, for that wonderful introduction. All my friends are out here.”
He had just been introduced to the crowd by Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of America’s most powerful and influential pro-life organization, the Susan B. Anthony List. In the 27 years since the SBA List was founded, they have grown from a tiny pro-life organization trying to combat the influence of abortion groups on Capitol Hill to a well-funded juggernaut with access to the halls of power. In 2017, Vice President Mike Pence was SBA List’s keynote gala speaker—in 2019, it was Mitch McConnell and Nikki Haley.
In Life Is Winning: Inside the Fight for Unborn Children and Their Mothers (published last month with an introduction by Mike Pence and a foreword by former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders), Dannenfelser tells the fascinating story of how the SBA List, founded with a mere $2,485 in 1993, became the powerhouse that sent out 1,000 canvassers and knocked on a million doors for Trump during the 2016 election. It is the story of how the political pro-life movement not only remained relevant but expanded its influence during a time when the GOP elites assumed that abortion was a losing issue.
Dannenfelser writes that she is sympathetic to politicians changing their minds on abortion because she was once pro-choice herself—even when, as a young woman, she campaigned for Reagan in the 1980s. Her mind was changed on the issue by a confluence of deeply personal events, she writes—becoming Catholic and encountering the teachings of Pope John Paul II, the death of a childhood friend, and extensive personal research. Her involvement in the pro-life movement followed soon after, and she began working for West Virginia Democrat Alan Mollohan, co-chairman of the House Pro-Life caucus, working to organize pro-life Democrats.