Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America is an “increasingly influential and hardline campaign group” that aimed to make abortion a central political issue.
Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America (formerly known as Susan B. Anthony List) is one of the most influential anti-abortion groups in America. SBAPLA was founded in the early 1990s in explicit backlash to the success of pro-abortion candidates supported by EMILY’s List. The group rebranded in 2022 to Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America to reposition itself as a direct counter to abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America.
The Telegraph called SBAPLA an “increasingly influential and hardline campaign group” that aimed to make abortion a central political issue. The organization’s longtime leader, Marjorie Dannenfelser, indicated she supports abortion bans in nearly all circumstances – including instances of rape and incest. The group also opposes many forms of birth control and backs limits on in vitro fertilization.
From 1996 to 2009, SBAPLA outspent leading pro-abortion rights group National Organization for Women PAC in nearly every election cycle. It has spent at least $178 million on elections since 2016 alone. Despite initially being envisioned as a bipartisan group designed to support anti-abortion candidates and influence college students, the organization has become an important part of the Republican political machine over the past two decades. In 2014, Dannenfelser said that she couldn’t “in good conscience, for the cause of life, support even a great pro-life Democrat.” As a recent example of its hardline partisanship, SBAPLA continued to financially support Republican Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker after reporting revealed Walker previously paid his girlfriend to receive an abortion. SBAPLA also launched campaigns to support the confirmation of anti-abortion SCOTUS justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.
After the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022, SBAPLA honed its focus on state-level policy. In an interview with the National Review, Dannenfelser the organization rebranded in 2022 to reflect its increasing turn to state-level policy.
However, SBAPLA’s federal ambitions still exist. Following the fall of Roe, Dannenfelser said that she had spoken with at least ten possible 2024 Republican presidential candidates who would make a nationwide abortion ban a centerpiece of their campaigns. SBAPLA also signed on to a letter addressing prospective leaders of the incoming 2023 Republican House of Representatives majority urging them to pass a nationwide abortion ban.
SBAPLA was founded in 1992 at the beginning of a decade that saw a dramatic spike in anti-abortion violence. The organization was launched by then-president of Feminists for Life ,Rachel MacNair, to elect explicitly anti-abortion women to office, regardless of political party. SBAPLA’s founding name (Susan B. Anthony List) was intended counter to the growing influence of EMILY’s List, which worked to elect pro-choice women to Congress. MacNair and other early leaders left the organization in 1995 and it was taken over by Marjorie Dannenfelser, who remains in charge to this day.
In 1998, SBAPLA announced it would move away from explicitly electing anti-abortion women and would instead work to increase the total number of anti-abortion legislators in Congress. However, the organization still favored female candidates as they believe anti-abortion messaging is more effective when delivered by women.
In the mid-2000s, SBAPLA was languishing financially but received a big boost from then-Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin in 2008. Palin spoke at the organization’s gala and elevated its profile shortly before Obama took office. In the 2006 election cycle, SBAPLA’s budget was $5 million; it was $78 million for the 2022 cycle.
SBAPLA also went after Democratic politicians with previous anti-abortion stances for voting for the Affordable Care Act, which the organization did not believe sufficiently excluded funding for abortion services when it was passed in 2010. This fervor around the Affordable Care Act helped grow SBAPLA into an important engine of the Republican Party’s electoral machine. As a sign of its rising influence, SBAPLA moderated debates between competing RNC chair candidates in 2011. By 2014, Dannenfelser said that she couldn’t “in good conscience, for the cause of life, support even a great pro-life Democrat.”
Following the repeal of Roe v. Wade in 2022, the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House released a statement that stated “to suggest that Susan B. Anthony would support government intervention in a woman’s decision about a pregnancy is abhorrent.”
Marjorie Dannenfelser is one of the most important figures in the modern anti-abortion movement. Dannenfelser became the head of SBAPLA in 1995 after gaining experience in the Reagan Administration and at the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus. Under her leadership, SBAPLA has grown into the most powerful anti-abortion organization in America. The New Yorker described Dannenfelser as a “valuable link to the grass roots of pro-life activism” for politicians. New York Magazine’s The Cut described Dannenfelser more bluntly as “the woman who killed Roe.”
Dannenfelser said she used to be “pro-choice,” even serving as the “pro-choice chair” of her university’s College Republicans club until the summer she interned at The Heritage Foundation. Shortly thereafter she converted to Catholicism and said “the first thing to go was my pro-choice position.” Under Dannenfelser’s leadership, SBAPLA went from supporting anti-abortion women to all anti-abortion candidates and, eventually, to only anti-abortion Republicans. In 2014 Dannenfelser said that she couldn’t “in good conscience, for the cause of life, support even a great pro-life Democrat.”
Dannenfelser holds hardline anti-abortion positions. Her ideal political candidate “would oppose abortion in every case, but her rhetoric would veer unfailingly toward the rarest, latest instances.” She called rape exceptions to abortion bans “abominable.” The Telegraph described her views on birth control as “a strict reading of Roman Catholic teaching that would make many practicing Catholics uncomfortable.”
Dannenfelser chaired Donald Trump’s “pro-life coalition” on the promise he would “[nominate] pro-life justices to the Supreme Court.” Dannenfelser was invited to the White House to discuss Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court in February 2017, was present at the nomination hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, and attended a White House celebration of Amy Coney Barret’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
Dannenfelser’s husband, Martin Dannenfelser, worked at the far-right Family Research Council until 2001 and served as its vice president. Family Research Council is labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its anti-LGBTQ views, and history of controversial comments on LGBTQ communities, abortion rights, and religious minorities.
Marilyn Musgrave is the vice president of government affairs at SBAPLA and a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives. As a member of Congress, she introduced legislation to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, co-sponsored a national partial birth abortion ban, opposed stem-cell research, and supported pharmacists’ right to deny contraception. Musgrave was viewed as hard-liner on same-sex marriage while in congress, saying it would lead to “polygamy or group marriage.”
Frank Cannon is the chief political strategist at SBAPLA and a founder of the American Principles Project, which is known for pushing anti-LGBTQ policies. His official SBAPLA bio describes him as a “regular guest at the White House under the Trump administration.” Cannon is a chief architect of SBAPLA’s plans for a post-Roe America, which involves pushing states to add amendments to their constitutions cementing abortion bans and empowering state Attorneys General to enforce criminal penalties for abortion bans.
SBAPLA has several affiliated entities that operate under its hardline anti-abortion mission separate from its political spending operations:
The SBAPLA Education Fund, also known as the Charlotte Lozier Institute, was founded as the “anti-abortion counter” to the Guttmacher Institute, a leading think tank on sexual and reproductive health. The Charlotte Lozier Institute uses Guttmacher’s data rather than creating its own to fuel its anti-abortion agenda. Charlotte Lozier Institute president Chuck Donovan is an opponent of same-sex marriage. He also believes rape is not a justifiable reason for an abortion late in pregnancy.
In early 2021, SBAPLA and the American Principles Project launched the Election Transparency Initiative. The organization, headed by hardline anti-immigration former Trump Administration official Ken Cuccinelli, stated it aimed to staunchly oppose H.R. 1 (also known as the “For the People Act”), which would have expanded voting rights. The initiative would also work to mobilize voters in Senate battleground states, and push for state-based election reform laws “primarily in states with close 2020 margins and a pro-life GOP-controlled legislature.”
ETI opposes the Electoral Count Act, which, according to Vox, would make “it more difficult for a member of Congress to object to an election’s certification,” stop state legislatures from decertifying their electoral college electors, and prevent a vice president from decertifying electoral votes–three key strategies considered in attempts to overturn the 2020 election.
ETI also touts the Honest Elections Project – an anti-voting rights group founded by influential SCOTUS and anti-abortion activist Leonard Leo – as a partner organization. Prior to the 2020 election, HEP spread disinformation and made unfounded allegations the Democrats were “cheating” and pushed for voter roll purges. HEP is also a leading proponent of the Independent State Legislature Theory – a fringe legal theory that threatens to wipe out most checks and balances regarding federal elections.
SBAPLA’s Her PLAN in an initiative that aims to connect pregnant women with medical and social service providers that hold anti-abortion views. Her PLAN’s database of service providers includes crisis pregnancy centers, which are criticized for their use of misleading advertising that is designed to convince pregnant women they offer abortion services to draw them inside.
In 2018, SBAPLA merged with the Life Issues Institute, an anti-abortion grassroots advocacy group that aims to “[educate] the millions of people who have not yet made up their minds on the abortion issue.”
SBAPLA is a hardline anti-abortion group. Dannenfelser said her ideal anti-abortion candidate would support banning abortion in nearly all circumstances, including instances of rape and incest. SBAPLA opposes many forms of birth control, including IUDs and the morning-after pill, channeling a “strict reading of Roman Catholic teaching that would make many practicing Catholics uncomfortable” according to the Telegraph. The organization also supports limits on in vitro fertilization treatments and stem cell research.
SBAPLA has a long history of pushing for hardline anti-abortion policies and supporting controversial anti-abortion figures. In recent years, SBAPLA:
According to data compiled by SourceWatch, organizations linked to conservative judicial and anti-abortion activist Leonard Leo are major funders of SBAPLA. Organizations linked to Leonard Leo including the 45Committee, The 85 Fund, America Engaged, Judicial Crisis Network, and the now-defunct Wellspring Committee have given SBAPLA over $4.4 million since 2008. In addition to Leo-linked groups, the Koch-affiliated Center to Protect Patient Rights gave SBAPLA $1 million, and megadonor Robert Mercer’s Mercer Family Foundation gave SBAPLA $500,000,
According to a 2022 Financial Times analysis, right-wing billionaire Richard Uihlein is the largest funder of SBAPLA’s PAC Women Speak Out. Other major funders of Women Speak Out include:
Several organizations fall under the SBAPLA umbrella that can influence elections via direct political spending. According to a 2022 Financial Times analysis, SBAPLA’s Women Speak Out is the largest anti-abortion PAC and the main arm of SBAPLA’s efforts to influence elections. SBAPLA also partners with SBAPLA Pro-Life America Candidate Fund and Pro-Life America PAC, which all work to elect anti-abortion candidates at the state and federal level.
In January 2020, SBAPLA pledged $52 million in support of Trump’s 2020 re-election and electing an anti-abortion Senate majority via Women Speak Out. The announcement came in response to Planned Parenthood of America making a $45 million pledge to back pro-choice candidates that cycle.
Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, SBAPLA has significantly ramped up their spending on elections. Since 2016, the organization has spent at least $175 million to support anti-abortion candidates in U.S. elections.
|Election Cycle||Total Budget*/Spending||Candidates Endorsed|
|2020||Over $52 Million||138 (with 33 in Texas alone)|
|2016||≈ $17 Million**||47|
*Prior to 2022, SBA described its topline number as “spending.” In 2022, the organization announced their spending plans as their “total budget” figure.
**While self-reported numbers from SBAPLA are not available for 2016, a 2020 Roll Call article describes SBAPLA’s $52 million promise for the 2020 cycle to be “nearly triple the amount it spent in 2016.”
SBAPLA registered as a lobbying organization in 2012 and has been the leading anti-abortion lobbying organization by spending since 2015, according to OpenSecrets. 2015 was also the first year that SBAPLA added Dannefelser as a registered agent.
While SBAPLA has been historically involved in state-level politics, the organization has redoubled its focus on state politics since the Dobbs Supreme Court decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade and provided an opening for total abortion bans at the state level. SBAPLA has also indicated it aims to restrict contraception and in vitro fertilization at the state level. SBAPLA’s 2022 rebrand was in part designed to reflect its increasing turn to state-level policymaking in anticipation of the Dobbs decision.
In the immediate wake of the leaked Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade, Dannenfesler stated that rape and incest exemptions to abortion bans should be left to the states. Prior to Dobbs, SBAPLA pushed state lawmakers to pass laws that would trigger upon Roe’s fall, enacting automatic draconian abortion bans. One such state was Tennessee, which voted to pass one of America’s strictest abortion laws that makes performing an abortion a felony carrying up to a 15-year prison sentence. While praising state lawmakers supporting the law, SBAPLA state policy director Katie Glenn said Tennessee’s law was a step in the right direction for the anti-abortion movement, as it aimed to make “elective abortion, [sic] generally illegal except in these situations,” their law made “elective abortion [sic] illegal all the time.”
According to The New York Times, SBAPLA planned to focus on state legislatures following the overturning of Roe. In a February 2022 conference hosted by the Council For National Policy, an influential and highly secretive networking group for major conservative donors and activists, Dannenfelser and SBAPLA chief political strategist Frank Cannon announced a three-step plan to further anti-abortion causes at the state level:
In July 2022, The Center For Media and Democracy reported that SBAPLA teamed up with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate “bill mill” comprised of state legislators and corporate stakeholders that draft and disseminate right-wing model legislation, to push anti-abortion legislation in post-Roe America. While speaking with ALEC staff, Dannenfelser emphasized a strategy focused on local voter education and building a “network of state legislators” to pass anti-abortion policy. Notably, ALEC worked with leading election conspiracist, Cleta Mitchell, to come up with plans to utilize state legislatures to overturn the 2020 election.
Across state legislatures, over 100 bills aiming to restrict abortion access were introduced in 2022 alone and West Virginia has successfully banned abortion since the fall of Roe. Texas also passed a restrictive “heartbeat” abortion ban which bans abortions after around six weeks.
SBAPLA was a major ally of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, despite Dannenfelser’s initial skepticism of his presidential bid. When Trump’s anti-abortion bonafides were in doubt, Dannenfelser stepped in to lead his campaign’s “Pro-Life Coalition” after Trump promised to “[nominate] pro-life justices to the Supreme Court,” an ask SBAPLA had not made before. Dannfeleser was invited to Trump’s inauguration.
SBAPLA was rewarded with significant access to the Trump administration. Dannenfelser was invited to the White House to discuss Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court in February 2017. Dannenfelser was also present at the nomination hearings for Brett Kavanaugh and at a White House event celebrating Amy Coney Barret’s nomination. In turn, Trump was the first sitting president to speak at the annual SBAPLA gala. SBAPLA also influenced staffing choices at Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services.
In January 2020 SBAPLA pledged $52 million in support of Trump’s 2020 re-election and electing an anti-abortion Senate majority campaign via Women Speak Out. The announcement came in response to Planned Parenthood of America making a $45 million pledge to back pro-abortion rights candidates that cycle.
In 2019, watchdog organization Campaign For Accountability filed an IRS complaint alleging that SBAPLA violated their nonprofit status. The issues raised in the complaint were threefold:
In 2010, SBAPLA purchased a series of billboards in Ohio targeting then-Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-OH) for voting for the Affordable Care Act with the text: “Driehaus voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortion.” Driehaus filed a complaint with the Ohio Election Commission under an Ohio law that makes it illegal to “post, publish, circulate, distribute, or otherwise disseminate a false statement concerning a candidate, either knowing the same to be false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” In response, SBAPLA challenged the Ohio law and ran a radio ad saying they would not be intimidated by Driehaus.
Driehaus lost his 2010 re-election and sued SBAPLA for defamation and for loss of livelihood. The Ohio Election Commission both ruled in favor of Driehaus and a federal judge ruled he could proceed with his defamation suit, with both parties ruling that the ACA does not provide taxpayer funding for abortion. The same federal judge also tossed SBAPLA’s challenge of the Ohio law and ruled SBAPLA must remove statements from their websites insinuating the ACA funds abortion services.
SBAPLA then petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the case. The Supreme Court unanimously reversed the judgment of the lower courts and allowed SBAPLA to continue with its challenge of the law. The Ohio law banning illegal statements in political advertisements was in turn struck down.
Sean Fieler is a major donor to SBAPLA and a former member of its board of directors. In addition to his work at SBAPLA, Fieler holds positions at the American Conservative Union, the Acton Institute, Heritage Action For America, and the American Principles Project.
Fieler is a conservative mega-donor known for his anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ stances. According to a 2015 HuffPost article, Fieler poured tens of millions into backing opponents of same-sex marriage as other principal financial backers of the movement slowed down their giving. Rewire News reported that Fieler has donated at least $18 million since 2010 to anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ groups. Fieler counts right-wing activist Leonard Leo as a major influence on his activism.
Fieler was a strong advocate for a Trump administration grant that funded an anti-abortion pregnancy tracker app. The app collected medical data on thousands of women and “sowed doubt” about the effectiveness of contraception, according to The Guardian. Fieler has also donated to numerous anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion causes, including:
Fieler has also made a series of inflammatory anti-LGBTQ comments:
The American Principles project is a right-wing advocacy group founded in part by SBAPLA chief political strategist Frank Cannon and chaired by prominent SBAPLA donor and former board member Sean Fieler. APP teamed up with SBAPLA to launch the Election Transparency Initiative, which fights voting rights legislation.
Originally known for libertarian policies, such as opposing federal education standards and going back to the gold standard, APP rebranded itself as the “NRA For Families” in the Trump era and has become influential in the “parental rights arena.” APP has since been an opponent of inclusive education by opposing “critical race theory” and promoting anti-LGBTQ policies in public schools.
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