Elections Have Consequences

Marjorie Dannenfelser

11/14/2010 12:01:00 AM - Marjorie Dannenfelser

At the Susan B. Anthony List, we have a clear mission: to advance pro-life women as political leaders and to elect and preserve pro-life candidates, Republicans and Democrats alike, who will not subordinate the sanctity of life to any other issue, whether that issue is health care reform, bankruptcy reform or deficit reductions.

On November 2, we illustrated our determination to pursue that mission, even when there is great personal and emotional regret in doing so. On Election Night, our organization celebrated its success in 15 of the 20 races where we targeted Democratic incumbents who stood with us up to the moment of decision last March, then turned and subordinated the Life issue to the cause of passing Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama’s massive health care bill.

But there are always mixed feelings at such moments. The need to demonstrate that votes have consequences is only met when elections have consequences. For me, the consequences have included the loss of personal alliances that date to my first years in Washington. I served as the staff director of the nonpartisan House Pro-Life Caucus at the time it was chaired by Rep. Chris Smith, Republican of New Jersey, and Alan Mollohan, Democrat of West Virginia.

In that role, I came to know the veteran pro-life leaders of both parties and to understand, even as we often fought against, the enormous pressures they could be put under as their pro-life convictions forced them to resist their own leadership on issues like omnibus spending bills. In the late 1990s, it was leading Republicans who put enormous pressure on pro-life Members to drop their objections to a massive bankruptcy reform bill they favored. But Chuck Schumer, New York’s junior senator, had tacked on an amendment in the Senate that would have excluded just one group of Americans – peaceful pro-life demonstrators – from the bill’s protections for individuals.

It was an invidiously discriminatory law, but pro-life leaders demanded that the Republican leaders stand up to Schumer, and to the pressure of the nation’s legal elite, even if it meant putting the long-negotiated bill at risk. Ultimately, we prevailed, with much aggravation to some of our Republican friends, and the Schumer amendment was dropped.

Flash forward to the 111th Congress, where the tables were turned. There were Bart Stupak, whom I had come to know and admire very much, and Alan Mollohan, whom I cherished personally and for whom I had worked, leading the effort to ensure that a comprehensive pro-life funding standard would be applied to ObamaCare. These men were under enormous pressure to fold to the Speaker’s and the White House’s demands.

Over the course of numerous meetings, the “Stupak Coalition,” Mollohan included, made it clear that they would not bend. To shore them up and to show them how much we appreciated their stalwart stance, we ran radio spots prior to the final votes extolling these Democrats’ pro-life convictions and urging the public to call and thank them. We knew the value and the necessity of pro-life leadership and pro-life themes in both major parties.

When the betrayal of our cause came over that final weekend last March, I was both politically disappointed and personally heartbroken. Of the Stupak Coalition, only Dan Lipinski of Illinois stood with us all the way through, and his valiant efforts to head off the disaster went for naught. He understood the stakes and that, like any grassroots organization in America, we would have to answer the betrayal we had suffered.

Over the next eight months, we did just that. Recognizing the likely consequences for himself, Bart Stupak announced his retirement soon after the health vote. He represents a profoundly pro-life district. Soon after, with the help of resources we provided on the ground and the airwaves, Democratic primary voters turned out my old boss, Alan Mollohan, and nominated a pro-life replacement.

We ramped up our efforts against 18 other members of the Stupak Coalition, with former Rep. Marilyn Musgrave leading a multi-state “Votes Have Consequences” bus tour through the Midwest to highlight how these “pro-life” Democrats had wilted on the day of decision.

Then, in the last two months after Labor Day, we raced to the finish line and used $3.4 million of the record amount we raised this year on billboards, radio and television ads, nearly one million mailers to pro-life voters, robo calls and other measures to turn out the incumbents who had turned their backs on the unborn and their mothers. Believe me, I would much rather have spent that money protecting these incumbents and investing even more in Senate races where pro-life women challengers needed our help.

We did, however, have the joy of helping Dan Lipinski return to office, and overall we won 75 percent of our races against the turncoat Democrats.

The 112th Congress that meets in January will have more pro-life women than ever. And the leaders of both parties have been reminded that pro-life voters count. That we remember. And that our convictions about life are not “also-rans” to any political party’s priorities.