The leaders of the movement against abortion rights have, in recent years, been making a concerted effort to portray their movement as “pro-woman,” from devising a legal strategy that disguises anti-choice restrictions as protections for “women’s health,” to counseling Republican candidates on how not to talk about rape, to giving this year’s March for Life the theme “Pro-life and Pro-woman Go Hand in Hand.”
One of the leaders of this strategy is Marjorie Dannenfelser, the head of the Susan B. Anthony List, a group that takes its name from the historically dubious claim that the women’s suffrage crusader was a “pro-life feminist.”
Dannenfelser and her fellow anti-choice leaders were not thrilled, then, with the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, who has a long record of making disparaging and demeaning statements about women, not to mention the fact that he has blown up the anti-choice movement's carefully constructed talking points and publicly discussed changing the Republican Party’s platform position on abortion.
In an open letter to Iowa voters in January, Dannenfelser and handful of other anti-choice movement leaders urged Republicans to pick “anyone but Donald Trump,” writing that they did not trust the candidate to pick Supreme Court justices to their liking, and also saying that they were “disgusted” by his record of making “disparaging public comments to and about many women:
Moreover, as women, we are disgusted by Mr. Trump’s treatment of individuals, women, in particular. He has impugned the dignity of women, most notably Megyn Kelly, he mocked and bullied Carly Fiorina, and has through the years made disparaging public comments to and about many women. Further, Mr. Trump has profited from the exploitation of women in his Atlantic City casino hotel which boasted of the first strip club casino in the country.
America will only be a great nation when we have leaders of strong character who will defend both unborn children and the dignity of women. We cannot trust Donald Trump to do either. Therefore we urge our fellow citizens to support an alternative candidate.
When, in March, Trump said that there should be “some form of punishment” for women who have abortions if the procedure is outlawed, Dannenfelser scrambled to do damage control. When Trump said just days later that he didn’t actually want to change any abortion laws, Dannenfelser declared, “He has completely contradicted himself. If this is his position, he has just disqualified himself as the GOP nominee.”
Dannenfelser enthusiastically backed Carly Fiorina’s presidential bid, rejoicing when Ted Cruz picked her as his running mate in the final days of his faltering campaign.
But all of Trump’s egregious statements about women and his flip-flopping on abortion rights aren’t stopping Dannenfelser from lining up behind him now that he is the presumptive GOP nominee.
Dannenfelser praised Trump last week for hiring a top adviser who has the trust of anti-choice activists. And today in Townhall she writes a column called “The Pro-life Case for Trump,” in which she says it’s time to “reexamine what we know about Mr. Trump” and praises the “very specific pro-life commitments” that he has made on the campaign trail,” including backing a 20-week abortion ban, saying he would defund Planned Parenthood and promising to nominate Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade. (Never mind that Trump has backtracked and equivocated on many of these positions, as Dannenfelser herself has noted in the past.)
“As we move into the general election,” Dannenfelser writes, “Susan B. Anthony List is already diligently working to engage with voters and expose Hillary Clinton’s extremism, confident that the American people will reject her radical abortion agenda at the ballot box. We believe Mr. Trump, who has already taken strong positions on the life issue throughout the primary campaign, will join us on offense.”
It’s not an endorsement, but it’s a pretty warm statement from someone who has previously said she was “disgusted” by Trump’s treatment of women and said he had “disqualified himself” with his flip-flops. Dannenfelser’s group has clearly decided that it’s worth teaming up with the notoriously misogynistic Trump in the hope that he will hand them the Supreme Court that they want. But that may make it a little harder to sell the idea that their anti-choice activism is all in pursuit of a pro-woman, feminist vision.