The New Yorker has a very kind, very polite profile this week about the Susan B. Anthony List, the lobbying group whose sole purpose is to get anti-abortion politicians into office. The piece centers around Marjorie Dannenfelser, the SBA List's president, who the New Yorker's Kelefa Sanneh says is trying to avoid the "controversial" side of abortion rights, focusing only on "issues on which there is, or might be, a broad consensus" and getting politicians to talk "smarter" about abortion.
A more accurate, slightly less polite way to put that might be that Dannenfelser and the SBA List have no problem politely, decorously lying to get anti-abortion politicians into office: lying about what these politicians believe, lying about their voting records, their opponents' voting records, and anything else that might be handy and might make the SBA List's agenda sound less extreme. (Just how extreme, you ask? That's Dannenfelser up top there, embracing Ted Cruz after an SBA List event earlier this year, one where he accused abortion rights advocates of engaging in "savagery" and "walking arm-in-arm, chanting 'Hail, Satan,' embracing the right to take the life of a late-term child.")
Sanneh doesn't sugar-coat the SBA List's main objective, which is, as he puts it, "to bring an end to widely available abortion." But he calls Dannenfelser's approach "incremental," which isn't really true. She and the organization as a whole want to get the most anti-abortion politicians into office as quickly as they can; they've just realized that the best way to do that is to get kinda fuzzy on what exactly these particular politicians stand for. The SBA List, for example, supports personhood, the idea that every sperm is sacred and an embryo is a person from the moment sperm meets egg. But in the past couple years, they've stopped openly supporting personhood legislation or ardently pro-personhood candidates. (That's because personhood amendments do really, really badly at the polls.) Instead, the organization is finding it's better to, as Sanneh puts it, "link the pro-life movement to less controversial causes, like fiscal discipline and general opposition to Obamacare."
That's the strategy with Thom Tillis, the North Carolina candidate for Senate who the SBA List is supporting through a PAC called Women Speak Out, which so far this year has spent $1.3 million against Democratic candidates. Tillis, who's currently a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives, is kind of a great stand-in for understanding how the SBA List operates these days. In terms of social issues, his stance can best be described as "dinosaur." As this New York Times editorial neatly lays out, he supports an almost-total ban on abortion, opposes same-sex marriage, and pushed for North Carolina to be allowed to ban contraceptives. He also opposes laws mandating equal-pay for women, and sounds just great to work with: when a female colleague in the State Legislature argued with him about something, he told a newspaper that her comments were "likely born out of emotions."
But when Tillis wanted to pass new, stringent restrictions on abortion clinics, he didn't just introduce a new bill, which probably couldn't have passed. Instead, he buried the new legislation inside an amendment to a bill on motorcycle safety. (The New Yorker doesn't mention that part, noting only that the bill was "controversial.")
The same goes for the SBA List's strategy in this election, where Tillis is running against Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan. Instead of focusing on Tillis's record on abortion, Sanneh writes, they've focused most of their ads on Tillis's hatred of the dread Obamacare. And when they do mention abortion, it's to bash Hagan. She's pretty moderate socially, but the SBA is bent on making her look like a demented monster whose greatest joy is "painful late-term abortions." Here's an ad they've begun running about her, calling her "too extreme for North Carolina."
In the end, though, Dannenfelser and the SBA List don't really seem to care if Tillis is as ardently anti-abortion as they are. (If he was elected to the Senate, for example, he told New Yorker he won't work to pass federal versions of the anti-abortion state bills he drafted.) They also won't support even the most anti-abortion Democrat, because it doesn't help their overall goal of getting a federal ban on all abortions after 20-weeks.
"We can't have a Democratic majority in the House or the Senate right now," Dannenfelser told the magazine. "If we're close, I can't in good conscience, for the cause of life, support even a great pro-life Democrat."
Anything to win, we guess.
Image via AP.