A prominent anti-abortion group is ramping up pressure on candidates in the Republican 2024 primary, using its considerable political influence to compel them to commit to a federal abortion ban.
Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America’s clout was on display last month when the group openly criticized the primary’s front-runner, former President Trump, calling on him to embrace a federal ban after he criticized GOP messaging on the issue following the party’s disappointing midterms. Recently, Trump met with the group to smooth out their differences.
But the group’s outsized influence has added further pressure to Trump and other GOP candidates as they attempt to navigate the thorny issue of abortion, which has proven a liability with Republicans since the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
In a sign of the growing role SBA Pro-Life America is set to play, the group is partnering with GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway, who served as special counselor to Trump in the White House, to train candidates on articulating anti-abortion positions.
“Pro-lifers must be clear, crisp, compelling and, yes, compassionate in saving lives and appealing to hearts and minds,” Conway said in a statement to The Hill. “States’ rights are essential, but leaders in Washington also must support our first freedom, the right to life. More than 70% of the country agrees that abortion not past the first trimester, e.g., 15 weeks, is reasonable, yet 100% of Democrats insist on abortion, anytime, anywhere, anyone. They deny science, sonograms and sensibility.”
The move to partner with Conway finds high-profile Trump allies joining forces; the group’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, chaired the anti-abortion effort for Trump’s 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns.
Dannenfelser and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel have encouraged candidates to use the “ostrich strategy” when talking about the issue on the trail.
“The Democratic Party stance of abortion on demand, paid for by taxpayers, at any time and for any reason up until birth puts us in line with North Korea and China and is profoundly unpopular. Pro-life candidates who lean into the contrast win, while those who take the ‘ostrich strategy’ and try to run from the issue are done,” Dannenfelser said in a statement announcing the group’s partnership with Conway.
Still, various Republicans are cognizant of the issue’s political risk and how it is viewed in different parts of the country.
Earlier this month, GOP candidate Nikki Haley said it would be “unrealistic” for candidates to pledge to a federal abortion ban, noting the current divide in the Senate. SBA Pro-Life America called Haley’s remarks “unacceptable.”
The group has said its support for 2024 presidential hopefuls depends on the candidates supporting a minimum ban on abortions at 15 weeks.
It also says it has major plans to elevate the anti-abortion cause in the Republican primary and general election. The group says it will be on the ground in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, Montana and Wisconsin, with a goal of knocking on 4 million doors. Anti-abortion candidates saw defeats in several of those states last year.
But anti-abortion activists largely credit SBA Pro-Life America for playing a key role in the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the election of candidates with anti-abortion views. In 2016, the group spent $18 million during the cycle and reached 1.6 million voters in five battleground states. That number jumped to $52 million in 2020, and the group says it reached 8 million voters in 10 battleground states.
“I know for a fact that senators and members of Congress and so on and so forth are willing to take Marjorie’s calls because they have evidence that SBA is willing to go to bat for them, as opposed to other groups, who will just put out an endorsement and maybe just spend some money on digital ads,” said one activist. “But door knocking is the hardest thing to do in politics because it’s the most time and money-consuming, and so it really makes a difference.”
The group has naturally drawn the ire of abortion access groups, who argue it is extreme.
“We know that Americans are with us even if they want to sort of pretend to be this kingmaker role that they can force or pressure candidates to come out and at minimum support 15-week bans,” said Taryn Abbassian, associate research director at NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Trump and SBA Pro-Life America both played a major role in setting the stage for Roe to be overturned, with Trump appointing three conservative justices who had the group’s backing to the high court.
“For 50 years, they had been trying to do it. I got it done, and now we’re in a position to make a really great deal, and a deal that people want,” Trump said in an interview with Newsmax on Tuesday.
However, Trump has not provided too many details on what would come next on abortion if he were to win another term in the White House. The former president told The Messenger in a Monday interview that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) six-week abortion ban was “too harsh” and did not say whether he would have signed the legislation himself.
That opened the door for DeSantis to swipe at Trump on the issue.
“Protecting an unborn child when there’s a detectable heartbeat is something that almost 99 percent of pro-lifers support,” DeSantis said at a Tuesday press conference. “As a Florida resident, you know, he didn’t give an answer about, ‘Would you have signed the heartbeat bill that Florida did, that had all the exceptions that people talk about?’”
When asked about a six-week ban on the procedure on Newsmax last week, Trump said “other people agree with it, and a lot of people don’t.”
“We’re in a position now, and I’m going to be leading the charge,” he said. “Where we can get something that the whole country can agree with.”
Recent polling shows the majority of Americans disagree with the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. An NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist poll released last month found roughly 60 percent of respondents said they disagree with the move to overturn the landmark case. Sixty-one percent of respondents said they “mostly support” abortion rights, while 37 percent said they’re opposed.
There is also some evidence that would suggest views on the legality of abortion are dependent on the pregnancy stage. A Pew Research survey released last year found that 56 percent of respondents said the timing of an abortion should be a factor in determining its legality.
SBA Pro-Life America and other anti-abortion activists point to the 2022 reelections of Republican governors who have implemented anti-abortion measures, like DeSantis, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R). DeSantis signed Florida’s six-week abortion ban after his reelection.
“In some ways, Republicans are doing the work for us,” Abbassian said. “They keep pushing these extreme bans and policies and we know those are unpopular.”