Marjorie Dannenfelser

On the Overturn of Roe v. Wade - June 27, 2022

Marjorie Dannenfelser
June 27, 2022
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MS. CALDWELL: Hello. I am Leigh Ann Caldwell. I’m an anchor here at Washington Post Live and coauthor of the Early 202 newsletter. Now we speak with Marjorie Dannenfelser, who is the head of the Susan B. Anthony Pro‑Life America, an organization that has worked for this day, for what the Supreme Court did last week, which was to overturn Roe V. Wade. Marjorie, thanks so much for joining us today.

MS. DANNENFELSER: Thank you for having me. I've been looking forward to it.

MS. CALDWELL: So, first, to our audience, if you have any questions, please tweet at us at @PostLive, and we will try to ask Marjorie your questions. Now, Marjorie, you have been working for a good portion of your life on trying to overturn Roe v. Wade. Now that this has happened at the Supreme Court, can you just talk about your initial feelings, your initial emotion when you heard this decision come down?

MS. DANNENFELSER: Well, yes. I mean, having gone from a pro‑choice to a pro‑life position, then deciding that the most important way to get this done was to inject the issue at the center of politics where the debate could happen, and then with great wins that were narrow wins all along the way, seemingly almost impossible, you know, not that long ago, that the fact that the day arrived last Friday was certainly a point of great joy because we are at the beginning now of a brand‑new pro‑life movement where we can serve women and their needs and also save the very lives of children waiting to be born.

MS. CALDWELL: Can you talk about a moment in the past 50 years that was so critical that led the movement up to right now?

MS. DANNENFELSER: There's so many points. I would say the narrow winning‑‑or the winning of a narrow majority in the Senate more than once, where there was a confirmation coming up, and then narrowly winning‑‑narrowly winning even within the Judiciary Committee for the Kavanaugh confirmation process and the Amy Coney Barrett confirmation process, those were two pretty significant and narrow victories. There were narrow victories all along the way. When Mitch McConnell decided to hold up a nomination of Merrick Garland and allow a Supreme Court nominee to wait until after the election rather than moving into an election, that meant that we could get Gorsuch as a Supreme Court justice as well. So, there are many, many moments like this. Those are very high profile, but there are many moments like that over the decades that hung on a string that went our way, and each piece of it, we said the same thing: Life is winning. And we believe life is winning because we have won the hearts and minds of the majority of the country who made decisions in elections that made a difference in who was our Supreme Court‑‑who was on our Supreme Court and who would listen to a test case of Roe v. Wade.

MS. CALDWELL: You say you've won hearts and minds of a majority of the country, but polling shows that a majority of Americans actually opposed what the Supreme Court did. There's a poll by NPR that says 56 percent oppose, a poll by CBS on the last couple days that say 59 percent of Americans oppose this. So, what is your reaction to this? Is the court making decisions based on a minority of public opinion is?

MS. DANNENFELSER: Well, it didn't because that polling does not reveal where America really wants to have a say. There is a massive and continued misunderstanding about what Roe was. All it did was say‑‑was a statement from the court that said we don't care what your opinion is on a law in your own state or in the Congress, and we will decide, that you must have abortion available up until the point of birth, and that we will settle this for you instead of allowing you to settle it in the court of public opinion. That reality, what that is, what I just stated, has not been understood by the American public for decades because that fact has been buried all along the way. So, the polling that really matters is what people think really should be the law in their state or in the country. Over and over, those same polls show that Democrats, pro‑choice people, women, generally think abortion should be limited to the first trimester. These are folks not realizing that Roe v. Wade allowed it up until the end, and it's an understandable‑‑understandable that people wouldn't‑‑wouldn't quite get that yet, but now they will because they'll see that every single state will have its ability‑‑and so will the Congress‑‑will be emboldened to allow the will of the people to make its way in the law, by definition, a test of where public opinion is rather than the Supreme Court deciding that we had no voice.

MS. CALDWELL: Is it a little misleading to say that Roe v. Wade and abortion was allowed until the very end? You know, late‑term abortions are extremely rare and extremely traumatic, and usually, it is because of a very dire medical reason.

MS. DANNENFELSER: That's not true. Literally, the studies, not just by people who agree with me, show that people have late‑term abortions for the vast majority of cases for the same reason they have abortions at other times. I'll send that to you. It is documented. I hope you'll post it because that is real. Misleading that Roe allowed it up until birth, not at all. Not at all because, literally, it does do that, and right in D.C., right where we are right now, abortions up until the very end occur regularly and for the same types of reasons that occur‑‑abortions occur far earlier in pregnancy, not at all misleading. What is misleading is not giving public exposure to that reality, and it's part of why you see the polling responses that you just communicated from‑‑that you just communicated. I just want to encourage people because I think it's a moment for us to be communicating calm that when we put things in the hands of the people and the voters, it gets where‑‑a lot of people won't be pleased, but there will be common ground by definition that is going to be meted out over time. And when you see polls like that, look at the rest of the poll because it tells the rest of the story about where America thinks it should be. And I'll just say the only reason that the 47 out of 50 European nations stop abortion at 15 weeks, the majority do, or even more‑‑and even among those, most stop it at 12 weeks, the only reason that was allowed to happen is because, first, they saw the inhumanity after that point, and second, they didn't have a court telling them they couldn't do that. We have had a court that said we couldn't limit it, and now we do, and we'll get it right as a nation together.

MS. CALDWELL: So, it does head back to the states, as you have mentioned several times, but where does the movement, the anti‑abortion, the pro‑life movement go next? Would you like to see abortion illegal in all 50 states?

MS. DANNENFELSER: Of course, I would. If I think that once a child has been conceived is a human being, which it is, that it's the death of a human being each time, of course. But my opinion, I will do all I can in the public square to debate the merits of that argument, and so will others, in state after state and in the Congress, and if I win in any of those places or members of Congress or legislators win that debate in that court of‑‑and in the court of public opinion, that will be a law. In reality right now, what you see, as I said, in poll after poll is a general desire to limit it after the first trimester. Among most demographics, that's the case. So, yes, absolutely, it's the human rights movement of our time because it is protecting the human rights of people after they're created. MS. CALDWELL: Do you think that Congress should pass a federal ban on abortion or a federal six‑week or twelve‑week‑‑


MS. CALDWELL: ‑‑or whatever it is?

MS. DANNENFELSER: Yeah. My answer is the same. It is our job to be as ambitious as we can be in building consensus in every legislature. The Congress is a legislature also. In California, babies at six months deserve protection, and they're probably not going to get it right now from their legislature. So that is where the federal role comes in. If it's a human right, it's a human right everywhere, so ambitious as you can. And the Congress is as ambitious‑‑is not the same level of ambition that you're going to have in Minnesota, California, Alabama. It's going to be different because each state and the Congress has its own DNA, its own fingerprint, and its own way of building consensus and passing laws.

MS. CALDWELL: I'm going to ask you about some specifics. Let's start with the morning‑after pill. Should that be banned?

MS. DANNENFELSER: It's not on the‑‑I wouldn't use it, but that debate is not on the table anywhere. But what is on the table is the abortion pill, and the abortion pill is an abortion pill. It is only after conception. It is definitely not before conception, and in every case, a baby dies. And what the pro‑abortion movement is doing right now‑‑and I say "pro‑abortion." I usually say--call people what they call themselves out of respect, but this movement to send pills into states where there are protections for unborn children, to destroy those children, circumventing the law directly is a RICO case in the making, and it is certainly, certainly does not serve women. MS. CALDWELL: With the RICO case, or, Marjorie, what‑‑what's‑‑just to clarify for our audience.

MS. DANNENFELSER: RICO is just a‑‑sorry. RICO cases are just you‑‑it is against the law to conspire to break the law with other people, and that's what that is. So those people who are sending those pills in, who are sending‑‑have‑‑passing out fliers‑‑New York Magazine would be one‑‑they are mighty culpable for undermining, breaking the law if they do that, and they also‑‑even more important than that, they're mighty culpable in not meeting the needs of that woman. And I think that it is the moment in time, starting last Friday, to really challenge Planned Parenthood and every abortion activist to use some of their time and all of their cash to actually give choices, real choices to women, to help them have their children, to tell them that they are capable and that you don't have to choose between the two. And I haven't seen any Planned Parenthood‑‑oddly named‑‑movement to do such a thing, and I'm waiting for it. And I say join us. We will do that with you if you make that shift.

MS. CALDWELL: The abortion pill, as you rightly mention, is the next frontier, or an immediate frontier for, you know, abortion rights proponents. So, you know, you say that it is criminal. So, do you expect the states‑‑how do you expect these states to deal with the states who do outlaw abortion to address it?

MS. DANNENFELSER: Yeah. I'll be perfectly honest. It's something that lawyers are looking at now, and I'm not a lawyer, and I don't know the answer to that. I just think, number one, it's wrong; two, directly circumvent the law of another state and to not‑‑and to not really meet the needs of people where they are. So, I don't know the answer to that. Consult with our lawyers and figure out the just and merciful way to make that happen.

MS. CALDWELL: Where do you stand on the issue of contraception or IVF? I know that is something that people are very fearful of that will also‑‑

MS. DANNENFELSER: Well, contraception is‑‑contraception is, by definition, before a unique human being is formed. So, I have‑‑I think people should avoid getting pregnant. So however you're going to do that, do it, and a lot of people are thinking about that right now because once you've‑‑when another human being is formed, there are two patients, two people to consider. So whatever it takes to not put yourself in a position that you have to make such a‑‑that you‑‑that you've given yourself some problems to deal with, do it.

IVF, that also is not on the table. The deliberate destruction of human beings is not necessary for IVF, and so that's‑‑and that absolutely is a great talking point for the other side, but it is definitely not reality.

MS. CALDWELL: You know, a lot of people who are very critical of this decision, they say that abortion‑‑that pro‑life advocates‑‑that they care more about the baby in the womb and then they stop caring about the baby once it leaves the womb, once it is born. And so, do you think that there should be a federal paid family leave policy in this country?

MS. DANNENFELSER: Well, that‑‑that accusation, grounded in nothing, is answered not only by just what you said. That would be fine, but what is needed is far more than that. And that's almost too easy. So, yes, I would be absolutely for that, but I think what women need is much more holistic than that. They need‑‑

MS. CALDWELL: Like what?

MS. DANNENFELSER: ‑‑help in every way. They need‑‑they need assistance in‑‑and this is what we embarked upon two years ago in going state by state, especially in states that are most ambitious for life and who want to serve the needs of women with‑‑in unplanned pregnancy situations. There is to reach the root cause of how they got there, what was going on, that you're in a really tough time. So, looking at the woman as a whole and doing a great inventory of the entire state, an exhaustive inventory, where you're looking at services for her, her physical‑‑her physical health and her own well‑being, child care, and medical care for her child in the first couple of years of life, education for her if she wants to‑‑needs to finish a GRE and help and support for her finding a job; if she's addicted to drugs in any way, making sure that she gets the help that she needs. See how complicated and difficult and comprehensive that is? It is not just giving her a pill and showing her the door. It's not just mailing it in. It's love and compassion and serving her while we also do the same for her child, and that is happening‑‑

MS. CALDWELL: So that‑‑

MS. DANNENFELSER: ‑‑in state after state. And the pregnancy centers‑‑I'm sorry. Just one more little point, that also the pregnancy care centers across the country are important places of mentoring, but what we found was that all these services that I described in states where we do these inventories, most of them don't know about each other. So the cross‑referrals for all those services are very important. If you've met a woman who is seeking housing who is also facing an unplanned pregnancy and you know that she's drug addicted, she needs help from somebody in the community that's close and accessible to her. So that the parts of her life that have led to this point that are out of kilter and where she actually needs love and service, that they know how to serve her by resourcing out to other places.

MS. CALDWELL: All this support for women, should this be paid for with federal or state dollars?

MS. DANNENFELSER: I don't think‑‑I know it's a‑‑you're interested in that question, but what I care most about is that she get what she needs. So, in some cases, yes. In some cases, it won't‑‑it may‑‑what is a lot harder and what is really happening in the state level is that people in existing institutions or with existing state and federal dollars are making sure that they get to the people that need them. But if you‑‑you know, a lot of the‑‑a lot of these resources are privately funded; a lot of them are publicly funded. But the most important people to do this work‑‑and I've spoken with 22 governors about this very topic in the last several months‑‑are those governors and those legislatures who are themselves looking at the state of health for women and children, and what they come up with will match the values of that state. But the bottom line is that she be served in a comprehensive way.

MS. CALDWELL: I ask because most of the states that‑‑or many of the states that are in the process of banning abortion also have the highest poverty rates and highest infant mortality rates and highest maternal mortality rates, and so should there be a renewed focus then on‑‑


MS. CALDWELL: ‑‑on federal support, government support for these mothers? Because there's going to be a lot more children who are born.

MS. DANNENFELSER: My answer is the same as I just gave. Whatever gets her to where she needs to be‑‑and the people to help her are the people closest to her and the government entities closest to her. Whatever it takes is what governors are doing.

MS. CALDWELL: Mm‑hmm. Great. And then what do you see down the road as far as legal challenges? Do you think that the legal challenges are over? Is there any other case that could come before the Supreme Court on this issue?

MS. DANNENFELSER: I don't underestimate the abortion lobby. I feel sure that there will be more challenges. They have an uphill battle. I think there are a lot of other legal challenges, though, because state constitutions have their own makeup, and several have put the right, so‑called right to abortion in their constitution. Kansas is one, which is a very pro‑life state. So there's a referendum in August where the people would decide whether they get to decide what abortion law is in that state. And then on the other side, yes, there are many states that already have that language in that will keep it in for quite some time, but those are the‑‑for us, those are the important‑‑some of the most important legal battles moving forward.

MS. CALDWELL: What do you say to those who say, which is probably very likely the case, that abortion is‑‑it will not stop abortion, it will just make abortion more dangerous?

MS. DANNENFELSER: Well, I think all human rights battles have had similar things thrown at them: it's pointless, it's useless, it's going to go on no matter what you do, there will always be human misery, just let it keep going. I don't think that's acceptable. I think what we do is we address‑‑it's a lot easier to say that than it is to address the true concerns and needs of women while we protect the rights of their unborn children.

MS. CALDWELL: And what about the companies who are offering to pay for the health care, for the travel of their employees to cross state lines to access an abortion?

MS. DANNENFELSER: Well, they get to do that, and we get to not buy things from them.

MS. CALDWELL: And do you plan boycotts?

MS. DANNENFELSER: I only plan a boycott if we can win. I would say the pro‑life movement is not great at boycotts, but I do think that there are important ways to make sure that customers are communicating what they think. And I think that most of corporate America, much of it, is seeing‑‑is seeing that this country is not monolithic on this issue, that they will‑‑that some of their prized employees and their prized customers, maybe they've never talked about this issue, but deep down, they really don't‑‑they think there needs to be a limit. It might not be that they have a position on either poll, but they are really not comfortable with this. And they don't know‑‑and maybe they don't want their‑‑either the money that they are spending for the services of that company or if you're an employee and you have‑‑and you have benefits that you would prefer over that. There isn't an endless pool of benefit money from corporate America. We know that. There's going to‑‑I think they know that there's going to be a lot of pushback from‑‑again, from their employees and from their customers.

MS. CALDWELL: I want to ask a big‑picture question. So, from 1973 until Friday, abortion was legal and accessible, but it goes to the fundamental point that it did not force you or me or anyone else to have an abortion. It was just the opportunity, the access to it. Now, this decision, it actually prevents people from making that choice. So the fact that, you know, having the choice before this does not force you to have the choice, but now the decision is forcing a woman to not have the choice.

MS. DANNENFELSER: Yeah, I've heard that argument.

MS. CALDWELL: What is your reaction to that?

MS. DANNENFELSER: Yeah. My reaction is twofold. One is the Supreme Court 50 years ago said, "We don't care about your opinion, and so we're going to make the law from here. We're going to write a piece of judicial legislation and tell you what you can think and tell you what your laws can be." So there was a cap for almost 50 years. So it is on them, but now our country has to reorient and think about things that we didn't have to think about before. In Europe, not the case. Forty‑seven out of 50 nations limit abortion before 15 weeks, most for 12 weeks, which I know I mentioned it before. But I'm just saying they have had a consistent conversation about this over the decades, and they've landed at consensus. They don't have to go through all the troubled waters that we do, but unfortunately, now we do. And going through those troubled waters is going to require a lot of empathy, less violence on the part of the pro‑abortion movement. It's going to require a lot of listening, and it's going to require, yes, some rethinking about how to avoid getting pregnant. And that's not so bad. That won't hurt us terribly. But the idea that‑‑and then I would say‑‑maybe that was three‑fold now. I would also say that, well, it didn't force anybody in either way. Well, that would make‑‑that would be really compelling if we weren't talking about two people every time somebody gets pregnant. If you don't agree that there are two people, there's at least some consideration at some point during pregnancy that that person, wanted or not wanted, which doesn't affect his humanity or her humanity, is a human being with rights equal to yours and mine. Is there a point at any point that we say no further, no longer? So it makes sense if it's an appendectomy, that argument, or if it's a tonsillectomy or a hysterectomy, but it doesn't make sense if you're talking about the human rights of two people.

MS. CALDWELL: Great. Marjorie, we are out of time, unfortunately. I have so many questions for you, but thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it.

MS. DANNENFELSER: Well, I appreciate you and your questions, and I really enjoyed it. Thank you.

MS. CALDWELL: Mm‑hmm. And that was Marjorie Dannenfelser with the Susan B. Anthony Pro‑Life America organization. Thank you so much for joining us, and to rewatch this or a transcript of this or any of our other programming, please go to Have a great day.

"Marjorie Dannenfelser on Roe v. Wade." C-SPAN video. June 27, 2022.

Washington Post Live. 2022. "Marjorie Dannenfelser on Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade." Washington Post, June 27.