“Saying the word Roe doesn’t help us,” Marjorie Dannenfelser told a room full of Christian right activists and donors at the late February meeting of the secretive Council for National Policy (CNP). “The country is still attached to Roe, … because they don’t understand it, so it precludes laws that they actually support.”
As president of Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List), an organization whose “ultimate goal is to end abortion in this country,” Dannenfelser led the CNP panel presentation “After Roe, Then What?” for its advocacy arm, CNP Action.
The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) obtained an audio recording of the presentation, which featured panelists Mike Thompson, CNP Action’s secretary and treasurer and a senior vice president with CRC Advisors; Frank Cannon, founding president of the American Principles Project and a longtime political strategist for SBA List; and Timmy Teepell, a partner of OnMessage.
Dannenfelser and Teepell reported on “a lot of great news” for anti-abortion groups revealed by a Feb. 10 survey of voters in the Senate battleground states. “We are talking about being as ambitious as we possibly can, gaining consensus in every state and in the federal government,” said Dannenfelser. “They are talking about unlimited abortion up until the end…. When it’s framed like that, we win.”
Earlier this month, CMD revealed the full agenda of the CNP meeting, held from Feb. 24–26 at the posh Ritz-Carlton in Dana Point, California, along with this year’s changes in leadership for the Christian right “shadow network.”
In addition to providing attendees with recent polling on Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision guaranteeing women in America the constitutional right to an abortion, CNP panelists discussed judicial system obstacles to outlawing abortion, the importance of the 2022 midterm elections, and a media strategy for winning “hearts and minds” based on a new approach to anti-abortion messaging.
New Polling Leads to New Spin
Through their presentation, panelists largely focused on messaging for anti-abortion activists and candidates running in the midterms.
In reporting on the survey results, OnMessage’s Teepell noted that 52% of respondents support Roe v. Wade and 34% oppose it. That’s why “we lose when the argument is [about] the [Supreme] Court striking down Roe v. Wade,” he said.
Instead, he and Dannenfelser advocate for focusing on the “humanity of the [unborn] child” and scientific evidence behind why a fetus “is a human being.” They also encourage using words such as “democracy” and “extremism” as part of the anti-abortion fight, claiming that “the overturn of Roe will be a restoration of democracy in this country” and those who support a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion are “extremists.”
Teepell proudly proclaimed that OnMessage is the “main [consulting firm] for the [National Republican] Senatorial committee this year,” and that survey results are not yet ready for public consumption because the “chairman of the RNC [Republican National Committee] will want to publicize this himself.”
Impact of Dodd Decision on Midterms
Oral arguments in the Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which challenges Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks, were heard in December, with a decision expected from the nation’s highest court by June.
Mississippi’s Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn (R-Miss.), the 2020 chair of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), touted the Dobbs v. Jackson case and its prospects for leading to a decision to overturn Roe v. Wade during a panel at CNP’s meeting last May.
“We think that’s going to be a landmark case,” Gunn predicted. “All of us know that the United States Supreme Court composition has changed… in a way that is more pro-life. They say that Amy Coney Barrett is one of the most active, pro-life people in America, so we believe that she brings a new dynamic to that court. We think [the] law that we passed in 2018 will be transformative in the arena [of] abortion. We’re proud of that.”
Prior to the Supreme Court arguments, SBA List announced a $10-million ad buy in November “to educate Americans about the stakes of the Dobbs case.”
SBA List and 79 female state lawmakers also filed an amicus brief petitioning the Supreme Court to uphold Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. Many groups with CNP membership filed briefs, including Advancing American Freedom, Becket Fund, Concerned Women for America, Family Research Council, Judicial Watch, and the Pacific Justice Institute.
With midterm elections taking place only months after the Court announces its decision, panelists at the CNP meeting emphasized the importance of preparing candidates and allies with appropriate messaging now.
“The worst possible outcome for the pro-life movement—and I believe for the party itself— would be [for] Republicans to mishandle the abortion issue,” Cannon said. “If…we are failed by the Republican Party, and by ourselves not working hard enough to win in [the November] elections, we’ll squander the miracle that got us here.”
SBA List is targeting at least 8 million voters in battleground states and has plans to knock on the doors of 4.5 million of them, he revealed.
In the question-and-answer session following the presentation, Dannenfelser added that they would reach out to these voters with “400 other means of communication.”
In his remarks, Thompson advocated for a “multi-channel program” including social media, talk radio, podcasts, billboards, and mobile billboards to push anti-abortion messaging and to “hold the other side accountable.”
“We have to prepare our allies in elected office for the onslaught [after the Dodd Supreme Court decision],” Thompson said, prompting an “Amen!” from the crowd. “Make sure they see the ads. Make sure they understand the way science has changed.”
SBA List disclosed in a press release that it and its affiliates will spend $72 million during this year’s midterm election cycle.
“The moment we are in is an absolute miracle and the people in this room made [it] happen,” Cannon began his comments before discussing the anti-abortion landscape at the state level.
Cannon outlined three actions to further restrict and prohibit abortions.
First, groups like CNP and SBA List will push for state referenda that “enshrine pro-life [stances] in their constitutions” so that fewer states are able to protect the right to an abortion at the state level.
Second, Cannon says, “we have to change the way courts are picked, and that is a process that will take a little bit of time.” He blames the Brennan Center for the way state judges are selected, which he maintains has resulted in a large number of liberal justices in state court systems.
Cannon does not present an alternative judicial selection system for states, but points out that this is a problem for the anti-abortion movement. According to him, 26 states and the District of Columbia “have political or state court problems, and 20 of those states have both of those problems.” That means “we are not going to get pro-life laws in the immediate future.”
Third, Cannon says that in many states attorneys general are unable to enforce laws criminalizing abortion. “What we have to do is have the legislatures change the law to empower the attorneys general to be able to actually, actually enforce pro-life laws that are enacted in the states,” he said.
“We are going to have battles in every state and at the federal level,” Thompson said. “The media is going to lose its mind.”