There’s Dannenfelser. There’s her friend Charmaine Yoest, the president of Americans United for Life, who also has five children. There’s Penny Nance, chief executive of Concerned Women for America, with two. (“I feel like an underachiever compared to Marjorie,” she says.)
Shannon Royce, president of Chosen Families, and Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life, each have two. Lots of working women have children, of course. But these crusaders make their personal experience of motherhood part of their public lives. Sarah Palin drew attention to her strong antiabortion stance by gathering her children — including Trig, who has Down syndrome — around her on the stump. Now these leaders are taking the word “choice” away from the left. Their choice, they’re saying through example, is to have the children and work it out.
Abortion rights activists, take note. These women represent a major strategic shift in the abortion war, and not just because they are generally more likable than the old, white fathers of the antiabortion movement: Jerry Falwell, Henry Hyde, Jesse Helms and Pat Robertson, who in 1991 accused Planned Parenthood of “teaching kids to fornicate, teaching people to have adultery, every kind of bestiality, homosexuality, lesbianism — everything that the Bible condemns.” Their approach to working and mothering — “I’m just doing the best I can, like you” — also reverses decades of harsh judgments from such female leaders on the right as Beverly LaHaye and Phyllis Schlafly.
Most important, they are revising the terms of engagement. Antiabortion activists have traditionally focused their energies on the rights of the fetus. But on the question of women’s rights and women’s health, the old-school warriors have been more vulnerable. What is a poor woman with no support system and a bunch of kids at home to do in the event of an unwanted pregnancy? The old white men couldn’t give an answer. They came across not just as unsympathetic. They were uncomprehending. Simply put, they could not relate.
What these women offer is relatability. They converse frankly and easily about the travails of working mothers: Sometimes you’re full time, sometimes you’re part time; sometimes you’re on a deadline as kids squabble in the background. You ask husbands and mothers-in-law for help and you hire a babysitter when you have to. “I do all the things that every other mom does,” says Nance. “Soccer games and birthday parties and teacher meetings. I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s difficult.”