This article first appeared in the Arlington Catholic Herald on October 5, 2011.
Lifelong problem-solver fights for the unborn
Marjorie Dannenfelser works for pro-life cause as president of Susan B. Anthony List
By Lisa Socarras
Under Dannenfelser’s leadership, SBA List membership has grown to 320,000 nationwide. The SBA List Candidate Fund, its political action committee, has helped 90 pro-life candidates get elected to the House of Representatives, 12 to the Senate and 13 to statewide offices across the country.
Dannenfelser, who serves as primary strategist and spokesperson for the SBA List, has been interviewed by numerous national television, radio, print and online media outlets including the Associated Press, Catholic News Agency, CNN, EWTN, Fox News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and United Press International. Her commitment to the pro-life cause is tied to her strong Catholic faith, which she lives out in a life dedicated to Christ.
Married to longtime pro-life activist Marty Dannenfelser, Marjorie is the mother of five children aged 10 to 19, including one with special needs. Dannenfelser, who grew up in Greenville, N.C., was raised Episcopalian and was once a pro-choice Republican who became pro-life during college.
While a pre-med student at Duke University, she interned at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, in the summer of 1986, where she worked and interacted daily with Catholics who knew their faith.
“They were true and believing Catholics and great apologists,” said Dannenfelser. “Every evening was filled with conversations, battles. I was fighting all the time. I kept running down the street to the Episcopal Church looking for information and was never satisfied with my own responses.”
She became pro-life that summer and restarted the Duke Students for Life in the fall. Her faith journey continued through her studies as she changed her major to philosophy where she sought answers to life’s greatest questions.
“I saw a need for a turn in my life and a change,” Dannenfelser said. “Some of the things I needed weren’t there. I took philosophy. I started with medieval and went back and took ancient, and that ended up being my passion and helped me along the way.”
She read the works of St. Bonaventure and C.S. Lewis with an insatiable hunger, trying to find “where this is all headed.”
“If you are studying medieval philosophy, you’re studying the Church and the Faith,” Dannenfelser said.
Her quest for the truth led to her joining the Catholic Church in 1989, one year after graduating from college.
Dannenfelser took a job as staff director of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus on Capitol Hill where she met her future husband. They married in 1991. As she grew in her faith, she felt compelled to do more to right the injustice of abortion. That same year, she began running the SBA List out of her Arlington home. Today in her D.C. office, there are 12 staff members, an advisory committee, an executive committee and a general chairman that assist her in the organization’s mission.
Her determined spirit to solve problems with hard work and courage, and the ability to accomplish, was something she learned from her parents.
“There was a real sense of dedication to the community and to being a problem-solver,” she said of her childhood. “My dad is especially like that. If there is a problem, you don’t complain, you go address it. When you dedicate yourself to solving problems in the community, everyone is better off.”
Even in high school, Dannenfelser felt compelled to right injustices, to try to better difficult situations. She now strives to set an example for her own children.
“One true thing is that throwing yourself into anything you believe in ends up teaching you and the people around you far more than any one person could ever do for the cause. To live fighting for something very fundamental is better than living for shopping,” she said. “I think it is a habit that kids learn very early on to be a solution, or to blend into the fabric.”
A parishioner of St. Ann Parish in Arlington, Dannenfelser’s Catholic faith and prayer life provide her with the grace that fuels her to take on the tough challenge of abortion. She makes time for God in her busy day, beginning each morning with a meditation, through an app on her iPhone. She prays a decade of the rosary with her son on the way to school, and makes a weekly Saturday morning Mass and Holy Hour, alternating with her husband. She attends weekday Mass when she can. She is a member of Regnum Christi, a Catholic apostolate that assists its members in their commitment to Jesus, the Church and service to others.
She believes the future is positive for the pro-life movement and for pro-life political candidates.
“The pro-life movement is on the side of the truth,” she said. “Public opinion is moving in our direction. There is more and more a sense of the humanity of the unborn. There is a beautiful ministry for women who are facing crisis pregnancies. We have all those assets that the pro-choice movement doesn’t.
“That’s the non-data part of why we’re winning,” she said. “Pro-choice candidates are now getting defeated more and more. One of the biggest changes in the pro-life movement that we are leading is a sense of accountability. If you say you’re pro-life and you vote against a pro-life issue, you should expect a wave of opposition to your candidacy in the next election because we’re not talking about tax deductions for office equipment. We are talking about the death of a human being.
“In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, ‘Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.’”
Find out more
For more information about the Susan B. Anthony List, or to see the pro-life status of political candidates, go to ccda.net.