America’s greatest feminist, Susan B. Anthony, was born 189 years ago last week. And even though she died long before women were granted the right to vote through passage of the 19th Amendment, she provided posterity with a timeless prism through which we can see and understand rights movements in general and the current moment in particular.
If Anthony were alive today, she might predict a sea-change in the public’s view of abortion. The reason? The overreach on the abortion issue that is characterizing the Obama administration.
Successful human and civil rights movements share at least one thing in common: someone on the other side overreached. Some individual or institution took a step in the wrong direction that public opinion could not sustain. This is true for the abolitionist and women’s suffrage movements. And it appears that it will soon be true for the pro-life movement.
It is one thing to take a “pro-choice” position on an issue, allowing others to engage in activity even if one is personally opposed. It is quite another to be forced to facilitate activity one opposes in conscience. Actions such as those can galvanize public opinion and result in the changes the public – not the activists – really want.
For Susan B. Anthony’s best known cause, the cause of women’s suffrage, that moment came long after she died. Public outrage over the jailing and violent treatment of suffragists in Alice Paul’s National Women’s Party inspired President Woodrow Wilson’s linchpin support for women’s suffrage. In an incident dubbed the “Night of Terror,” thirty-three women were viciously beaten while in jail at Occoquan, Virginia. When the women went on a hunger strike to draw attention to the violence, they were brutally force-fed.
Americans everywhere were made complicit in the abuse. The nation objected to its institutions and tax dollars being used to fight the suffrage movement in such a violent way. This event galvanized public sympathy and helped assemble votes for passage of the 19th Amendment.
Similarly, Congress’ passage of The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 made northerners complicit in the institution of slavery and had the effect of strengthening and animating the abolitionist movement at a crucial point in its struggle. Under this law, Congress required law enforcement officials to return runaway slaves to their masters. The outrage of citizens opposed to slavery who were nevertheless required to return human “property” to slave owners made slavery visible. Those who considered themselves “pro-choice” or moderate on the question of abolition were forced to take sides one way or the other. This turned up the heat of the debate and helped lead to the war that would end slavery in America.
President Obama may very well be supplying an “overreach” moment for the right to life movement by attempting to require taxpayers to fully fund abortions in federal programs and the domestic and international abortion industries themselves. This “abortion industry bailout” during a time of acute economic crisis is a dramatic overreach that far outstrips citizens’ public opinion.
By far his least popular move as President (so far) was in overturning of the Mexico City Policy which prevented federal funding of offshore abortions. This move opens the door to funding of abortion providers abroad as well as the promotion of liberal abortion in nations that object to the practice. This decision was opposed by 58 percent of Americans according to a Gallup Poll taken February 1, 2009.
The abortion industry’s funding demands from the Obama Administration include $1 billion in taxpayer funds for international abortion groups and a 133 percent increase in funding for the Title X clinic program – a slush fund for domestic abortion providers. Obama is expected to advance the extreme abortion bailout agenda by overturning every restriction of federal funding of abortion through the Medicaid program, in the military, in federal prisons, in the Peace Corps, and for research involving the destruction of human embryos.
Support for public funding of abortion is the position of only a minuscule minority. Those who oppose abortion feel righteous outrage about being forced to fund it. Those who see themselves as “pro-choice” largely reject forcing objectors to fund the practice — or they personally oppose it and so also oppose funding it.
President Obama promised to forge “common ground” on an issue that has divided the nation since every protection for unborn children was wiped off the books with the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions in 1973. Unfortunately, forcing taxpayers to fund the destruction of innocent lives is far, far away from any turf that could be labeled common ground.
The more Americans know of this proposed change in law, the more they will be forced to take sides, that is, in effect to join the pro-life movement. That is the definition of a political tipping point. Every step President Obama takes to advance the abortion bailout agenda puts our nation one step closer to confronting the tragic reality of abortion in America. Obama’s overreach gives pro-life human rights advocates in the mold of Susan B. Anthony reason to hope. A turning point for protecting the unborn could well be on the horizon.
Mrs. Dannenfelser is the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a 501 (c)(4) non-profit membership organization with a connected political action committee. The organization has more than 140,000 members residing in all 50 states.
This article first appeared in Human Events on February 23, 2009