Organizers of last year's Conservative Political Action Conference faced criticism due to the fact that last year's conference placed little emphasis on social issues. In fact, last year's conference failed to include any panels that specifically dealt with abortion. However, this year's CPAC included a good breakout session on sanctity of life issues entitled "Baby Steps: The Pro-Life Success Story." The panelists featured some heavy hitters from the pro-life movement including Marjorie Dannenfelser, President of the Susan B. Anthony List, Charmaine Yoest, the President of Americans United for Life, and Darla St. Martin, Co-Executive Director of the National Right to Life Committee.
Yoest thanked everyone for "voting with their feet" and attending. The abortion issue was certainly of interest to many CPAC attendees. Over 100 people were in attendance and the meeting room was filled beyond capacity. The entire panel had a very optimistic tone to it. Dannenfelser began her remarks by stating that "Abortion Centered Feminism is Dead" citing the success that pro-life candidates had during the 2014 election cycle. She also stated that her group's strategy of targeting pro-life voters by going door to door proved effective.
However, the positive results from the 2014 election were due to more than effective grassroots mobilization. She stated that when it comes to elections "do not just go with your gut, do due diligence." Through focus groups and polling, the Susan B. Anthony List found that both the 20-week abortion ban and cutting off taxpayer funding for abortion were winning issues for pro-life candidates. She also said that it was important that pro-life candidates went on the offensive in 2014. Furthermore, the Susan B. Anthony List did everything it could to make sure candidates knew how to articulate the abortion issue well.
In her remarks Yoest talked about the progress that the pro-life movement was making on a variety of fronts. She cited Guttmacher Institute statistics that show record numbers of state level pro-life laws being passed every year. She was pleased that a number of abortion facilities are closing. However, she was most optimistic about the fact that the current generation of young people is more pro-life than their parents. She also said that the Kermit Gosnell trial was spurring other states to pass clinic regulations and requirements that abortion doctors have admitting privileges. Overall, she stated that more Americans are realizing that "abortion hurts women."
Yoest went on to say that future progress hinges upon the ability of pro-lifers to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood. She noted that 90 percent of Planned Parenthood's pregnancy services involve abortion – while at the same time they cut cancer screenings by 50 percent. As a breast cancer survivor, Yoest took particular offense to this. Furthermore, she said that Planned Parenthood gets 1.26 million dollars in taxpayer funding every day and 40 percent of their budget comes from taxpayers. "We need to cut off the spigot. We will beat them when we cut off the money."
Here Darla St. Martin of National Right to Life sounded a cautionary note. A recent poll showed that 63 percent of Americans had either a "strongly favorable" or a "favorable" view of Planned Parenthood -- while only 27 percent had an unfavorable view. People may not like many of the activities Planned Parenthood engages. However, they have a positive view of Planned Parenthood. As such, pro-lifers have more work to do.
There was also a good discussion about the future. All the panelists were confident that pro-lifers would continue to make incremental progress. Yoest remarked that if Hillary Clinton runs for President, it will be an important election for a variety of reasons – including it will spur discussion about the role of abortion – and abortion advocacy -- in what it means to be a powerful woman. Dannenfelser encouraged the attendees to get involved in the 2016 Primaries. We need a both a "top down" and a "bottom up" approach. We need person to person contacts among voters and we need to make sure that we nominate candidates who are pro-life and can articulate the issue well. Darla St. Martin encouraged everyone to get involved with local pro-life groups in their hometown and said that pro-life groups are "a great investment in life."