Delaware is proud to be known as the Constitution State because it was the first of the former British colonies to ratify the U.S. Constitution. On September 14, tiny Delaware may have become the reconstitution state, thanks to the upset victory of the pro-life conservative Christine O’Donnell in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate.
O’Donnell’s triumph over the much better-known Mike Castle, a statewide winner in 12 previous elections, shocked pundits coast to coast and even drew the wrath of several top-drawer Republican operatives. If 2010 proves to be a wave election, it will be the kind of wave that spreads in every direction like when a rock is dropped into a pond. The Year of the Pro-Life Woman is changing the GOP – for the better – even before it changes the nation.
Only the extent – not the fact – of that change is in doubt. Mainstream news reporters are not usually the first to credit conservatives, much less pro-life women, with leading a sea change in American politics. But just two days after the September 14 primary, one reporter noted that “Democrats used to own the field of women running for higher office. Not anymore.”
The truth is in the numbers. After O’Donnell’s surprising victory and the success of New Hampshire attorney general Kelly Ayotte in holding off a strong primary challenge on the same day, the total number of pro-life women running for U.S. Senate seats is four. Overall there are 29 Republican women – at least two-thirds of whom consider themselves to be pro-life -- taking on Democratic incumbents in 2010 while there are only 27 Democratic women taking on GOP incumbents.
At the gubernatorial level, as Kornblut notes, each party has nominated five women. Here it is the character of the women running for these offices that lends their presence the most significance. In South Carolina, Nikki Haley, the daughter of Sikh immigrants, out-campaigned several more traditional Republican candidates and won the party’s nomination handily. There’s already whispering about high executive office for the pro-life Haley. Prematurely perhaps, but the mere fact that she is the second fresh female face in the GOP being discussed this way, and with considerable credibility, speaks volumes about how far such women leaders have come.
And then there’s Carly. The GOP has nominated an accomplished businesswoman, Carly Fiorina, to the U.S. Senate. Fiorina was CEO of the computer manufacturing giant Hewlett-Packard. Fiorina’s website is perfectly clear about her convictions, saying, “Carly believes that life begins at conception; she is pro-life.” Both Fiorina and Haley are vying for office as self-made women; they are not the appointed favorites of Republican insiders or blood relations of elected officeholders.
As striking as the Year of the Woman is for pro-life conservatives, this wave did not swell from a sudden earthquake. The candidacies appearing today are the fruit of many decades of development of women leaders who embrace feminine equality while rejecting the idea that the unborn must be sacrificed to pursue that goal. To their credit, it was liberal organizations that delivered the wake-up call to politicos in 1992 and launched a contingent of left-of-center feminists on the path to Congress. Their sweep at the polls was impressive and a number of these liberal leaders, like Barbara Boxer, are still in office.
For a time conservatives responded with laments that their dedication to homemaking and childrearing, not to mention to local over national government, kept most of our most natural women leaders on the sidelines. Almost immediately, however, it became apparent to groups like the Susan B. Anthony List that an animus against human life was giving a false face to feminism. After the shock of 1992 we worked day and night to level the playing field and encourage pro-life women entrepreneurs in the marketplace as well as at home, to enter the political fray.
Women like Sharron Angle and House candidates like Michele Bachmann and Kristi Noem, who describes herself as "a wife, mother, farmer, rancher, small business owner, and South Dakotan," in that order, are displaying the kind of determination that would make the original Susan B. Anthony proud. These are women who do not accept the demands of the national abortion rights groups that theirs is the way to practice real feminism.
It’s only natural that women like these are responding to someone like Sarah Palin, who has displayed her independence time and again, taking on the nepotism rife in Alaska politics and providing leadership on national priorities like energy policy. The Palin biography – pro-life, pro-children, pro-ethics reform, pro-civic engagement – is mirrored in the biographies of these other women candidates, who are not so much about having it all, as giving their all.
Susan B. Anthony decried what she saw as an “oligarchy of sex” that deprived women of the right to vote. Today’s pro-life women candidates are challenging an “oligarchy of pro-choice women” who assert that their sisters who differ on this issue are not true feminists and should never win public office. Recent history is proving this new oligarchy as wrongheaded as the old. Now millions of Americans, men and women, are going to the polls to make 2010 not only the Year of the Pro-Life Woman but the dawn of the Decade of Pro-Life Women.
Marjorie Dannenfelser is President of the Susan B. Anthony List, a nationwide network of over 280,000 pro-life Americans dedicated to advancing, mobilizing and representing pro-life women in the political process.