It isn’t often that The Washington Post describes a defender of abortion as having the “worst week in Washington.” But that is what Post columnist Chris Cillizza did in picking Rep. Renee Ellmers for the honor, thanks to her strange timing in opposing a popular late-term abortion limit while hundreds of thousands of pro-life marchers were in town last week. By contrast, a different female leader had the best week in politics: Carly Fiorina.
Fiorina is the former CEO of the computer giant Hewlett-Packard. For months she has been alluding to the possibility of joining the Republican presidential fray. Doing so would make her the only woman seeking the GOP nomination in a cycle where the Democratic nominee is very likely to be Hillary Clinton. Fiorina is no neophyte to public life, and her run for the U.S Senate against Barbara Boxer in 2010 – while not victorious – showed her as a serious campaigner able to raise money and to draw votes from unexpected corridors, including Hispanics.
Renee Ellmers, on the other hand, is a North Carolina Congresswoman elected in 2010 with the help of the Tar Heel state’s increasingly numerous and effective pro-life forces. My organization, the Susan B. Anthony List, was her first PAC endorsement. Ellmers’ opposition to Obamacare and staunch statements on abortion (she has said the only exception she would support is to save the life of the mother) were among the keys to her surprise victory and subsequent re-election.
In 2013 Ellmers spoke on the House floor in favor of the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a mark of enthusiastic leadership. Flanked by more than a dozen other female House members, Ellmers joined a historic majority of 228 members to pass a bill marking the first successful House vote to protect directly the lives of unborn children whose rights had been snuffed out by Roe v. Wade.
Ever since that House vote, the national debate on abortion has shifted. The Democratic Party’s campaign to make pro-life all about contraception and a spurious “war on women” more than met its match: pro-life women leaders championing a bill that addresses the pain and sorrow that are the reality of abortion. After a record number of pro-life victories on Election Day 2014, it became clear that abortion-centered feminism is dead.
Buoyed by this outcome, the House GOP leadership scheduled another landmark event – a fresh vote, with an even larger majority, for the Pain Capable bill to be held on the day of the March for Life – January 22. Flush with momentum, the bill that was introduced was exactly the same text the House had considered and approved in 2013.
On the eve of this vote, Ellmers let it be known that a reporting provision in the bill had spurred her withdrawal of sponsorship of the bill. But she went much further in one media interview, saying, “The first vote we take, or the second vote, or the fifth vote, shouldn’t be on an issue where we know that Millennials — social issues just aren’t as important [to them].” This is arrant nonsense. The polls show strong majorities of Americans, Millennials included, and up to 70 percent of women support a 20-week limit on this brutal procedure.
Into this maelstrom stepped Carly Fiorina. Her response was both personal and persuasive. In remarks over the weekend to the Iowa Freedom Summit, she criticized the House leadership for their failure to stand by their commitment to vote on the Pain Capable measure. She called the “hypocrisy” of liberals on abortion “breathtaking,” saying, ““Liberals believe that flies are worth protecting, but that the life of an unborn child is not.
Finally, in remarks that profoundly moved the crowd in Des Moines, she described the brave decision by her husband Frank’s mother, who, when pregnant, rejected medical advice to abort on health grounds. Frank, she told the crowd, was “the joy” of his mother’s life and “the rock” of hers. All in all, it was an extraordinarily powerful moment
Today, one week after the House leadership’s sad retreat, the same leadership pledges its recommitment to passing this bill. A quick recovery is the smart and right thing to do. Pro-life Americans will not fall back.
With leaders like Carly Fiorina showing us what profiles in pro-life courage look like, there is no doubt who will prevail.
Marjorie Dannenfelser is the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a national pro-life organization dedicated to electing leaders and advancing legislation to reduce and ultimately end abortion.