It’s the largest election-year spend so far for the GOP women’s group, which dropped $18 million on voter contact and advertising in 2016 and $32 million in the 2018 midterm cycle. And it comes after Planned Parenthood, a leading foe of the Trump administration, committed on Thursday to spending $45 million on its 2020 effort to boost candidates who support abortion rights.
The organization, which has closely aligned itself with the Trump administration (Dannenfelser’s husband is a public liaison official inside the White House), says it has visited nearly half a million homes across several battleground states already this cycle, and plans to connect with 4 million voters in total before the November election.
“After the Billy Bush tapes came out, it was a trying time,” said an official involved with the group, referring to a recording released shortly before the 2016 election in which Trump is heard bragging about sexually assaulting women. “But we continued to support him and what we have now is the most pro-life president in American history.”
Describing 2020 as “the ultimate high-stakes battle,” this person said SBA List would launch full canvassing operations in nine critical states — Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Iowa — in addition to running digital ads and ramping up its advocacy for federal and state policy changes related to abortion access.
Grassroots volunteers and paid staffers have been instructed to target traditional Republican voters, as well as Hispanic Americans and moderate Democrats “who consider themselves pro-choice but see extreme positions like support for late-term abortion, infanticide and abortion activists posing as federal judges as a bridge too far,” according to a memo describing the group’s electoral effort and obtained by POLITICO.
“As we have in the last three election cycles, we anticipate that SBA List-Women Speak Out PAC efforts will impact tens of thousands of votes in key races, providing the margin of victory,” the memo states.
SBA List has long been a prominent player in social conservative efforts to restrict public funding for abortion providers and limit abortion procedures to cases in which the life or health of the mother is endangered. Early in Trump’s presidency, the group was heavily involved in a push to block family-planning clinics that receive taxpayer funding from referring women for abortions or commingling their finances with abortion providers. Officials with the Health and Human Services Department began implementing the new rule last July, following the reversal of a nationwide preliminary injunction against it.
Trump has also revived the so-called Mexico City Policy, a Reagan-era restriction on the flow of U.S. aid to foreign abortion providers, and expanded it to include nongovernmental organizations that provide abortion-related services or lobby for abortion rights. And both of Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, were handpicked from a list developed and widely supported by conservative and anti-abortion groups.
Kavanaugh and Gorsuch will be put to the test this summer, when the Supreme Court is expected to deliver its opinion on a challenge to a Louisiana law that requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of their clinics. Critics of the law contend that it would leave the state with only one doctor authorized to perform abortions, while proponents have argued that it protects the health and safety of women seeking abortions.
The Louisiana law is one of several momentous cases the high court is slated to rule on by the 2020 election. Anti-abortion groups, including SBA List, have used recent controversies over abortion laws in Alabama, New York and Georgia to galvanize their supporters and try to pick off independent voters who might oppose looser restrictions on late-term abortions.
A June 2019 survey by Monmouth University’s Polling Institute found that one-third of U.S. voters would consider the candidate’s views on abortion as a top factor in their vote for president this fall, while another 30 percent said it would play a somewhat important role in whom they choose to support.