Ashley Underwood, Senior Researcher | August 19, 2021 Blog Post

Groups that used to primarily focus on criminalizing abortion are expanding their portfolios to infringe upon more than just reproductive rights. And they are doing so by strategizing to suppress voter turnout, strengthen their already outsized political power and fuel hostility toward immigrants. From statehouses to globally influential organizations, these groups are consistently working to impose a theocracy anchored in white supremacy-tinged Evangelism. As Anu Kumar of Ipas stated in a July 2021 Guardian article, “All people should be concerned about these groups, because their agenda is really big and far-reaching.” This is true, but perhaps more concerning are the lengths they are willing to go to fulfill their agenda. 

Outsized Political Influence 

The anti-abortion lobby is powerful because it consists of many organizations that work toward establishing a theocracy. Their outsized political influence is evident in every aspect of government. The Heritage Foundation prides itself on currently hosting four Trump administration cabinet members (including former Vice President Pence) as fellows and having had a sizable chunk of its policy recommendations adopted by both the Reagan and Trump administrations. The Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) strategizes to end abortion by endorsing politicians in state and federal elections. SBA List’s research arm, the Charlotte Lozier Institute, publishes biased “research” to fuel crusades against evidence-based science. The majority of the Supreme Court justices currently hold or have held membership in the Federalist Society. Alliance Defending Freedom has positioned itself as the religious right’s on-call attorney and also works to shop model legislation at the state level. Project Blitz, also known as “Freedom for All,” seeks to advance Christian nationalism through the passage of theocratic legislation that is endorsed by state-level prayer caucuses, and it is led partially by the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation. Several of the above-named organizations host training programs for college students and young professionals who advance to careers that shape public policy. 

During the Trump administration, the anti-abortion movement wielded a huge amount of federal power and spent four years attacking reproductive rights and bodily autonomy from every possible angle. Some of that damage is currently being undone by the Biden-Harris administration, but much of what was done is, for at least the immediate future, irreversible. For example, the anti-abortion movement rallied behind the nominations of Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Now, in the midst of many challenges to legal abortion, a conservative-leaning Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in October on a Mississippi law that seeks to gut Roe v. Wade by banning abortions after 15 weeks. On July 22, Mississippi’s attorney general, Lynn Fitch, filed a brief with the Supreme Court asking it to overturn Roe as a part of the case. Fitch was endorsed by the Susan B. Anthony List Candidate Fund during her campaign to be attorney general. 

At the state level, abortion restrictions have boomed, thanks in large part to the heavy influence and strong partnership anti-abortion groups have with conservative majority legislatures. So far this year, state policymakers have passed nearly 90 laws targeting abortion and set a record for the most restrictive bans passed in a year. Simultaneously, states are working to either introduce or continue funding for anti-abortion centers (aka crisis pregnancy centers, or CPCs) while national organizations such as Human Coalition Action are shopping around model legislation to expand the deceptive tactics employed by said centers. Recognizing the immense political power of state-based anti-abortion groups, former Secretary of State (and possible 2024 presidential candidate) Mike Pompeo has attended fundraising dinners for the right-wing Center for Arizona Policy and Kansans for Life.

Voter Suppression 

The January 6 insurrection was sparked by false claims of election fraud. And in the wake of perhaps the most visceral attack on America’s democracy, anti-abortion groups have rallied millions of dollars to disenfranchise voters. The Susan B. Anthony List and American Principles Project, two organizations previously dedicated to oppressing trans communities and impeding on bodily autonomy, have teamed up on a joint “election transparency initiative.” The campaign is an outright attempt to push state-based voter reform legislation that strips voter rights and access to the polls from communities most harmed by conservative policies—including communities of color, young people, immigrants, working-class voters and LGBTQIA+ voters. 

The anti-abortion movement works hard to craft a benevolent persona, but underneath that mask lies a sinister machine singularly focused on a patriarchal, white supremacist, heteronormative status quo. Its supporters’ passion is not about babies, or ethics, or morals, but power. It is abundantly clear they will do whatever it takes to maintain that power. 

That means endorsing unethical voting restrictions, as was done when Kansans for Life lobbied and campaigned for state legislators to overturn Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto on two bills posed to suppress voting rights, or when SBA List celebrated Gov. Kemp signing Georgia’s SB 202, a voter suppression law so egregious it called for the Senate Rules Committee to hold its first field meeting in two decades. Shady politics are also happening in Arizona, where a legislator who introduced a bill to charge abortion patients with first-degree murder has also sponsored four bills to restrict voting access. Ohio’s notoriously anti-abortion legislature is not only trying to disenfranchise voters but also seeking to silence protestors. And in Texas, Democratic legislators fled to Washington, D.C., to deny quorum to the largely anti-abortion legislative body that is simultaneously attempting to suppress voters’ rights. These patterns can be seen in several other conservative-controlled states, and unfortunately, the pool of money from large anti-abortion organizations is readily available to assist their efforts of returning America to the era of Jim Crow


When the U.S. government separated children from their families at the southern border, the usually outspoken “pro-life” groups were silent. When detained migrants were forcibly sterilized, the alleged champions of motherhood and the unborn were mute. On the surface, it seems that the anti-abortion lobby’s flippant stance on current immigration issues is incongruous with its platform, yet history tells us otherwise. 

Xenophobia has always been at the root of the anti-abortion movement. During the 19th century, when an influx of immigrant families (many of whom were Catholic) posed a perceived threat to the political power of the status quo, a movement to criminalize abortion was sparked as an effort to bolster birth rates within the white Protestant community. As Leslie J. Reagan documents in her book When Abortion Was a Crime, “White male patriotism demanded that maternity be enforced among white Protestant women.” Similarly, a more modern “replacement theory”—the notion that declining fertility within white communities will lead to a replacement by communities of color—permits cognitive dissonance to not only fester among the anti-abortion movement’s supporters but also curate a political ecosystem that poses real harm to immigrant and migrant communities.

Case in point, former Rep. Steve King (IA), who infamously tweeted in 2017, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” had an A+ rating from the SBA List. And he is not the only anti-immigration politician to receive favorable reviews from the organization. Rep. Paul Gosar (AZ), who has suggested it is a crime for lawyers to help refugees; Rep. Tom McClintock (CA), who stated family separation was a rightful consequence for asylum seekers; and Rep. Scott Perry (PA), who positively referenced the replacement theory during a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, all have A+ ratings from the SBA List. Even more telling is the fact that the SBA List Candidate Fund endorsed Brian Kemp’s gubernatorial race. As a reminder, then-candidate Gov. Kemp ran ads that promoted his anti-immigrant platform—saying that he had a big truck “just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take ’em home myself.” Given his hateful messaging, it is not surprising that Gov. Kemp issued no formal press statement in 2020 when a whistleblower made public the forced sterilizations of detained people in the Irwin County Detention Center, contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and located in Irwin County, Georgia. 

So although SBA List’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, once said, “We refrain from public comment on immigration and many other topics, including other policies that impact families,” the organization’s public support of the above-mentioned, flagrantly anti-immigrant politicians and its support of voter suppression speaks volumes. 

Similarly, National Right to Life (NRTL), which purports that “it has dedicated itself entirely to defending life,” has released zero press statements that condemn the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers, even in the face of mounting evidence that pregnant people are in particularly precarious situations during migration and detainment and are experiencing an increased incidence of miscarriage as a result of bad immigration policy. The anti-abortion movement’s silence on these issues paired with its support for outspoken anti-immigrant politicians sends a clear message—a message that may not be as blatant as white nationalists chanting “you will not replace us” but bears the same dangerous sentiment and permits harmful anti-immigration propaganda to fester.

How Can Human Rights Advocates Combat This Agenda?

Continuing to refer to anti-human rights groups as the “far right” paints a false narrative. Unfortunately, their extremist agenda is now mainstream, and it's imperative that progressive movements bring attention to this reality. It's painfully obvious that their dangerous rhetoric has reached the ears and pens of policymakers. And it’s even more obvious that their movements will not be satisfied until the rights of all are stamped out in favor of their alleged “morally superior” agenda. Now more than ever, it is important for groups working on behalf of voter engagement, environmental justice, humane immigration reform, Black Lives Matter, and reproductive health, rights and justice to coalesce our efforts. We each live at the intersections of our identities, so we must recognize that an attack on any human right is an attack on all of our human rights. Contrary to the mission statements of alleged “pro-life” groups, the right to life must include equal opportunity to participate in fair election cycles, the right to access necessary healthcare without obstacles, the right to bodily autonomy, the right to demand that politicians act on behalf of their constituents and not just those well-posed to fund their campaigns, and the right to live wherever we think presents the best opportunity to raise our families. The anti-abortion movement’s agenda poses an imminent threat to our right to exist in a democratic society. 

Ashley Underwood is a senior researcher at Equity Forward. She is a reproductive justice and public health advocate with an extensive background in working to improve maternal and sexual health outcomes through program implementation and development. Ashley was previously a research associate at Equity Forward; before that, she worked as a research and program manager at NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. Ashley holds a master’s degree in public health from Case Western Reserve University.