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Meet the women working to overturn Roe v. Wade and restrict abortions across America

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 5/12/2022 Daniel Darling

If you were to read most of the headlines after the leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, that would reverse the 49-year-old Roe v. Wade decision, you’d think that abortion policy is a binary choice between men who want to see abortion restricted and women who favor its access.

Activists march outside the U.S. Supreme Court during the annual March for Life on Jan. 21 in Washington, D.C. © Jose Luis Magana, AP Activists march outside the U.S. Supreme Court during the annual March for Life on Jan. 21 in Washington, D.C.

That framing, however, doesn’t tell the whole story about the politics of abortion, and it misses the hidden face of the movement to promote a culture of life: women.

Surveys by Pew and Gallup show little gender gap on the issue of abortion. In fact, the surveys find that more women than men identify as “pro-life."

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But beyond shifting public attitudes is the reality that women are spearheading the reversal of Roe v. Wade and championing abortion restrictions in the states.

Nellie Gray led the March for Life

Consider the pioneers of the almost half-century of activism since the court’s decision in 1973. The March for Life, held every year in January, was launched on the first anniversary of Roe by a former federal government attorney, Nellie Gray.

So incensed by the legalization of abortion, she vowed to return every year until Roe was reversed and she did, committing the rest of her life to the cause.

Then there is the iconic conservative leader, the late Phyllis Schlafly, who rallied women around the country to champion the sanctity of unborn human life.

Today, women lead every major organization working to overturn Roe. Nellie Gray was succeeded at March for Life by President Jeanie Mancini. The Susan B. Anthony List, whose mission is to elect politicians and enact laws that promote life, was founded in 1992 by a formerly pro-choice Republican who converted to Catholicism, Marjorie Dannenfelser.

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Catherine Glenn Foster leads Americans United for Life, which helps craft state-level  legislation. Kristan Hawkins heads up Students for Life of America, which trains and mobilizes college students. Carol Tobias leads America's oldest pro-life organization, The National Right to Life Committee, which boasts chapters in every state. And the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, has two women leading its work to promote life.

These activists are joined by hundreds of women in state legislatures and in Congress, including several in the U.S. Senate, who support restrictions on abortion.

Lynn Fitch delivered Supreme Court argument

If Alito's draft opinion is indeed reflective of the Supreme Court’s final decision and if Roe v. Wade is overturned, it largely will be because of the efforts of women, including Mississippi's first female attorney general, Lynn Fitch. Fitch argued before the court on behalf of her state’s 15-week abortion ban and in favor of Roe’s reversal.

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It’s not an overestimation to say that the movement's energy, appeal and passion are fueled by women. You’ll see this if you attend a March for Life event, where peaceful little old church ladies and young college women come out in rain, snow and sleet to declare that the baby in the womb has dignity and worth.

You’ll see this if you visit one of the thousands of pregnancy resource centers around the country, where mostly female staff and volunteers meet women in crisis with compassion, counseling and care, offering them both alternatives to abortion and a community ready to help them parent their child.

You’ll see it online, with awareness and education led by folks such as Lila Rose, who began Live Action in 2003 as a 15-year-old anti-abortion activist. The organization's viral videos have educated a new generation on the emerging science around fetal development.

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Although court decisions are fluid until the justices announce their opinion, it seems likely that Roe v. Wade will be reversed. That decision will not spell the end of our national conversation around abortion. The debate, rather, will shift from state to state.

Yet it will be a significant victory for a movement nobody thought would exist five decades ago, a movement led by resilient women who refused to let America look away from its most vulnerable members.

Daniel Darling is director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a frequent contributor to USA TODAY and is the author of several books, including his latest, "A Way With Words."

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Meet the women working to overturn Roe v. Wade and restrict abortions across America



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