The drama of the 2020 election overshadowed another phenomenon that has received little press coverage. When the first session of the 117th Congress was sworn in Jan. 3, it included 16 new pro-life women, all Republicans, in the U.S. House of Representatives, nearly doubling their number. Among them are eight who flipped their districts by defeating pro-choice incumbents, all Democrats, and six elected in reliably blue states (California, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, New York).
Most of the women say their position on abortion is rooted in their Christian faith. This surprising development debunks the conventional wisdom of GOP political strategists for decades, who have maintained that the success of the party depended on its ability to attract women, which would in turn require putting out a welcome mat for pro-choice voters and pols while marginalizing those who advocated for legal protections for the unborn.
The GOP chairman and political strategist Lee Atwater famously said, two years before his death in 1991, “Our party is a big tent. We can house many views on many issues. Abortion is no exception.” The term “big tent” became code for the Republican Party’s efforts to appeal to pro-choice voters. Party leaders reasoned that pro-lifers would remain in the party because they had nowhere else to go.
But many pro-lifers saw the use of pro-life language in the party platform as subterfuge, as the party did little to limit abortions. At the same time, GOP operatives attempted to marginalize pro-lifers within the party as “single issue” voters.
Leading up to the 2020 election, political observers predicted a “blue wave” of Democrats taking control of the Senate and padding their majority in the House. Democrats did take control of the chamber by winning both Georgia run-off elections on Jan. 5, but in the House the party saw its majority shrink.
The emergence of pro-life women was part of a larger phenomenon of women elected to office; the next session of Congress will include more than 100 women in the House, a record. After the 2018 “Year of the Woman” election brought a wave of Democratic women to Congress, pro-choice women still outnumber pro-life women in Congress by a wide margin. However, the rise of so many pro-life women in so short a time caught pundits by surprise and may be the crest of a wave as pro-life organizations like the Susan B. Anthony List labor to promote strong, pro-life females, regardless of party, to office.
Another unexpected trend is the number of newly elected pro-life women who are women of color or immigrants, making it more difficult to paint the GOP as the party of old white men.
Stephanie Bice of Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District is the first Iranian American elected to the House. Her fellow Republican freshmen elected her president of the class, the first female to serve in that post.
Florida’s Maria Elvira Salazar, a Cuban American whose parents were exiles of the Castro regime, upset incumbent Donna Shalala, the former secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and a strident supporter of abortion rights. Nicole Malliotakis, another Cuban American whose mother was an exile of Castro’s dictatorship, was elected in New York.
Yvette Herrell of New Mexico is the first Cherokee woman and the first Native American Republican elected to the House.
Korean Americans Young Kim and Michelle Steel were both elected in California.
Victoria Spartz, elected in Indiana, grew up in the Soviet Union (Ukraine). Spartz is not only pro-life but, having experienced firsthand the failure of collectivism and alarmed by the Democratic Party’s leftward lurch, campaigned on the dangers of socialism.
Democrat pro-lifers eliminated
The election also resulted in the near-complete purging of pro-life Democrats from Congress.
Dan Lipinski, the last remaining pro-life stalwart in the Democratic Party, was defeated not in the general election but in the primary by a well-funded challenger, Marie Newman, as pro-choice organizations — Planned Parenthood, EMILY’s List and NARAL — poured money into the race. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, along with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, campaigned for Newman. Chicago magazine called abortion “the No. 1 issue in the race.”
Lipinski, who has served eight terms in the seat previously held by his father, said his own party labeled him anti-women because he is pro-life. He said, “More and more the party is sending a message that if you are pro-life you aren’t welcome.” Indeed. Sen. Sanders said, “Being pro-choice is an absolutely essential part of being a Democrat.”
The last remaining Democratic representative who has not entirely toed the line on abortion barely fended off a well-funded challenge from the left in a Texas primary. Eight-term Congressman Henry Cuellar was a moderate on the issue of abortion, scoring only a 20 rating from the National Right to Life (50 from NARAL), but he opposes federal funding of abortion. That was enough to earn scorn within his own party.
EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock singled out Lipinski and Cuellar: “They are some of the very last anti-choice Democrats in the House of Representatives and we think it’s time for a change.” Cuellar has wavered on the issue in recent years, and in the next Congress the pressure from his party to adhere to the party platform will be intense.
No pro-choice Republicans remain in the House. At the beginning of the last session, the Wall Street Journal said the 2018 election marked “the end of an era, as the House Republican caucus now doesn’t have a single lawmaker considered a supporter of abortion rights.” Which is to say, they all support protecting the lives of the preborn.
Three pro-choice Republicans remain in the U.S. Senate — Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Since incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler lost her run-off election in Georgia, the number of pro-life women in the Senate now number six, and the total number of pro-life women in Congress is 38.
The freshman women have taken the nickname The Force (or Freedom Force) and promise to take on The Squad, a group of four far-left Democrats elected to the House in 2018 — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.). The Squad has had an outsized influence on the Democratic Party’s direction in their first term.
The Squad’s Omar dismissed The Force, “I mean it sounds ridiculous to me. I think they think they’re in high school. We’re in Congress.”
The freshmen women are not cowed. Rep. Salazar, the daughter of Cuban exiles, said, “I want to create a force within my freshman class that will have to be reckoned with — a force of reason, a force for freedom, a force for democracy.”
The two parties have never been so starkly divided on the issue of abortion. The battle lines are drawn, and it is women leading the charge. With record numbers of pro-life women elected to state and municipal offices across the country, The Force is likely to see reinforcements arrive in the next election cycle.
The Republican Party, long dominated by men, attempted to close the gender gap in elections by giving women what they thought women wanted. Republican women, who have always led the pro-life movement, grew increasingly frustrated by the party’s lack of progress in defending life. If the 2020 election is any indication, these women have decided that if they want the job done right, they will have to do it themselves.