A Major Anti-Abortion Group Is Launching a State-By-State Attack on Your Reproductive Rights

There are 13 states trying to put constitutional amendments protecting abortion on the 2024 ballot—but not if anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America can help it.

Kim Kennedy, 62, field director for the Susan B. Anthony List, canvasses door-to-door in Warminster, Pa., on Sept. 2, 2022. (Michelle Gustafson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

It is now well-established that the Dobbs Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade was the product of a decades-long effort by dark money organizations and their far-right funders to attack Americans’ basic freedoms, including reproductive rights. Despite already helping to eliminate our constitutionally protected freedom to choose what we do with our bodies and determine our reproductive futures, these networks are continuing their assault on abortion healthcare, including at the state level. 

One such group, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America (SBA-PLA), a 501(c)(4), recently announced its “largest ground game yet.” The group said it is committed to “rais[ing] and spend[ing] $92 million” this election cycle, with a focus on Arizona, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Montana and Georgia. (That’s triple the amount of revenue it reported in 2022, during the midterms right after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, when it reported $32 million in revenue.)

SBA-PLA and its “research and education” arm, called the Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI), “played a significant role in the fight to overturn Roe.”

  • SBA-PLA was launched in 1993 as an anti-abortion counter to the pro-choice EMILY’S List—with the express purpose of “pursu[ing] policies that will ultimately end abortion.”
  • That repressive objective is designed to take away Americans’ ability to choose if they want to expand or start a family, and poses real threats to the health of millions of Americans. 

Now, in a post-Roe world, SBA-PLA has broadened its focus to fighting against abortion access in multiple states and on various fronts. 

Kacsmaryk Goes After Mifepristone—With Help From SBA-PLA

SBA-PLA and CLI already have the ear of right-wing judges beyond the Supreme Court. 

Two purportedly rigorous studies asserting that medication abortion is dangerous were cited by U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump nominee, to justify his ruling in the case aiming to revoke FDA approval of the abortion and miscarriage medication mifepristone—a drug that has been used for more than two decades to provide safe abortion healthcare.

The case was manufactured by anti-abortion operatives to bring to Kacsmaryk—the only federal judge in Amarillo, Texas, and one who lied to the Senate just before he was nominated by deliberately hiding the fact that he had recently co-authored an article attacking abortion rights. This judge-shopping was designed to ensure a ruling to try to repeal the FDA’s approval of abortion pills. The case is now on its way to a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Earlier this month, Sage Publications retracted three abortion-related studies—including the two that Kacsmaryk cited. The withdrawal was based on presenting “misleading” data, “defects” in data selection, and for “undisclosed conflicts of interest.” The lead author of these studies is James Studnicki, vice president at CLI. 

Abortion rights activists protest as guests arrive for the Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America’s annual gala and fundraising dinner at the National Building Museum on Sept. 13, 2022 in Washington, D.C. Earlier in the day, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced legislation that would institute a federal ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. (Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

But SBA-PLA isn’t simply using CLI to peddle pseudo-scientific anti-abortion findings nationally. The group is also inserting itself in state-level anti-abortion fights—including throwing its weight behind candidates with extreme anti-abortion positions, like Mayra Flores who supports Texas’ near-total abortion ban and is running for a congressional representative seat in the state.

Anti-Abortion Billionaires Cozy With SBA-PLA

SBA-PLA has financial ties to two major anti-abortion activists with deep pockets and a history of trying to take over state courts: Leonard Leo and Dick Uihlein.

Leonard Leo

Anti-abortion power broker Leonard Leo is notorious for his role in helping to install the far-right faction of the Supreme Court. His network of dark money groups has given SBA-PLA millions of dollars in recent years. His funding has been made easier by the $1.6 billion dollar Marble Trust Leo was gifted by anti-abortion extremist Barre Seid.

Groups within Leo’s network—the Concord Fund (also known as the Judicial Crisis Network), 85 Fund, America Engaged, Napa Institute and Wellspring Committee—have collectively given SBA-PLA almost $5 million in recent years

The group also has connections to Leo through Sean Fieler, who has been on SBA-PLA’s board since 2012. Fieler is an anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ hedge funder who runs his own dark money group through the so-called “American Principles Project.”

He was once asked which “thinkers and donors” influenced his “philanthropy”—in other words, whose dark money practices influenced the way he poured his money into pay-to-play nonprofits that are not legally required to disclose their donors. Fieler identified a list of three names, one of which was Leonard Leo, with whom he touted forging close relationships over the course of a decade. 

Dick Uihlein

SBA-PLA has also received millions from Illinois-based anti-abortion billionaire, Dick Uihlein, whose fortune comes from the shipping supply company ULINE. Most recently, he spent millions of dollars in support of anti-abortion Wisconsin supreme court incumbent Daniel Kelly, who lost by almost 10 points.  

Uihlein was responsible for almost one-third of the $28.8 million in special interest spending in the state Supreme Court race last year, $2.2 million of which he allocated to SBA-PLA’s Women Speak Out PAC (WSO). Despite its name, Women Speak Out has been primarily funded by one man: Dick Uihlein.

In 2022, he gave WSO more than it spent: $8 million, via his Restoration PAC.

Uihlein’s Restoration of America also gave SBA-PLA over $2.7 million dollars in 2022, according to the most recent IRS filings.

SBA-PLA Meddles in State Politics

In addition to spending money in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race in an effort to inhibit Wisconsinites’ access to abortion, SBA-PLA has also filed amicus briefs in Florida and Montana abortion amendment cases where Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen have presented legal challenges to their respective states’ abortion ballot initiatives. The Republican Attorney General Association (RAGA), a dark money group that has received $7 million from Leo’s network since 2020, contributed $100,000 to Moody’s campaign and put out an ad in favor of Knudsen.

SBA-PLA’s filing of amicus briefs is part of a right-wing strategy identified by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) as an “amicus flotilla,” whereby dark money groups file amicus briefs to influence the court. Whitehouse described this scheme as a “show of hands” by the dark money “donor machine that set out to capture the Court.” Politico recently found that the majority of right-wing filers in high profile cases had connections to Leonard Leo and his network. 

Amicus briefs are not the only way that SBA-PLA is inserting themselves into state-level abortion fights either. The group’s state public affairs director, Kelsey Pritchard, recently published a call-to-action article urging anti-abortion activists to get involved in the fight against state abortion amendments that would provide state constitutional protections for abortion. Pritchard resides in South Dakota where an abortion amendment could be on this year’s ballot. 

Pritchard also emphasized the need to spend big “to get the message out“—and that is precisely what the group did last year against Ohio’s Issue 1.

Yet, in spite of the staggering amounts that outside actors spent to convince Ohioans to vote against abortion access, the measure to amend the Ohio constitution to guarantee the right to abortion and other reproductive rights passed in a landslide—by more than 15 points.

Ohioans turned up at the polls and reaffirmed what holds true for the majority of Americans— the belief that people should have the freedom to make their own reproductive healthcare decisions. 

Anti-abortion zealots and their extremist funders are doubling down at the state level, but voters across the country seem to be bristling at their extreme, anti-science agenda. 

There are 13 states with efforts underway to put constitutional amendments protecting abortion access on the 2024 ballot. The residents of those states deserve to know the regressive forces, like SBA-PLA and its wealthy benefactors, that will likely be at play to deny them their basic rights and freedoms.

The corrupt far-right faction of the Supreme Court took away a fundamental right from Americans, but people are showing us time and again that they will fight for the freedom to choose what is best for them and will safeguard abortion healthcare through democratic means. 

TNR’s executive director Lisa Graves and equality project director Alyssa Bowen contributed to this article. 

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Ansev Demirhan is a senior researcher at True North Research. She earned her Ph.D. in history from UNC-Chapel Hill and is trained as an intersectional feminist historian. Her research focuses on dark money groups and their opposition to policies that advance equity, reproductive justice, LGBTQIA+ rights and public education. Demirhan has bylines in Ms. magazine, The Guardian, Truthout and Rewire News Group.