Meet the Anti-Feminist Women’s Group Leveraging Their ‘Independence’ to Convince Americans to Vote Republican

The anti-feminist Independent Women’s Voice/Forum, backed by billionaires and anti-abortion zealots, is poised to use its leaders’ identities as women to convince voters that the GOP will protect Americans’ rights and freedoms.

Kellyanne Conway, former advisor to former President Donald Trump, previously sat on IWF/Vs board. (Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

The anti-feminist Independent Women’s Voice/Forum (IWF/V) has officially launched its 2024 election agenda. An internal fundraising document provided to True North Research shows one way it is putting that agenda into action is by continuing to try and blunt the horrific repercussions of the Supreme Court overturning Roe, while deploying their veneer of independence to sway centrist and independent voters. 

The document details a two-phase plan and a budget that is almost twice the amount it proposed in its 2022 midterm fundraising documents, as reported by The Washington Post. Despite claiming to take no position on abortion, IWF/V launched a PR campaign ahead of the 2022 midterms—the first election cycle following the Dobbs decision—which included advertising trying to convince younger women that reproductive rights were less important than other issues the group listed. 

One way IWF/V’s agenda for this election cycle stands out from its previous midterm action plan is its emphasis on reassuring women that access to contraception is not in jeopardy—despite key voices in the anti-abortion movement making it clear otherwise. The group is a member of Project 2025, a MAGA blueprint that includes detailed plans to attack contraception access, promote the rhythm method, deploy the CDC to increase “abortion surveillance” and data collection and much more. 

IWF/V also has a long history of undermining contraception access, though the group has a talking point about supporting over-the-counter availability of the contraception pill.

IWF/V’s “Hope Agenda”

Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), a 501(c)(3), and its 501(c)(4) the Independent Women’s Voice (IWV), are pay-to-play groups that use their “independent” branding to laud right-wing politicians along with the legislative wish lists of some for-profit corporations, such as Juul. Based on its most recent tax filings, the groups reported a combined $8.1 million in revenue. IWF/V has received money from the Koch network, Leonard Leo’s network and funds from secretive donor-advised funds, like the Bradley Impact Fund, the National Christian Charitable Foundation and DonorsTrust. 

Internal fundraising documents related to IWF/V’s election agenda forecast that Democrats would run on abortion in 2024, “heightening fears, and insisting that it’s too risky to elect conservatives.” IWF/V’s prescription is to “push back” by “highlighting issues that matter even more than abortion to many,” and in its opinion “showing the ways [Republicans] care more about women and the wellbeing of many persuadable constituents.” 

With a proposed budget for this agenda of approximately $10.7 million—over 6 times the lifetime earnings of the average American—IWF/V plans to “target,” “educate” and “activate” registered independents to vote for GOP candidates despite the role the party has played and trumpeted in reversing Roe and constitutional protections for accessing abortion. 

IWF/V plans to focus its efforts on mailers and texts in Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Washington. 

IWF/V has boasted that taking no outward position on abortion gives it an advantage when trying to convince voters who are open to persuasion, leaving it “uniquely free … to talk about the … political reality of abortion access in America.”

But Americans are intimately familiar with the political reality of abortion access in this country. 

  • The majority of states have abortion restrictions or bans in place that make it difficult for pregnant Americans to receive essential healthcare. 
  • The U.S. Supreme Court continues to be deployed as a tool to potentially limit abortion access nationally (in the mifepristone and EMTALA cases). 
  • Over 64,000 unwanted pregnancies have been caused by rape in states with total abortion bans that were implemented post-Roe
  • Abortions increased in 2023, the first full calendar year following the Dobbs decision, because people continue to need and seek abortions despite the fractured abortion healthcare landscape unleashed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Americans are also faced with the political reality that the anti-abortion movement is coming for contraception. That is one reason why IWF/V honing in on messaging around birth control access as something that is safeguarded and supported by the GOP is so troubling. The group itself has a history of opposing contraception access. 

IWF/V’s History Attacking Contraception Access

IWF/V commissioned Kellyanne Conway’s consulting firm KA Consulting LLC to poll registered women voters on contraception access. Unsurprisingly, there was overwhelming support for contraception access—with 8 out of 10 independents and anti-choice voters “more likely to vote for a pro-contraception candidate.” Conway, the former Trump advisor, previously sat on IWF/Vs board and received its “Woman of Valor” award after coining a neologism for lies: “alternative facts.” IWF/V is using this polling to inform its 2024 election strategy while glossing over its own attacks against contraception access. 

The group has filed amicus briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it has sided with religious groups in litigation to limit employees’ access to birth control. It has also argued against federal legislation, namely the Affordable Care Act, that would protect the rights of fellow Americans to have insurance help pay for birth control

IWF’s Hadley Heath Manning published an op-ed in The New York Times, where she posited a universal “conservative position on birth control,” which rests on the idea that most conservatives believe birth control is a “choice” and not a “positive right.” This position is particularly galling, given that “personal choice” regarding contraception or abortion healthcare cannot exist in the absence of legal policies that protect our access to make such “choices.” This position also whitewashes the role that IWF played in dismantling the “personal choice” of millions of Americans regarding their reproductive health, through their support of Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett and Neil Gorsuch. 

IWF grew out of a group formed to back Justice Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court, the same corrupt justice who has been bankrolled by billionaires for years and who recently, along with Alito, repeatedly invoked the Comstock Act during oral arguments in the mifepristone case. They thus signaled that the antiquated legislation, which has yet to be repealed, could potentially be used to ban abortion nationally

‘Personal choice’ regarding contraception or abortion healthcare cannot exist in the absence of legal policies that protect our access to make such ‘choices.’

IWF’s Emma Waters has also spread disinformation about the birth control pill, contending that increased access to birth control leads to increased abortions. However, multiple studies over the years have proven what is obviously true, which is that access to birth control helps reduce abortion rates. A recent study shows that abortion rates are the highest they have been in 10 years. Waters also works for the Heritage Foundation, the group spearheading Project 2025, which plans to have the next right-wing president implement the Comstock Act to block the mailing of abortion pills, literally on the afternoon of the Inauguration.

Anti-trans messaging is also central to IWF/V’s plan to ‘get out the vote’ in 2024, according to its “Hope Agenda.” IWF also attacked the Right to Contraception Act, using anti-trans scaremongering to falsely suggest that this legislation would “require doctors to sterilize minors.” This is not the only anti-trans tactic the group has used to detract from the devastating impact of the overturn of Roe

IWF/V is also behind the anti-trans “model” bill the “Women’s Bill of Rights,” which enumerates no rights other than the right to discriminate against transgender people, especially transgender women. This model bill has ostensibly been used by so-called conservative or independent policymakers and groups that allegedly care more about American women, but IWF/V itself has repeatedly attacked pro-woman policies. IWF/V has opposed the Equal Rights Amendment,  federal paid leave, federally subsidized child care, the Violence Against Women Act and Title IX—though it recently backed a watered-down version of VAWA and for decades it sided with men’s sports teams against Title IX spending on women’s sports until it deployed anti-trans messaging about women’s sports.

IWF’s Ties to Anti-Abortion Power Brokers

IWF/V has received more than $6.8 million in funding from Leonard Leo, the anti-abortion powerbroker who engineered the Supreme Court capture, and his network since 2014. IWF/V’s legal arm, the Independent Women’s Law Center (IWLC) recently filed a lawsuit against the Biden Administration for making Title IX more inclusive. The law firm representing them is Consovoy McCarthy. One of the firm’s partners, Tyler Green, is one of only three trustees listed for the Marble Freedom Trust—a $1.6 billion trust given to Leonard Leo in 2020 by anti-abortion billionaire Barre Seid.  

IWF/V also played an active role in supporting Supreme Court nominees that were hand-picked by Leo, aiding in his engineered ‘Court capture.’ They helped ensure Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court and viciously attacked Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the Stanford psychologist who credibly accused Kavanaugh of attempted sexual assault, even though Kavanaugh denied it. IWF/V’s leader, Heather Higgins, even took credit for teaching Senator Susan Collins and FOX how to navigate the Kavanaugh controversies. IWF also rallied behind Amy Coney Barrett during her nomination process, including staging an “I’m with Her” event outside of the Supreme Court.

Additionally, Erin Hawley, of Alliance Defending Freedom fame—the legal team responsible for creating the Mississippi legislation that ultimately allowed the Supreme Court to overturn Roewas on staff at IWLC at the same time she was working to eliminate federal protections for abortion access

IWF/V, backed by billionaires and anti-abortion zealots, is poised to use its leaders’ identities as women to convince voters that the GOP will protect Americans’ rights and freedoms, like access to birth control and the ability to choose if and when to have children. IWF/V’s past positions, the known agendas of their funders and their membership to Project 2025 belie their true intentions. 

Lisa Graves, director of True North, and Alyssa Bowen, director of True North’s Equality Project, contributed to this story.

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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.