My mother was a true and faithful Catholic. She attended Mass on Sundays and Holy Days like Christmas. But Mom did more than take the sacraments. For example, she read numerous books by Thomas Merton, an American Trappist monk, writer, theologian, mystic, poet, social activist and scholar. A member of the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, near Bardstown, Kentucky, Merton wrote more than 50 books on spirituality, social justice, and pacifism — and about how Christianity related to other belief systems such as Zen Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism.
Mom also read books by Søren Kierkegaard, a Danish theologian, philosopher, poet, social critic, and religious author who, according to Wikipedia, focused “on Christian ethics, the institution of the Church, the differences between purely objective proofs of Christianity, the infinite qualitative distinction between man and God, and the individual’s subjective relationship to the God-Man Jesus the Christ, which came through faith. Much of his work deals with Christian love.”
Mom was a Christian who actively lived her faith. When a relative or neighbor was very sick or dying, Mom was there to comfort and pray with that person. She taught 3rd grade at a Catholic school, and she typically spent hours every evening on the phone with parents, trying her best to help students and parents.
It grieved me when her faith was shaken by the sexual misconduct of Catholic clergy — those who committed the sexual misconduct, and those who covered it up. She felt that she had been betrayed, and I truly felt sorry for Mom and her misplaced love and devotion to the Catholic Church.
In October 1992, just one week shy of her 64th birthday, my mother succumbed to Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Our son Logan was six months old, and my wife was three months pregnant with our daughter Julie. It was a bitter-sweet and momentous time in our lives.
As one good Catholic left this world, a rather unlikely replacement appeared in the form of a new convert to the Church. Her name was Marjorie Dannenfelser and, soon after her strange and unseemly conversion to Catholicism, she became the most politically powerful voice of the anti-abortion movement.
Her remarkable story is told in New York magazine’s “The Cut” (5/9/2022), “The Woman Who Killed Roe: Marjorie Dannenfelser’s single-minded pursuit of an end to abortion,” by Kerry Howley.
Howley explains: “For a long time, I struggled to understand Dannenfelser’s conversion story...how the decidedly pro-choice leader of the Duke College Republicans came to be single-mindedly focused on ending abortion in America...It was not about abortion in any obvious way. Dannenfelser describes her parents as argumentative, intellectual pro-choice conservatives with a commitment to civil rights, and it had been her own position that her body was not a site rightly subject to state management and control. She was extroverted, energetic, up for a party, already building the deep network on which she would one day rely. While interning at the Heritage Institute as a rising senior, she lived in a D.C. group home with eight or ten others, mostly men. There were libertarians, and there were social conservatives, and they endeavored to live together in what they called the ‘Right House,’ engaging in debates that seemed urgent to the 20-year-olds involved.
“One day, one of the social conservatives, Dean Clancy, found in the VHS player a tape that Dannenfelser calls ‘arguably pornographic’ and that another member of the household told me was ‘definitely just porn.’ The men had evidently been watching porn in the living room of a shared house. Clancy’s response was to pull the tape from the plastic shell, destroying it. The owner of the cassette, a libertarian, wanted to be paid for his destroyed property...Clancy refused to replace it. It was decided, according to Dannenfelser, that those who sided with Clancy had to find another place to live...‘As I listened to the debate,’ she writes, ‘something stirred within me, and I knew what was at stake was more fundamental than where I would sleep for the next several weeks.’
“The right not to pay someone for a VHS tape that you destroyed in a public display of self-righteousness may be a curious moral foundation on which to build a life’s work, but this is the reason Dannenfelser gives for turning away from the practicality of her parents and definitively toward social conservatism. She soon converted to Catholicism and came to believe that full human rights are conferred upon a zygote at the moment of fertilization, rendering even a rape exception ‘abominable.’ She tried to convince her parents of this and failed, repeatedly...she began dating other serious Catholics, one of whom became a priest and one of whom, Marty Dannenfelser, became her husband. At the time, Marty was the top aide to the Republican chair of the pro-life caucus.”
Dannenfelser is Trump-like and thoroughly ruthless. Howley writes: “When Marjorie Dannenfelser first came to Capitol Hill...before she extracted from the host of The Apprentice [Donald Trump] a promise to appoint anti-abortion judges, and before those judges tilted the Court decisively against a constitutionally protected right to an abortion, she was a young assistant to West Virginia Democrat Alan Mollohan.... ‘He was good to me,’ Dannenfelser told me, ‘like a father. He cared about me.’
“It was from Mollohan that Dannenfelser learned what she considers ‘one of the most important lessons’ in politics: There can be no hesitation in the exercise of political power. ‘If you shoot a bear,’ he told her, ‘you have to kill it.’ Two decades later, in 2010, Dannenfelser was the head of the Susan B. Anthony List, a group that works exclusively to elect anti-abortion legislators ... Dannenfelser directed her PAC to spend $78,000 against Mollohan, running radio ads that said, ‘Alan Mollohan betrayed us and voted to spend our federal dollars…on abortions,’ though this was at best unclear. [Mollohan] lost his 14th bid for reelection....
“This is a story Dannenfelser does not hesitate to tell. She also enjoys being called the ‘velvet hammer.’ Her 2020 book is called Life Is Winning, but it is less about the winningness of life than about the losingness of various people who failed to align themselves with her mission. The list of those alive and dead with whom Dannenfelser is utterly exasperated includes John McCain, George W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan. All of them, she says, ‘had been given on a national stage many opportunities to authentically witness to the depravity and extremism of abortion’ and had failed to do so.”
Abortion was never a kitchen table issue. Anti-abortion lobbyists like Dannenfelser have made abortion a political issue, not by convincing the American people that abortion is wrong, but by intimidating Republican candidates into adopting their anti-abortion agenda. It’s a classic case of “the tail wagging the dog.”
Our basic right to privacy — including the private relationship between a woman and her doctor — is part of the very fabric of our nation.
Mark Heinz lives at Nolin Lake. Visit his website at amazon.com/author/markheinzbooks.