The formation of the SBA List was catalyzed in March 1992 when Rachel MacNair, head of Feminists for Life, watched a 60 Minutes television documentary profiling IBM-heiress Ellen Malcolm and the successful campaign-funding activities of her Democratic pro-choice group EMILY's List. MacNair, a peace activist and pro-life Quaker, was motivated to organize the Susan B. Anthony List for the purpose of countering EMILY's List by providing early campaign funds to pro-life women candidates. Led by FFL and MacNair, 15 pro-life groups formed an umbrella organization, the National Women's Coalition for Life (NWCL), which adopted a joint pro-life statement on April 3, 1992.
Also inspired by EMILY's List, in 1992 the WISH List was formed to promote pro-choice candidates who were members of the opposing Republican Party. In November 1992 after many of the pro-choice candidates won their races to create what was termed the "Year of the Woman", MacNair announced the formation of the SBA List, describing its purpose as endorsing and supporting women who held pro-life beliefs without regard to party affiliation. MacNair determined to challenge the EMILY's List and the WISH List notion that the top female politicians were primarily pro-choice. She said the SBA List would not support right-wing political candidates. "We want good records on women's rights – probably not Phyllis Schlafly". The NWCL sponsored the SBA List with $2,485 to create it as a political action committee (PAC) on February 4, 1993, listing MacNair as the first secretary; the group operated out of MacNair's office inside a crisis pregnancy center on East 47th Street in Kansas City, Missouri. The first SBA List public event was held the same month at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the National Woman's Party. Organized by founding board member Susan Gibbs, the "kickoff" event raised "more than $9000".
MacNair named the SBA List after the famous suffragist, Susan B. Anthony. The leaders of the SBA List say that Anthony was "passionately pro-life". According to the SBA list, Susan B. Anthony "called abortion 'child murder'" This topic has been subject to a modern-day dispute about Anthony's views on abortion, with scholars and pro-choice activists "concerned that their heroine is being appropriated." While Anthony deplored abortion, she never worked against it. Anthony scholar Ann D. Gordon and Anthony biographer Lynn Sherr say the quotes SBA List cites are misattributed or taken out of context. Gordon said that Anthony "never voiced an opinion about the sanctity of fetal life ... and she never voiced an opinion about using the power of the state to require that pregnancies be brought to term."
Founding board member Susan Gibbs, later the communications director for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, said, of the early years for the SBA List, "None of us had political experience. None of us had PAC experience. We just had a passion for being pro-life." Shortly after its founding, experienced political activists Marjorie Dannenfelser and then Jane Abraham were brought on board — Dannenfelser served as executive director, leading the organization from her home in Arlington, Virginia. In 1994, the SBA List was successful in helping 8 of its 15 selected candidates gain office. In 1996, only two challengers who were financially backed were elected, while five SBA-List-supported incumbents retained their positions; a disappointing election for the group.
In 1997 the SBA List was reorganized by Dannenfelser and Abraham into its current form as a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization with a connected PAC, the SBA List Candidate Fund. Abraham became president and Dannenfelser held the position of Chairwoman of the Board. The rules for endorsing and financially supporting candidates were tightened: in addition to the politician having to be female, she must have demonstrated a pro-life record (a simple declaration was not enough), and she must be seen as likely to win her race. In 1998, the SBA List began backing male pro-life candidates as well, endorsing three men in a pilot program. One of the three won election to office: Republican Peter Fitzgerald who received $2,910 from the SBA List to assist him in his $12.3 million win over pro-choice Democrat Carol Moseley Braun in a battle for the U.S. Senate seat in Illinois. Abraham served as president from 1997 until 2006 when Dannenfelser became president.
In 2000 the SBA List contributed $25,995 to pro-life candidates in contrast to the pro-choice candidates who received $608,273 from the WISH List or $20 million from EMILY's List.
Contributions from supporters grew by 50% from 2007 to 2009. As of December 2009, the SBA List had outspent one of its pro-choice counterparts, the National Organization for Women, in every election cycle since 1996.
Former Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave joined the SBA List in March 2009 and works as a project director and spokesperson. Musgrave had previously been given a pro-life award in 2003 by the SBA List. The organization tried to keep abortion coverage out of any health care reform legislation in 2009 and 2010. It had targeted Senator Bob Casey to ensure abortion was not covered in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), and lobbied for the Stupak-Pitts Amendment to H.R. 3962 The group criticized Senator Ben Nelson for what it called a "fake compromise" on abortion in the PPACA and condemned the Christmas Eve passage of the Senate bill.
The group had planned to honor Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) at its March gala, but after Stupak's deal with President Obama, in which Obama would issue an executive order banning federal funding for abortion under the bill, Stupak was stripped of his "Defender of Life Award" three days before the gala because of the SBA List's doubts, shared by the most prominent pro-life groups, about the effectiveness of the Executive Order. Stupak had told Dannenfelser, "They [the Democratic leadership] know I won't fold. There is no way." On the day of the vote, Dannenfelser said she promised Stupak that the SBA List was "going to be involved in your defeat." In a statement, Dannenfelser said, "We were planning to honor Congressman Stupak for his efforts to keep abortion-funding out of health care reform. We will no longer be doing so...Let me be clear: any representative, including Rep. Stupak, who votes for this health care bill can no longer call themselves 'pro-life.'" No one received the award in his place, and Dannenfelser instead used the occasion to condemn Stupak. The group dropped its plans to help Stupak fend off a primary challenge from Connie Saltonstall, who was running on a pro-choice platform. Stupak later dropped out of the race, announcing his retirement from Congress.
In 2010, the SBA List hosted events featuring prominent pro-life political figures as speakers, including Sarah Palin, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and Rep. Michele Bachmann.
In August 2010, to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, the SBA List held a colloquium at the Yale Club of New York City, billed as "A Conversation on Pro-Life Feminism". The event featured a panel of five scholars in the fields of law, philosophy, history, political science and sociology, who discussed various concepts of feminism and the possibility of broadening the spectrum of pro-life political candidates to include those with more centrist fiscal views.
An SBA List project, "Votes Have Consequences", was headed by former Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave and was aimed at defeating vulnerable candidates in 2010 who did not vote pro-life on key issues, such as health care reform. Under this project, the group endorsed Dan Coats of Indiana for Senate against Rep. Brad Ellsworth, who had voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In January 2011, along with Americans for Tax Reform and The Daily Caller, the organization sponsored a debate between candidates for chair of the Republican National Committee.
Peter Roff writing for U.S. News and World Report credited the SBA List for the passage in the House of an amendment to defund Planned Parenthood of federal dollars for fiscal year 2011. Writing for In These Times, social media activist Sady Doyle wrote that in striving against Planned Parenthood, the SBA List registered its priority as ending abortion rather than helping women prevent unwanted pregnancies.
In March 2011, the SBA List teamed with Live Action for a bus tour through 13 congressional districts either thanking or condemning their representatives for their votes to defund Planned Parenthood of tax dollars in the Pence Amendment. In response, Planned Parenthood launched its own tour to follow the SBA List bus. The SBA List also bought $200,000 in radio and television ads backing six Republicans who voted to defund Planned Parenthood in response to a $200,000 ad buy by Planned Parenthood against the Pence Amendment.
In July 2011, the SBA List held a rally in New Hampshire supporting the New Hampshire Executive Council's decision to cut off state funding for Planned Parenthood. Spokeswoman Marilyn Musgrave, a former United States congresswoman, said the Council's decision "really will save unborn lives." The SBA List has lobbied for passage of the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a federal bill which would ban abortions after 20 weeks. Also in 2011, the SBA List founded the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Named after Charlotte Denman Lozier, the Institute has served as the SBA List's research and education institute ever since.
The SBA List employs many strategies in order to attract the public to its mission. Lawyer and Scholar Tali Leinwand explains that the SBA List encourages Republicans not to endorse personhood amendments, and attempts to link the pro-life movement to less controversial causes like opposition to the Affordable Care Act. These strategies, Leinwand argues, attempt to de-stigmatize the pro-life movement.
The SBA List Candidate Fund primarily endorses pro-life women, and pro-life men running against pro-choice women.
The 2006 midterm elections were very successful for the SBA list. They won 21 of the 38 contests that they endorsed.
The SBA List gained renewed attention during the 2008 presidential election following Sarah Palin's nomination for Vice President. They had endorsed her 2006 run for governor of Alaska. In 2008, the SBA List also started a social networking site and blog called "Team Sarah", which is "dedicated to advancing the values that Sarah Palin represents in the political process."
Palin headlined the organization's 2010 "Celebration of Life" breakfast fundraiser, an event which got extensive media coverage and in which she coined the term "mama grizzly".
According to Politico, Palin's criteria for endorsing candidates is whether they have the support of the Tea Party movement and whether they have the support of the SBA List.
In September 2009, in a special election to fill an empty House seat in upstate New York, the group endorsed the pro-life third-party Conservative candidate Doug Hoffman over the pro-choice Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava, on the stated basis that Scozzafava was an "abortion radical who does not represent the views of the growing majority of pro-life American women." The SBA List joined forces with the National Organization for Marriage in support of Hoffman, spending over $100,000 printing literature, making phone calls, and flooding the district with volunteers from across the country.
For the 2010 elections, the SBA List planned to spend $6 million (including $3 million solely on U.S. Senate races) and endorsed several dozen candidates. The SBA List spent nearly $1.7 million on independent expenditure campaigns for or against 50 candidates.
The SBA List conducted a 23-city bus tour to the Congressional districts of self-described pro-life Democrats in Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania who voted for the health care reform bill and to rally supporters to vote them out. The bus tour attracted counterprotests at some stops, such as one in Pennsylvania where a group called Catholics United accused the SBA List of lying about health care reform.
The organization launched a "Life Speaking Out" petition to urge the Republican Party to include opposition to abortion in its Pledge to America. The petition was sent with over 20,000 signatures on it.
The organization especially focused on the California Senate race where Carly Fiorina challenged incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer. The group spent $200,000 in support of Fiorina's campaign during the Republican primary and expected to spend another $1 million for the general election campaign against Boxer. The SBA List partnered with the National Organization for Marriage to air Spanish language TV commercials attacking Boxer's positions on abortion and gay marriage. The two groups bought $200,000 worth of airtime for the commercial to air in the markets of Los Angeles, Fresno, and San Diego. However, Boxer prevailed over Fiorina in the November 2010 election.
Other notable endorsements included Sharron Angle, who unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada; the SBA List endorsed Angle despite having previously endorsed Angle's primary opponent, Sue Lowden. In September 2010, the SBA List launched a $150,000 campaign on behalf of New Hampshire Senate candidate Kelly Ayotte for the Republican primary. Ayotte won the primary to become the nominee, and later prevailed in the general election. In October 2010, the SBA List endorsed Joe Miller, Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in Alaska. The SBA List endorsed Miller after Sen. Lisa Murkowski decided to stage a write-in campaign after losing the Republican primary to Miller, and they launched a $10,000 radio campaign to air ads attacking Murkowski for turning a "deaf ear" to the will of voters who voted her out in the primary. Murkowski defeated Miller, who conceded after two months of court battles over contested ballots. 36 of the SBA List's 2010 endorsed candidates were elected.
In the 2010 campaign, the organization purchased billboard advertisements in the district of Rep. Steve Driehaus of Ohio that showed a photo of Driehaus and intoned, "Shame on Steve Driehaus! Driehaus voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortion" The advertisement referred to Driehaus's vote in favor of the health care overhaul bill. The SBA List has taken the position that the legislation in question allows for taxpayer-funded abortion, a claim which was ruled by a judge to be factually incorrect.
In response, Driehaus, who represented Ohio's heavily pro-life 1st congressional district, filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission (OEC), claiming the advertisements were false and violated Ohio election law. The OEC ruled in Driehaus' favor in a probable cause hearing on October 14, 2010. In response, the SBA List asked a federal judge to issue an injunction against the OEC on the grounds that the law at issue stifles free speech and that its ads were based on the group's own interpretation of the law. The ACLU of Ohio filed an 18-page amicus brief on the SBA List's behalf, arguing that the Ohio law in question is "unconstitutionally vague" and has a "chilling" effect on the SBA List's right to freedom of speech. A federal judge rejected the SBA List's federal lawsuit on abstention grounds and allowed Driehaus's OEC complaint to move forward.
After the OEC complaint was filed, the SBA List began airing a radio ad in Driehaus's district in which Dannenfelser stated that the group "[would] not be silenced or intimidated" by Driehaus's legal action. Driehaus persuaded the billboard company to withdraw the SBA List's advertisement, which was never erected. Driehaus lost the seat to Steve Chabot, the incumbent whom Driehaus had defeated two years earlier, in the November general election. Driehaus sued the SBA List in a second case on December 3, 2010, accusing the organization of defamation that caused him a "loss of livelihood", arguing the "First Amendment is not and never has been an invitation to concoct falsehoods aimed at depriving a person of his livelihood." The SBA List countered by stating the organization would "continue to defend the truth and the right to criticize our elected officials."
The List continued to seek to have the law in question overturned; the ACLU joined in the organization's fight against the law. On August 1, 2011, judge Timothy Black dismissed the SBA List's challenge to the Ohio law, holding that the federal court lacked jurisdiction since the billboards were never erected and the OEC never made a final ruling and denied a motion for summary judgment by the List in the defamation case, allowing Driehaus's defamation claims regarding other SBA List statements to go forward. Black also directed the SBA List to desist from claiming on its website that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) subsidized abortion as the law does not directly mention abortion. SBA List argued that its statements were opinions and were thus protected, but the court rejected this argument given that SBA List itself had claimed that this was a "fact".
On August 19, 2011, the SBA List appealed the decision on the Ohio law to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. In May 2013, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the SBA List could not challenge the law under the First Amendment. On August 9, 2013, the SBA List petitioned the United States Supreme Court to review the law. On January 10, 2014, the Supreme Court accepted the case. The Court heard the case on April 22, 2014.
On June 16, 2014, the United States Supreme Court ruled 9-0 in SBA List's favor, allowing them to proceed in challenging the constitutionality of the law.
On September 11, 2014, Judge Timothy Black of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio struck down the law as unconstitutional. Black said in his ruling, "We do not want the government (i.e., the Ohio Elections Commission) deciding what is political truth — for fear that the government might persecute those who criticize it. Instead, in a democracy, the voters should decide."
In October 2011, the SBA List announced it would involve itself in the 2011 Virginia state Senate elections, endorsing challengers Bryce Reeves against Edd Houck, Caren Merrick against Barbara Favola for an open seat, Patricia Phillips against Mark Herring, and incumbent Sen. Jill Vogel in an effort to give control of the Senate to pro-lifers to stop the state Senate from being a "graveyard for pro-life legislation." It also announced it was spending $25,000 against Sen. Edd Houck to expose his "extreme record on abortion". Merrick and Phillips lost, but Vogel won re-election and Reeves defeated Houck by just 222 votes.
In June 2011, the SBA List unveiled a pro-life pledge for 2012 Republican presidential candidates in which signers commit to appointing only pro-life judicial nominees and cabinet members, preventing taxpayer funding of abortion, and supporting legislation to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the fetal pain concept. Candidates Rick Perry, Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Thaddeus McCotter, Herman Cain, and Ron Paul all signed the pledge, but Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Jr., and Gary Johnson declined. Romney's refusal (he said the pledge might have "unintended consequences") sparked heated criticism from the SBA List, some of the other candidates, and political observers given Romney's past support for legalized abortion. Huntsman said he would not sign any pledges from political groups during the campaign and was criticized by the SBA List as well. Cain initially said he agreed with the first three parts, but objected to the wording in the pledge which said he would have to "advance" the fetal pain bill; he said he would sign it but Congress would have to advance it. Cain later signed the pledge in November 2011. Johnson, who is pro-choice, declined.
The SBA List embarked on a Values Voter Bus Tour in Iowa with the Family Research Council and National Organization for Marriage from August 9–12, 2011, ending the day before the critical Iowa Straw Poll. The tour visited 22 cities and was joined by Pawlenty, Bachmann, and Santorum as well as Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and Reps. Steve King and Louie Gohmert, among other "state and national leaders".
The SBA supported Rick Santorum in the 2012 Republican Party Presidential Nomination by buying $150,000 of advertising for the candidate in Michigan, and organizing a bus tour for the Santorum and his campaign throughout Michigan. After Mitt Romney became the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party, the SBA List declared that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was unqualified for Vice President due to her describing herself as "mildly pro-choice."
In August, SBA released an ad featuring pro-life activist Melissa Ohden who says she survived an abortion in 1977. The ad criticized Barack Obama, claiming that while serving in the Illinois Senate, he voted four times to deny medical care to infants born alive during failed abortion procedures. In a 2008 analysis, FactCheck drew a mixed conclusion overall, finding both the SBA List and Obama had made misleading and/or inaccurate comments regarding Obama's voting record on the topic in question while he served in the United States Senate.
SBA List made the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial election a priority for 2013, endorsing Ken Cuccinelli and pledging to spend $1.5 million in the election through its Virginia PAC, Women Speak Out. Cuccinelli was defeated narrowly in the general election by the pro-choice Democrat, Terry McAuliffe.
SBA List is seeking to spend $8 million to $10 million on elections in 2014.