Leading anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List is kicking its advocacy game into high gear under President Trump.
SBA List, which works to elect abortion-opposing women to office, has brought on longtime Capitol Hill staffer Autumn Christensen, who headed the House's Pro-Life Caucus for more than a decade. It's a major hire for the group, which sees a vast new horizon of possibilities with a Republican in the White House.
The group's goal: To ensure key anti-abortion priorities are front-and-center in the new Trump administration. Topping the list are reinstating a ban on foreign aid for groups that provide abortions, paring back Obamacare's contraception mandate and blocking Medicaid funds from Planned Parenthood clinics.
"There will be amazing opportunities in a new way for people to advance life," said Marilyn Musgrave, a former member of Congress who has been with SBA List since her defeat in 2008.
Staff gathered around a conference table at SBA List's downtown office last week described an ambitious vision for the next four years. They have high hopes that Trump, working in concert with a GOP-led House and Senate, will rework federal policy on abortion in the post-Obama era.
"We need to seize this moment, we need to take advantage of this opportunity," said Billy Valentine, who directs the group's government affairs.
Just a year ago, SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser was telling voters to support any Republican candidate except for Trump. But she set aside her initial distaste for him, emerging as one of his key conservative backers during the general election and leading a "pro-life initiative" on behalf of his campaign.
That decision proved prescient. In a phone conversation shortly after the election, Trump thanked her for her efforts on his behalf and promised to fight abortion during his presidency, Dannenfelser said. The group plans to hold him to several promises he made during the campaign, including two he could fulfill right away: nominating abortion-opposing justices and signing legislation to defund Planned Parenthood.
"He'll have the opportunity to deliver on two of those commitments early on," Valentine said.
SBA List, named for famed suffragist Susan B. Anthony, has been around since 1993 but has dramatically expanded its spending and influence over the past decade.
The group says it has spent more than $23 million in the past two election cycles to help defeat Democrats and elect Republicans who oppose abortion. Now the groundwork is in place for conservatives to score some major victories, even as some of the other anti-abortion groups struggle to raise money.
"We've really seen the power of being involved politically and then getting a return on the investment legislatively," Valentine said.
Bringing Christensen on board as policy director is a big part of SBA List's strategy. In her decade of work on the pro-life caucus, she was the liaison between conservative groups and members of Congress, working to craft the biggest abortion rollback measures the House has passed in recent history.
Christensen helped develop legislation to prohibit insurance sold on the Obamacare marketplaces from covering abortions, which the House passed two years ago and plans to vote on again this week. She also has worked on "pain-capable" legislation prohibiting abortions midway through pregnancy, based on the idea of preventing pain to a fetus, and a bill extending legal protections to a baby born alive after a botched abortion.
Christensen was also around in 2009 and 2010 when debates raged over whether the Affordable Care Act allowed taxpayer funding for an abortion, an issue that cost a number of anti-abortion Democrats their seats.
Christensen has connections to plenty of other conservative groups. She is married to Family Research Council lobbyist David Christensen. And she has worked with some of the other major anti-abortion groups, including National Right to Life and Americans United for Life.
But she says she joined SBA List because of its influence on Capitol Hill and the role it has played in both elections and legislation. The group was especially instrumental in pushing both the House and Senate to vote on "pain-capable" bills in the past few years.
"I heard all the time from members, what does Marjorie hear about this, what does Marilyn think?" Christensen said.
"Coming on board feels like I'm just jumping in with old friends," she added.
The bills she has worked on got nowhere under former President Obama. Senate Democrats are still able to block most abortion restrictions, but now Republicans likely will be able pull Medicaid dollars from Planned Parenthood clinics within a budget reconciliation bill being used to repeal much of Obamacare.
The timeline of exactly when Congress will advance Obamacare repeal is not clear. But House Speaker Paul Ryan has promised it will defund Planned Parenthood. SBA List's lobbyists said they're confident he will keep that promise.
"I would say almost to a 'T' every senator and member of Congress we talk to, to make sure there's no movement on the Planned Parenthood language, are almost surprised we're calling," said lobbyist Eric Schmitz.
Republicans would have to win a 60-vote Senate majority in 2018 to advance most other legislation restricting abortions. Even so, the House will vote again this week on the measure banning abortion coverage in the Obamacare marketplaces. Christensen sees such practice votes as useful, even those taken under Obama.
"We were doing good things to prepare ourselves for these moments, even when we didn't have a president who would sign them into law," she said.
But there's more the new administration could do to pull back on abortion, without any help from Congress. Trump could immediately sign an executive order reinstating the "Mexico City policy," which bans U.S. foreign aid from any groups that provide abortions. Obama had reversed the ban upon taking office eight years ago.
Health and Human Service Secretary nominee Tom Price could start the process of reversing a rule under the healthcare law requiring employer-sponsored plans to cover birth control, including types that abortion foes oppose.
Pushing for those two policy shifts are on top of her to-do list, Christensen said.
For Christensen and the rest of SBA List, Trump's victory has dramatically shifted the battlefield over abortion rights. For example, had Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won, conservatives would likely be fighting to keep the longstanding Hyde Amendment restrictions on taxpayer funding for abortion. Now, they see room to push for making it permanent law.
"You should have been here on election night," said Musgrave, tearing up. "Just utter despair thinking about Hillary Clinton being president, and what that was going to mean for life. We had a very dark time.
"But as the night went on during election night, we started seeing hope," she said.