Kellyanne Conway has been “indispensable to the pro-life movement,” according to one of the anti-choice activists behind the deceptively edited videos targeting Planned Parenthood.
Conway was instrumental in crafting a message—using the discredited videos—that fueled a barrage of Republican attacks on Planned Parenthood’s funding and coincided with a marked uptick in violence against abortion providers.
David Daleiden, head of the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), spoke about the work Conway, a prominent White House counselor, conducted on behalf of his organization in 2015 during an interview this year with the National Catholic Register. Daleiden was one of the many anti-choice leaders interviewed in the report whose organizations has worked with Conway.
Conway’s connection to CMP, an anti-choice front group that has worked closely with GOP legislators, resurfaced after Trump administration financial disclosure forms showed she had consulted for the group. That revelation came just after a California judge issued an arrest warrant for Daleiden and his colleague Sandra Merritt in relation to the 15 felony charges they face in connection with the surreptitiously-recorded attack videos.
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Conway had an “impressive ability to take in and process huge amounts of information at once,” Daleiden said, adding that she could “unify perspectives that could seem opposed and incompatible.”
“It’s to their own detriment and, ultimately, defeat, that people underestimate her,” he said.
Peter Montgomery, senior fellow at People For the American Way, said in an interview with Rewire that it was “disturbing” to see the views of the anti-choice groups for which Conway consulted have “been elevated to the White House.” Noting that President Trump forged bonds with many of these groups, Montgomery said these connections “make it very clear that [anti-choice organizations] are all going to have ready access to the Trump White House and presumably share strategies, politics, and messaging.”
Jodi Magee, president and CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health, said Trump and members of the administration share Conway’s views on reproductive health care. “This administration clearly does not put evidence before political ideology, so the link between Kellyanne Conway and the fraudulent Center for Medical Progress is not surprising,” Magee said in a statement to Rewire.
“Many people in the Trump administration have ties to groups that have shown no respect for women’s bodily integrity and personal decision making,” she said. “Week after week, the administration has pushed to eliminate women’s programs and access to health care. All women deserve access to comprehensive health care without interference from politicians. Sadly, it appears that this will not be the case with this administration.”
Daleiden hired Conway’s firm, inc./WomanTrend to “conduct two focus groups in Colorado” to “get the message right” ahead of his efforts to smear Planned Parenthood, according to the Register. “Conway’s quantitative research and analysis helped Daleiden finally craft the message he needed to tell people about” the organization’s work, the report said.
Conway explained in an interview with the Washington Times that she had conducted polling for the anti-choice organization with people who “were generally supportive of [Planned Parenthood].” She showed participants “a two-minute trailer combining short clips” and then polled the viewers on their response, and found that many reacted negatively to what they saw in the anti-choice propaganda film.
Speaking about the study’s takeaways, Conway told the publication that “the most important thing that can be done is for more people to see these videos, because most have not. It’s like a magical elixir that shifts the burden of proof onto Planned Parenthood.”
The polling company, inc./WomanTrend, did not reply to Rewire’s requests for comment on the nature of the company’s relationship with CMP and whether it remained ongoing. Conway left the organization on January 20, according to the company’s website.
Though Montgomery said he was unsure about the strategy on which Conway had advised anti-choice groups, he pointed out that many of the groups she worked with employed some of the same strategies. There has been “a real effort in the last few years to try to put a more woman-friendly face on the anti-choice movement and to really try to portray doctors who perform abortions as the people who are victimizing women and to try to claim for themselves the mantle of being pro-woman,” he said.
“[I]t’d be interesting to know how much Kellyanne Conway had a hand in this,” Montgomery said.
Those who oppose abortion rights often seek to enact restrictions on reproductive freedoms under the guise of “helping women.” For example, targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) bills like those at issue in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt were purported by anti-choice advocates to be necessary for safeguarding women’s health. The Court ruled there was no evidence the provisions did this, and that they intentionally hindered access to reproductive health care.
Conway adopted similar rhetoric when talking about abortion during her speech at the 2017 March for Life in Washington, D.C., saying the anti-choice movement “must … reach those women who face unplanned pregnancies, they should know they are not alone. They’re not judged. They too are protected and cared for and celebrated.” She told the New Yorker in 2016 that those with anti-choice views “believe there are two victims in an abortion: the unborn child and the woman who felt that that was her best option.”
However, Conway according to the New York Times, has urged clients to “describe their recollections of seeing ultrasound images for the first time because it can be disarming.” It’s a strategy she has frequently referenced, including during her 2017 March for Life speech.
Conway will speak on May 8 at the Women of Distinction Luncheon fundraiser for Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). Blackburn chaired the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, which pursued unfounded allegations made by CMP’s discredited videos and sat on President Trump’s anti-choice advisory council during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Conway’s connections to CMP are hardly her first foray into anti-choice politics. She has spent two decades helping anti-choice organizations and politicians hone their messaging through her polling company.
Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America—one of the organizations listed on Conway’s disclosure forms—confirmed in an email to Rewire that the organization had “hired the polling company,inc./WomanTrend to conduct polling and research for us on abortion views.”
“Kellyanne and her polling firm were top-notch and provided valuable insight,” she said.
David O’Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee—another organization listed as having used Conway’s consulting services—told the Register in January that his organization had worked with Conway’s polling company.
“What she’s provided has helped us guide our strategy,” O’Steen said.