When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the ruling affirmed a half-century of political activism by conservative grassroots organizers, religious and legal groups, and Republican politicians and strategists. Few members of that right-wing coalition were more important than the late Phyllis Schlafly, who dedicated her formidable organizing and rhetorical talents to campaigns against cultural liberalism.
In this episode of History As It Happens, historian and Schlafly biographer Donald Critchlow discusses the crusader’s legacy in light of the conservative movement’s success in ending a constitutional right to an abortion.
It is a timely reminder of the importance of persuasion in politics, because although young Americans have only known the Republican Party as opposed to abortion, it took decades of work by Schlafly and like-minded activists to push the GOP further to the right on that issue. As recently as 1996, a pro-choice congresswoman, New York Rep. Susan Molinari, delivered the keynote address at the Republican National Convention.
“Phyllis Schlafly was critical to the emergence of grassroots conservatism,” said Mr. Critchlow, the author of “Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism: A Woman’s Crusade.”
Schlafly galvanized right-wing activists who were deeply suspicious of the Republican Party at a time when its moderate and liberal wings were more influential than its conservative faction. But Schlafly always embraced politics and the GOP in particular.
SEE ALSO: History As It Happens: Abortion before Roe
“For example, she became a leading spokeswoman for Richard Nixon, who would not have been in 1968 a natural choice for a lot of grassroots conservatives,” Mr. Critchlow said.
Schlafly made opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment her signature issue, and she tied that issue to abortion – “a stroke of political genius,” according to historian Jill Lepore, who contends that Schlafly “built the road” to the Reagan Revolution in “These Truths: A History of the United States.”
Listen to Mr. Critchlow discuss the legacy of Phyllis Schlafly and grassroots conservatism by subscribing to History As It Happens.
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