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Sabrina Schaeffer Hopes to Raise Voice of Conservative Women Through IWF

Sabrina Schaeffer
National Journal
Christopher Snow Hopkins
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Christopher Snow Hopkins
Sept. 4, 2013, 3:30 p.m.

Wo­men’s groups are of­ten con­sidered to be as­so­ci­ated with third-wave fem­in­ism and, by ex­ten­sion, the pro­gress­ive move­ment. But the In­de­pend­ent Wo­men’s For­um of­ten de­fies that im­pres­sion by chal­len­ging the Demo­crat­ic es­tab­lish­ment.

Meet Sab­rina Schaef­fer, an emer­ging voice on wo­men’s is­sues and an avowed foe of Obama­care. The Cali­for­nia nat­ive is the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the In­de­pend­ent Wo­men’s For­um, which was foun­ded 21 years ago in the wake of the Clar­ence Thomas hear­ings, when the Su­preme Court nom­in­ee was con­fron­ted with ac­cus­a­tions of sexu­al har­ass­ment that sparked a na­tion­al con­ver­sa­tion.

“There was a sen­ti­ment among a num­ber of wo­men in town that tra­di­tion­al wo­men’s groups “¦ did not ad­equately rep­res­ent wo­men’s voices,” Schaef­fer said on the phone Monday. “There was a harsh voice as­so­ci­ated with wo­men’s-rights act­iv­ists that didn’t ne­ces­sar­ily rep­res­ent every­one.”

Today, the IWF is a voice for wo­men at­tuned to gender-spe­cif­ic is­sues but op­posed to the pro­gress­ive polit­ics es­poused by groups such as the Na­tion­al Or­gan­iz­a­tion for Wo­men and the Amer­ic­an As­so­ci­ation of Uni­versity Wo­men. One of the most con­ten­tious is­sues of the day, the Af­ford­able Care Act, il­lus­trates the schism between IWF and its bet­ter-known coun­ter­parts.

“Wo­men’s groups on the left are very con­cerned with ne­go­ti­at­ing spe­cif­ic ad­vant­ages for wo­men, like free birth con­trol, free an­nu­al ex­ams, elim­in­a­tion of gender-based pri­cing, and so forth,” Schaef­fer said. “But they’ve lost sight of the big­ger pic­ture, which is that wo­men and men both lose when we have a one-size-fits-all sys­tem. We try to high­light that there are two sides to the Obama­care equa­tion — not just the be­ne­fits, but also the costs.”

A nat­ive of Pa­los Verdes, near Los Angeles, Schaef­fer at­ten­ded Middle­bury Col­lege in Ver­mont, in­tern­ing at the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee between her ju­ni­or and seni­or years. As soon as she left home, her fath­er moun­ted an un­suc­cess­ful bid for the House seat va­cated by then-Rep. Jane Har­man, D-Cal­if. “I al­ways joke that, when I went to col­lege, I was re­placed by a polit­ic­al cam­paign,” Schaef­fer said.

Her first job in Wash­ing­ton was as an as­sist­ant to former United Na­tions Am­bas­sad­or Jeane Kirk­patrick at the Amer­ic­an En­ter­prise In­sti­tute. Schaef­fer has de­scribed the im­plac­able an­ti­com­mun­ist dip­lo­mat, who re­nounced the Demo­crat­ic Party in the early 1980s, as a mod­el for con­ser­vat­ive wo­men.

After a stint at the White House Writers Group, Schaef­fer pur­sued a Ph.D. in Amer­ic­an his­tory at the Uni­versity of Vir­gin­ia but mi­grated to the polit­ic­al-sci­ence de­part­ment after two years. “I real­ized I did not want to be a his­tory pro­fess­or,” she said. “I knew that was not go­ing to get me where I wanted to be in Wash­ing­ton.”

She left the uni­versity with two mas­ter’s de­grees and re­turned to Wash­ing­ton as dir­ect­or of me­dia re­la­tions and pub­lic af­fairs at the Re­pub­lic­an Jew­ish Co­ali­tion and later as a speech­writer for then-Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio. Be­fore ar­riv­ing at IWF, Schaef­fer set up a con­ser­vat­ive polit­ic­al con­sultancy with her hus­band that em­phas­ized em­pir­ic­al re­search and con­trolled ex­per­i­ments.

When it comes to wo­men voters, Schaef­fer does not pre­tend that Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats are on equal foot­ing. In last year’s pres­id­en­tial elec­tion, the in­cum­bent won among wo­men by 12 per­cent­age points. (By con­trast, Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee Mitt Rom­ney won among men by 8 per­cent­age points.) “It’s no secret Re­pub­lic­ans have a wo­men prob­lem,” Schaef­fer con­ceded in an April op-ed for For­bes.

But, in her view, this has more to do with the clout and where­with­al of pro­gress­ive wo­men’s groups than with the philo­soph­ic­al un­der­pin­nings of the pro­gress­ive move­ment. “The real­ity is when it comes to se­cur­ing wo­men voters, con­ser­vat­ives are out­numbered, out­re­searched, and out­spent,” she wrote.

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