Feminism, Pro-lifers, and the Women’s March
After New Wave Feminists, a pro-life group based in Dallas, was removed as an official partner at the Women’s March, questions have come up about the tent of feminism.
Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa is not your typical feminist. The 33-year-old Dallas native is the founder of New Wave Feminists, a libertarian-leaning group whose motto is, “Badass. Pro-life. Feminists.” The pro-life part is what landed Herndon-De La Rosa in the national media spotlight this week after her Texas-based group was abruptly removed as a listed partner of the Women’s March on Washington, a massive protest scheduled for the day after President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration in Washington, D.C.
At first, the pro-life stance of New Wave Feminists didn’t seem to be a problem. Last week, the group was granted official partnership status by the march, and was accordingly added to the website. In a story published Monday in The Atlantic, event organizers appeared to welcome pro-lifers. The piece even mentioned New Wave Feminists by name. Bob Bland, one of the event’s co-chairs, told the magazine, “Intersectional feminism is the future of feminism and of this movement. We must not just talk about feminism as one issue, like access to reproductive care.”
But the article provoked an outcry on social media. The feminist writer Roxanne Gay, for example, wrote on Twitter that, “Intersectional feminism does not include a pro-life agenda… The right to choose is a fundamental part of feminism.” Jessica Valenti, a columnist for The Guardian, wrote that she was “horrified” the Women’s March was partnering with a pro-life group, and that “inclusivity is not about bolstering those who harm us.” By Monday afternoon Women’s March had removed The New Wave Feminists from their website and announced it would not be partnering with pro-life groups. “The Women’s March’s platform is pro-choice and that has been our stance from day one,” the organizers said in a statement. “The anti-choice organization in question is not a partner of the Women’s March on Washington. We apologize for this error.”
Herndon-De La Rosa doesn’t see how it could have been an error, since her group’s pro-life stance is front and center on its website and Facebook page, both of which were included with her application for partnership status. “We saw they didn’t have a firm pro-life or pro-choice platform, so we filled out the form,” she says. “I was thrilled last Friday when I received notice that they agreed to partner with us. I thought it was a very cool thing that they were willing to be inclusive.” The disavowal on Monday therefore came as something of a shock, she says. “The message we got is that women can be anything, except for pro-life.”
The dustup highlights the changing face of feminism in the age of Trump. Women’s groups from across the political spectrum are alarmed by Trump’s past behavior and statements, and see his election as a step backwards for women’s rights. But they don’t all agree on abortion. A growing number of feminists like Herndon-De La Rosa and New Wave Feminists not only identify explicitly as pro-life, they see feminism and abortion as incompatible. “We oppose violence against women throughout their life, from the womb to the tomb,” says Herndon-De La Rosa. Although she’s married and has four children, Herndon-De La Rosa doesn’t exactly fit the image of a pro-life activist. She has dyed magenta hair and a Texas tattoo, and routinely posts satirical YouTube videos mocking pro-choice activists, who she says undermine the feminist cause. “Abortion is part of that message. Women used to be viewed as property, and we think it’s wrong to view the unborn that way.”
The intersection of pro-life and feminist activism has special resonance in Texas, which in recent years has been ground zero in the ongoing abortion wars. In June, the Supreme Court ruled a 2013 law passed by the Texas Legislature placed an undue burden on a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. The law, House Bill 2, would have imposed new regulations on abortion clinics throughout the state, requiring them to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers, among other things. The bill’s chaotic passage during a special session of the Legislature in 2013 was met with major protests at the State Capitol and served as the occasion for former State Senator Wendy Davis’ 13-hour filibuster, which propelled her into the national spotlight and launched her 2014 bid for governor.
Like the rest of the country, Texans are deeply divided on abortion. A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll taken in June 2013 during the House Bill 2 fight found that 46 percent of Texas voters think abortion should never be allowed or only allowed in cases of rape, incest, or when the woman’s life is in danger. Thirty-six percent said a woman should be allowed to get an abortion “as a matter of personal choice,” while 13 percent said it should only be allowed “in cases where need is clearly established.” But like most red states, a clear majority of Texans are open to some restrictions. According to the poll, 62 percent of Texas voters support a 20-week abortion ban, a measure that was part of House Bill 2 but never contested in court. That restriction is now on the books here, along with fourteen other states that have passed similar bans.
Despite the Supreme Court ruling on House Bill 2, Republican lawmakers in Texas have continued to push for abortion restrictions on other fronts. Just this week, Texas was back in federal court for an abortion-related case involving Planned Parenthood. The state has been trying to remove Planned Parenthood from the Medicaid program since October 2015, and delivered the final notice to the group in late December. In a hearing on Tuesday, Planned Parenthood argued that taking away its $4 million in annual Medicaid funding would have a “devastating” effect on nearly 11,000 Texas women who rely on the organization for basic health services. Although the state Medicaid program doesn’t pay for abortions, Texas officials say they want to cut all public funding to Planned Parenthood because of undercover videos purporting to show employees of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast’s Houston clinic negotiating the sale of fetal tissue. If the organization isn’t granted an injunction, state funding will stop on January 21.
But the fight over Planned Parenthood dates even further back. Amid a budget shortfall in 2011, then-Gov. Rick Perry signed a budget that cut funding for clinics affiliated with abortion providers, like Planned Parenthood. The federal government responded by cutting off funding for the Medicaid Women’s Health Program, which in turn prompted state lawmakers to create a state-funded alternative, the Texas Women’s Health Program, launched in January 2013. The adequacy of that program has been an issue ever since, with critics charging that too few providers participate and state officials claiming that program restructuring and a record amount of state funding—$260 million last year—has worked. The most recent version of the program was rolled out in July, and it remains to be seen whether it will address access problems that have plagued it in the past. Paula Turricchi, an Administrator for the Parkland Hospital in Dallas who sits on the Women’s Health Advisory Committee, recently told the Texas Standard that the program needs systemized monitoring and quality metrics to answer key questions like, “How many patients are we actually taking care of?”
Whatever the status of women’s health care in Texas, it seems clear that the abortion battles here won’t be going away anytime soon. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick announced in November that a fetal tissue bill, prompted by the undercover Planned Parenthood videos, would be among his top ten legislative priorities in the upcoming legislative session.
For pro-life feminists like Herndon-De La Rosa, who says she is uninsured, Texas politicians need to offer more than “big rhetoric about defunding Planned Parenthood.” She says the state women’s health program still isn’t sufficient, even in Dallas. “We have a lot of pro-life male politicians. They don’t realize we can’t just go to a CVS to get the kind of well-woman care we need.” Her group is working on an app, called Help Assist Her, which will function as a mobile resource guide for women seeking care—something she says Texas women desperately need right now. The battle over women’s health in Texas is a perfect example of the overlap between right- and left-leaning feminists. By excluding pro-life feminists, the Women’s March could be missing an opportunity to mobilize a growing cohort of Millennial women who identify as feminists and oppose Trump, but have a different view of abortion.
Meanwhile, the state Capitol is about to see its first round of demonstrations this year. On Saturday, tens of thousands of women are expected to march in Austin in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington. A similar event is planned in Brownsville. The next day, a rally on the Capitol steps will mark the forty-fourth anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Herndon-De La Rosa and about fifty members of The New Wave Feminists won’t be there—they’ll be at the main event in Washington, D.C., with hundreds of thousands of women from across the country, protesting Trump’s inauguration. “I don’t care if we’re not invited,” she says. “We’re feminists, it’s a movement of rebels. We don’t need an invitation.”