The pro-life movement has always been a grassroots operation, a fact that too often gets lost in the culture wars. But on a recent night in a church basement in New York City, the real nature of the movement was on display. “Expect,” a new initiative from Human Life Review, hosted an evening with the New Wave Feminists. In a room filled mainly with young, hopeful fans of the latter, a torch of life was being passed.
Human Life Review began in 1974 in the wake of Roe v. Wade. It is an academic journal dedicated to issues of life, including, among others, abortion, euthanasia, and genetic engineering. William F. Buckley called the publication “simply the locus of civilized discussion about abortion.” Founded by the late James P. McFadden, the Review is now edited by his daughter, Maria McFadden Maffucci.
This effort to pass the movement along led to the “Expect” initiative, ably directed by Ifeoma Anunkor. For its first event, “Expect” invited the New Wave Feminists to speak. They could hardly have made a better choice. Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa and Kristen Hatten, who comprise the New Wave Feminists, present a fresh approach to pro-life issues. Focused as much on women as fetuses, they use humor and classic ideals of feminism to fight for a culture of life.
The Need for Joy
When introducing the New Wave Feminists, Maffucci described becoming aware of them at a particularly dark time. It was last year, as David Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress were releasing their videos of Planned Parenthood negotiations for the prices of fetal body parts. Amidst the despair she and her pro-life community were feeling, a ray of light appeared. Somebody shared with her a video from the New Wave Feminists that poked fun at Planned Parenthood. It was a much-needed escape, a moment of joy.
After everyone enjoyed their very appropriate Chick-fil-A box lunches, Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, who sports a shock of magenta hair, took the stage to talk about the mission of NWF and how their approach differs from more traditional pro-life activism. Perhaps the most important and novel aspect of this approach is focusing both on mother and child.
Feminism and Abortion
Her remarks began much the way many feminist critiques of modern culture do, with a focus of the hyper-sexualization of the female form. But this went well beyond the dangers of unrealistic body images. The deeper point was that abortion plays a critical role in defining women’s current sexual mores and practices. When Cosmopolitan magazine tells women their primary value lies in having sex with men, they are feeding the abortion industry. When the feminist Left tells women that a fetus is just a clump of cells with no value, it feeds the idea that sex is a hobby with no attendant responsibilities.
Herndon-De La Rosa went on to argue that the acceptance and availability of abortion divorces sex from relationships. She told stories of young women who never had a boyfriend, but had multiple sex partners. These young women knew something was missing, and far too many young men are willing to take advantage of this attitude for their own pleasure without any responsibilities.
In the darkest moments of her presentation, she challenged the idea that abortion is always a woman’s choice. Coerced abortion, in which a man forcefully urges and pays for an abortion for a woman who is not sure what to do, is very common. This belies the notion that when we are talking about abortion we are always talking about “choice.” In the worst scenarios, victims of rape and even child molestation are given abortions to protect their abusers.
Left-wing feminism, always eager to worship at the altar of abortion, fails women by refusing to grapple with these issues. In reclaiming the term “feminism,” NWF is taking the fight to pro-abortion advocates on their own terms. This approach, now widely being used by young conservatives (who were often raised with liberal orthodoxy) on many fronts is effective because it turns the tables on the Left and shows how wanting their theories really are.
The New Way to Fight Abortion
Kristen Hatten went on to explain how the new pro-life movement must fight abortion. She told of a rally in Texas, where NWF is based (both women have tattoos of Texas on their arms). Thousands of pro-life demonstrators were marching. Hatten saw one person holding a graphic and troubling sign that featured a bloody fetus on a crucifix. She jokingly told a friend, “That’s the picture that will be in the paper tomorrow.” She was right. Not only did the paper vastly underestimate the size of the crowd, they chose the most offensive image possible to portray the protestors.
The point of the story is that the pro-life movement badly needs an image makeover. The typical older man holding up bloody pictures and screaming at women entering clinics is a dead end. NWF’s project, she said, was about branding and optics. She urged her fellow activists not to be that person, but rather to be happy warriors who celebrate life.
This, Hatten explained, is also where humor comes in. Abortion isn’t an issue that one tends to associate with big laughs, but satire is potent weapon. Humor allows the mind to relax and take in important ideas with a smile. One NWF video comparing Planned Parenthood to Joseph Mengele shows this perfectly. The gallows humor works, and far from minimizing the horror of destroying human lives, it betrays its grotesque nature. It’s a tool as old as Jonathan Swift.
These Are the Activists We Need
As I walked into the mild Manhattan night in the shadow of the United Nations after the event, I decided the New Wave Feminists were the most effective pro-life advocates I had ever seen. Human Life Review’s “Expect” initiative could scarcely have chosen a better program for the young crowd of pro-life men and women. The speakers, all of them women, were pointing in a new direction worth following.
The good news is that the New Wave Feminists are attracting a following. They are regular speakers on college campuses. Unlike so many right-wing figures looking for a fight and a dis-invitation, they meet more cordial receptions. Both women told stories of changing minds.
The event took place on the same day that Oklahoma’s legislature passed a bill (since vetoed) that would have made it a felony to perform an abortion. I asked each of the women who spoke what their feelings were about it. All of them seemed a bit confused, if not dismayed. After all, the law had little chance of ever being enforced. But more importantly, as the New Wave Feminists pointed out to me, abortion cannot be legislated away. It must end through a change in our culture.
This is not to say that the pro-life movement should abandon the long slog of trying to overturn Roe v. Wade; that remains a noble fight. But it is to say that absent legislative avenues those who cherish lives can still save them through activism and advocacy. I urge everyone who abhors the practice of abortion to put the New Wave Feminists on their radar, share their work with others, and internalize their life-affirming and joyous message.