We’re calling the Wednesday episodes The Group Chat, and they’ll be a space for deeper conversations into a specific story of the day. You know — those conversations you just NEED to bring ~to the group chat~.
In this inaugural Group Chat, we’ve gathered reporter Julia Reinstein with Ema O'Connor and politics editor Sarah Mimms to talk about how some people are rebranding the anti-abortion movement as feminist.
We also swing by the breaking news desk to get the skinny on two stories head of breaking news Tom Namako is watching this week.
Listen to the episode:
The Group Chat 00:00
Julia Furlan: Even if you haven’t walked by an abortion clinic or attended an anti-abortion protest, you probably have an image in your mind of what they look like...
TAPE: The cheerleaders of death! Witness the cheerleaders of death!
JF: You know, people gathered outside with signs that are pretty gruesome and violent and lots of aggression and guilt and really intense rhetoric.
TAPE: They kill innocent babies to make their living!
JF: But there are some changes afoot. Our reporter Ema O'Connor attended a Pro-Life Women's Convention in Missouri. And this week in The Group Chat, we ask the question: Is the anti-abortion movement trying to rebrand itself? Ema’s on the line with politics editor Sarah Mimms and our reporter Julia Reinstein is here in NYC.
Julia Reinstein: Hey Sarah and Ema! So, Ema, you went to this anti-abortion women’s conference. Can you tell us about it?
Ema O’Connor: Yeah, it was in June, in mid-June, and it was called the Pro-Life Women’s Conference. Um, it’s the third annual one of them. Um, so walking in, if you squint it, really it could just be a Planned Parenthood or an abortion rights conference, um, but with a lot more Christian rock and a lot more babies. So um, and it was really huge, there was like 500 people there. The younger women in the pro-life movement were leading it and they’re getting together to change the narrative around the anti-abortion movement. Which is labeled as anti-woman a lot of the time, it’s because of the people leading it in Congress and in the legislato— legislature across the states. It’s very like old white men. So these younger women are really trying to change that. Um, and also changing kind of the tactics of activism within the anti-abortion movement by making it less about, like, shaming women for having abortions and more about understanding why they have abortions and trying to change their mind through, they say, “pro love.”
TAPE: We have to look at each case. We have to look at each woman and we have to meet them where they are. Many women say, “I can't have this baby because I don't have X, Y, and Z.” Well, then we need to provide that X, Y, and Z. We need to help her get rid of those reasons why she needs to abort.
EOC: There were posters everywhere. Um saying things like “freedom from violence no matter where you live is reproductive justice,” or there was a Rosie the Riveter–style poster with a fetus in her headscarf holding up a fist, like her saying “keep your philosophy off my biology,” and next to that was another fetus saying “feminism is inclusive or it is worthless.”
So there was really a lot of kind of these very beautiful and very like hip-looking feminist posters that were just decidedly anti-abortion at the same time.
Sarah Mimms: That’s so incredible.
JR: That is a lot. So are they basically using feminism to sell the anti-abortion movement?
EOC: Um, so I think it depends on who you ask. There’s a lot of different groups there. Uh, Abby Johnson is the head of And Then There Were None, which is the group that sort of was leading the conference, and she founded the conference and she actually worked for Planned Parenthood for years. As she put it herself. She’s been pro-choice longer than she’s been pro-life, but now she considers herself and is anti-abortion. So she’s devoted her life to getting other women to leave Planned Parenthood. She does a lot of work outside of Planned Parenthood clinics and abortion clinics trying to convince workers to leave and join the anti-abortion movement and she's been pretty successful. They have, um, there are a number of women there who had formerly worked at Planned Parenthood and then joined Abby Johnson’s cause. So for her, she for most of her life had this feminist feminist narrative and this pro-choice abortion rights narrative in her head. And so when she became anti-abortion and started working in this, she just took that with her and realized that like Planned Parenthood and the abortion rights movement and like the mainstream feminist movement quote-unquote really has it right in terms of getting young women to like feel empowered and um join on. Uh, so she brought that there.
TAPE: “Feminism” is sort of a buzzword, it’s cool. If you want to call yourself a feminist, awesome. Okay, but don’t let that mix in with your pro-life activities and weaken your pro-life argument. Because that absolutely can happen.
EOC: On the other hand, the group Sidewalk Advocates For Life, which was also a major group that had a lot of panels, they actually like were basing their pro-woman pro-love aesthetics and attitude on a two million dollar research study done by the Vitae Foundation who is a co-sponsor of the conference, and that it took two decades and the foundation found out that it's just more successful to approach getting women not to have abortions and to join the pro-life movement by like thinking of like why a woman would have an abortion and talking to them by saying like, “we understand you, we know why you would go through,” this versus saying like, “you're killing your baby. Why would you want to do this to a baby? Look at your baby's future.”
JR: So are there a lot of women like Abby who were pro-choice and who then bring their feminism with them to the anti-abortion side?
EOC: Um, I wouldn't say that there are a lot and I don't know of a lot but at this conference, um, there were definitely a few people like that. Another one is um, so Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa is the head of New Wave Feminists. They are this like very kind of punk rock—they a lot of them have like really funky dyed hair and stuff and like they're on their table that they had set up at the conference they were selling Manic Panic dye jars filled with—
SM: No way.
EOC: Yeah! Filled with like pro-life pins and stickers and stuff like that
EOC: Um, yeah, it was it was pretty great. And so yeah, so Destiny's definitely like that. I think she is firmly anti-abortion, but she's like very vocally anti-trump as well, and anti-republican and kind of every issue that is generally considered conservative she's against, except for abortion.
SM: That's really interesting.
JR: Wow. So feminism historically has been thought of as this super far left liberal thing, but now there's these organizations that consider themselves feminists and pro-life. Can you talk about that a bit?
EOC: Yeah, I think that's kind of... there's a lot of single-issue voters that care about the issue of abortion on the anti-abortion side. And so I think that kind of gives way to the ability to separate abortion from the rest of kind of like the conservative movement. And being anti-abortion is so linked in people's —and also in reality I think—to being Catholic and being religious, that the same way that the church is worried right now about young people not joining the movement I think a lot of the anti-abortion crowd is also worried about that. So bringing like all of this very attractive very like funky mainstream looking feminist aesthetics, but also theory, to young people is like a really useful method to kind of get them to see it not as this like stodgy old man thing but as like this attractive fun young like pro-woman feminist new way of thinking like, not your not your mom's pro-life movement type thing.
SM: Lefty Lefty feminists are going to say like "feminism is our thing. Everyone else who is doing this is doing it wrong." Um, but at the same time like you have groups like at this conference saying, "no no no, we are anti-abortion but that that makes us feminist because being anti-abortion is taking care of women in a way that the pro-abortion rights movement does not." And like you had a really interesting thing in your story Ema where they were talking about how like they see Planned Parenthood as actually being anti-feminist.
SM: Which was a super fascinating argument, you know, because Planned Parenthood has always been like "women are great. We are super feminist! Everyone who's not on board with us like hates women," and you know these younger women there at um at the conference were like, "no no no, Planned Parenthood are the ones are the ones who are anti-feminist," which was just like a fascinating argument.
EOC: Yeah. That's that's a line that is used I think like across the anti-abortion movement. I heard Trent Franks say that, the former member of Congress.
EOC: Uh who left Congress actually coincidentally relevant to this conversation for allegedly asking his staff to surrogate his babies.
SM: Yes! Yes.
EOC: But he was one of the most like like vocally pro-life members of Congress I would say. Him and Steve King really had a lot to say on the issue. So they actually even say this, which is like "Planned Parenthood exploits women by forcing them to have abortions and making them think that's the only option." There's a little bit more—
SM: Which is quite a lot quite a lot to say.
EOC: Yes, there's like so much more that they say. But there's a little bit more nuance uh with the women that I was talking to.
JR: Ema, you sent me these Instagram accounts you've been following for a bit and I want to talk about them. Because they're pretty wild. So there's all these Instagram accounts that really look like the classic influencers with their lattes, and their nice interior design, and like it's all in the same like color aesthetic and everything. But when you look a little closer, they're pro-abstinence Instagram accounts, uh, which is not something I've ever seen on Instagram before. So, um what?
EOC: Yeah I kind of have this obsession with these people. Um, there's a lot of couples who are YouTube and Instagram Stars. Yeah. I think they're really interesting not because Christians can't be influencers, but because the idea of being an influencer is that you know everything in your life, the people who watch you and your followers are supposed to want to do it too. You know, you say like, "this is why I look like this because I do these things. This is why I feel good because I exercise in this way." And so if these people are also saying like, "well, we didn't have sex before we got married so we have an amazing relationship," then it is this sort of... I see it as like a new form of evangelizing and like a new form of preaching kind of through these like very glossy beautiful like Instagram influencers, which I find so interesting.
SM: Yeah, it's totally like it's a part of the same kind of rebranding, right?
SM: That the Pro-Life Women's Conference was doing and trying to like feminize and Pinterest-ify I guess the anti-abortion movement and then here you have these Instagram accounts that are taking like the typical influencer model and using that to to spread like a Christian pro-abstinence message, which is super interesting.
EOC: Have you seen like any kind of similar things like that in your internet explorations, Julia?
JR: Yeah. No, this is definitely something that I think we see in a lot of brands now and a lot of brands that are geared towards young women on the internet. Multi-level marketing companies, companies that advertise on Instagram, where they take the aesthetics of feminism and they sell it to you. Like, "you're a girl boss! You can start your own business!" And that seems like something that the anti-abortion and pro-abstinence movements are also doing uh, because feminism is pretty trendy now.
EOC: That is similar in a lot — I think there is an aspect of that and like a lot of the women that I talked to, um, who run these groups that were a part of the conference say like openly uh, yeah, we definitely are borrowing from mainstream feminism and from the abortion rights movement because they have really good ideas and they've been really successful. Like especially Planned Parenthood in their branding, um in getting all of these like awesome celebrities.
Because Planned Parenthood stands up for me.
Because reproductive rights are human rights.
Because every woman deserves the right to be the architect of her own destiny.
Because I want my girls to have access to birth control behind my back one day.
EOC: Which makes young women go like, "oh, well, it's really cool" to be a part of this movement and to um be 'pro-choice' as they call themselves. And some of the people that I talk to you saw this as an opportunity to get the youth to be a part of this message, but on the other hand as I talked about with Abby Johnson and Destiny, they consider themselves feminists and they have a background in that and they like have the rhetoric of abortion rights just like in their vocabulary already. So I think that for them it's it's more sincere.
SM: Yeah. I'm on that like on that ladder group like the Abby Johnsons of the world who do who do really view themselves as feminists: do they see feminism as like necessarily anti-abortion? Like do they think about feminists including themselves and also like lefty feminists or do they think that like, “our feminism is like the new and only right feminism?”
EOC: That wasn't a conversation I had with Abby, but Destiny, when I first met her — um, she’s the head of New Wave Feminists and she was at the Women’s March, the first one, and originally New Wave Feminists was actually like one of the sponsors of the march. And then she made headlines because Planned Parenthood allegedly — I mean, she says that they kind of got her kicked off — but they did, New Wave Feminists was removed from the list of sponsors of the march because they were anti-abortion. But she showed up anyway with a sign saying “pro-life feminist” and she says that she was really accepted and that she's anti-trump, very open about it, and as are like all of the members of her group more less, and so she felt like they were aligned on more issues than they weren't aligned on with the women in the Women’s March.
SM: That’s fascinating.
JR: On that note, I want to wrap it up with kind of a broad, maybe a not broad question, which is: what does this movement mean for how we as a culture see feminism?
EOC: Um, we have come to think of feminism as being synonymous with abortion rights. I think that a lot of people really think that. So if somehow that’s managed to be kind of taken away and it's managed to be separated from that, I think that that will really change things. I think it depends this is It's really niche right now, you know like this is this is a small group of people. And I don’t think that it's reached a lot of the people that they’re trying to convince that this should be what feminism is yet. So I think we have yet to see whether or not they’ll be successful. If they are successful, then I think yeah it could really change what we think of this feminism.
SM: I think like as much as like the country is increasingly divided and partisan, and people aren’t talking to each other, this group is trying to do it. They’re like trying to have that conversation by like approaching and being like, “we’re very nice. We’re very nice, we’re very pro-women. Like we are all feminists here.”
EOC: Yeah, they definitely see where we are now and see how divisive it is and say, like, “yeah, we know people are immune essentially to like being converted by uh, yeah a picture of a bloody fetus saying ‘this is what you’re doing.’” Or just really aggressive angry tactics we're, like, so used to seeing that nowadays that that's just not a convincing way to change someone's mind at all. Instead yes sitting down at the table with them and and uh listing all the things that you're in agreement on and saying, “look a lot of us have the capability to get pregnant and to like we have these things in common. So like let’s start there and then like, maybe we can come to an agreement on something.”
JR: Thanks for talking guys, this was really interesting.
EOC: Thanks so much, everybody.
SM: Yeah, thank you!
JF: That was reporter Ema O’Connor, politics editor Sarah Mimms, and reporter Julia Reinstein. If you have something that you want to share with The Group Chat, text JoJo the words “group chat” and you can share your thoughts. We might even play them on next week’s podcast episode. JoJo’s number is 929-236-9577.
Push Alert — 00:00
JF: If you leave your notifications on, the world can get overwhelming pretty quickly. So we’re bringing in Tom Namako, breaking news editor, a man whose entire life is geared towards this overwhelming news environment. On Push Alert, Tom is going to break down the stories that you want to know about so that you can sound like a cool, informed smart person at your dinner table or wherever you go.
Tom Namako: So it seems like every day we get a statement from President Trump that’s kind of jarring. Yesterday, Trump told a huge audience at a Florida rally:
TAPE: You know if you go out and you want to buy groceries, you need a picture on a card. You need ID.
TN: Now as we common folk know, you do not. The reason why Trump was saying this is because he was trying to justify the idea that people should have to present a voter ID to vote in American elections.
TAPE: In this country, the only time you don’t need it in many cases is when you want to vote for a president, when you want to vote for a governor or a congressman. It’s crazy.
TN: So here’s why this matters: Trump is spreading an unproven conspiracy theory here. He is suggesting that undocumented immigrants come into the country and vote in massive numbers to swing US elections. Let’s be very clear: There is no evidence to prove that that is true. Trump has been obsessed with the issue of who was voting ever since he lost the popular vote, but of course won the Electoral College vote, in the 2016 election. The big issue here is that experts say that a voter ID would just suppress voter turnout and that is especially amongst poor people.
So it’s no mystery that a lot of people are overweight. And a lot of those people have sat in doctor’s offices before and been repeatedly told, “the only way to fix whatever you have, whatever pain you’re feeling, or whatever symptoms you’re feeling, is if you just lose weight.” Well, a 64-year-old woman in Canada wrote an obituary that challenged all of that. Here are two key lines from Ellen Maud Bennett's obit: “over the past few years of feeling unwell, she sought out medical intervention and no one offered any support or suggestions beyond weight loss. Ellen’s dying wish was that women of size made her death matter by advocating strongly for their health and not accepting that fat is the only relevant health issue.”
We’ve read repeatedly about how some doctors have implicit bias. Some physicians take women’s pain less seriously; this is especially prevalent among black women. Bennett’s obit is becoming a rallying call for overweight people everywhere. They’re saying: Doctors, do better.
JF: That was breaking news editor Tom Namako.