Not your mother’s pro-life protest
As the Supreme Court weighed Dobbs v. Jackson, a surprisingly diverse pro-life coalition called for the end of Roe
Contrasts were on full display outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday during oral arguments in a major abortion case. But the contrasts weren’t only between the hundreds of demonstrators opposing or supporting abortion—they were apparent among the pro-lifers themselves.
At one point, while students from Liberty University, a conservative Baptist school, knelt in circles to pray, a nearby demonstrator carried a sign that read, “Leftist, feminist, atheist, vegan, pro-life.”
The Supreme Court on Wednesday morning heard arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case challenging a pro-life Mississippi law that supporters hope will spur the court to overturn Roe. By 10 a.m., protesters, press, and police had filled the plaza and street outside the courthouse. The makeup of the protesters indicated the growing diversity of a pro-life movement that has worked for decades to end legal abortion.
Despite a metal fence meant to keep pro-life and pro-abortion demonstrators separate, the groups mingled. When pro-abortion activists held up signs spelling out “abortion rights,” members of a new pro-life group called Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU) filed in front of them, drumming on 5-gallon buckets and chanting, “Forceps—off their bodies.” People in matching red church shirts joined the chants.
College students from the group Students for Life hailed from the more traditional wing of the pro-life movement. From Tuesday night to Wednesday morning, its members had hosted an all-night stakeout outside the court, at various times praying and marching while carrying rosaries and white crosses, or dancing to the “Cupid Shuffle” as it blasted from a speaker, or recording TikTok videos and munching on soft tacos from Taco Bell.
One of them, Laura Lane, is president of the Students for Life chapter at Mississippi College, a Baptist school about 10 miles from the pink-painted abortion facility at the center of Dobbs. Lane and other chapter members regularly pray outside the facility and host pro-life speakers, and also knock on doors to tell people about resources for mothers.
She and her fellow activists are hopeful the Supreme Court justices will overule the court’s precedent on abortion. “We need to be prepared for post-Roe v. Wade,” Lane said. “It’s coming.”
Meanwhile, a pro-lifer with PAAU, Avery May, sported rainbow-dyed hair and spiky black earrings while hoisting a sign that read “Agnostic, leftist, queer, biracial, nonbinary, pro-life.” May flew from California to join PAAU’s demonstrations, starting on Tuesday with a protest demanding the Democratic Party embrace pro-life members.
Raised Catholic, May read pro-life pamphlets while bored in church as a child and started protesting abortion with church friends. Now agnostic, the pro-lifer feels out of place in religiously based or conservative groups and calls PAAU and other progressive pro-life groups a better fit: PAAU emphasizes opposition to racism, climate change, and poverty as part of its pro-life values, and it critiques capitalism for what it says is that system’s devaluing of unborn children.
“I want to be here to stand for life and to try to show that it’s not just ‘crazy old white people,’” May said. “Anyone can be against abortion, and we all should be against abortion.”
Several Students for Life members outside the court praised PAAU as an example of pro-life’s big ideological tent. In addition, they argued their own youth and care for mothers and children break stereotypes about pro-life activists: Noah Slayter, a Catholic student, said his family has fostered and adopted and bristles at the idea that abortion is a better outcome than foster care.
As the oral arguments ended shortly before noon, many protesters began packing up. They stacked signs, collected trash in cardboard boxes, and discussed which way the justices seemed to be leaning: During arguments, Justice Sonia Sotomayor warned that overturning Roe could undermine the court, while questions from some of the court’s conservative justices suggested they were inclined to uphold Mississippi’s pro-life law.
The court isn’t expected to release its ruling until June, so pro-lifers will have to wait on the outcome. But many emphasized they intend to keep arguing against abortion and providing ultrasounds, diapers, and other practical help for mothers in the meantime.
Lane, who planned to fly back to Mississippi on Thursday, said she would be out knocking on doors again as usual on Saturday.
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