Pro-lifers respond to a “summer of rage”
Young pro-life activists make a case for counterprotesting at pro-abortion events
When the pro-abortion Women’s March Foundation advertised on Instagram a May 14 “Bans Off Our Bodies” rally, Ellisha Olson, 19, signed up for the one in her hometown of St. Paul, Minn.
Olson doesn’t support abortion. She is on staff for Students for Life, the national pro-life group, working on its Campaign for Abortion Free Cities. In a normal week, she coordinates with local churches and pregnancy centers and knocks on doors in the neighborhoods near the St. Paul Planned Parenthood, telling local women about resources and options besides abortion for unplanned pregnancies.
But she went to this pro-abortion rally to lead a counterprotest, one of about a dozen that Students for Life groups organized that day in response to more than 300 Bans Off Our Bodies demonstrations across the country, according to the pro-life organization’s blog. Other state and local pro-life groups also organized counterprotests. Many pro-life organizations seek to change hearts and minds about abortion through personal conversation and service and don’t focus on on heated rallies with angry pro-abortion protesters. But young pro-lifers think it’s still important to be there.
The week after the leak of the U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, Planned Parenthood and the pro-abortion Women’s March Foundation advertised rallies and marches in cities across the United States. The goal was to oppose the draft opinion, which suggests the court might be willing to overturn the federal “right” to abortion. Multiple posts on the Women’s March Instagram account say things like “Let’s rage together” and encourage followers to text the word “RAGE” to a number so they can receive updates on the rallies.
After signing up, Olson said she received multiple text and email notifications about changed times and locations for the rally. It occurred at noon outside of the main Planned Parenthood facility in St. Paul, Minn. About 15 other pro-lifers, some local church attendees, college students, and sidewalk counselors from Pro-Life Action Ministries showed up. Some of the pro-abortion protesters stood in front of the pro-lifers and blocked their signs with their own signs. One man in a black shirt chanted at them through a bullhorn. Others shouted at them.
Olson held a sign with an image of a pregnant mother that read “Help Her Be Brave.” She said pro-abortion protesters yelled and screamed at her. In a blog post at Students for Life, she described some of the racist and sexually explicit insults aimed at her (she is of South Asian heritage) and other minorities among the pro-lifers.
“I wanted to make sure that there was a pro-life, pro-women, pro-love presence there because there was none of that coming from the people hosting the ‘Bans Off Our Body’ rally,” Olson said afterward. She said she was able to talk afterward with a pro-abortion protester who respectfully approached her with a question about what to do about pregnant women who have no place to live. Olson told her about pro-life maternity homes.
Even without one-on-one conversations, pro-lifer Jenny Abbott, 26, said having a presence at pro-abortion events has a role. “Anytime that people are rallying for the killing of children, I think it’s important to oppose that,” she said.
Abbott is on staff at Protect Life Michigan, which focuses on starting conversations about abortion with people on the street. She also doesn’t normally protest. But she and a couple dozen other pro-lifers from Protect Life Michigan gathered outdoors at the University of Michigan’s campus in Ann Arbor on the afternoon of May 14 to “show a young, vibrant side of the pro-life movement” and to stand up for unborn babies.
Abbott’s group started pro-life chants and held signs saying things like “Roe has got to go” and “Abortion is a human rights violation.” Soon, the pro-abortion protesters swarmed around them and started counterchants. As the pro-lifers said “Save the babies!” the crowd responded with “They’re not babies!”
“We go into those situations recognizing that we probably aren’t going to have any dialogues or change any minds in that scenario,” Abbott said. “But we are able to counteract some of the stereotypes and some of the rhetoric that the pro-choice side has about us.”
In Washington on May 14, Students for Life staff member Anna Lulis, 24, spent most of the day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. interviewing pro-abortion protesters who marched on the Supreme Court. She asked interviewees why they were there, what they think abortion is, and what they think a pregnancy is. Although she was able to have some level-headed conversations, she said some people started yelling at her once she arrived at the question of when human life begins. Even the people who agreed with some of her points seemed to stick to their pro-abortion stance.
No one changed their minds about abortion in front of her, but Lulis said those conversations are important because they “could plant a seed.”
Pro-life groups will have more opportunities for seed-planting: On Twitter, the Women’s March organization has called for “a Summer of Rage across America.” Its online event schedule has pro-abortion marches planned into late June. Students for Life also plans pro-life rallies in state capitals across the country for the Saturday following the (yet unknown) decision date in the Dobbs case.
Olson said she plans to be at her own state’s rally, “either celebrating or renewing our commitment to make Minnesota abortion-free.” But she’s mostly excited to continue her normal day job, going door-to-door to tell members of her community about the free pregnancy services available to women other than abortion.