Identifying as conservative, feminist, and pro-life can sometimes feel lonely — as though no side will ever be fully welcoming or accepting. Many feminists act as though conservative ideals themselves are unnatural or immoral, while many conservatives argue feminism is no longer necessary or is too focused on victimhood. However, conservatism and feminism are not inherently contradictory, and it would benefit both the Left and Right to understand that.
I was therefore excited to learn about the pro-life feminist organization New Wave Feminists and its Texas-based founder, Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa. Last month, I had the opportunity to connect with Destiny on behalf of RedState to learn more about her beliefs, motivations, and organization.
A former Republican turned Independent, Destiny grew frustrated with the inconsistency from both the pro-life and feminist movements and launched her own group in response. As she told me, “I saw a need for a feminist movement within the pro-life movement and a consistent life ethic voice within the feminist movement. Often it’s overlooked how these two movements intersect quite a bit.”
NWF combines the pro-life aspect of the consistent life ethic, which is “the belief that all human beings should be free from violence for the duration of their lifetime,” with the feminist goal of “building women up, not tearing them down.”
The goal isn’t simply to criminalize abortion; we don’t need to overturn Roe v. Wade if we can change the culture surrounding abortion, so NWF work to provide women with the necessary support so abortion doesn’t seem like their only option. Being pro-life doesn’t mean only being pro-birth or anti-abortion; it means supporting the mother, too. As the NWF website says:
“We don’t work to make abortion illegal. We work to make it unthinkable and unnecessary. And we do that by getting to the root of the need for it… So let’s work towards a culture that supports a woman so well that she never has to have one. Let’s work towards a culture that tells her “You Can,” “You Are Strong Enough,” and “If You Need Some Help – We Are Here,” because that is what the sisterhood is all about.”
As the child of a teenage mother and as a woman who became a mother herself at age 16, Destiny often seems more willing than most to acknowledge complex truths, like people are not always financially or emotionally equipped for a child and unprepared mothers need assistance and encouragement, not shame:
Could you imagine being a 16-year-old woman, facing a crisis pregnancy, working a $6.50-an-hour job and hearing that the cost to give birth to this child could be upwards of $9,000?
I can. Luckily, I was still living at home and on my parents’ insurance, so I was able to earn my $2,500 deductible at my summer job. As my belly grew, so did my savings, because I didn’t have a mortgage or bills to pay beyond that. But I know better than to think this is a luxury all women have. Take for instance the single mother of three, working two part-time jobs just to keep a roof over her family’s head. Before her husband abandoned her, he left her with one final gift—an unplanned pregnancy.
Furthermore, she’s willing to call attention to those who adopt the “pro-life” label for their own advantage or who behave in ways inconsistent with a pro-life mentality. Destiny has pointed out the inconsistency of electing politicians “who will fight to rip that safety net out from under pregnant women in need” and the problems with making abortion a partisan issue: “It’s allowed anyone with an ‘R’ behind his or her name to activate a powerhouse base of voters simply by applying the label ‘pro-life.’ Now it’s time that we demand they earn that label.”
Politicians have certainly abused the trust of the pro-life movement. Former Representative Tim Murphy (R-PA) claimed he was pro-life but recently resigned after allegations he’d pressured his pregnant mistress to have an abortion. President Donald Trump admitted on the Howard Stern Show in 2004 he had asked ex-wife Marla Maples “what are we going to do about this?” when she first told him she was pregnant with Tiffany Trump. Even after Roy Moore was accused of preying on teenage girls as a man in his thirties, some Republicans justified their continued support because his pro-life stances were preferable to those of Democrat Doug Jones.
And last year, some politicians experimented with the idea of removing the adoption tax credit — a credit that makes a very expensive process possible for many families — while others advocate eliminating comprehensive sex education and implementing abstinence-only education instead. (While I understand the reasoning behind abstinence-only education, its effectiveness is debatable, and it is better to prepare the youth with the necessary information to make smarter decisions to reduce risky behavior. We should prepare for the worst, not hope for the best.)
Meanwhile, Republican candidates have had to release statements clarifying their stance on the use of capital punishment for women who have abortions:
Bob Nonini, GOP candidate for Lt Gov (and someone who will be familiar to readers of my North Idaho GOP story) goes on the record supporting death penalty for women who have abortions: https://t.co/DbpBDzuLaK
— Anne Helen Petersen (@annehelen) April 3, 2018
Yes, the pro-life movement needs a makeover.
RedState front-page contributor Kimberly Ross covered the story last year of teenager Maddi Runkles, who got pregnant and chose to keep her baby. Because she broke the rules of her Christian school, she was prohibited from participating in activities such as walking at graduation — while the man escaped any repercussions, in part because Maddi did not divulge his name but also because men do not visibly bear the consequences of their decisions.
And though it is true these were rules Maddi agreed to and then broke, what is the effect of such public punishment — does it push scared pregnant teenagers towards choosing abortion or towards choosing life? What is the point of encouraging choosing life when we then shame those who do? Will the next girl who finds herself in Maddi Runkles’ situation realize she is brave enough to choose life — or will she look at how Maddi was treated and decide an abortion would be simpler, easier, less life-changing, and less embarrassing for her?
Not only is Destiny fighting to place more of a focus on supporting pregnant women at every level, she is also fighting the mentality that feminism cannot include pro-lifers. She wants her group and the feminist movement to be all-inclusive and welcoming of anyone who supports women and is pro-life. As she says, “I see a lot of groups fundraising on the fact that there’s a ‘them’ that we need to be against. So the message becomes ‘help us fight them,’ and I think that’s ridiculous. How about ‘help us reach them, help us love them, help us support them, help us understand them’? Because that’s what’s missing. We’re not understanding the other side.”
Destiny practices what she preaches. Last January, she applied for NWF to become a formal partner of the DC Women’s March, to show solidarity with women protesting Trump’s mistreatment of women. Although the Women’s March initially accepted NWF, leading feminists and march organizers protested after the Atlantic wrote about the partnership:
https://t.co/Rn6myKjRSD Nope, you cannot be anti-choice and feminist. Forcing birth on unwilling women is a misogynist act.
— Amanda Marcotte (@AmandaMarcotte) January 16, 2017
Horrified that the @womensmarch has partnered w/an anti-choice org. Plse reconsider – inclusivity is not about bolstering those who harm us.
— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) January 16, 2017
Intersectional feminism does not include a pro-life agenda. That's not how it works! The right to choose is a fundamental part of feminism.
— roxane gay (@rgay) January 16, 2017
The Women’s March quickly buckled under the pressure, uninviting NWF and releasing a statement that affirmed its support for “safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people.” The shameful decision to exclude pro-life women from the Women’s March made it seem as though opposition to Trump was simply partisanship as usual, not because it was a true protest of his mistreatment of women.
Destiny found the Women’s March decision disappointing, because it was, she says, “obvious that it was because of pressure from radical feminists on social media. Isn’t the point of all this that women are strong? But evidently not strong enough to stand up to some mean tweets.”
Destiny isn’t easily defeated, though, and she found the silver lining of the Women’s March’s decision, noting “it ended up being the best thing that’s happened so far to NWF” because it gave them a larger platform and ignited “a national discussion on whether you can be pro-life and a feminist.” And Destiny chose to march anyway — where other participants made a point of telling her they were glad NWF was there because pro-life women’s voices deserved to be heard, too.
That’s the type of interaction Destiny is hoping for. NWF is purposely both secular and non-partisan, so it can attract, not alienate, pro-life women from both sides of the aisle.
It’s an angle that makes sense, particularly at the current moment: Although public opinion on abortion has historically been evenly divided, it is concerning that — even with scientific evidence that support the pro-life movement, such as ultrasounds, separate DNA, and separate heartbeats — public opinion may be shifting in favor of abortion: An NBC/WSJ poll found that support for abortion has hit a record high at 55%, while Pew Research Center found public support for abortion is at 57%.
Also from our latest numbers: The share of Americans who say abortion should be legal in all or most cases hits a record high at 55 percent. Here's the breakdown among major subgroups.https://t.co/Fg1gLf1SDB pic.twitter.com/kZ519O2pvA
— Carrie Dann (@CarrieNBCNews) March 30, 2018
As Destiny astutely points out, the average person on the street would most likely associate “pro-life” with “clinic bombings, bullhorns, giant bloody pictures, people screaming at women” while associating Planned Parenthood with “offering free healthcare to poor women” — even though, as Destiny says, “you and I know that’s not what [the pro-life] movement is about at all.”
When I asked Destiny how she would respond to someone who says that to be pro-woman, you must believe in “reproductive rights” and “a woman’s right to choose,” Destiny said, “I refuse to accept that violence has a place in any movement striving for true liberation. When violence is a part of the solution, it’s merely oppression redistributed.”
She has previously explained “it’s actually pretty simple. If you believe that abortion ends the life of another human being and half the time that human being is female, then you believe that this is a human rights issue. So, just like I can be a feminist and be opposed to murder, rape, and anything else that would violate another human being’s existence, I am a feminist who is opposed to abortion.”
And Destiny’s view that a baby in the womb “is a human being with their own bodily autonomy” is “completely a feminist message.”
But Destiny does not see NWF as belonging to any one feminist wave. “We’re trying to look at previous waves and take what was good about them while leaving the inconsistencies behind.”
Her consistency and adherence to human dignity and consistent life ethic is present throughout all of her work, even regarding capital punishment and the inconsistencies of conservatives supporting big government killing its own citizens and of pro-lifers sanctioning government-sponsored killing.
Destiny’s work shows pro-life feminists do exist; “feminist” is not a synonym for “liberal”; being pro-life does not mean anti-women; and women should join, not turn away from, the feminist movement, to shape it. The last year in America has shown feminism is still necessary and women still face obstacles and challenges men do not. Women should be united against such injustices and inequality. However, feminism is usually turned into a political battle; Carly Fiorina has pointed out that feminism is no longer seen as the empowerment of women, but as a “kind of a way to bludgeon people into a left-wing litany of causes.” But defending and supporting women should be the opposite of partisan.
Destiny will continue trying to spread that message. On May 3, she’ll bring a pro-life perspective to NYC when she sits on a Q&A panel after a screening of the documentary “Pro-Life Feminist.” And she wants to take on “global exploitation and atrocities other women around the world are facing,” such as “sex selective abortion, dowry systems, sex trafficking, and genital mutilation,” which she believes are things “feminists of all beliefs and backgrounds could work together on.”
Her ideal movement would be “one that considers every issue through the lens of human dignity” and that doesn’t “just elevate women” but “heals the whole world.”
There’s nothing partisan about that.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmquinlan.