Commentary Media

Right-Wing Reaction to Mandela’s Death Exposes Link Between Racism and Misogyny

Adele M. Stan

As much of the world took a collective pause to express appreciation for the man who came to personify the struggle for human rights and racial justice in South Africa, the right-wing base that now fuels the Republican Party erupted in consternation and condemnation.

If there was any doubt that the politics of the right are based in fear and resentment, the right-wing reaction to the death of Nelson Mandela laid it to rest, a moment that also laid bare the relationship between racism and opposition to the free agency of women.

As much of the world took a collective pause to express appreciation for the man who came to personify the struggle for human rights and racial justice in South Africa—a country long ruled by white people who denied full citizenship to people of color—the right-wing base that now fuels the Republican Party erupted in consternation and condemnation.

When several Republican leaders issued statements lauding Mandela for having led his nation out of apartheid, the brutal system of racial segregation long enforced by the white rules of South Africa, the comments sections of their Facebook pages ignited with invective. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is not above playing the race card when it suits him, expressed shock at the vitriol of his Facebook followers when he posted a note of appreciation, calling Mandela “one of the greatest leaders of our lifetime.”

As reported by the Huffington Post’s Amanda Terkel:

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Gingrich’s statement, however, was met with backlash from many of his followers.

“Newt, I was rooting for you to win the primaries and become the next president; please tell me your joking!! Mandela was a commie murderer!!” read one comment that was popular with other users.

“You’re forgetting Mandela’s extreme racism! There are YouTubes of Mandela singing songs about murdering the white man. I spit on his grave….,” read another.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) met a similar fate in answer to his Facebook note of praise on Mandela. “[A]fter he got out of prison and won the election he ran all the productive people out of the country and now look at South Africa, it is like the rest of Africa,” wrote Wendall Craven in the comments section on Cantor’s post. Another commenter asked: “Mr. Cantor, are you falling in line with Obama’s minions??” (Without irony, in the post immediately preceding his paean to Mandela, Cantor has published a picture of himself sitting with an African-American child and the line: “We have got to broaden our appeal.”) Yet another person in that comment thread labeled Mandela as having committed “white genocide.”

Amid all the rants from the base about Mandela’s links to the Communist Party (guess South African-style apartheid-capitalism wasn’t working too well for him) and his leadership of the armed wing of the African National Congress, another theme emerged: Mandela’s legacy on women’s rights and reproductive freedom. On his watch as South Africa’s first democratically-elected leader, as NARAL President Ilyse Hogue writes at The Nation, the writers of new South African constitution included equality of the sexes. Hogue explains:

In its new Bill of Rights it listed not only race as impermissible grounds for discrimination, but “gender,” and then “sex” and then, uniquely, it also added “pregnancy.” And in case the meaning of that was not clear, the Bill of Rights went on (emphasis added):

Everyone has the right to bodily and psychological integrity, which includes the right

a.  to make decisions concerning reproduction
b.  to security in and control over their body; and
c.  not to be subjected to medical or scientific experiments without their informed consent.

Before the Constitution was passed, Mandela also oversaw the passage of a law that legalized abortion, which had been banned by the white, apartheid regime.

And that’s why the opponents of reproductive justice and freedom went off as the plaudits for Mandela’s life rolled in.

Anti-choice activist Jill Stanek asked, “Can one have an otherwise great legacy if pro-abortion?”

Noting the Guttmacher Institute’s description of the law as “one of the most liberal abortion laws in the world,” Stanek continued:

I cannot get past this and cannot view Mandela as any other than a leader who engaged in mass genocide of his own innocent people.

Others are noting additional blemishes on Mandela’s record, but even if he were an otherwise all-around hero, I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to say a positive word to say about him other than, “I pray he repented.”

Similar views were expressed by Leah Barkoukis at Townhall, and by John-Henry Westen, writing at LifeSiteNews, who took shots at Pope Francis and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Catholic archbishop of New York, for saying nice things about the late South African leader.

Taken together, the comments of those who oppose racial justice and those who oppose reproductive justice expose their unity in one overarching fear: that of the overturning of an established order—an order in which they feel comfortable and to which they feel entitled. The end of apartheid put South Africa in the hands of leaders of its Black majority; the realization of reproductive justice would go a long way toward distributing power more evenly between women and men.

Amid the right-wing hysteria over Mandela, most plainly expressing that fear is Janet Rios of the anti-LGBT, anti-choice American Family Association (a right-wing Christian organization whose endorsement is eagerly sought by Republican presidential candidates), who said, as reported by Right Wing Watch, “certainly to be a white person in South Africa is not a very fun thing right now. I think that they have now obtained suppressing the white population with the black population holding the superior vantage point.”

In the right-wing playbook, there is no room for net gains made for the greater good. There are only winners and losers: If Blacks are empowered, then whites are most certainly the losers. If women win rights, men are oppressed.

Heaven forefend that women, especially the Black women of South Africa, should attain the “superior vantage point” of self-determination. In the creed of the right, that would be a sin most unforgivable.

Investigations Law and Policy

Americans United for Life’s Efforts to Eliminate Insurance Coverage for Abortion Get Help From ALEC Members

Sofia Resnick

Twenty-three states have passed laws barring abortion coverage from insurance plans within state health exchanges. What has largely gone unnoticed is that many of these policies emanate from Americans United for Life, a little-known group that regularly has access to conservative lawmakers at the annual ALEC conferences.

Among the most prevalent weapons in the multi-pronged assault on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the attempt to eliminate access to insurance coverage of safe abortion care. Twenty-three states have now passed laws barring abortion coverage from insurance plans within state health exchanges (some with limited exceptions), according to the Guttmacher Institute.

What has largely gone unnoticed, however, is that many of these new state policies emanate from one little-known group that regularly has access to conservative lawmakers at the annual conferences of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

In August 2010, some five months after President Barack Obama signed his signature bill into law, right-wing and corporate forces gathered at the Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel in downtown San Diego for ALEC’s 37th annual meeting, in part to discuss strategies to cripple what was then—and still is—seen by the political right as the incarnation of Democratic evil. Several scheduled sessions centered on how to undermine and obliterate the ACA.

One such group was Americans United for Life (AUL), which frequently hosts an exhibitor’s booth at ALEC meetings offering conference-goers an assortment of model bills designed in various ways to diminish access to legal reproductive health services. Embedded within AUL’s annual compendium of anti-choice models, Defending Life, was a new blueprint on how states can deny insurance coverage of abortion in their health-insurance exchanges created as part of the ACA.

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Abortion Coverage Ban Sponsors With ALEC Ties

At least 23 states have passed bans on insurance coverage of abortion within their health exchanges. Bills that are similar to Americans United for Life’s “Federal Abortion Mandate Opt-Out Act ” have been sponsored by several legislatures with previous ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council. With the exception of Louisiana Rep. Frank Hoffmann, none of the following current state lawmakers returned requests for comment on their motivations for sponsoring these bills or whether they used AUL’s model. According to AUL spokesperson Kristi Hamrick, eight states have passed these abortion insurance bans using AUL model legislation, and four more have passed similar legislation with the group’s assistance. Cited ALEC connections come from information published by the liberal nonprofit advocacy groups Common Cause and the Center for Media and Democracy.

Several state lawmakers—who were listed as ALEC members—went on to introduce similar legislation that has become part of the national strategy to undermine the ACA.

Eight states have passed their bills based on AUL’s model legislation, “The Federal Abortion Mandate Opt-Out Act,” and four others passed similar bills with the group’s assistance, said AUL spokesperson Kristi Hamrick.

The confluence of groups pushing to restrict access to reproductive health care and those more generally recognized as attacking environmental regulations and labor rights is further evidence of a new trend on the political right. Abortion politics have taken center stage in the political fights of recent campaigns and legislative sessions, as formerly disparate threads of the conservative movement—free-marketeers, big business, and fundamentalist Christians—have come together over the sole remaining “moral” on which they believe they can rouse the public.

An even more deliberate example of this type of alliance exists in shared funding streams between limited-government and anti-choice groups. Rewire reported in November that so-called free market groups connected to billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch funneled large donations to anti-choice groups through a pass-through group launched to oppose the Affordable Care Act. Among the recipients were AUL and its 501(c)(4) affiliate, Americans United for Life Action.

“There Was a Real Excitement at ALEC”

From its inception, fear that the health-care reform law would legitimize abortion—by making it a valid insurance claim—has been chief among AUL’s motivations for pushing bans on insurance coverage of abortion in state exchanges everywhere.

“The law fattens the pockets of abortion providers, but most critically, advances an objective less tangible but more significant to their long-term goals—legitimacy,” wrote AUL staff counsel Mary Harned of the Affordable Care Act in a Washington Examiner op-ed last September. “Abortion-rights advocates believe that, if abortion is recognized as ‘legitimate healthcare,’ it will become less controversial and will be viewed simply as one of many available gynecological services.”

Though these concerns related specifically to “moral” issues, AUL’s model bills had a broader appeal. Many conservative lawmakers at ALEC’s 2010 annual meeting were looking for opportunities to weaken the health-reform law and recognized that by eliminating access to abortion coverage, AUL’s model laws could pack a one-two punch: undermining insurance systems, as well as reducing access to abortion.

“There was a real excitement at ALEC over our model bill—I think you’ll see this type of legislation moving forward in several states during their coming legislative sessions,” said Dan McConchie, AUL’s vice president of government affairs, according to a 2010 AUL newsletter. “Five states have enacted opt-out laws so far, and this is just the beginning.”

Indeed, in quick succession, ten of ALEC’s state legislative members sponsored versions of this type of legislation (see sidebar, at left).

For instance, Louisiana Rep. Frank A. Hoffmann—listed as a former ALEC Education Task Force member in a San Diego meeting memo published by Common Cause, which advocates for transparency and accountability in government—sponsored a 2010 state bill that, like AUL’s model, bars insurance coverage of abortion within Louisiana’s health exchange.

Despite having been an ALEC member, Hoffman said he did not acquire the model bill through ALEC and its association with AUL.

“I am aware that ALEC is supportive of these things,” he said. “But, again, this didn’t come directly from that as far as my support and getting help and the background and all of this.”

Rather, local anti-abortion groups—namely, Louisiana Right to Life and the Bioethics Defense Fund in New Orleans—helped Hoffman draft the law, he said. He said did not know whether those groups had used AUL’s model.

Indeed, ALEC does not formally endorse AUL’s opt-out model legislation, said ALEC Senior Director of Public Affairs Bill Meierling.

“[T]he policy identified by AUL is not consistent with the current direction and policy focus on the American Legislative Exchange Council,” Meierling said in an email, emphasizing that ALEC is currently dedicated to “limited government, free markets and federalism alone.”

Neither Meierling nor AUL’s Hamrick would explain the nature of AUL’s attendance at the meeting or the group’s presentation of their model legislation. Hamrick told Rewire that AUL has “sometimes had a booth” at ALEC meetings.

But in addition to exhibiting at ALEC’s 2010 conference, the Madison, Wisconsin-based Center for Media and Democracy has through its projects ALECExposed and SourceWatch published evidence that AUL was an exhibitor at ALEC’s 38th annual meeting in New Orleans in August 2011. And in a firsthand account of attending an ALEC conference in December 2007 published in the March 2008 issue of The Progressive, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), who at the time was a Wisconsin state representative, wrote that AUL was an exhibitor, among other anti-choice groups such as the Family Research Council and the Pro-Family Legislative Network.

Whether ALEC formally endorses AUL or not, it is clear that AUL is having a significant impact on the legislators that are affiliated with ALEC, and that a merging of free-market, big business, Beltway politics and fundamentalist Christian views is well underway via, among other vectors, bills that undermine women’s access to abortion services.

Reducing Access

Shortly after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, Americans United for Life seized on a little-noticed wrinkle in law—language that made it possible for states to ban health insurance plans that offer abortion coverage from the exchanges.

On its website, AUL describes its Federal Abortion Mandate Opt-Out Act as the “primary strategic effort” of its “strategy to respond to the anti-life provisions” in Obama’s health-care reform bill. The organization has argued—in the media and on a specially created website—that allowing plans that cover abortion to participate in health exchanges amounts to a major breach of conscience rights.

AUL spokesperson Kristi Hamrick went as far as to claim that, without this Opt-Out-Act, the health-care law would force Americans to subsidize the “deadly business” of abortion.

By passing “opt-out” legislation, states can refuse to allow insurance plans available through the state’s health insurance marketplace from covering “elective” abortions. Some states have offered varying exceptions within these coverage bans.

“This type of bill is vital, as the abortion industry has moved from Choice to Coercion,” Hamrick told Rewire in an email, referring to AUL’s model legislation. “No longer content to work for ‘choice,’ the abortion industry works to force Americans to comply with and subsidize their deadly business. … An opt-out is necessary to protect Americans from being forced to subsidize abortions, against their First Amendment Constitutional Rights of Conscience.”

The claim that the federal government is subsidizing abortion through the ACA is a familiar trope of the anti-choice movement. In fact, this claim is false, as the Obama administration has noted several times.

Obamacare as Common Foe for Anti-Labor, Anti-Regulation, Anti-Choice Communities

ALEC’s historic meddling in areas of sensitive social policy has come back to sting the organization. For instance, ALEC faced backlash—and lost corporate membership—in the wake of the shooting of Trayvon Martin, when news broke in the spring of 2012 that the group had advanced “stand your ground” laws across the United States.

ALEC has also been subject to belated criticism over its past work campaigning against divestment from apartheid South Africa, crafting model bills with anti-gay animus, and disseminating anti-abortion model bills, such as parental-consent legislation.

As a result, ALEC makes a habit of insisting to the press that it no longer engages in social policy, a claim that activists like Lisa Graves—who runs the Center for Media and Democracy, which has been trailing ALEC’s activities for years—simply don’t believe.

“This notion that they’re just focused on limited government is simply not true,” Graves said of ALEC. “Their bills have a lot of implications. … I guess you could call those limiting government, but in fact those are in some ways eviscerating longstanding public institutions that have made our country strong.”

Graves said she was not surprised at the idea of AUL seizing the opportunity to spread around its model bills at ALEC conferences, by purchasing an exhibitor’s booth.

“Clearly AUL sees that as a really important forum for—spending money, giving money to ALEC—in order to have a place at the table in their convention to reach hundreds of state lawmakers and get their bills in the hands of those lawmakers.”

But, Graves said, this raises concerns.

“In a political democracy, you shouldn’t have unelected corporate officials, unelected special-interest group representatives actually voting as equals with your lawmaker on bills before they’re introduced in your state house,” she said. “And the activity of those special interests pushing their bills to be introduced and passed ought to count as lobbying, and it ought to be disclosed as such.”

The reality is that very few abortions are paid for with federal Medicaid dollars. As a result of a law known as the Hyde Amendment, federal dollars cannot be used to pay for abortions, except for pregnancies resulting from rape, incest, and life-endangerment. Indeed, in fiscal year 2012, just 150 abortions nationwide were funded using federal Medicaid dollars under the restrictive policies of Hyde, according to an official from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

In fact, many women who technically qualify for Medicaid coverage of abortion care never receive it. Studies conducted by researchers at Ibis Reproductive Health from 2007 to 2011 found that many women seeking abortions in the case of rape, incest, or life endangerment face “systematic barriers” accessing Medicaid coverage of abortion, such as convoluted eligibility requirements, complicated enrollment procedures, and difficulty proving the pregnancy resulted in rape or was life threatening. One of the studies found that in 13 out of 15 states where abortion providers were interviewed, 64 percent of the qualifying claims for abortion were ultimately rejected, as noted in a research paper published by the Center for Women Policy Studies in January 2012.

“Because of the challenges abortion providers and women face in working with Medicaid, most Medicaid-eligible women do not have the option to use their insurance for abortion care,” the Ibis researchers wrote. “In our interviews with women, many reported turning to drastic measures to pay for their procedures. Women described taking out payday loans, delaying bill payments, pawning jewelry, selling drugs, performing sex work, and borrowing money from friends and family in order to raise money for abortion.”

President Obama’s health-reform law left it up to the states to decide whether or not to offer coverage for abortion beyond those allowed by the Hyde Amendment. The law stipulated that exchanges should include at least one qualified health plan that covers abortions beyond those covered by Hyde and at least one plan that does not. However, states were also given the option to opt out of offering plans that cover abortions. When plans do include abortion coverage beyond those allowed by Hyde, the law requires a separate premium for the abortion coverage, to be paid for by the policyholder.

Nevertheless, AUL hasn’t let up on its attempt to cast the health-reform laws as something of a blank check for abortion providers in order to bolster its argument that its Opt-Out Act is necessary, lest states be accused of promoting federally subsidized abortion. In this vein, AUL has discouraged states from expanding their Medicaid coverage, arguing it will lead to more money going to Planned Parenthood.

AUL’s overall strategy—in addition to preventing increased access to abortion coverage, especially among lower-income women—also works toward chipping holes in Obamacare, whose primary intention originally was to expand insurance coverage to the country’s many uninsured.

Recent statistics suggest that it is actually difficult for many women to obtain abortion coverage through their private insurance plans. While many private plans do offer abortion coverage, the extent to which women use insurance to pay for abortion—or are aware that their plans cover abortion—is unclear. In its 2010 Employer Health Benefits Annual Survey, for example, the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care-focused research nonprofit, found that 71 percent of all firms surveyed said they did not know whether they covered “elective abortions.” In contrast, 19 percent of “large firms” (those with 200 or more workers) and 9 percent “small firms” (those with between three and 199 workers) said they did offer abortion coverage in their plans.

The push to excise abortion from health insurance coverage is part of a significant strategy of the anti-choice movement, which has realized in recent years that activists do not have to topple Roe v. Wade to end access to safe abortions. Rather, anti-choice proponents have understood that making abortion unobtainable, even though it is legal, can in some cases have the same effect. One effective strategy has been to shut down abortion providers by passing onerous regulations, as has been clearly demonstrated in Texas. But another equally effective method at reducing access to abortion is to make it unaffordable.

And AUL is hip to this strategy.

In the legislative findings of AUL’s model bill, which has become law in eight states, according to the group, the organization repeats unfounded claims that providing insurance coverage through subsidized or private insurance plans increases the demand and therefore the incidence of abortion.

“Given that more women have abortions when they are covered by public programs, and public or private insurance coverage of a procedure generally leads to increased usage of that procedure, the State of [Insert name of State] concludes that the incidence of abortion would increase with the subsidization of private insurance plans that cover abortion,” the model bill reads.

The Guttmacher Institute disputes these claims, citing as one example a New England Journal of Medicine analysis from 2010, which reported that after Massachusetts began providing abortion coverage for people using subsidized private plans and those on Medicaid—through the state’s 2006 universal health-care law—abortion rates actually declined, by 1.5 percent between 2006 and 2008.

And AUL has not stopped at trying to ban insurance coverage of abortion in only health exchanges. The organization has also been pushing model bills that bar private insurance plans from covering abortion, models that bar state employees from receiving abortion coverage, and models that combine both bans.

Megan Peterson, deputy director of the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF), a Boston-based nonprofit that helps low-income women pay for their abortions, told Rewire that these exchange bans will likely make it even harder for women to access abortion.

“There are women who would have had coverage who now won’t,” Peterson said. “And for a lot of those women, coming up with the money to pay for an abortion out of pocket will be a real hardship for themselves and their family.”

NNAF is a partner in All Above All, a multi-year campaign focused on eliminating bans on federal funding of abortion coverage, including the Hyde Amendment. Peterson said she thinks these “opt-out” laws will potentially delay the campaign’s goal.

“I think that this is just the latest page in the same old playbook that was originally was written by Henry Hyde, which was using whatever vehicle is available to try to prevent anyone from being able to have an abortion,” Peterson said of the exchange bans, adding that this type of law is “further entrenching this insane idea that it’s acceptable for politicians to interfere in people’s personal, private decisions by keeping them from having the coverage they need to make access real.”

Analysis Abortion

Fetal Rosaries, Our Lady of Fatima, and the Spanish Inquisition: Welcome to the 2014 March for Life

Adele M. Stan

The March for Life, the yearly protest on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, is a Catholic affair, supported by the bishops and the pope. And Republicans.

In a windowless room in a Washington hotel, a religious summit of sorts is taking place. The protesters who make an annual pilgrimage to the nation’s capital for the March for Life have gathered to “meet and greet” the very Catholic Rick Santorum, father of seven, and the very Protestant Jim Bob Duggar, father of 19.

What unites the two is a simple belief: that a woman should be willing to break her body in childbirth for the sake of bearing as many children as possible.

The march is an annual protest, held on the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion, making it the perfect platform for Santorum, the former contender for the Republican presidential nomination whose signature issue is his no-exceptions opposition to abortion, even if he is better known for his views on gay sex. (Santorum also opposes contraception.)


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In one corner, several children and young people converse with the older two Santorum girls; across the room Jim Bob Duggar, star of the TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting, is talking with an elderly couple from Wisconsin, cheering the 2013 passage of that state’s forced ultrasound law, which he calls “the heartbeat bill” for its requirement that technicians performing the medically unnecessary ultrasound mandated by the law for women seeking abortions also “provide a means for the pregnant woman to visualize any fetal heartbeat.” His wife, Michelle, is chatting up another couple.


As Santorum makes his way toward the door, an older man approaches to ask the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania if he’ll be running for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, as he did in 2012. “I’m thinking about it,” Santorum replies with a smile.

* * *

The meeting room areas of the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill, which served as home base for the March for Life activists, have all the charm of an underground bunker. Down the escalator from the room where the Santorum-Duggar meet-and-greet took place, exhibits by anti-choice groups, all with a distinctly religious flavor, occupied a drab conference space in the building’s basement.

Crossing the threshold into the exhibition hall was like entering a time warp into Catholic culture as it existed before the modernization attempted by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. There were booths staffed by nuns in habits—the medieval dress abandoned by most orders after Vatican II—and one staffed by robed monks.


Ubiquitous among the give-away trinkets that graced exhibit tables were plastic rosary beads. And everywhere, there were images of Mary, mother of Jesus, in her many incarnations. Human Life International favored Our Lady of Czestochowa, otherwise known as the Black Madonna, depicted in the famous icon as a dark-skinned woman with a dark-skinned baby. Our Lady of Guadalupe is another popular image among the anti-choice Catholics who dominate the March for Life scene. The monks used a Madonna image as the logo of their Cafe 4 Mama, “the pro-life coffee.”

At the table for Archangel Gabriel Enterprises Inc., staffed by a middle-aged Black man (one of very few Black people among the March for Lifers), a statuette of a Mary-like white woman was styled as a kind of hipster teenage mom, her veil replaced with a floppy white beret, her customary blue-and white robes reinterpreted as a loose tunic-and-vest ensemble. But what really set her apart from standard images of the Blessed Mother was her big, pregnant belly, complete with protruding navel. Surrounding her was a set of blue glass rosary beads. Each bead, said the man staffing the booth, was to represent a tear, and inside each “tear” was the image of a fetus, rendered in gold-colored metal. The set could be had for $20. Laid out within the circle formed by the beads were three small models of beige-colored fetuses.

Screen Shot 2014-01-23 at 11.50.30 AM

Here was the fundamental difference between the pre-Vatican II church and the right-wing Catholic cults of today: In the old days, such a graphic depiction of a pregnant Mary would be unthinkable, and fetal imagery was absent from religious paraphanalia. Before women had access to birth control and the legal right to abortion, such explicit depictions were unnecessary as objects of veneration. Church and state were in agreement on the limits of a woman’s freedom.

Then, with the rise of the women’s movement, state betrayed the patriarchy, first with the Supreme Court decision in Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965, which guaranteed a right to birth control, and then in 1973, with Roe v. Wade. The patriarchy responded with all the elegance of an abusive husband.

For respite from the fetuses and madonnas, I visited a booth whose materials featured slick and appealing graphics, devoid of developing embryos or religious regalia. “Save the Storks,” read the backdrop behind the table. “Are you saving actual birds?” I asked of the young white woman who staffed it. “No,” she said, laughing. The organization, she said, provides vans equipped with state-of-the-art ultrasound equipment that “can be parked right outside Planned Parenthood clinics.” The vans are painted in cheerful shades of blue and pink, some with the slogan, “You Have Options!”

Next to Save the Storks was a booth staffed by nuns, a display rife with religious trinkets and literature. An enormous tapestry of Our Lady of Guadalupe provided their backdrop. I plunked down $5 for a sticker book, Saints for Girls. I don’t know why. Most of them, naturally, met terrible fates.

Near the table that displayed “A Window to the Womb: 4D Ultrasound Images,” was a booth for Tradition, Family and Property (TFP), an organization born in 1960 of the backlash to land reform in Brazil, whose founder, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, described the Spanish Inquisition as “a glorious moment” for the Roman Catholic Church. TFP, which was also allied with the Pinochet regime in Chile and made common cause with the leaders of apartheid South Africa, is an all-male organization that trains young men in medieval combat.

 * * *

As the marchers made their way to the National Mall on a sunny, frigid day with windchills below zero degrees, the streets seemed flooded with the green-and-white signs doled out by the Knights of Columbus stamped with black block letters reading “Defend Life.”OccupyKids2

Several women drifted by with pink signs. One read “Conceived From Rape: I Love My Life.” An analog version read “Mother From Rape: I Love My Child.”

Young people were everywhere, recruited from Catholic colleges and high schools. Many carried signs that read “I Am the Pro-Life Generation.”

About a block from where a rally was staged on the National Mall as the kick-off event for the march, which would culminate at the Supreme Court, was a makeshift platform festooned with yellow balloons and flanked with yellow-and-white papal flags. Three young men in matching, hippie-style, hand-woven hoodies chanted anti-choice slogans, while a drum corps below, wearing the same outfit, performed in response. A big, yellow banner behind them simply read “LIFE.” It was as if the young people figured Pope Francis was just kidding when he urged the church to lighten its emphasis on opposition to abortion and LGBT rights. Surely they took heart from his shout-out, via Twitter, to March for Life activists earlier in the day.

The display was clearly influenced by the protests of the Occupy movement, yet interpreted, without irony, in a framework of uniformity and precision.

Three vans from Save the Storks were parked across the street.SaveTheStorks

Groups carrying wide banners represented Catholic dioceses and archdioceses from across the nation: St. Augustine, Chicago, Kansas City, Omaha, Newark, and more. Along the route, the red standards of TFP flailed in the stiff winds.

One man carried a large photograph of Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson, inscribed with this quote from the right’s favorite victim: “You have a God-given right to live! And, of all places, inside your mother. What in the world happened to us?”

Phil Robertson 2

As marchers assembled in front of a large stage erected on the Mall, a military-style chant was roared by a group of young men. I didn’t catch the first part, but the second half went: “Nothing finer in the land than an Irish Catholic pro-life man.”

The crowd of thousands stood patiently, listening to speakers for an hour in temperatures that barely broke into the double-digits. March for Life President Jeanne Monahan read the pope’s tweeted message to the crowd. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) promised a vote on the House floor next week for HR 7, a sweeping anti-choice bill. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) stepped up to accuse President Obama of promoting “abortion violence.”

The theme of this year’s march was adoption, said Monahan, and Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) was on-message, saying that since there weren’t enough babies available for adoption, every unexpected pregnancy should be brought to term. (See Rewire’s report on the rally, here.)

By the time a youth activist who organized her high school homecoming event around the issue of “adoption, not abortion” came to the podium, I calculated that my toes had been numb for at least 20 minutes, so I briefly sought warmth in a nearby McDonalds, then headed for the subway, figuring to meet the marchers at their final destination, the Supreme Court.

By the time I hiked from Union Station to the Court building, they had already arrived. The street in front of the Court was filled with banner-bearing and sign-carrying marchers, the sidewalk clogged with anti-choicers holding ad hoc prayer vigils. In front of the Court, marchers held a large banner that read “We Are Abortion Abolitionists.”

A young woman and a young man, who looked to be of high school age, built a small snowman, and affixed a “Pro-Life Generation” sign to it. Another young woman had a friend snap her photo with an iPhone as she jumped up, both heels to one side, holding the same sign.


A group of six or so young men in blue plastic ponchos parted the crowd as they walked toward the steps of the Court bearing a statue of Our Lady of Fatima on a platform that rested on their shoulders, quickly drawing a gathering around them of people praying the Apostles’ Creed. The appearance of the Blessed Mother to three schoolchildren in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917, is a favorite of anti-communists, as the children said she called for the consecration of Russia.

Fatima 2

The windchill was said to be -2 degrees Fahrenheit. Three hours after the kick-off rally began, the anti-choice activists were still out in force.