Analysis Abortion

Portrait of an Anti-Abortion ‘Abolitionist’

Andrea Grimes

Anti-abortion “abolitionists” believe the only way to end abortion is to convert the entire country to their version of Christianity, thereby making the very concept of abortion “unthinkable” to the masses.

Jered Michael Ragon has strapped his GoPro camera to his body, just so, allowing its lens to peer over the four-foot tall cardboard poster he holds, showing a photograph of what looks to be a bloody, dismembered human fetus surrounded by medical instruments. He’s got his camera trained on the passenger side of a grey pick-up truck driven by a dark-haired woman who’s giving him what most Texas kids would swiftly recognize as an ass-chewing.

The woman doesn’t have a problem with what Ragon stands for—or rather, what he stands against: legal abortion. She also opposes abortion. But she doesn’t like his methods, which include 25-year-old Ragon taking up his regular post on a public sidewalk outside a multi-story Fort Worth high school, where he’s spending this particular March week bringing the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ to teenagers via oversized, graphic posters ostensibly meant to represent common, legal abortion procedures and their aftermath.

“I agree with what he’s saying,” the driver tells me as she pulls away. “But I don’t like how he’s doing it.”

Ragon, a white man, is a self-described “abolitionist.” He decries legal abortion as the modern-day equivalent of American chattel slavery.

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He is also a convicted felon who, seven years ago, tried to set fire to a small-town church and who, according to sworn witness statements taken at the time, also aimed to burn down “evil” day-care centers for offering alternatives to “actual parenting.”

These days, any fire associated with Ragon appears to be metaphorical, as his Abolitionist Society of Fort Worth conducts their agitating—and deliberately gory—school protests in alliance with a growing nationwide “abolitionist” movement called “Project Frontlines.” Sometimes, they even bring their kids along.

“We show pictures of [abortion] to demonstrate the evil of it,” Ragon told me. “And to ignite a response that just generally comes out of our humanity. It’s troubling, it’s disturbing, and it should be.”

The Language of Abolitionism

It is no accident that Ragon both calls himself an “abolitionist” and that his group uses these so-called disturbing images. He sees himself as carrying on the tradition of 19th century anti-slavery activists, who he says similarly tried to shock their fellow Americans into action.

But to reproductive justice advocates who do anti-racist work, the deliberate conflation of abortion and slavery is a familiar—and facile—attempt to drive a “racial wedge” both in black communities and in pro-choice communities. Feminist activist and theorist Loretta Ross, the former national coordinator of SisterSong, a women of color-led reproductive justice collective, has been fighting this kind of rhetoric for decades.

“I’m not surprised that they’re adopting the language of the anti-slavery movement,” Ross told me. “It’s what they try to do, to co-opt the language of civil rights, anti-slavery, to assume that they can take the moral high ground while they’re trying to subsume the rights of women—particularly Black women.”

If abortion is slavery, what of the American slaves who had no control over their own reproductive choices, who were raped and forced to birth their own children into slavery? What of their decisions to end their pregnancies, prompted, as Ross writes when she paraphrases Angela Davis, by “the miserable social conditions that dissuaded them from bringing new lives into the world”? What of the Black American families torn apart at slave markets, of parents permanently separated from their children?

“One of the fundamental contradictions of [the anti-abortion ‘abolitionist’] position is that they’re going to deny the human rights of Black women as a way to call themselves protecting the rights of fetuses,” said Ross. “You can’t save Black children by discriminating against Black women.”

But the anti-abortion “abolitionists” I spoke to seem hell-bent—or perhaps in their view, heaven-bent—on taking what Ragon calls an “uncompromising” stance on abortion: it should be illegal, without exception, and people who get abortions should be tried as first-degree murderers. These “abolitionists” believe the only way to achieve this, on a national scale, is not to advocate for comprehensive sex education or affordable contraception, or to even discuss the fact that Black women are three to four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related causes, but to convert the entire country to their version of Christianity, thereby making the very concept of abortion “unthinkable” to the masses.

And they’re starting with America’s teenagers.

High Schools as Anti-Abortion “Front Lines”

People who oppose abortion—whether or not they self-identify as “abolitionists”—have been using graphic fetus images for decades. Many of the most common images were produced more than 20 years ago, using medical remains from later abortion procedures that anti-abortion groups say they stole from clinics. Yet those remains—if their origins are to be believed—represent only a small percentage of all abortions performed in the United States. Over 90 percent of abortions in the United States take place before 12 weeks’ gestation.

Whatever their provenance, or representative veracity, the images are certainly arresting. Deliberately so. Which is why Ragon and those who join him in the anti-abortion “abolitionist” movement generally prefer to display them not in front of abortion clinics—though they do do that, occasionally—but to teenagers going to and from school.

Teens haven’t yet decided how they feel about abortion, said Ragon, which makes them better targets than people already on their way to the abortion clinic.

“Strategically, a lot of times high schoolers maybe haven’t made up their mind,” he told me, when we met at a suburban Fort Worth coffee shop in March. “They’re in a place that is teaching them a lot of things that are anti-biblical.”

Why wait, then, until after the unintended pregnancy that brings a 16-year-old through clinic doors?

“When somebody is at an abortion clinic, their intent at that time is to actually go and kill their child, or as we put it, ‘have an abortion,’” said Ragon, intonating air quotes. “Their intent is not, ‘I’m going to come here and see my options.’ They’ve weighed their options and they’re pretty well made up in their mind about doing it.”

For “abolitionists,” that makes high schools the new “front lines” of an anti-abortion movement that situates itself well to the right of mainstream “pro-life” organizations. These new “abolitionists” have co-opted the language of 19th century anti-slavery groups, positioning themselves as “immediatists” who see any regulation of abortion as capitulating to the moral failings of a sin-soaked society that condones some, if not all, abortions.

Many parents and students, perhaps unsurprisingly, take exception to this grisly prosthelytizing, while school officials say there is little they can do if the “abolitionists” don’t trespass on to school property.

“They’ve always been on the public right of way,” a Fort Worth Independent School District spokesperson told me. “They are certainly entitled to express their opinions.”

But there is expressing an opinion, and then there is confronting a school bus full of teenagers at 8:00 in the morning with a four-foot dismembered fetus. That kind of deliberate agitation has recently found opposition among anti-choice leaders, one of whom told Slate in January that it’s time his movement changed tactics. The time for bloody fetuses has passed; enter the era of cuddly newborns, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Joe Carter told Slate:

“We don’t need to do this by showing bloody fetuses to get a gag reflex,” he says. “We need to do this by invoking our neighbors’ natural love for children. We do this by showing babies as natural parts of our lives.”

In a January New York Times piece, a reporter similarly softened the face of the anti-choice movement, choosing a “plump” grandmother as his central character in a piece on abortion clinic buffer zones, areas beyond which anti-abortion protesters cannot venture in their efforts to dissuade—and in some cases, harass and attack—people who seek abortions, to the extent that many abortion clinics use volunteer escorts to shield their patients from protesters who sometimes spit, yell, and throw ketchup.

Certainly anti-abortion “abolitionism” is not warm and cuddly, and neither is Jered Ragon. Seven years ago, he was called a “domestic terrorist” by law enforcement officials after he and three friends attempted to set fire to a church in Burleson, Texas, a Fort Worth suburb with a population of a little less than 40,000 people.

“I was a bad dude,” admits Ragon, who said that as a teenager, he “loved destruction” and was “violent” and “evil.” But, he adds: “There’s no justification for any wrong that I’ve ever done.”

“Destructive Acts”

A Burleson police report details what happened back in 2007, when Ragon was an 18-year-old Fight Club enthusiast leading Bible studies for his buddies at a local community center: He and three friends, seeing what they believed to be the impending moral demise of society, decided they wanted to “wake up” their apathetic Christian brethren by setting fire to a newly constructed church. The church has a racially diverse membership, and the guys told police they chose it because it was “secluded.”

According to witness statements, what transpired that July 4th was alternately frightening and comical. Sometime around 8 p.m., Ragon and his buddies built a Molotov cocktail, pouring gasoline and chlorine into a bottle and using a t-shirt as a wick. Ragon, along with Michael Plaisted, Dayton Calaway, and an unidentified fourth person, pulled up behind the new Victory Family Church building in Plaisted’s truck and tried to set the homemade bomb on fire, but all it did was smoke.

Bad timing, though: as the guys were futzing with the apparatus trying to light it, one of Victory’s deacons pulled up to the construction site with his wife and her sister and brother-in-law, hoping to show off the new building. Driving around the back of the church, the adults startled the teenagers mid-arson. Calaway and Plaisted took off running down a nearby road, while Ragon and the unidentified accomplice fled in the pickup to destroy their stash of bomb-building evidence.

Calaway and Plaisted didn’t get far: church deacon Marty Beeson trailed the pair on foot, watching as the two guys “were tripping and falling” in deep mud along the road, losing their shoes. Beeson managed to detain the pair until police arrived.

Meanwhile, as Calaway and Plaisted made their muddy escape attempt, Ragon arrived at the secluded area where they’d prepped the bomb, making a pile of chlorine tablets and glass and dousing everything in gasoline—including, he would soon discover, on his own sandals.

As Ragon lit their stash, he also lit his feet and shoes on fire. According to witnesses who saw Ragon running from the scene, but who initially mistook the goings-on for Independence Day fireworks, the fire shot flames as high as 20 feet.

Smelling of “burning flesh,” Ragon jumped in his own truck, parked at the bomb-making site, and made it to a friend named Jason Stevens’ house. The pair then headed for the local CVS to get bandages and burn ointment.

According the statement Stevens gave to police, Ragon sent him into the drugstore with his debit card and one instruction: “Spare no expense” on burn cream and bandages. Ragon also told Stevens to buy Axe body spray to cover up the stench of his burning feet.

Police later found a Fight Club DVD in Ragon’s truck, and interviewed the young men about their all-male group’s three-tiered belief system. All members were required to attend Bible study, but they could also choose to “cleanse themselves” through physically fighting each other, which Plaisted told police was a “way to get back to basic human instincts and therefore to cleanse themselves of the noise of society, like self-gratification and self-improvement.” At the third level, members could choose to participate in “destructive acts.”

Jason Stevens told police that Ragon often joked that “it would be better” if day care centers all “burned to the ground,” and that he also spoke to him about living “in a world without power plants.” According to Stevens, Ragon’s philosophy for the group was that “everything is vain in life except for God,” and he told police that Ragon had suggested a seemingly random assortment of other potential targets, including porta-potties, recycling bins, and warehouses.

Ultimately, Calaway, Plaisted, and Ragon were all sentenced to federal prison, with Ragon serving 15 months after pleading guilty to “possessing a destructive device.”

Seven years after their arson attempt, Plaisted and Ragon reunited for Project Frontlines, protesting together in front of Paschal High School, a top-rated Fort Worth school near Texas Christian University (TCU).

Paschal senior Iris Hayes told me she was initially “disgusted,” when she saw the posters that Ragon and Plaisted carried in front of her school, but also came to dislike their “indoctrination” message and fear their history of violence.

“At first I was talking to them like they were a normal person, and then I found out they’re terrorists,” she recalled. A Cleburne Times-Review article detailing the men’s church-bombing attempt made its way through Paschal’s virtual halls via Facebook, and Hayes, a media-savvy 17-year-old who aspires to someday be the editor of French Vogue, organized a counter-protest with friends from nearby TCU.

Arriving to school early in the morning carrying posters showing kittens, puppies, baby rabbits, and foxes, Hayes tried to shield her classmates from Ragon’s shocking imagery.

“Everyone loves baby animals,” said Hayes. “I just smiled and waved.”

While some of her peers thought it would be better not to draw any additional attention to the “abolitionist” group, Hayes saw an opportunity to open up a public conversation.

“I thought it was better to bring attention to it, because the media would definitely take the side of a student protest,” she said. And the media did take notice: the Fort Worth Star-Telegram ran an article on Hayes’ counter-protest, and followed it up with an editorial later that week that called Hayes “sharp,” and the demonstrations a “civics-lesson-come-to-life.”

In the aftermath of the Paschal protest, and at the Abolitionist Society of Fort Worth’s subsequent appearances at other local high schools, residents and parents have expressed concerns about men with an established history of violence setting up these intentionally provocative and confrontational demonstrations, and started online petitions in an attempt to block the “abolitionists” from holding placards and handing out materials near schools.

Ragon denies that he is now, or ever was, a “terrorist,” calling the word a “slanderous accusation.”

“The terrorist thing would imply that I am at this time engaging in some sort of fear-mongering or violent action,” he told me. Instead, he said he tries to explain to anyone who would call him a terrorist “why I’m there and what I did in the past, and what God’s done in spite of my poor actions.”

In front of Eastern Hills High School in Fort Worth, Texas, as students head inside, a group of activists led by Jered Michael Ragon stand just steps away trying to preach their anti-choice message.

In front of Eastern Hills High School in Fort Worth, Texas, as students head inside, a group of activists led by Jered Michael Ragon stand just steps away trying to preach their anti-choice message. (Andrea Grimes)

A Gray Reality

I first met with Ragon on a windy March morning at an independent coffee shop—really, little more than a tiny house with an espresso machine and a panini press—in downtown Burleson, not knowing precisely what to expect. I’d watched some of his group’s YouTube videos—they frequently post clips of their attempts to convert skeptical teenagers, some of whom they refer to as “idolators”—and read up on Ragon’s criminal history. I was half-expecting to come face-to-face with a nihilistic, anti-abortion Tyler Durden; instead, I sat across a chilly patio table from an unfailingly polite—he repeatedly called me ma’am, though I’m just five years his senior—and thoughtfully spoken man with a Bible and GoPro camera in tow. The camera goes along with Ragon on all his Abolitionist Society of Fort Worth business, perpetually turned out to the world, recording his interactions with the public and, in this case, a reporter.

When I asked Ragon to tell me about his “abolitionist” philosophy, he held up his Bible: “It’s basically just this.”

“We believe that abortion is sin,” he told me, “and that if you were to try to, for instance, regulate sin, regulate evil, that you’re actually compromising with it.” This is the basis of his “abolitionist” view—that incremental regulation of abortion tacitly condones some abortion, which pits him against mainstream groups like Texas Right to Life, which recently fought, successfully, for a 20-week abortion ban in Texas.

“A 20-week fetal pain bill is actually teaching people that it’s OK to kill children under 20 weeks,” said Ragon. “The incrementalism actually even teaches people that that’s morality. Because some people, unfortunately, derive their morality from the legislation that goes on around them. It’s supposed to be the other way around.”

Instead of legislative change, Ragon wants to “change the culture.”

“You could make abortion illegal tomorrow, and what’s gonna happen? You know, like I do, it’s just going to keep happening,” he said. “We actually want to stop abortion. We want to make it unthinkable.”

As Ragon spoke, I could hear echoes of the teenager I myself used to be, infatuated by the easy, black-and-white promises of an uncomplicated, us-versus-them evangelical Christian mentality predicated on the idea of personal persecution and blind to the nuances of a much more gray reality.

Ragon and I grew up in neighboring Fort Worth suburbs, he in Burleson and me in nearby Mansfield. Fort Worth prides itself on being “where the West begins,” and unlike its politically blue Metroplex neighbor, Dallas, Fort Worth and its environs remain red with tinges of purple. The sprawling suburbs are filled with planned communities, casual dining restaurants, and sizeable Protestant and evangelical churches.

When I drove up from Austin to interview Ragon and shadow him at a high school protest, I stayed at my parents’ house and slept in my childhood bed. My mom has taken down the rows of torn-out Rolling Stone covers that once wallpapered my room, opting instead to paint it a soothing lilac-blue, but the closet shelves still hold bibles, yearbooks, and journals I haven’t yet boxed up.

Those journals contain some of the most overwrought, earnest teen angst poetry yet unearthed by (wo)man, a fair bit of it concerning abortion—or at least abortion as imagined by a teenage Republican punk-rock virgin who fancied herself the voice of a generation lost to the selfish whims of murderous baby-killers. I saw abortion as the “genocide” of my generation, never once considering the weight of the word or its deeply racist implications.

I channeled my passion into howling, Jewel-esque homemade recordings made on a failing karaoke machine and distributed to my friends at school and at local Christian heavy metal shows.

Today, I raise money to directly fund abortion care for low-income Texans who cannot otherwise afford safe, legal procedures, and my politics run distinctly to the free abortion—and free health care generally—on demand end of the spectrum.

My transformation from aspiring Christian radio slut-shamer to bona-fide abortion funder wasn’t particularly remarkable—it more or less amounted to my moving across the country for college and benefitting from the culture shock that came with living in New York City, far away from the comfort—and repression—of small-town Texas. Removed from the careful supervision of my parents and the judgmental gossip of my church youth group, I had sex with my college boyfriend. I liked it. I didn’t want to be pregnant, and I realized that I had no right to tell any other person when, whether, or how to carry a pregnancy. Today, at 30 years old, I have never had an abortion, and I have never been pregnant—if the vasectomy gods are good to my husband and I, I never will be.

But I do know what it’s like to be afraid of pregnancy, to spend days on end in a haze of fear and worry. I am thankful for the privilege of being able to imagine accessing a safe, legal abortion as a white, documented Texan living in a major metropolitan area, and am thankful that I—and these days, myself and my husband—have had the financial means to access reliable contraception.

I also watch with joy as my friends document their pregnancies through Instagram and hilariously honest Facebook updates, as they share the uncertainty and elation of the adoption process, and as they raise their sweet, rambunctious, curious kids. Less often, I will hear their abortion stories; these usually come in private, but can be no less fraught—or joyful—than the experience of pregnancy or parenting.

I want these things—the ability to choose not to be pregnant, the ability to raise healthy children—for all Texans, for all Americans, for all people. To that end, I consider myself part of a larger reproductive justice movement that focuses not only on “choice,” but on challenging the systemic factors that prevent people from being able to make agent, affirmative decisions toward having healthy families, whatever shape those families may take.

Misogynoir Dressed Up in Baby Booties”

The reproductive justice framework, which acknowledges the fundamental need for widespread systemic change in order to empower people to combat inextricably interconnected forms of institutionalized oppression, couldn’t be more different from the anti-abortion “abolitionist” ideology. In order for their “abortion is slavery” claims to maintain their logic, “abolitionists” must situate American slavery as a personal moral failing of the slave owner, rather than an incarnation of the worst kind of systemic oppression, perpetrated on a variety of levels, and for a variety of reasons, by individuals, corporate bodies, and governments. Anti-abortion “abolitionists” fundamentally reject systemic solutions that would address many of the reasons people seek out abortion in the first place, instead arguing that it is an individual “godlessness” that lies at the heart of every abortion decision.

Witness: in this video of a confrontation filmed by the Abolitionist Society of Fort Worth in early April outside Western Hills High School, a bearded white man in a red truck—a man who self-identifies during the confrontation as a “Right-to-Lifer”—berates an “abolitionist” for their aggressive tactics and for distracting students from their tests.

“Their education is what will keep them from doing stuff like that,” says the man, rolling down his window and gesturing to the poster propped up in front of the “abolitionist.” Before the man in the truck can finish his thought, the “abolitionist” speaks over him:

“No it’s not, it’s godlessness!” he cries, continuing: “It’s not any kind of education or socio-economic class, it’s godlessness that’s the reason why people kill their children.”

I don’t know of any peer-reviewed studies that measure the individual “godliness” of people who have abortions. I do, however, know of a few which have identified the many and various lived experiences of people who seek abortions, for whom socio-economic status is a demonstrable factor in their decision either to have an abortion, or in their inability to access one.

The majority of people who have abortions are already parents; in a Guttmacher Institute study, three-quarters of abortion patients reported that “having a child would interfere with a woman’s education, work or ability to care for dependents.” A similar percentage of patients told researchers that they could not afford to have a baby at the time of their abortion, and nearly half said that they “did not want to be a single mother” or were having “relationship problems.”

And because Black women have higher rates of unintended pregnancy than do non-Hispanic white women, they also have higher rates of abortion. Black women are also more likely to be low-income and to be uninsured—which is no cosmic accident, nor any reflection of some kind of bizarre, widespread “godlessness” among Black women, but rather a reflection of the reality of being a person of color in a country where institutionalized racism still prevails, 150 years after the end of the Civil War. Black women make 64 cents to every dollar a white, non-Hispanic male makes. (For more context: Hispanic women also have higher rates of unintended pregnancy than white women, and make 54 cents to every dollar a white, non-Hispanic male makes.)

Black men are six times more likely than white men to be incarcerated, and Black women are the fastest growing population in the U.S. prison system.

To equate abortion with slavery in a country where Black women must fight against the double oppressions of both racism and misogyny—oppressions encompassed in the term misogynoir, coined by activist scholar Moya Bailey of Emory University and the Crunk Feminist Collective—ignores the continuing consequences of anti-Black racism in America, and the enduring ideological dominance of white supremacy, which promises people of color that if they play the game of respectability politics correctly and publicly perform the right kind of “whiteness,” they will be rewarded with some measure of acknowledgment of their basic humanity.

If Black women play the game wrongly, or not at all, they risk being—as in, they most certainly will be—derided as “ghetto,” welfare queens, and Jezebels. As Tamara Winfrey Harris wrote in 2012 for Bitch, “Respectability politics allow both the white and black communities to lay claim to black women’s bodies.”

While there are Black women in the anti-abortion “abolitionist” movement—Irin Carmon at MSNBC spoke to Sisleigh Harmon, a Black woman who home-schools her children with her white “abolitionist” husband Tony—the movement’s “servant leaders” are white American men who pattern themselves after white American anti-slavery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.

But for a movement that so proudly drapes itself in appropriative, self-congratulatory anti-slavery terminology, outright discussions of race in anti-abortion “abolitionism”—at least, any discussions that go beyond a white savior complex that manifests in the form of simplified sloganeering—seem to be rare, perhaps because the most obvious question is the most illustrative of the movement’s inherent racism and its attendant dehumanization and erasure of Black women, and Black women’s agency: If abortion is slavery, and fetuses are slaves, are pregnant people—are pregnant Black women—slave owners?

My colleague Imani Gandy has previously written about white folks’ predilection for equating abortion and slavery for Rewire, writing:

The comparisons are often tailored for the Black community and lobbed at Black women by the same forces who erect billboards in Black communities that scream “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb,” blissfully ignorant of the bitter irony of feigning concern for Black children even as they appropriate images of Black girls to spread their anti-choice propagandistic messages, and wage war against social programs—public assistance, food benefits, health care, sex education, fair pay—that would permit Black women to not only choose motherhood, but to raise healthy children.

Gandy calls the “abolitionist” logic “twisted and bizarre.”

“I would understand if they were like, ‘We want to reduce abortion, but we want to make it easier for Black women to raise children and have children,'” Gandy told me.

But “abolitionist” concerns appear to begin and end at a person’s womb. Jered Ragon never brought up concerns about Black maternal mortality or poverty rates, though he did tell me his group would happily help a pregnant person pay rent. He even seemed unsure about the mission of crisis pregnancy centers, saying they “help indigent mothers and stuff.” Ragon told me he was unable to contact any of the women he says his group has aided, though he said the Abolitionist Society of Fort Worth has “lot of families that want to adopt.”

But any putative “abolitionist” concern for the “unborn” that doesn’t also include a dedication to systematically empowering people who may become pregnant, and also to dismantling racism and racist institutions, is nothing more than misogynoir dressed up in baby booties.

Loretta Ross, whose African-American Women and Abortion presents a nuanced history of Black women’s reproductive experiences in the United States since the Civil War, told me that she sees the anti-abortion “abolitionist” movement as “self-congratulatory,” rather than ideologically persuasive. She laughed with pleasure when I told her of the Paschal High School student counter-protest involving giant posters of cute baby animals.

“[‘Abolitionists’] are radicalizing young people that they hadn’t planned on doing so,” she said, when they prompt pro-choice responses to their macabre protests. “That’s when you can become convinced that they’re not caring about young people or being particularly persuasive. They’re really concerned about getting their names in the newspaper and becoming self-congratulatory.”

The Philosophy of Anti-Abortion “Abolitionists”

The persecution narrative is strong in the “abolitionist” movement, and that thread runs throughout the great pride the Abolitionist Society of Fort Worth’s takes in “polarizing” schools and communities. In a Facebook post, the society writes that it is a “great encouragement” when “outraged” parents oppose their protests.

At the same time, anti-abortion “abolitionists” espouse a policy of nonviolence, while employing tactics that are not only visually aggressive and potentially highly triggering, but which specifically target people’s children, often in front of their very eyes, as they drop their kids off for school in the morning, or pick them up in the afternoons.

Following that narrative, “abolitionists” play fast and loose with history, lumping together a variety of unique, and uniquely horrific, human crimes. Ragon told me that his group’s use of bloody fetus pictures comes not only from their “abolitionist” roots, but ties in with opposition to the Holocaust—another favorite comparison frequently made by anti-choice groups.

“Just like with the Holocaust,” Ragon told me, “we’ve accumulated so many pictures of what was actually going on, the piles of bodies. We do that with any genocide, with any human rights violation.”

The casual manner with which Ragon equates the very different, and very real, atrocities of genocide, the Holocaust, and American slavery diminishes the experiences and traumas that are particular to the people, and peoples, who experienced those things. To compare abortion to any of these—and to all of these, as Ragon does—is to cast aside all context, is to render those who committed and benefitted from these acts into some blurry nether-ness, a random and non-specific evil that has no earthly origin.

And without an earthly origin—without examining the specific social, historical, and economic realities that converge to permit and perpetuate these atrocities—they have no earthly solution.

As a result, the anti-abortion “abolitionist” has absolved himself of any personal responsibility to address systemic oppression and inequality, instead pivoting to what appears to be—despite repeated, unprovoked protestations—a remarkably self-aggrandizing, single-minded ministerial stance centered on the aggressive delivery of a highly specific interpretation of the Bible that rejects the concept of evolution, calls non-procreative, non-marital sex immoral, and casts “Hebrew slavery,” as outlined in the Bible, as a “loving act” meant to protect debtors, according to one “abolitionist” I spoke to at a Fort Worth high school protest.

Instead of fighting for economic resources and policies that empower people to make affirmative family planning choices, the anti-abortion “abolitionist” leaves anti-abortion tracts in bars and restaurants. Instead of lobbying for sex education, the anti-abortion “abolitionist” hands teenagers colorful brochures.

The anti-abortion “abolitionist” pales at the thought of affordable contraception and would deny the students they preach to—the students they preach at—access to comprehensive sex education.

And the anti-abortion “abolitionist” would see people who obtain abortions tried in court as murderers, sending them into the increasingly for-profit U.S. prison system—a particularly gruesome irony considering that 30 percent of Americans who have abortions are Black women.

In her powerful lecture on the prison industrial complex and slavery, Angela Davis notes that “race matters when it comes to determining who gets to go to prison, and who doesn’t,” and that Black women have the fastest growing rate of imprisonment in the United States. Davis draws a clear line between slavery—under which Black Americans could be put to death for many, many more offenses than could free white persons—and the continuing existence of capital punishment, noting that “when slavery was abolished, capital punishment was not.”

“The continuation of the existence of capital punishment is itself a racist phenomenon,” argues Davis, “regardless of the race of those individuals upon whom the death penalty is visited.”

Ragon, who continues his tour of Fort Worth high schools when he’s not working nights as a waiter, told me that “if abortion becomes illegal, it would definitely necessitate that it be treated as murder.” Women, he told me, should be tried as if they had hired a contract killer to murder their child. “It would bear the same legal penalty as murder.”

It bears observing that in Texas, where Ragon lives, murder-for-hire is a capital offense.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Republican National Convention Edition

Ally Boguhn

The Trump family's RNC claims about crime and the presidential candidate's record on gender equality have kept fact-checkers busy.

Republicans came together in Cleveland this week to nominate Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention (RNC), generating days of cringe-inducing falsehoods and misleading statements on crime, the nominee’s positions on gender equality, and LGBTQ people.

Trump’s Acceptance Speech Blasted for Making False Claims on Crime

Trump accepted the Republican nomination in a Thursday night speech at the RNC that drew harsh criticism for many of its misleading and outright false talking points.

Numerous fact-checkers took Trump to task, calling out many of his claims for being “wrong,” and “inflated or misleading.”

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 Among the most hotly contested of Trump’s claims was the assertion that crime has exploded across the country.

“Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement,” Trump claimed, according to his prepared remarks, which were leaked ahead of his address. “Homicides last year increased by 17 percent in America’s 50 largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent. They are up nearly 60 percent in nearby Baltimore.”

Crime rates overall have been steadily declining for years.

“In 2015, there was an uptick in homicides in 36 of the 50 largest cities compared to the previous years. The rate did, indeed, increase nearly 17 percent, and it was the worst annual change since 1990. The homicide rate was up 54.3 percent in Washington, and 58.5 percent in Baltimore,” explained Washington Post fact checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee. “But in the first months of 2016, homicide trends were about evenly split in the major cities. Out of 63 agencies reporting to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, 32 cities saw a decrease in homicides in first quarter 2016 and 31 saw an increase.”

Ames Grawert, a counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program, said in a statement posted to the organization’s website that 2016 statistics aren’t sufficient in declaring crime rate trends. 

“Overall, crime rates remain at historic lows. Fear-inducing soundbites are counterproductive, and distract from nuanced, data-driven, and solution-oriented conversations on how to build a smarter criminal justice system in America,” Grawert said. “It’s true that some cities saw an increase in murder rates last year, and that can’t be ignored, but it’s too early to say if that’s part of a national trend.” 

When Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, was confronted with the common Republican falsehoods on crime during a Thursday interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, he claimed that the FBI’s statistics were not to be trusted given that the organization recently advised against charges in connection with Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.

“According to FBI statistics, crime rates have been going down for decades,” Tapper told Manafort. “How can Republicans make the argument that it’s somehow more dangerous today when the facts don’t back that up?”

“People don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods,” said Manafort, going on to claim that “the FBI is certainly suspect these days after what they did with Hillary Clinton.”

There was at least one notable figure who wholeheartedly embraced Trump’s fearmongering: former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. “Great Trump Speech,” tweeted Duke on Thursday evening. “Couldn’t have said it better!”

Ben Carson Claims Transgender People Are Proof of “How Absurd We Have Become”

Former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson criticized the existence of transgender people while speaking at the Florida delegation breakfast on Tuesday in Cleveland.  

“You know, we look at this whole transgender thing, I’ve got to tell you: For thousands of years, mankind has known what a man is and what a woman is. And now, all of a sudden we don’t know anymore,” said Carson, a retired neurosurgeon. “Now, is that the height of absurdity? Because today you feel like a woman, even though everything about you genetically says that you’re a man or vice versa?”

“Wouldn’t that be the same as if you woke up tomorrow morning after seeing a movie about Afghanistan or reading some books and said, ‘You know what? I’m Afghanistan. Look, I know I don’t look that way. My ancestors came from Sweden, or something, I don’t know. But I really am. And if you say I’m not, you’re a racist,’” Carson said. “This is how absurd we have become.”

When confronted with his comments during an interview with Yahoo News’ Katie Couric, Carson doubled down on his claims.“There are biological markers that tell us whether we are a male or a female,” said Carson. “And just because you wake up one day and you say, ‘I think I’m the other one,’ that doesn’t change it. Just, a leopard can’t change its spots.”

“It’s not as if they woke up one day and decided, ‘I’m going to be a male or I’m going to be a female,’” Couric countered, pointing out that transgender people do not suddenly choose to change their gender identities on a whim.

Carson made several similar comments last year while on the campaign trail.

In December, Carson criticized the suggested that allowing transgender people into the military amounted to using the armed services “as a laboratory for social experimentation.”

Carson once suggested that allowing transgender people to use the restroom that aligned with their gender identity amounted to granting them “extra rights.”

Ivanka Trump Claims Her Father Supports Equal Pay, Access to Child Care

Ivanka Trump, the nominee’s daughter, made a pitch during her speech Thursday night at the RNC for why women voters should support her father.

“There have always been men of all background and ethnicities on my father’s job sites. And long before it was commonplace, you also saw women,” Ivanka Trump said. “At my father’s company, there are more female than male executives. Women are paid equally for the work that we do and when a woman becomes a mother, she is supported, not shut out.” 

“As president, my father will change the labor laws that were put into place at a time when women were not a significant portion of the workforce. And he will focus on making quality child care affordable and accessible for all,” she continued before pivoting to address the gender wage gap. 

“Policies that allow women with children to thrive should not be novelties; they should be the norm. Politicians talk about wage equality, but my father has made it a practice at his company throughout his entire career.”

However, Trump’s stated positions on the gender wage gap, pregnancy and mothers in the workplace, and child care don’t quite add up to the picture the Trumps tried to paint at the RNC.

In 2004, Trump called pregnancy an “inconvenience” for employers. When a lawyer asked for a break during a deposition in 2011 to pump breast milk, Trump reportedly called her “disgusting.”

According to a June analysis conducted by the Boston Globe, the Trump campaign found that men who worked on Trump’s campaign “made nearly $6,100, or about 35 percent more [than women during the April payroll]. The disparity is slightly greater than the gender pay gap nationally.”

A former organizer for Trump also filed a discrimination complaint in January, alleging that she was paid less than her male counterparts.

When Trump was questioned about equal pay during a campaign stop last October, he did not outline his support for policies to address the issue. Instead, Trump suggested that, “You’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job.” Though he had previously stated that men and women who do the same job should be paid the same during an August 2015 interview on MSNBC, he also cautioned that determining whether people were doing the same jobs was “tricky.”

Trump has been all but completely silent on child care so far on the campaign trail. In contrast, Clinton released an agenda in May to address the soaring costs of child care in the United States.

Ivanka’s claims were not the only attempt that night by Trump’s inner circle to explain why women voters should turn to the Republican ticket. During an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Manafort said that women would vote for the Republican nominee because they “can’t afford their lives anymore.”

“Many women in this country feel they can’t afford their lives, their husbands can’t afford to be paying for the family bills,” claimed Manafort. “Hillary Clinton is guilty of being part of the establishment that created that problem. They’re going to hear the message. And as they hear the message, that’s how we are going to appeal to them.”

What Else We’re Reading

Vox’s Dara Lind explained how “Trump’s RNC speech turned his white supporters’ fear into a weapon.”

Now that Mike Pence is the Republican nominee for vice president, Indiana Republicans have faced “an intense, chaotic, awkward week of brazen lobbying at the breakfast buffet, in the hallways and on the elevators” at the convention as they grapple with who will run to replace the state’s governor, according to the New York Times.

“This is a party and a power structure that feels threatened with extinction, willing to do anything for survival,” wrote Rebecca Traister on Trump and the RNC for New York Magazine. “They may not love Trump, but he is leading them precisely because he embodies their grotesque dreams of the restoration of white, patriarchal power.”

Though Trump spent much of the primary season denouncing big money in politics, while at the RNC, he courted billionaires in hopes of having them donate to supporting super PACs.

Michael Kranish reported for the Washington Post that of the 2,472 delegates at the RNC, it is estimated that only 18 were Black.

Cosmopolitan highlighted nine of the most sexist things that could be found at the convention.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) asked, “Where are these contributions that have been made” by people of color to civilization?