Illinois, Maryland, and Washington state are replacing the millions clinics will lose when they exit Title X after the Trump administration imposes its domestic “gag rule.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) announced in late July that the state would ensure Title X clinics receive state funds, shielding the health-care facilities from complying with the Trump administration’s “gag rule.”
Scott Olson / Getty Images

A handful of states are withdrawing from Title X and replacing the funding so reproductive health clinics won’t have to comply with the Trump administration’s restrictions on the family planning program that serves 4 million low-income patients across the United States.

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood Federation of America will withdraw its clinics nationwide from Title X if the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit doesn’t intervene before August 19. The national nonprofit will lose around $60 million by withdrawing from the program, according to the Washington Post.

The restrictions, which went partly into effect in mid-July, ban federal family planning money from going to health-care clinics that refer patients for abortion care. Just a few days later, the administration created confusion by announcing that it “does not intend to bring enforcement actions” against health-care clinics making “good-faith efforts” to comply with the restrictions.

The National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association called the notice “wholly insufficient.” It said in a statement, “It’s just absurd to think that a few bullet points amount to guidance.” Michelle Kuppersmith, director of Equity Forward, in a statement said the administration’s mixed signals on Title X are “meant to hinder clinics’ ability to operate and encourage health care providers to drop out of the grant program.”

Another domestic “gag rule” restriction that requires clinics maintain physical separation between abortion services and all other health-care services will go into effect next year.

Three states have already stepped in to compensate clinics for the lost federal funding. Officials in other states have said they would assist clinics but haven’t yet clarified their plans. Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) said in 2018 that the state would reject Title X funding if the administration’s “gag rule” went into effect, and on Friday a spokesperson for the Hawaii State Department of Health said the department is “discussing options and evaluating alternatives for funding services affected by the changes to Title X requirements.” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) also pledged last year to withdraw from the family planning program if the rule survived court challenges. A spokesperson for the New York State Department of Health told Rewire.News, “We are thoughtfully weighing options that will allow organizations to provide access to critical services without interruption.”


Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) said July 18 that the state would reject the federal government’s family planning funding, allowing the state’s Title X clinics to continue providing the full spectrum of reproductive health care.

The Illinois Department of Public Health will step in and fund the Title X clinics, which will lose around $2.4 million when the state leaves the program, according to NPR. That money does not include Planned Parenthood of Illinois, which had already announced its plans to reject the Title X dollars. Planned Parenthood served more than 50,000 “female contraceptive patients” in 2015 at its Title X-funded health centers in the state, according to a statement from the organization.

“We will not let that stand in the state of Illinois,” Pritzker said, NPR reported last month. “Under my administration, Illinois will always stand with women and protect their fundamental right to choose. While I’m committed to bringing as many federal dollars to the state as possible, I refuse to sacrifice our values and allow vital care to lapse. In this state, we trust women to make their own health care decisions and will guarantee access to reproductive health care for all of our residents.”


After the administration indicated through its early staffing decisions that it would go after Title X funding, Maryland’s Democratic-held legislature passed a 2017 law to create a state-funded family planning program to help fill any potential gap. Since then, the legislature has continued to support the state’s Title X clinics.

Maryland Democrats passed legislation this year that would fund family planning clinics at the same level as last year despite the state’s loss of federal funding. The move will cost around $4.2 million starting in fiscal year 2021.

The state’s Title X clinics serve more than 67,000 female contraceptive clients, according to 2015 data from the Guttmacher Institute.

“Maryland is very fortunate that our legislators safeguard a woman’s right to access family planning services,” Karen Nelson, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, told the Associated Press in April. “Our state has to step in far too often to fulfill the responsibility of the federal government.”


Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) announced in late July that the state would ensure Title X clinics receive state funds, shielding the health-care facilities from complying with the Trump administration’s “gag rule.”

Officials said the state began reimbursing Title X clinics July 15, shortly after the administration started enforcing the restriction. More than half of the people who benefit from Title X funding in Washington state live at or below the poverty line, an Inslee spokesperson told Rewire.News.

Title X funds allowed 18,000 people in Washington state to avoid unintended pregnancies in 2017, according to the state’s lawsuit against the “gag rule.” The lawsuit calls the rule “arbitrary and capricious.”

“It reverses longstanding policies and agency interpretations of Title X with no rational explanation or evidentiary support, backtracks from evidence-backed standards of care included in HHS’s own Program Requirements and guidance, and adds unsupported, illogical, and counterproductive new requirements, while ignoring contrary record evidence and failing to consider the grave public health harms the new requirements will cause,” the lawsuit says.

State officials have been among the most vocal opponents of the restrictions.

“The Trump Administration’s effort to muzzle doctors and keep patients from receiving medically sound care and advice is simply not something we will tolerate in Washington state,” Inslee said in a statementshortly after the Ninth Circuit gave the green light to the rule.

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson called the family planning restrictions “outrageous and unlawful.”

This piece will be updated as more states announce plans to circumvent Trump’s domestic “gag rule.”


HOUSTON — The circle of students sat quietly, scribbling down answers to the prompt they’d just been given: “Write down three similarities between the Holocaust and abortion.”

After a minute or two, they launched into discussion. Innocent people were, and are, being killed, they said. The Nazis discriminated against the Jews, just as “the unborn” face discrimination today. Bystanders aren’t doing enough to stand up against injustice.

Sarah Ruiz, the Texas A&M University senior leading the group, added another idea. Sometimes, she said, people who support abortion rights will say they wouldn’t get an abortion but they don’t want to stop anyone else from getting one.

“You can draw parallels … to slavery, to child abuse, to animal cruelty,” she told her students, as other clusters of students debated the same topic nearby. “‘Well, I wouldn’t kill my neighbor. But what you do is up to you. I wouldn’t beat my child. But what you do is up to you. I don’t like slavery, don’t own a slave.’

“You can plug in literally anything into that.”

As Ruiz spoke, her voice soft and solemn, her pupils nodded along, their faces determined. This was, after all, very serious business: If they could convince someone that abortion in the United States is a holocaust, they might be able to keep them from getting one — and save a life.

Welcome to pro-life boot camp.


Madeline Hill listens to James Steward, one of the speakers at the training. (Photo by Madeleine Peters)

In June, 24 Texas college students spent a week of their summer break at a hotel in downtown Houston, learning how to become anti-abortion activists through the Dr. Joseph Graham Fellowship for College Pro-Life Leaders. The seven-day training is run by Texas Right to Life, the Lone Star State’s preeminent anti-abortion group. Afterward, in exchange for 50 hours of activism, participants will receive a $1,000 scholarship every semester.

This school year alone, Texas Right to Life is investing almost $100,000 in new students, between these fellows and 25 others who participated in a training in July. (It’s their largest class since the fellowship began, in 2008.) That’s not counting the cost of the four-star hotel, students’ travel, older fellows’ scholarships, or the programs that the group runs for high school students and graduate students.

But for Texas Right to Life, it’s worth it. Because as countless speakers will remind them over the course of the week, the fellows make up the front lines of the national war over abortion rights. And with President Donald Trump in the White House, a majority-conservative Supreme Court, and a spate of abortion bans sweeping across the South, it’s a war they’ve never been closer to winning.

“Well, we are trying to save the world,” said Veronica Arnold Smither, the head of Texas Right to Life’s education division, with a wry smile and a snap of her fingers, as if to punctuate the obvious.

The group is just one of many that are training students; anti-abortion summits, conferences, and camps similar to this one, run by both national and state-level groups, dot the country.

“Life begins at the beginning. There’s no arbitrary line here. So it’s black and white. It’s yes or no. It’s life or death.”

These ground soldiers in Houston don’t look much like the stereotypical anti-abortion activists angrily picketing clinics on a Sunday. They’re polite, curious, and generally like all other college students, chatting together about struggling to wake up early and who Hannah should end up with on “The Bachelorette.” In interviews, some declined to label themselves as “Republicans”; some said they support traditionally Democratic causes, like gun control and ending the death penalty.

Sure, many were Christian. Breakfast always included a group prayer, and talk of Jesus saturated speakers’ lectures. One young woman floated away from her conversations with a VICE News reporter with a sincere trill of “Blessings!” But the fellows regularly insisted that their anti-abortion beliefs were not rooted in their religion, and over the course of the week, they were not taught to argue that God believes abortion is a sin.

Rather, they practiced using secular, biology-based arguments to convince skeptics that life begins at conception. They listened to lectures that traded on the terminology and tenets of social justice causes. In short, they learned how to harness their enemies’ weapons of choice, including feminism.

“We’re not 40-something-year-old women with 11 children and a long braid. We’re not a rich white man making policy,” said Therese Delgado, an incoming freshman at the University of North Texas with impressive posture and a fondness for cool, witchy black heels. “We’re a diverse body of kids — and just past kids — who have these beliefs, who are living in the modern era, and affected by all the issues that affect young people today. But we happen to have these beliefs on top of that.”


Liz Miller and Jordan Marget. (Photo by Madeleine Peters)

By the standards of the anti-abortion movement, these fellows’ beliefs were often uncompromising. Some do not support abortions even in the case of rape or incest, and Texas Right to Life taught them that common hormonal birth control methods, like the pill, the patch, and IUDs, could induce abortions.

Such attitudes set these students apart from many of their liberal-leaning Generation Z peers. In a survey this year, 62% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 told Gallup they consider themselves “pro-choice”; just 33% said they’re “pro-life.” Thirty-six percent of young Americans said they thought abortion should be “legal under any circumstances” — more than any other polled age group.

On the first afternoon of the June training, a Sunday, a group of fellows wearing royal-blue polos with a red Texas Right to Life logo settled onto lobby couches. They’d all met just minutes before but quickly found themselves nodding in agreement with one another.

“It’s comforting, having people that believe the same things as you,” said Liz Miller, a rising senior at Stephen F. Austin State University. “There’s a lot of people our age that are pro-choice, and so it’s nice to have the pro-life movement be like, ‘You’re not alone.’ I stand in my truth, and I stand in this, and it’s empowering.”

Another student chimed in, “It’s nice to be around people who aren’t always arguing with you.” One laughed, and others murmured “yes,” “ yes.”

“By forming this sort of web of people at various universities, you’re attacking what is essentially a lot of the pro-choice source at the heart of it, in university campuses,” Gunnar Osteen, who will be a sophomore this fall at the University of Texas at Austin and who’s one of just four male students at the training, said later. “By forming that coalition, you’re able to effect change at a greater pace and a greater scale.”

“PRO-LIFE 101”

Throughout the week, students attended talks on subjects ranging from in vitro fertilization to the emotional consequences of abortion, as well as took field trips where they learned how to turn the lessons into action. One day, they went to a strip mall in western Houston to tour a pregnancy center, sandwiched between a liquor store and a gun shop, that hopes to convince women not to get abortions. On another trip, they gathered in a time-honored anti-abortion tradition: They prayed on the sidewalk outside a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic, for the women inside.


As the students prayed at an abortion clinic, a woman stopped to talk to Madeline Hill and Briana Arvizu. (Photo by Madeleine Peters)

They also dived into the fundamentals of effective organizing. The students studied tactics to magnify a club’s presence on campus, like consistent branding on social media and writing a comprehensive mission statement.

All these activities were in the service of one mission, laid out on the first day of training, in a talk called “Pro-Life 101”: “I don’t want abortion to just be illegal; I want it to be unthinkable,” Austin Cruz, a theology teacher at a local Catholic school, told the group.

That motto was reiterated endlessly throughout the week. During an exercise on body language when talking to strangers, Arnold Smither lobbed a question at the group: “What would you say is our ultimate, absolute goal as pro-lifers?”

Miller immediately rose onto her toes to answer, thrusting her arm — complete with a bright-blue rubber bracelet that read “PRO-LIFE” — into the air.

“To make abortion unthinkable,” she said promptly. It was, of course, the correct answer.

“They’re longing for the bigger picture,” Arnold Smither said of her program’s fellows, in an interview. “They’re longing for the long-term strategy. And this training provides that. It provides them with science, history, political strategy, dialogue techniques, so that they can see the big goal at the end and learn, ‘OK, this is what we’re actually going for.’”

Abortion foes’ plan has never been a secret: They want to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. For years, they took a slow-but-steady approach, passing laws that gradually gnawed away at Roe’s protections. Between 2010, when Republicans seized majorities in many state legislatures, and 2018, they managed to enact 424 restrictions on abortion around the country — more than a third of all the anti-abortion laws passed since 1973.


Sarah Ruiz. (Photo by Madeleine Peters)

But after Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court late last year, Republican state legislators went for Roe’s jugular. In 2019, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky, and Ohio all passed laws that could ban abortion at as early as six weeks, before many people even know they’re pregnant. Missouri outlawed abortion as early as eight weeks.

A new law in Alabama bans all abortions except in cases where a pregnancy poses a “serious health risk” to the mother. There are no exceptions for rape or incest, and a doctor who performs the procedure could be imprisoned for up to 99 years.

None of these bans are in effect, thanks in part to court challenges. But if the surge of legislation alerted many to these activists’ long-gestating crusade, it also fueled anti-abortion young adults’ faith that Roe could be overturned within their lifetimes.

As long as they just work hard enough.


The urgency of the mission was made clear on the first full day of activities. Texas Right to Life kicked things off with two documentaries about the Holocaust, including one produced by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. While the training’s administrators stressed that abortion in the United States is not the same as the Holocaust wrought by Nazi Germany, they do see useful parallels.

After the videos, Arnold Smither walked students through a short history of post–World War I eugenics.

“One of the big proponents of eugenics in the United States, pre–World War II, was Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood,” she told them. “So it’s easy to see the slippery slope.”

This is true: Sanger courted eugenicists to her birth control movement by selling her mission as helping to rid the country of “the weeds” of humanity and “[breeding] a race of human thoroughbreds.” What’s less true is how that idea was echoed in a discussion minutes later, when one student said Sanger had gotten “a lot of her ideas from Hitler.”

The Holocaust Memorial Museum says it “unequivocally rejects efforts to create analogies between the Holocaust and other events, whether historical or contemporary,” but this remains a common comparison within anti-abortion circles. The text of the Alabama near-total ban declares, “More than 50 million babies have been aborted in the United States since the Roe decision in 1973, more than three times the number who were killed in German death camps, Chinese purges, Stalin’s gulags, Cambodian killing fields, and the Rwandan genocide combined.”

By the time students show up at the Texas Right to Life training, they already know what they believe, but they want to be able to wield those beliefs to change hearts and minds. That’s never easy to do, but it’s especially perilous when you’re young, want friends, and are likely surrounded by classmates who disagree with you. So, much of the training focuses on learning how to engineer what one speaker called “courageous conversations and compassionate conversations.”

Spread out across the mirrored ballroom and second-floor hallway where many of the talks took place, students repeatedly role-played “tabling,” as though they had set up a table on campus to talk to students about abortion rights. They were encouraged to ask one another questions, to dig into any potential gaps between somebody’s support for abortion rights and why they support them — and then, hopefully, widen those gaps, until there’s enough room for doubt.


Desireah Rodman. (Photo by Zach Caldwell)

During one practice, Texas Right to Life education associate Rachel Bush stepped in with an encouraging smile after one fellow missed an opportunity to ask another why she doesn’t believe life starts at conception.

“Ask a follow-up question,” Bush advised. “Well, ‘why do you think — why do you pick that point?’ Because that’s gonna tell you a lot too.”

“So you can keep bringing it back to the questions, to get her to think, because sometimes people honestly just have not thought out their opinion,” she went on, adding, “And you’re building the relationship, too. So they feel like they can trust you, and you’re not just trying to force them to believe what you believe.”

Through this practice, students develop a small arsenal of responses to common pro-abortion rights arguments, though Arnold Smither said in an interview that they always encourage students to do more critical thinking and research on their own.

“After every talk, we give the students an opportunity to regurgitate what they learned with their partners,” she said. “They’re looking at their notes and saying, ‘OK, if someone were to ask me, what do I do about these hard cases?’” (Such as rape, incest, or a pregnancy that threatens the life of the woman.) “So the students know how to respond to that, and respond with compassion and science and facts.”


Thirty years old, 5’2”, and four months pregnant during the training, Arnold Smither is unfailingly unflappable, even when chasing after her young son, who loved toddling around the hotel. But hit on the right topic, like biology, and Arnold Smither’s passion for her cause cracks through.

“There are seven criteria for a living organism and a human zygote — one-celled zygote — has all seven of them,” she exclaimed, curling her index finger and thumb to demonstrate just how small that zygote might be. “A human being has all seven of them from the beginning, so life begins at the beginning. There’s no arbitrary line here. So it’s black and white. It’s yes or no. It’s life or death.”


Veronica Arnold Smither, Texas Right to Life’s education director, led discussions for students like Austin Kendrick. (Photo by Zach Caldwell)

Texas Right to Life is far from the only anti-abortion group trying to ground its arguments in science. This year, the theme of the March for Life was “Unique from Day One,” based on the idea that a fertilized fetus has its own individual DNA. The six-week bans on abortion have spread thanks to Faith2Action, a nonprofit that bills itself as the “birthplace of the Heartbeat bill.” Its model legislation bans abortion after a “heartbeat” is detected, which it calls a “key medical predictor” that a fetus will be born alive. Versions of the “heartbeat” bill have been introduced in about two-dozen state legislatures, an Arizona Republic–USA Today investigation found.

While those six-week bans are not yet in effect, laws that would ban abortion after 20 weeks are, including in Texas. Groups like the powerful nonprofit Americans United for Life have pushed those kinds of restrictions; AUL’s model legislation instructs states to ban abortion “because of the pain felt by an unborn child upon being aborted.” (Texas Right to Life backed its state’s version of that ban.)

Americans United for Life literally writes the book on how to restrict abortion access, through its annual “pro-life playbook” of model state legislation. The Arizona Republic–USA Today report dubbed the group “the most prolific author of copycat abortion legislation” in the United States.

“If you’re engaging in dialogue with someone who does not believe in the same truth as you believe, that does not take the Bible as word, that maybe isn’t the same religion as you, and you’re Bible-thumping, you have no ground to stand on,” explained Ruiz, the Texas A&M senior who led one of the discussions about the Holocaust. Now in the second year of her fellowship, she also works as an intern in Texas Right to Life’s education department.


Sarah Ruiz holds her infant daughter as Therese Delgado looks on. (Photo by Zach Caldwell)

Last year, Ruiz stopped taking the injectable contraceptive Depo-Provera. Like most hormonal birth control, “the shot” primarily works by stopping ovulation, but it can also potentially block an egg from becoming fertilized or implanting in a woman’s uterus. Ruiz believes that a fertilized egg is already a person — and so the shot, in her mind, could cause an abortion.

Weeks after she stopped taking it, Ruiz attended her own first-year fellowship training. On the Friday night of that week, with just one day left in the program, Ruiz took a pregnancy test.

It was positive.

“I wanted to scream it at the rooftops!” Ruiz said, clapping her hands in excitement. “Like, oh my God, we’re at a pro-life camp, a pro-life fellowship, and there’s life inside me! I just wanted to tell everyone.”

Ruiz will graduate college in December. Her daughter is now five months old.

The creation of new life is much more of a gray area than this kind of rhetoric would suggest. Medically speaking, a pregnancy starts when a fertilized egg is implanted in the uterine lining, so blocking that egg from implantation is not an abortion.

At six weeks, a doctor can’t detect what’s typically described as a heartbeat — the thud of valves closing — because the fetus doesn’t have a fully formed heart. Instead, they can find the “electrically induced flickering of a portion of the fetal tissue that will become the heart,” Ted Anderson, president of the 58,000-member-strong American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), told the Guardian earlier this year. While this flickering is usually a good sign that a pregnancy is healthy, it’s not necessarily more important than other milestones in a pregnancy.

Fetuses also cannot feel pain until the onset of viability, generally placed at around 24 weeks, according to ACOG (which has taken to titling its press releases about abortion “Facts Are Important”).

Texas Right to Life staffers say something is alive if it’s composed of cells; can pass along hereditary traits; has a metabolism; maintains homeostasis; and can grow, reproduce, and respond to its environment. But even the concept of life itself is, kind of absurdly, unresolved. While scientists do sometimes create similar lists of features that living organisms possess, there is no single, widely accepted definition of “life” or the qualities that prove something is “alive.”

At the same time, life is far more expansive than humans tend to think; biologists universally consider bacteria to be alive.


Several of the sessions and lectures were closed to VICE News, including ones on topics like birth control, in vitro fertilization, and Planned Parenthood’s business model. But of the public sessions, none generated more wide-eyed fervor than Aimee Murphy’s.

Murphy arrived in Houston looking, well, cool. Her dark hair was streaked with vibrant blue and teal, and she just happened to mention that she has a tattoo (twice). Before her talk, called “Embracing the ‘F Word’: Learning to Love Pro-Life Feminism,” Murphy shrugged off a jacket bearing a patch demanding, “RESTORATIVE JUSTICE NOW.”

“I personally am a large clump of cells standing in solidarity with small clumps of cells, as long as they’re human,” Murphy told the students during her talk. She peppered it with phrases that wouldn’t sound too out of place on your average feminist Tumblr, but with an anti-abortion twist.


Kateri Remmes. (Photo by Madeleine Peters)

People believe that abortion will help them because of “the patriarchal structures which insist that the womb-less male body is the default,” Murphy said, and that treat pregnancy like a disease. Feminism that supports abortion rights also really “reinforces structures of inequality, discrimination, and violence,” while abortion deepens people’s “implicit bias,” ageism, and ableism against what Murphy calls the “preborn.”

According to Murphy’s logic, the fellows in the room all benefit from “born privilege,” in the same way white people enjoy white privilege.

“We’re learning that we can be powerful as a pregnant woman. We can be powerful as a mother.”

The students, fluent in the lingua franca of social justice, were enraptured. They may have grown up watching celebrities like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift declare themselves feminists, but their opposition to abortion has seemingly locked them out of joining that party. Murphy offered them not only an invitation but also historical proof that, apparently, they were the real feminists all along.

“The first wave of feminists in the U.S. were almost unanimously pro-life,” Murphy said, referring to the activists who primarily worked to secure women the right to vote in the 19th century and early 20th. “Because they understood that saying that women were less than men or were inherently disempowered through maternity was a form of the patriarchy’s insidious web into our culture.”

Second-wave feminists, in the 1960s through the ’80s, championed the sexual revolution; their luminaries signed a 1972 letter declaring, “We have had abortions.” By highlighting first-wavers’ opposition to abortion, the feminism of their descendents is framed as in need of a course correction.

It’s a seductive pitch, and Murphy isn’t the only member of the modern anti-abortion movement who’s making it. After all, one of the most powerful anti-abortion groups in the United States is the Susan B. Anthony List, named after the famous suffragette.

“We do want women in the workplace, because we want equal rights, because we’re feminists,” said Erin Quinn, a rising junior at the University of Dallas who said she was a feminist before Murphy’s talk. When she talks about being pro-life, her green eyes warm and her voice grows breathy. She’s alight with purpose.

“I love it. I feel like we’re thriving in this,” Quinn added. “Because we’re learning that we can be powerful as a pregnant woman. We can be powerful as a mother.”


Shiva Baradaran, Kateri Remmes, and Erin Quinn. (Photo by Zach Caldwell)

The abortion wars have long been portrayed as a standoff between the side that argues it is morally wrong to abort unborn children and the side that argues that reproductive choice is fundamental to women’s liberty. Anti-abortion advocates often fend off accusations that they’re merely “pro-birth” because they’re not focused on advancing policies that benefit infants and mothers, like parental leave or lessening maternal mortality.

“Typically, it’s Republicans who are like, ‘Abortion’s wrong,’ but typically it’s Democrats who are like, ‘No, we need to pour money into Medicaid, into food stamps, into WIC,” said Ruiz, referring to a federal assistance program for low-income mothers and children. Both parties, she said, should “get their heads on straight and come together.”

“Why can’t we save babies in the womb but also support mothers that maybe, at this point in life, don’t have resources? Like, she shouldn’t have to end the life of her child to provide food for herself and for her other children.”

At the training, the speakers and fellows tried to prove that they were women’sreal champions, because they don’t want to penalize them for becoming mothers. They talked about giving scholarships to pregnant and parenting students, about running diaper drives. In a talk entitled “Post-Abortive Counseling,” students moaned in sympathy as a local therapist spoke about helping women recover from “post-abortion syndrome,” whose symptoms were compared to a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder. (In 2008, an American Psychological Association task force concluded that one first-trimester abortion is no riskier to a woman’s mental health than carrying a pregnancy to term.)

Though past generations of activists might have lurked outside clinics with posters of aborted fetuses and yelled “murderer!” at women who walked in, those kinds of tactics disgust many of the fellows today. When asked about them, Miller groaned. “That’s what also makes pro-life people look bad. Oh no, I hate that.”

“That is not gonna change their minds,” she explained. “That’s gonna make them more scared. It’s gonna make them worse. And then they’re gonna go to Planned Parenthood and they’re gonna be like, ‘Oh, we can help you, like, you know, blah blah, we can take care of it.’”


Shiva Baradaran, Ana Leal, Madeline Hill, and Kateri Remmes practice “tabling,” or talking to peers about abortion. (Photo by Madeleine Peters)

Toward the beginning of Murphy’s talk, she asked how many fellows considered themselves feminists. Only a handful raised their palms. But afterward, when Murphy asked how many people were now at least comfortable with the idea of feminism, nearly the entire room threw up their hands. Students mobbed Murphy, thanking her profusely for her speech and wondering aloud whether she could come speak at their schools.

Miller, for example, is all in.

“When [Murphy] said the nonviolence part, I was like, ‘OK, I’m here for this. I like this,’” she said. “It really is empowerment and equality, and I think that’s really, really important.”


The fellows might talk about changing the culture around abortion, but the Texas Right to Life has a clear legislative agenda. And it’s got the deep pockets and electoral firepower to turn it into reality.

A state affiliate of the powerful National Right to Life Committee, its political action committee spent about $3.5 million during the 2018 election cycle. It’s helped steer millions toward Texas’ controversial “Alternatives to Abortion” program, which uses state dollars to persuade women to not get abortions.

While Texas Right to Life hasn’t endorsed any “heartbeat” bills, it has successfully shepherded abortion restrictions like House Bill 2, which halved the number of abortion clinics in Texas, banned most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and ultimately triggered a historic Supreme Court battle. This state legislative session, Texas Right to Life deployed a record six full-time lobbyists to Austin.

It’s a comprehensive operation, and fellows are encouraged to throw themselves into it. A few weeks before the training in downtown Houston, second-year fellows in the Texas Right to Life program traveled to the Capitol to practice lobbying their representatives to fight abortion.


Victoria Ramos-Mata, Gunnar Osteen, and Midori Pedroza give tabling another shot. (Photo by Madeleine Peters)

Ruiz was among those fellows. Despite her qualms about the Republican Party, ultimately, she said, “I personally vote first on abortion. So I will not vote for someone who is pro-abortion.”

The fellowship involves other perks, like an all-expenses-paid pilgrimage to the March for Life, a massive annual gathering of anti-abortion activists in Washington, D.C., that concludes with a protest on the steps of the Supreme Court. While the March doesn’t track the number of student groups who show up, it’s impossible to miss the scores of young people holding identical black-and-white signs that announce, “I am the pro-life generation.”

That’s the “signature sign” of Students for Life, which has nearly doubled its number of chapters over the last eight years. Today, it has more than 1,100 chapters, in all 50 states.

The March for Life also illustrates just how far the lessons taught in this Houston hotel have already travelled. Pull a student out of the herd to ask why they’re marching in Washington and they’ll tell you the same thing the Texas Right to Life fellows are repeating nearly 1,500 miles away: They want to make abortion not just illegal, but unthinkable.

But while Texas Right to Life and its fellows want to reinvent what being “pro-life” looks and sounds like, there are certain things that remain nonnegotiable. They might grimace at the protesters who yell at women outside Planned Parenthood, but they still go, too.

The day the fellows planned to stand outside a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic, Houston’s sweltering humidity and sunshine gave way to pouring rain. The fellows went anyway. Careful not to block the street or the clinic’s driveway, they stood on the sidewalk, huddling over rosaries and stretching their arms to the sky. As they sang hymns, one young woman’s crystalline voice soared above the patter of rain.

“We’re praying and just staying in solidarity with the women who are going in there, trying to show support, so they don’t feel like they have to go through an abortion,” said Kateri Remmes, a rising junior at the University of Dallas. She serves as president of her school club Crusaders for Life.

“It’s a life-or-death situation in this case, so I take it pretty seriously.”


At the end of the training, the students took a group photo before heading out to dinner with the donors. (Photo by Madeleine Peters)

Cover: Students spent hours learning how to talk to strangers about abortion, right down to making sure they had welcoming body language. (Photo by Zach Caldwell.)


Even in states most hostile to reproductive rights, less than one quarter of respondents favor a total ban on abortion.

“Support for complete bans is not there, even in the south, even in the most conservative states,” Natalie Jackson, PRRI research director, told Rewire.News.
Rena Schild /

Public backing of draconian abortion restrictions remains low, with no state having more than 23 percent support for a total ban, according to a recent poll by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), a nonpartisan research organization.

Although the overall result—58 percent support abortion being legal in all or most circumstances—mirrors the split reported by pollsters for decades, the PRRI poll is unique in that it includes a significant sample of people in each state. This reveals that even in states most hostile to abortion rights, less than one-quarter of respondents in favor a total ban.

“Support for complete bans is not there, even in the South, even in the most conservative states,” Natalie Jackson, PRRI research director, told Rewire.News.

The PRRI polling comes three months after the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that support for “heartbeat” banslaws that end legal abortion about six weeks into pregnancyplummeted when respondents were told what the laws actually do.

As reproductive rights advocates often point out, even states often thought of as conservative include significant numbers of people who are least able to travel long distances or comply with onerous and medically unnecessary requirements like forced waiting periods.

The disconnect partly explains why so many states that enacted near-total abortion bans this year also have laws to suppress voter turnout. For example, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) used his position as secretary of state when running for governor last year to purge voter rolls, delay voter registrations, and accuse Democrats of hacking without evidence. After defeating Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams in 2018, Kemp signed a near-total abortion ban in March 2019.

“These results demonstrate that the Republican-controlled legislatures who have passed state laws that amount to a virtual ban on abortion are out of touch not just with Americans overall but with residents of their own states and members of their own party,” PRRI CEO and founder Robert P. Jones said in a statement.

Because of the large sample size, the PRRI survey was able to cover a broader variety of religious faiths than most studies. While Christianity is associated with lower support for abortion, the same doesn’t hold true for other faiths.

“There’s kind of an assumption that religious equals more conservative,” Jackson said. “Particularly, the non-Christian religious, move in the opposite direction.”

A majority of Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, New Age, and Unitarian Universalist respondents supported legal abortion in all or most cases. Unitarian Universalists, had the highest level of support, at 83 percent.

The survey was partly funded by Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock in New York, as part of $50,000 they gave to PRRI. The organization gives money to a variety of civic and progressive causes, including $50,000 to Planned Parenthood of Nassau County and Planned Parenthood of Hudson Peconic.

Even within Christianity, opinions vary on abortion rights by race and denomination. White and Hispanic evangelical protestants have the lowest levels of support for legal abortion, at 30 percent and 32 percent, respectively, while Black non-evangelical protestants have the highest, at 67 percent.

While faiths other than Christianity are each a small sliver of the population, they collectively make up five percent of the population, or about 16 million people, according to a 2016 Gallup poll. The PRRI study suggests an additional explanation for the disconnect between residents and legislators in states that have passed bans on abortion: anti-abortion Republican voters seem more likely to treat abortion as a litmus test than pro-choice Democratic voters.

The PRRI poll complements existing research. Pew, another organization focused on religion and policy, has polled Americans on abortion for years, consistently finding between 55 percent and 60 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Gallup polls typically find that about 78 percent of Americans think that abortion should be legal in some or all circumstances. The results are also largely confirmed by polls that approach the question using different models.

The PRRI survey showed that people ages 18 to 29 “have changed their opinion to be more supportive (19%) rather than opposed (10%) to abortion by nearly a margin of two to one,” while other age groups show “more balanced changes.”

Avalanche Strategy, a progressive research organization, released a survey in June that found 72 percent of Americans are opposed to regulating abortion. Twenty-nine percent are personally uncomfortable with abortion rights but prioritize freedom and are against government preventing people from choosing abortion care. Only 26 percent are both uncomfortable with abortion and want abortion care to be illegal. 

The survey uses a mix of traditional close-ended polling questions and more open-ended that the company then analyzes. Tovah Paglaro, COO of Avalanche Strategy, described their approach as “human-in-the-loop.” Initially, experts categorize a small number of the responses, then train a computer to mimic their analysis on a larger scale, which is then verified. Paglaro told Rewire.News that the open-ended approach helped uncover what they call the “freedom first” group—voters who are uncomfortable with abortion but against government limiting the right.

“The freedom first segment is a little different,” she said. “They don’t necessarily identify as pro-choice the same way…They want to protect individual freedom to choose.”


Pro-choice organisation opposes medics being forced to report women to the police

A protest in February against Northern Ireland’s strict abortion laws. Photograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian

A new pro-choice doctors’ organisation has been established in Northern Ireland to defend physician-patient confidentiality over the use of banned abortion pills.

Doctors for Choice Northern Ireland said they were opposed to healthcare professionals in the region being forced to report women and girls to the police if they procured abortion pills.

A Northern Irish woman faces a criminal prosecution later this year for buying abortion pills online for her then 15-year-old daughter. The woman, who cannot be named to protect her daughter’s identity, is accused of two charges of unlawfully procuring and supplying abortion pills in 2013.

At present, doctors and medical professionals in Northern Ireland who find out their patients have used abortion pills could be prosecuted if they fail to report them to the authorities. In their first ever statement, Doctors for Choice Northern Ireland said no one should be prosecuted for buying or using abortion pills.

The organisation said: “Whilst abortion pills are safe and are widely prescribed in the same form and dose to treat miscarriage within the hospital setting in Northern Ireland, some people can experience complications such as heavy bleeding or infection.

“We encourage anyone who has taken abortion pills outside a hospital setting to not delay seeking medical assistance or attending Accident and Emergency should any complications, such as heavy bleeding or becoming unwell, arise. A delay in treating heavy bleeding or infection can put a person’s health and life at risk.”

The group said the issue put the patient-doctor bond of trust at risk.
“We believe that doctors have a duty of care and confidentiality to their patients and do not believe that healthcare professionals should report patients to the police for taking abortion pills. Patients should be able to trust their doctor to respect their confidentiality and act in their best interests. The current legislation puts doctors in a difficult position and erodes and undermines the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship,” the pro-choice lobby group said.

A spokesperson for Doctors for Choice Northern Ireland said recent prosecutions and referrals to the Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland of women and girls who procured abortion pills could deter patients from seeking urgent emergency medical help.

They said: “Under the current law in Northern Ireland, we understand why some people would be reluctant to disclose to a healthcare professional if they have taken abortion pills … the current law is untenable in that it is a barrier to compassionate care and can deter patients from attending accident and emergency promptly.”

Northern Ireland’s strict anti-abortion regime is set to change if by 22 October this year there has been no return to devolved government in Belfast.

Last month MPs at Westminster voted by 332 votes to 99 to support legislation proposed by Labour’s Stella Creasy in July. The vote extended the same abortion rights for women in Great Britain to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland was the only region of the UK where abortion was still illegal and the 1967 Abortion Act did not apply.

The only way left to block abortion reform would be for the restoration of power-sharing government and for local parties to take control of legislation dealing with issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. The DUP, the largest party in the last power-sharing Stormont assembly, has used parliamentary vetoes to block abortion reform.

Creasy and her allies pushed forward the abortion reform legislation in July because the Stormont assembly had not sat for more than two years since powersharing between the DUP and Sinn Fein collapsed.

Pro-choice MPs like Creasy argued that Northern Irish women could no longer afford to wait for local politicians to reach agreement to resurrect power-sharing, and then possibly agree to reforming the region’s strict anti-abortion regime.

It is unclear yet how the new regime would operate and if GPs for instance would be able to prescribe abortion pills legally after the new legislation is enacted.


Moving ahead despite objections, the Trump administration on Friday set a timetable for federally funded family clinics to comply with a new rule that bars them from referring women for abortions.

The action is part of a series of efforts to remake government policy on reproductive health to please conservatives who are a key part of President Donald Trump’s political base. Religious conservatives see the family planning program as providing an indirect subsidy to Planned Parenthood, which runs family planning clinics and is also a major abortion provider.

The administration’s move came as Planned Parenthood is threatening to leave the Title X family planning program over the restrictions, and a federal court in San Francisco plans to hear arguments in a lawsuit to block the regulation.

The Department of Health and Human Services sent notices to program participants saying they must certify by Sep. 18 that they’re complying with most major provisions of the rule. Plans on how the clinics intend to comply are due earlier, by Aug. 19.

In addition to the ban on abortion referrals, the rule’s short-term requirements include financial separation from facilities that provide abortion, designating abortion counseling as optional instead of standard practice, and limiting which staff members can discuss abortion with patients. Clinics have until next March to separate their office space and examination rooms from the physical facilities of providers that offer abortions.

Known as Title X, the federal family planning program serves about 4 million women a year. The government distributes about $260 million a year in state grants to keep the program running. Many low-income women also get basic health care from the clinics. Organizations representing the clinics say the administration’s rule violates basic ethical requirements that medical providers fully inform patients of their options.

HHS said Friday it will work individually with clinics making a “good-faith” effort to comply. The agency also said it has received no official notice from providers who may be planning to drop out. Officials expect the reaction to the rule to vary considerably from state to state. Politically conservative states are likely to accept the restrictions, while in some more liberal parts of the country, state officials have signaled they’d be willing to step in so clinics can continue to make abortion referrals.

The controversy may come to a head next month. The federal appeals court in San Francisco has scheduled oral arguments the week of Sept. 23, right around the same time HHS expects the clinics to comply.

Abortion is a legal medical procedure, but federal laws prohibit the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortions except in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the woman.


Allowing women to access contraception from their pharmacist without a prescription would “dramatically improve access to essential healthcare for thousands of women”, Ireland’s main pharmacy union has said.

The Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) said being able to access oral contraception without a prescription is “at least as important” as providing contraceptives free of charge, which has been recommended by the Committee on Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

The IPU, which has made a proposal to Health Minister Simon Harris on the issue, said Mr Harris had convened a working group on access to contraception in April. A public consultation seeking submissions on the issue was launched last month by the working group.

The union said studies carried out in Oregon, the first state to allow pharmacists to independently prescribe hormonal contraception, found that in the first two years after the policy change, pharmacist prescribing of contraception averted more than 50 unintended pregnancies and saved Oregon an estimated $1.6 million (circa €1.4 million) in public costs.

It also cited a World Health Organisation recommendation in June which said “oral contraceptive pills should be made available without a prescription”.

“Not all barriers to contraception are financial, and free contraception alone may not necessarily lead to increased use,” an IPU spokesperson said.

“Financial and non-financial barriers to access are often connected; a woman who can’t afford to take time off work can’t access a free consultation with a GP, but she can often see a pharmacist in her free time.

“If the Government is sincere about improving access for all, the prescription-free element of our proposal is at least as important as the free-of-charge component.”

The public consultation closes on Monday, August 5.


NARAL is shifting its strategy to embrace the term “reproductive freedom,” which polls well with moderates and independents.

NARAL Pro-Choice America, one of the largest pro-choice organizations in the country, is changing its communications strategy amid mounting attacks on abortion rights. In an exclusive interview, the group said it will place a greater emphasis on “reproductive freedom,” a framework its leadership believes will bring together a wider swath of the population in support of safe and legal abortion. Though NARAL has used the term in its messaging before, the group has relied more heavily on terms like “reproductive rights,” and “abortion access” to talk about their cause.

The changes are the result of new research the organization commissioned from Avalanche Strategy, a consulting firm that provides groups with “a data-driven set of messaging recommendations” to reach broad constituencies. Avalanche’s findings reflect the commonly cited statistic that somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of people support abortion in the United States: According to their polling, which was conducted in May and June—the months during which several state abortion bans passed into law—72 percent of American voters support the right to the procedure.

But Avalanche’s researchers pinpointed a specific subset of those supporters whom they call the “freedom first” segment, a group that is personally opposed to abortion, but believes in other people’s right to access it free from government intervention. That group made up 29 percent of respondents.

“Freedom first” voters, their data shows, are more likely to share in feelings of anger and frustration over abortion restrictions when they’re framed as “attacks on personal freedom” and “untoward government control.” And as a group, they are more middle-of-the-road in their political orientation: They’re “likely to be conservative or liberal, but unlikely to be strongly either,” Avalanche states. In short, these are moderate voters. (The full text of Avalanche’s research appears below, with permission.)

NARAL freedom first supporters from avalanche research


“Having a deep understanding of people’s values, emotions, and perspectives helps us to continue mobilizing Americans who are intensely dedicated to abortion rights and effectively communicate with those who strongly believe that people should have the freedom to make their own decisions about pregnancy, with those they trust, free from political interference,” a NARAL spokesperson said.

NARAL spokespeople also emphasized that the new messaging is intended as a guide for the group’s members, whose language, they say, won’t be policed by the national organization—something that was called into question recently when Splinter published a leaked emailfrom the group’s deputy field director instructing field staff and volunteers not to say or write slogans such as “abortion is normal” and “abortion should be safe and legal.” (In a statement to VICE, NARAL said the email was a “mischaracterization” of the organization’s directives.)

NARAL is the second major pro-choice organization to shift its external messaging in the last month. On July 16, former Planned Parenthood President Leana Wen was pushed out after spending her eight-month tenure attempting to depoliticize abortion and frame it solely as a healthcare concern. Similar to NARAL, the group is moving away from traditional categories in the fight for abortion rights like “pro-choice” and “pro-life,” focusing instead on attacks on abortion and what it means not to have the ability to access it, according to a Planned Parenthood spokesperson.

The shake-ups at the two national organizations have some advocates worried that the de facto leaders of the pro-choice movement are scrambling to find cogent, unified messaging at a time when they need it most. Others say these changes resurface longstanding questions about who has the power to shape the overarching message of the abortion rights movement, what that message should be, and if it’s even necessary that the movement coalesce around a single rallying cry.

Advocates argue it’s not just about branding: They say influential groups like NARAL and Planned Parenthood can influence how everyday people talk and think about abortion, and how they feel when they show up at a clinic to ask for one.

“When we’re talking about these big organizations, they really need to get their shit together,” said Alison Dreith, the deputy director of Illinois’ Hope Clinic. Dreith also served as executive director of NARAL’s Missouri affiliate, and is a former organizer for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Missouri. “It is important to bring in a broader swath of the 7 in 10 people who support Roe v. Wadein, but I hope not at the expense of patients and providers, who are supposed to be at the root of what the movement is advocating for.”

The stakes are high if they miss the mark. “Messaging from organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL has the power to entrench stigma even more deeply,” added Amelia Bonow, the cofounder of Shout Your Abortion, an abortion storytelling organization.

In 2014, Bonow got an abortion at a Planned Parenthood in Seattle. She had an overwhelmingly positive experience: Later, in the viral Facebook post that led to the founding of Shout Your Abortion with writer Lindy West, Bonow wrote that getting the procedure made her happy “in a totally unqualified way.”

But the following year, Planned Parenthood became the target of a conservative conspiracy centering on heavily doctored videospurportedly exposing the group for profiting from the sale of aborted fetal tissue. As calls to defund Planned Parenthood ramped up, Bonow expected pro-choice advocates to make bold statements in defense of the largest single abortion provider in the country. Instead, she saw people reviving a common talking point: that abortion only made up 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services. Though Planned Parenthood didn’t refer to this statistic in its official response to the controversy, the group had cited it before, and in 2015, it still appeared on a fact sheet on Planned Parenthood’s website.

Bonow says she is “personally immune” to feeling bad about her abortion, but she viewed the 3 percent figure as an implicit apology for abortionthat could put shame and stigma on people seeking the procedure. “A bunch of domestic terrorists are out here saying your healthcare organization is a baby-killing chop shop and your response is ‘We don’t even do that many abortions!’” Bonow said. “That’s such a capitulation to the other side.”

She felt the same when she saw Wen assert that abortion was “not a political issue,” writing in a piece for The New Republic last month that there “has never been a worse time for the pro-choice movement to retreat in this manner.”

A Planned Parenthood spokesperson told VICE on Thursday that the organization will continue affirming that abortion is healthcare, while simultaneously confronting the way that the procedure has been politicized by its anti-choice opponents, echoing recent statementsfrom its acting president, Alexis McGill Johnson.

Bonow said she understands why groups might have a hard time messaging abortion. Even if the vast majority of people support it, abortion remains an issue that’s difficult to distill in a single tagline or slogan. And she and other pro-choice supporters say perhaps it shouldn’t be: Instead, the movement for reproductive rights may need more ways to discuss abortion, not fewer.

“I think we have a unified message—the message is abortion should be safe, legal and accessible,” said Monica Simpson, the director of SisterSong, a Georgia-based reproductive justice group. But beyond that, she said she doesn’t think it’s necessary for “large mainstream organizations to be the sole architects of the message, and then pass that down to other people.”

Simpson says SisterSong’s messaging is tailored to center the most marginalized people, who are always the first to feel the impacts of abortion restrictions. And having a reproductive justice framework—which links racial justice, economic justice, indigenous rights, and other movements to the fight for reproductive rights—means the way SisterSong’s members talk about abortion may depend on what group of people they’re talking about, recognizing that a black woman has different obstacles to accessing abortion than a white woman, for example.

“We can’t expect one single message to be the thing that works, and if we do people end up getting left out,” Simpson said.

The National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) also encourages a diversity of messages within its organization. Lindsay Rodriguez, the group’s senior communications manager, said each of NNAF’s more than 100 affiliates is free—and encouraged—to tailor messaging to the communities they serve.

“We don’t direct them to use any of our messaging at any time,” Rodriguez said. “it is something they often ask our help with, but we provide guidance and then they take it or leave it. Their messaging is very individualized, and very specific to what the fund needs and where they’re based.”

Amy Hagstrom Miller, the president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, a group of clinics in multiple states across the country, said she has long argued that much of the language groups and individuals use to advocate for abortion excludes her patients. “No one has ever come into one of our clinics and said, ‘I’m coming in to exercise my civil right to an abortion,’” she said. “That doesn’t resonate with my patients, and most pro-choice language doesn’t.”

Hagstrom Miller says in her own work she tries to use a framework of “empathy and compassion” to approach the subject of abortion. She likes to remind people, for example, that “everyone knows and loves someone who has had an abortion,” and that people who have abortions are the same people who “go to your church, attend your synagogue, and ride the subway with you.” She thinks that if larger organizations embraced this approach, it might help create a broader cultural shift around how people view abortion, rather than entangling it in a binary “war,” as it has been for decades.

Hagstrom Miller and the other pro-choice advocates VICE spoke to wanted to resist the narrative that the recent changes inside prominent abortion rights groups is a sign of a movement in disarray. Debates over the best way to advocate for abortion have always been happening within large organizations, and different groups might play different roles in the broader movement for abortion rights.

“This isn’t an indication that movement is fucked and it’s all discord,” Bonow said. She said she feels positively about NARAL’s embrace of the term “freedom,” which she has used in her own advocacy for abortion rights. Still, it doesn’t change her fundamental belief that no single group can speak for an entire movement.

“Organizations aren’t movements: People are going to talk about abortion however they want, and true cultural change is going to come from the grassroots, not from a progressive think tank.”