The first catwalker entered the room to the thumping of tinny fashion show music, sporting a head-to-toe Grim Reaper outfit, holding a sickle as an accessory.
“Mr. Reaper is sporting a luxurious drapey black robe, complete with hood, black gloves, and sickle,” a woman announced in her best fashion show voice. “Because nothing says ‘I’ll lead you to the pregnancy center’ like a big silver sickle of hope!”
A few dozen women looked on, flanking the aisles of a convention center space in St. Charles, Missouri, the programs in their laps reading: “Don’t Be Weird: Ineffective Messaging In The Pro-Life Movement.”
Reaper was followed by “The Mad Scientist,” a woman donned in a lab coat covered in severed plastic baby limbs and blood, strutting down the catwalk. Then another woman with a bloody baby doll on the end of the fishing pole. The crowd gasped in disgust.
Next came a woman with a bullhorn yelling, “You have fornicated in the sight of God! Come out with your hands up!” to laughter from the crowd.
“Yes, this is real!” the announcer said, “This is on the sidewalk in the Midwest.”
The big finale was a woman in an orange crossing-guard vest with a clipboard, who, the crowd was told, was a “Friendly Mrs. Sidewalk advocate. …someone with a big smile and as reflector vest who tells you that free hope and help are just around the corner.” The crowd applauded
The fashion show took place at the third annual Pro-Life Women’s Conference last month, a three-day event that illustrates a generational divide within the anti-abortion movement. The goal of the fashion show, and the conference as a whole, was to start a rebranding of the anti-abortion community, moving away from fire and brimstone, large pictures of bloody fetuses, and the scare tactics of the old guard. Instead, conference organizers aim to expand the anti-abortion movement through a woman-centered, inclusive approach to branding and activism.
Over the past decade, there has been a burgeoning attempt in the anti-abortion advocacy world to fight against the powerful narrative that the anti-abortion movement is run and mostly comprised of old men whose goal is to oppress young women. In its early days, the push manifested itself through the rise of women-focused or women-led groups, like Susan B. Anthony List or Students For Life.
One of the chief proponents of this change is the founder of the Pro-Life Women’s Conference, Abby Johnson, a former pro-abortion rights Planned Parenthood employee turned anti-abortion advocate. In addition to the conference, Johnson began a group called And Then There Were None, which tries to persuade other employees of abortion clinics to leave their professions.
About four years ago, Johnson said she realized “that there are a lot of things that were outdated [in the anti-abortion movement], including language, including graphic design, including the way that we present ourselves.”
Squinting at the third annual Pro-Life Women’s Conference in June, it looked like a pro-abortion rights gathering — but with a lot more babies and Christian rock. Some of the more than 500 attendees, ranging in age from 18 to 82, walked around with pixie-cuts, tattoos, and teal and purple hair.
The venue was covered in “pro-life feminist” posters: One in the style of a nautical tattoo, but instead of a pin-up girl, it was a fully grown baby in a womb. Another was a collage of images, including several Mother Teresas and a floral-patterned uterus containing a small embryo surrounded by the words “freedom from violence, no matter where you live, is reproductive justice.” Next to that was a fetus in a Rosie The Riveter bandana saying, “Keep your philosophy off my biology,” alongside another fetus saying, “Feminism is inclusive, or it is worthless.”
In order for the anti-abortion movement to keep growing, Johnson says, it needs to take a page from “mainstream feminism” and “increase our inclusivity,” “put love first,” and, most importantly, “put women in charge.”
The theme of the event was “pro-love,” meaning that shaming and outwardly judging women seeking abortions is not the way to prevent it from happening. These methods belong to the “pro-life old guard,” as Johnson put it, not to the young women they consider the “future of the pro-life movement.”
“Ours is a popular view among the younger pro-life generation, on college campuses for example,” Leah Jacobson who leads the “natural family planning” organization Guiding Star Project, which participated in the conference, told BuzzFeed News. “The older generation, especially the ones who were alive prior to Roe [v. Wade], are reacting to the shock of Roe 45 years later because they didn’t see it coming and now they just want to stop it, but we’ve moved past that.”
“They’re reactive, we’re proactive,” she said.
Full story at Buzzfeed News.