This week we present an interview with Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder of New Wave Feminists, a pro-life organisation based in Dallas, Texas.
What prompted you to get involved in pro-life activism and how did you come to found New Wave Feminists?
I had started a feminist group around 2005, just doing small social activism type things around town. However, the more I looked to get involved with the feminist movement, the more I realised there wasn’t really a place for me if I was pro-life. My mom got pregnant with me when she was 19. She’s one of the most badass feminists I know, and part of the reason I view her that way is because she recognised my humanity – even as a zygote – and used her strength and privilege to protect me, the weaker and more vulnerable being. In my mind there’s nothing MORE feminist than that. So being both 100% feminist and 100% pro-life, I knew I was likely going to have to start my own third movement. After that, so many other pro-life feminists came out of the woodwork because that’s the exact message they were looking for too, and then we just began growing from there.
You describe yourself as a pro-life feminist. How do you combine feminist and pro-life activism?
Feminism is about equal rights and opportunities for women. For most of history, we were treated like property, so it doesn’t make sense for us to treat our own children in that exact same way. If anything, feminism would demand that we use our liberation to stand up for those still oppressed and marginalised, and while that group is vast, I believe it also includes the unborn.
What would you say to pro-lifers who don’t think we need feminism any more?
Pregnant women are still facing discrimination in the workplace and in academia. Our current society was built by men, for men, and it doesn’t accommodate the fertile female form. In order for us to truly eradicate the need for abortion in our culture, women’s fertility can no longer be seen as a liability and weakness. We have to rip down these patriarchal structures and create new ones that work for everyone. Otherwise, you are just cutting off supply without addressing demand for abortion.
From what I see, New Wave Feminists are involved with a good few practical initiatives. Could you tell me a bit about any of those?
We give out grants every month, not just to women who are pregnant or abortion-vulnerable, but to single moms who simply need help paying their rent or feeding their children. We’ve also done an initiative with over fifty other pro-life organisations, we raised $135,000 for families leaving detainment at our southern border. These people face a lot of violence in their countries and their lives matter to us too.
From your experience, what has worked well for the pro-life movement in the US and what hasn’t?
For a really long time, the American movement has been focused simply on making abortion illegal. Again, addressing the supply side while ignoring the desperation so many women feel regarding their need for abortion to survive. Historically, it’s also been linked to a religious viewpoint, so people who hate the church also tend to write off pro-life views, when in reality being anti-abortion is not a part of our religion at all (at least for many of us). It’s rooted in human rights for the weakest and most vulnerable – the most marginalised members of our human family. Protesting this practice with Bible verses and graphic images only scares people into doing what’s right, but it also turns a lot of people against this message of human rights for all. We need a cultural shift in consciousness that sees the humanity of both the unborn child and the mother, and works to protect and serve both equally.
What do you make of the support of many pro-lifers for President Trump?
I have a really hard time with that because he lived most of his life as a pro-choice Democrat who dehumanised women constantly. So this idea that he understands the concept of all our humanity seems like a stretch to me. I guess it’s just not my bag. I want leaders that are addressing the root issues that lead women to abortion to begin with.
You controversially voted for the pro-choice candidate Beto O’Rourke in the 2018 Texas Senate election. Why was that?
When a woman calls me and tells me she’s considering abortion, I don’t put her on hold and call up Ted Cruz to see what his opinions are on the legality. No. I ask her what it is that she needs. There are so many societal breakdowns in our system that are not working for her, and those were issues that I saw Beto O’Rourke addressing. I doubt I would have supported him for president, but I did support him for the Texas Senate because Ted Cruz wasn’t addressing any of those issues at the time. He was simply trying to make abortion illegal, which wouldn’t have helped any of the women who I was trying to assist in choosing life.
At the Minimise Project we emphasise the importance of having better conversations about abortion. Have you had any constructive conversations with pro-choicers which we could learn from?
Absolutely. I often have really great conversations with people who think differently than I do. I think all pro-lifers need to be doing this. Don’t simply engage in these conversations to change their minds, listen to what they’re saying. Listen to the very real struggles that justify abortion to them, and then we can all come together and find solutions to those root issues. One of my favorite things to ask is, ‘Help me understand’. It takes the discussion from a debate to real, productive dialogue. It also shows them that I’m not just trying to prove a point, but I actually want to find a solution that works for everyone, because I genuinely care about both the woman and the child.
How do you think the pro-life movement can manage to keep abortion stigmatised without stigmatising women who have abortions?
I don’t think abortion stigma is cultural at all. Or religious. I think it’s 100% biological. I think the best way to go about it is explaining to women that we are not trying to ‘take away a right’, but rather showing them how much has been taken away from them since 1973 here in the States with the legalisation of abortion with Roe v. Wade. Companies and schools have not had to step up and provide for pregnant and parenting students and workers. Instead, they have been able to have this justified hostility because we CHOSE to have the baby. They end up with the mentality of ‘you’ve made your bed, now lie in it’. New Wave Feminists believe we should be demanding better for women.
What are your thoughts on abortion legality?
For me it’s about stepping back and really looking at what I was convinced was right for so long as an anti-abortion activist, and seeing if it still holds up. I’ve been in this movement for almost twenty years now, and I used to believe overturning Roe was all it would take. And even THAT honestly felt like too lofty of a goal at times. But somewhere along the way I realised something much more sinister was at play. I jokingly tell people I unplugged from the matrix a few years ago, because I honestly don’t believe our federal government actually WANTS to make abortion illegal – Republicans need it to stay a main issue to remain in office. Plus, it’s much easier (and cheaper) to subsidise an industry that can offer a low-income single mom a $500 abortion (and keep it legal), when the alternative is having to potentially offer up to eighteen years of government aid for what is, by definition, an unplanned (for) pregnancy. When I had this revelation, I shifted my focus, and that’s when I realised legality is actually the lowest goal we could be shooting for. We have a system that was not designed to accommodate female fertility. Period. Not in academia, nor the workforce. And while everyone’s busy talking about politics, and donating all of their money to campaigns, women and children continue to fall through the cracks of a system that was NEVER designed for them. Take for example the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act here in the States. It’s one of the most genuinely pro-life pushes for pregnant female protection I’ve seen, and yet our ‘pro-life’ politicians refuse to vote for it because it’s considered a ‘liberal’ bill (even though it’s bipartisan). These are the REAL, PRACTICAL things that will actually make a difference in the lives of the women who reach out to me terrified that they just found out they’re pregnant. They don’t give a shit if abortion is legal or not. They care that they might lose their jobs and not be able to feed their other children. Why are the politicians so set on cutting off the supply of abortion then? Here’s a great way to address the demand side – and suddenly they’re out. That shows me their true colors. That shows me that the most effective thing *I* can do as a pro-life feminist is work to create the life-sustaining society that would allow women and their children to thrive. And because of that, I leave the laws to others. I have bigger and much more seemingly impossible goals these days.