This is a strange moment to be growing up in: Generation Z is the most pro-abortion generation to date, but they’re also coming of age at a time when abortion rights in America are under constant siege. It’s like the institutional lines of access are contracting at the same time that people have never been more open to how normal, how basic and essential abortion really is.
But not everyone in this cohort shares this view, obviously: for Gen Zers who are anti-abortion, this is a time to seize that political momentum and activate. The goal is the same as the activists who came before them—a world without abortion—but they’re mostly not interested in the bible-thumping or grotesque signage clinic protesting of their predecessors. Instead, much like their progressive peers fighting against gun violence and climate change, they’re also using the language of feminism, science, and economic equality to get their message across.
Vice News spent a week with these young anti-abortion activists earlier this summer to get a sense of what that looks like. When one of the attendees was asked by Vice about people who hold posters of fetuses outside of clinics yelling murderer, she responded: “That’s what also makes pro-life people look bad. Oh no, I hate that.”
The “pro-life boot camp” was sponsored by Texas Right to Life, a powerful anti-abortion group that offers $1,000 scholarships for students participating in the training session. Texas Right to Life is investing nearly $100,000 this year alone in programs for students—from high school to graduate aged—as well as scholarships, programs, and travel budgets. It’s an investment in the future, and they’re hoping it pays off.
But this was not Jesus Camp. Despite the presence of Jesus and prayer in several of the daily activities and events during the training, many of the people attending the training not only insisted that religion didn’t drive their anti-abortion beliefs, but were also actively discouraged from using religion to argue against abortion:
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.”
Gen Z isn’t here to convince you that abortion is a sin; instead, they’re here to convince you that abortion is anti-feminist. This isn’t to say that they don’t dabble in more tried and true anti-abortion tropes. The summit started off with a Holocaust documentary double feature—“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”—and some discussion about Margaret Sanger, Planned Parenthood founder and eugenics advocate. Old hat, really.
Less old hat? Using popular social justice rhetoric to build wider appeal. Enter 30-year-old Aimee Murphy, a very press-savvy subject of a seemingly endless cycle of repetitive stories about whether it’s possible to be a “pro-life feminist”:
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.
A cursory glance at Murphy’s Twitter account alone supports this: Among other identifiers, her bio states:“Feminist. Latina. Hufflepuff. INFJ.”
Murphy is the Executive Director of Rehumanize International, a nonprofit organization which, according to their website, is dedicated to ending “all aggressive violence against humans.” This includes causes like ending police brutality, racism, poverty, capital punishment, and war. It also means opposing physician-assisted suicide, embryonic stem-cell research, and abortion.
In many ways, Murphy is skilled at pairing social justice terminology and anti-abortion frameworks together in the hopes of convincing people that restrictive anti-abortion legislation—much of which also criminalizes patients and doctors—is actually true liberation:
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.
Despite the buzzword salad—or, perhaps, because of it—Murphy was an extremely popular speaker. “Students mobbed Murphy,” according to Vice. “Thanking her profusely for her speech and wondering aloud whether she could come speak at their schools.”
But while the packaging being put out by these younger activists is newer and the tactics sharper, the end game is the same: criminalizing abortion, which has profound, deadly consequences that disproportionately harm low-income people and people of color. These laws criminalize miscarriage and subject vulnerable patients to legal scrutiny for seeking care. They hurt—they are designed to hurt.
The message from the “Pro-Life Generation” is a smiling one, but no one should be fooled. We know how this ends. We’ve lived it before.