- Kelly Luttinen
Not Your Mother’s Pro-Life Group: The Mission of New Wave Feminists
When Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa founded New Wave Feminists (NWF), she didn’t realize how many people would be affected by her message embracing both feminist and pro-life values. Many have since told her how much they appreciate the ideological space she has carved out of the political landscape.
"So many people come to me and say, ‘I didn’t even know I could be a feminist" she said. "I’ve rejected this term for so long because I am pro-life'"
"There are a couple of things in the feminist movement they get so wrong, I mean so completely wrong," she said. "They are literally working for the patriarchy. Men treated women as property for most of history, and then women turn around, and through our rights, treat unborn children like property. It’s a perpetuation of patriarchy, not liberation from it. We’ve got to wake up and start seeing that."
But De La Rosa does not feel entirely comfortable with the "pro-life" label. Early on in her activism days, she would challenge the college students she was addressing with the following: "Would someone please make me pro-choice! I would fit in so much better. I have purple hair and tattoos and a septum ring. I would have so many more friends."
She has never found anyone who could provide that “silver bullet” to make her change her mind. "At the end of the day it, it is violence against a human being, and as a peace activist I can never get on board with that. If you believe the human being in the womb has intrinsic value, nothing they can ever say can make you pro-choice."
Hinging on Human Dignity
De La Rosa does not fit neatly into an ideological box. Neither conservative nor liberal, she walks a fine line between the two. "I call out the BS on both sides. I no longer have this blind allegiance where I have to justify inhumane, bad behavior."
Politically, the NWF founder is unapologetically independent. She hopes someday for a third party she dubs the “Human Dignity” Party. "I have it all mapped out," she said.
"Most of us are good and want to help people. We just have different ways of going about it. When we come together, we can come up with creative solutions and get beyond these labels."
Calling her viewpoint a "consistent-life ethic", De La Rosa lists the issues she cares about -- abortion, human trafficking, war, torture, the death penalty. "I try to be as consistent as possible in seeing human dignity and protecting others from violence."
De La Rosa recalls years ago, how she found herself pregnant at age 16 and faced a tough decision. And she remembers how she escaped being aborted. Her own mother had gotten pregnant while attending college at the University of Texas in Austin.
"It was a very liberal town, and it would have been very easy for her to have an abortion," she said. "In fact, it would have been viewed as the responsible choice by a lot of people."
Instead, her mother chose to return home to her own parents, both ordained ministers. "She was basically breaking the news to them that, not only was she not a virgin, but she was pregnant. My mom had so much strength and courage."
Despite her rocky childhood, De La Rosa does not accept the pro-choice argument that abortion is the best option for single women with unplanned pregnancies because their children will suffer poverty, or maybe worse. "I experienced that stuff," she said. "I’m still glad I’m here. It’s still better than not being here."
She believes her childhood helped build her into the woman she is today. "Honestly, it gave me a lot of empathy for other children who are suffering. That’s why I am a whole-life activist. I don’t think it’s enough to just choose life. We have to make sure all human beings are protected from violence for the duration of their lives."
Regarding the birth of her own child, De La Rosa said, "I knew I had to get my son to the starting line." Seriously considering adoption, she would finally decide to keep her child. But many of her friends in a similar situation did not.
"I started looking at why they were choosing abortion, and it was because they didn’t have that familial support I did. They were being kicked out of their house. They didn’t have health insurance. They didn’t have these very real resources that women need. And that makes you feel trapped."
"This idea that abortion is pro-choice -- that has not been my experience. The women I know who were having abortions, it’s because they felt they had no choice at all."
Her Son is a Catalyst
Since giving birth to her son, Enoch, De La Rosa has married and now has three more children. She met her husband when her firstborn was three years old. They married on Christmas Eve, 2004, and two years later, when her son Enoch was five years old, he would become the catalyst stirring into flame his mother’s activism.
One day De La Rosa was driving with him in her hometown of Dallas and they passed a billboard advertising what she called a "breast-aurant", a place she describes as using women "as decorations to sell chicken wings."
"It was way more than a Hooters billboard," she explained. "Even my five-year-old recognized this was gross. He pointed at (the billboard) and said, 'That’s not ok.'"
De La Rosa would end up organizing a protest. She wrote letters to the restaurant and billboard companies, and spoke out at a city council meeting. "The craziest thing is that two weeks later they ended up modifying the billboard and covering the offensive part with a big 'now hiring' sign," she remembers.
The exhilaration of that moment led her to realize the power of grassroots activism. And she almost immediately thought up a name for her own organization. "I wanted something that sounded like a collective. I literally put 30 seconds of thought into it. I asked myself, 'What would be a good name for a feminist group? How about New Wave Feminists? Yeah, that sounds like a thing!'"
About a decade later her organization would rocket into the public eye following the 2017 Women’s March in Washington DC. She remembers vividly how she discovered her group had been officially removed from the list of participants because they were "pro-life."
"I think they thought we would just quietly go away. I literally found out we got removed because someone from Rolling Stone Magazine called me and asked me how I felt about being kicked out of the Women’s March."
In the following weeks she would be asked to do "at least 200 interviews" with media outlets, including the conservative FOX News program hosted by Tucker Carlson. The experience helped her develop her NWF message. "I had to take a huge idea and cram it into a sound bite, and it is really difficult to do. But I learned. That was the baptism by fire for me."
Now she glories in the situation even today when she gets dis-invited from speaking engagements, which she said happens frequently with pro-life groups who think her message is too "edgy".
"A couple of parents will go online and see some of our social media posts," she said. "As a parent I totally get it. If some purple-haired weirdo was coming to speak to my kids, using this 'sailor' talk, I would be leery too. There are no hard feelings. I don’t take it personally. I want to be punk rock, so I take it as a compliment. But it kind of stinks to shut down my message with certain groups. But they are almost always pro-life, and I am like, you are already pro-life, so you are good."
But many groups happily invite her and welcome her message. "Now colleges pay my travel for me to come and speak. I feel like I should be paying people for letting me come out and indoctrinate their children. The fact that I can actually make enough to do it is kind of amazing."
Regarding his wife’s activism, De La Rosa said her husband took a while to catch on. "For a lot of that time, Abrahm was kind of leery of New Wave Feminists. Suddenly, a few years ago, he finally got it."
"I think there was this big fear that feminism was about hating men. I always told him I would never create a place in the feminist movement that my sons can’t be a part of."
"At its core, NWF stands up against dehumanization, beginning with with the dehumanization of women," said De La Rosa. "When you follow that further it becomes the dehumanization of our children as well. And they are just so intertwined. The more I looked around, I wasn’t seeing that in feminist circles."
Bridging the Divide
De La Rosa is not entirely happy with many current pro-life strategies. "At some point, they stopped trying to persuade. It became about cutting off supply. So we are just going to make it illegal, and abortion is going to stop? I don’t think anyone actually believes that. We have to be addressing the demands of women. We have to be addressing the women who feel so desperate they think they need abortion."
"I am not bagging on the pro-life moment," she said, but she faults a major preconception pro-lifers have of those who support abortion. "Oh these pro-aborts!" she parrots. "They are monsters! One guy used to say to me, 'It is a mental illness. There is no way you can be fine with killing babies if you are not mentally ill.'"
She warns those who say such things that it "definitely will fire up the troops in your own camp, but you are not going to persuade anyone from the other side."
"Having that secular audience is important," she points out. "A Guttmacher (Institute) study said Millennials are leaving institutions. They are not going to college. They are leaving churches, and they are leaving political affiliations. They see (these organizational beliefs) as indoctrination and group think. That is not to say there is not truth in all of these, but they see hypocrisy not being called out. I am a perfect example. I forewent all three of those things."
To better reach the pro-choice crowd, she is unafraid to speak at events for groups like the Dallas Socialist Club or Reproductive Justice meetings. Recently she started to appear together with a pro-choice woman, Robin Marty, who she says has become a friend. The two debate the abortion issue, modeling how to have a civil disagreement.
"The abortion debate is such an emotionally charged one," she admits. "Most think, 'If I go into this situation, I am going to be so angry.' But when you actually get to meet these people, and know them and understand them, they really do think they are doing the right thing. If you go in with that mindset, it becomes much easier to dialogue with them."
De La Rosa finds one of the most powerful phrases in the English language is: "Help me understand."
She uses the universal language of science and biology. "That is something they cannot deny. We are talking about human beings with a completely unique genetic code and DNA and heartbeat and brain waves."
She believes her efforts to reach out to the other side are bearing fruit. "They are starting to see the (abortion) industry as preying on women."
She remembers recently how one of her pro-choice friends, who volunteers at a domestic abuse shelter in New York, called her. A woman had come in with two black eyes. She was pregnant with twins and nearly suicidal.
"She had basically been held hostage for five years by this guy," said De La Rosa. "My friend said she didn’t want to take her to Planned Parenthood because she was too vulnerable, and she didn’t want her to make a choice she would regret."
Within 24 hours, De La Rosa had contacted a pro-life group upstate who offered help.
"It was so sweet,” she remembers. "They brought this really nice town car, and they had it stocked with fruits and vegetables and milk and cookies. And the woman immediately started crying, saying, 'I haven’t had milk in five years.' They also brought her a $200 gift card for Walmart to get her clothes."
Afterward, her friend called De La Rosa to say she had “never seen such a transformation in a human being.”
"This woman went from saying, 'I cannot do this, I have to end my own life', and subsequently 'my children’s' lives to saying 'This might be a beginning of a new life and a new start.' She had so much optimism and encouragement because she knew she wasn’t alone."
The part of the pro-life movement she loves is how they care for women. "They are not spending money on marketing campaigns, or politics. They are spending money on actual women. That is why so few people know about them."
Offering Women Real Solutions
What she takes issue with is the message often conveyed to the women pro-lifers serve. "It’s always from this position of 'Oh, you poor thing.' In their pamphlets there is always a girl crying, looking out a rainy window, holding a pregnancy test. I get it. I know how crushing and terrifying it is to be in that situation. But I also know that, if I would have stayed in that sad head space, it wouldn’t have been good for me. I needed strength to overcome what I was going through."
She said NWF has created "drop cards" that are basically a letter to De La Rosa at age 16. The cards include encouraging messages like "You got this!" or "You can handle anything!" or "Here is your chance to save someone else’s life. You get to be the hero today!"
"That is what I needed to hear at 16," she said.
"I always tell these college kids, information is empowering. If you are standing in line at a Target and you look behind you and there is a woman, and you can tell she has been crying, and she is holding a pregnancy test, what are the odds you are going to talk to her? You probably feel like you need to talk to her. And you want to talk to her. But if you don’t know what to tell her and you don’t have any solutions, then it can be a really difficult and awkward situation."
De La Rosa said there are so many women who do not know what resources are available to help.
"You could just turn around and hand her the card with our web address on it and say, 'Hey I don’t know what you are going through, but if there is any chance that you need some resources, this website has got a bunch of them.' That might be all it takes."
De La Rosa has brought together like-minded women to start a 501(c) 3 group called Help Assist Her. "It sounds like Help a Sister," she said.
NWF is working nationwide with college student groups like Students for Life to put "boots on the ground." So far they have fledgling organizations in Phoenix, New York City, and soon, Chicago.
"We just thought it would be great to empower college kids. They know what Planned Parenthood offers. They are advertising constantly. But there are a lot of other centers that are so much more focused on the women."
"I want (these local groups) to build their own websites and have them all under one umbrella website with all the resources in one spot. Just click through to your city and find the information. It would be like Google Maps for a woman facing any type of crisis. It would tell her where the local shelters are, or food pantries, or pregnancy resources, maternity homes, WIC and Medicaid offices."
Along with the Help Assist Her website, they are working on creating an App, to be available soon. Stay tuned!
To learn more about Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa and New Wave Feminists, go to: https://www.newwavefeminists.com/
For information on Help Assist Her, go to: https://www.helpassisther.com/.