The bizarre politics of radical anti-abortion activists

One of the anti-abortion activists recently indicted and found with fetuses is a self-described "leftist"

By Jon Skolnik

Published April 1, 2022 5:20PM (EDT)

Lauren Handy, third from right, of Anti-Choice Project DC, and other pro-life demonstrators participate in a "pray-in" outside the Longworth office of Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to protest a canceled House vote that would ban abortions after 20 weeks, March 25, 2015. (Getty Images/Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Lauren Handy, third from right, of Anti-Choice Project DC, and other pro-life demonstrators participate in a "pray-in" outside the Longworth office of Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to protest a canceled House vote that would ban abortions after 20 weeks, March 25, 2015. (Getty Images/Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

On Thursday, Lauren Handy, a 28-year old anti-abortion activist currently under a federal indictment for blockading an abortion clinic two years ago, was found to be in possession of five fetuses in her Washington home after her residence was raided by the D.C. police. The grisly development, which comes amid a national Republican-led assault on abortion access, provides a startling glimpse into the depths of anti-abortion extremism. As reporting reveals, Handy's affiliations   — although ostensibly left-wing — appear to be in associated with more traditional right-wing anti-abortion organizations.

A self-described "leftist," Handy served as Director of Activism at the Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU), a group of self-professed "grassroots activists dismantling the abortion industrial complex & standing in solidarity with the unborn victims killed by abortion violence." Handy also apparently founded Mercy Missions, an anti-abortion group that uses "non-carceral solutions in the struggle towards our collective liberation which is the freedom to thrive in safe & sustainable communities from conception to natural death."

Interestingly, these groups appear to use the language of the left, employing a variety of progressive buzzwords – like "non-carceral", "industrial complex", and "collective liberation" – not typically used in anti-abortion rhetoric. And yet, on seemingly religious grounds, these groups adamantly oppose the practice of abortion, a practice that has been shown to reduce poverty, reduce crime, and improve the socioeconomic status of women. 

RELATED: The next phase of anti-abortion cruelty: Jail for ending your own pregnancy

While this bizarre spin on anti-abortion organizing might appear to be somewhat novel, anti-abortion activists have long tried to dress their cause in the verbiage and discourse of feminism, co-opting the notion of "women's liberation" to fit their political agenda. 

In 2010, for instance, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin told a group of anti-abortion activists that they stood for an "emerging, conservative, feminist identity." And during the 2016 presidential election, as Jezebel's Kyle Cheung noted, candidate Carly Fiorina repeatedly sold herself as being a feminist in her sensationalized crusade against Planned Parenthood. 


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But "for all the anti-abortion movement tries to sell its commitment to the well-being of women," as The Intelligencer's Sarah Jones wrote last year, "its beliefs, when reduced to their most basic elements, are undeniably misogynistic."

In Handy's case, anti-abortion activists are alleging that the fetal remains found in her house are part of a "direct action" effort against apparent human rights abuses. As PAAU wrote in a press release, the fetuses' "gestational ages as well as their apparent sustained injuries potentially show violations of the Partial Birth Abortion Act as well as the Born Alive Infants Protection Act which are federal crimes." Even by her own account, Handy at one point said she was inspired to "liberate the bodies of aborted babies from med waste companies and give them a proper burial."

RELATED: Even if the U.S. did support mothers — and it doesn't — there will always be a need for abortion

Though shocking, it isn't the first time Handy's demonstrations have gone beyond the pale.

In 2017, Rewire News reported, the activist led a throng of anti-abortion demonstrators, called the "Red Rose Rescuers," into an abortion clinic in Alexandria, Virginia, where they "tried hand roses to patients in the waiting room, as clinic staff ushered patients to another room, trying to avoid the protesters."

"The activists prayed out loud, begging women to cancel their appointments, and refused to leave," the outlet further reported. "When police arrived to arrest them for trespassing, they went limp, forcing officers to carry them out in wheelchairs or on stretchers."

RELATED: When human life begins is a question of politics — not biology

This tactic, in which demonstrators physically blockade doors to prevent staff from operating, stretches as far back as the 1980s, when incidentally, stealing fetal material was a much more common practice. At the time, anti-abortion were known to scare-monger over the notion of fetal remains being discarded in dumpsters, Robin Marty, Communications Director for the West Alabama Women's Center, wrote over Twitter. 

"We need to pay a lot of attention to how anti-abortion actions and prosecution/defense can be used against abortion seeking people in the long run," Marty wrote. "Because abortion opponents are ALWAYS playing the long game, and this is no doubt part of it.


Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik is a staff writer at Salon. His work has appeared in Current Affairs, The Baffler, and The New York Daily News.

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Abortion Anti-abortion Lauren Handy