When the video leaked of President-elect Donald Trump bragging about grabbing women’s genitals without their permission, Brandi Swindell was horrified. That video offended her sense of how she believed women should be treated, and caused her to question her support for Trump. But on Nov. 8 Swindell, a 40-year-old antiabortion advocate from Idaho, cast her ballot for Trump anyway.
This weekend, she’ll be participating in Idaho’s sister march of the Women’s March on Washington. The Washington event is a high-profile demonstration in front of the U.S. Capitol the day after the inauguration, with women from all over the country rebuking Trump’s remarks and demanding equal rights for women on his first day in office.
About 250,000 women and men are expected to attend the Women’s March on Washington, which has become a galvanizing event for Hillary Clinton supporters after the bitter election. Tens of thousands more are expected to attend smaller, sister marches throughout the country.
But conservative women who are politically against abortion — many of whom say they reluctantly voted for Trump on the basis of his vow to nominate an antiabortion Supreme Court justice — also plan to attend to ensure that during talks of feminism and womanhood in a Trump era, their voices of dissent are also heard. They may disagree with Democrats on abortion, but say they, too, have goals such as equal pay, more progressive child-care policies and generous maternity leave.
But is there a place for them at events that are being held to protest the remarks and policy proposals of the man that many of them helped elect? And can a march with a political agenda be one that includes everyone? Fresh energy was injected into the debate this week when march organizers dropped an antiabortion group as a partner.
“I have some very serious concerns about Trump,” said Swindell, who started Stanton Healthcare, a women’s health facility with multiple locations that does not offer contraception or abortions. “I am a feminist.”
The Women’s March has a folksy origin story tracing back to a grandmother in Hawaii who launched the concept as a Facebook event as soon as the unexpected election results were announced. As the march has grown in prominence, it has highlighted long-existing racial, socioeconomic and political rifts in the feminist movement.
The march was originally unfocused in its mission, but in recent weeks has been more and more defined by a progressively liberal agenda. Planned Parenthood is the biggest sponsor of the march, and groups including Emily’s List and the Natural Resources Defense Council are partners.
Last week, the march’s organizers released a platform and list of principles calling for “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education.”
Many women argue that by tying the march to reproductive issues, its organizers squandered an opportunity to unite women en masse. There’s enough to unite behind ahead of the new administration, they argue, that they didn’t need to bring a divisive issue into play.
“It further proves that this is what the abortion industry does,” said Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life. “They have taken over any talk of feminism in the country to point out that if you are antiabortion, you are accused of being anti-woman.”
Linda Sarsour, one of the main organizers of the march and the director of the Arab American Association of New York, said the platform is deliberately broad — it includes sections on disability, and workers and immigrant rights — and the march is open to everyone, even if they don’t agree with every part of its mission.
“We don’t believe a quarter million people will see themselves in every platform,” Sarsour said. “We are not a pro-abortion march, we are a pro-women march.”
Still, when the Atlantic magazine reported this week that an antiabortion group, New Wave Feminists, was an official partner of the march, the backlash was strong. The march organizers quickly dropped the group and apologized, writing in a statement that “we look forward to marching on behalf of individuals who share the view that women deserve the right to make their own reproductive decisions.”
Abby Johnson, an antiabortion activist from Texas, thinks that Planned Parenthood, with its political muscle, has tied abortion to feminism, and she decided to attend the march to ensure that the antiabortion voice is included. Johnson is a former Planned Parenthood employee who founded “And Then There Were None,” a group that helps abortion clinic workers leave their jobs.
Like many of the antiabortion women planning to attend, Johnson says she will participate in the march, and not protest it, but will still carry signs making her stance known. They say they want to start dialogue with people about the issue.
“I think it’s important that a pro-life feminist voice is there. I am not going to protest, I am going to join in solidarity,” Johnson said. “And to be honest, abortion is not the only issue I’m concerned about. I’m concerned about the pay gap. I’m concerned about the lack of women in the political arena. There are a lot of things that are important to me.”
Although organizers say antiabortion women are welcome to attend the Women’s March, their inclusion in what the event represents could become more complicated if the platform laid out by the organizers is a sign of the feminist movement in the Trump era. Elizabeth Velez, a professor of women and gender studies at Georgetown University, said that feminism is a political term and that the idea that women should be able to choose what they do with their bodies is fundamental to feminism.
One reason for this, Velez said, is that history shows that abortions will still be carried out if they become illegal, and proponents of reproductive rights think that those opposing abortion are denying women safe access to these procedures.
“Feminism is more than finding personal satisfactions in your life; it’s a political movement, and if you are not part of the political movement, you can’t be a feminist,” Velez said. “If you are pro-life, you are certainly not looking at the struggles across all of us.”
The week after inauguration weekend, tens of thousands of women are expected to come to the nation’s capital for the annual March for Life — the largest antiabortion rally in the country. Jeanne Mancini, the head of the March for Life, had originally intended to attend the Women’s March, but once organizers released the platform, she changed her mind. She said it did not feel right to attend a march that had a message that explicitly ran counter to the one she was hosting.
“I would have wanted to march because I’m pro-women, I’m 100 percent pro-women. I want little girls to be empowered to know that they can be anything they want to be,” she said. “I have never felt left out from the feminist movement. I feel more misunderstood and frustrated.”