All photos by the authors

WASHINGTON, DC—“Shit, shit, shit,” Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, muttered into her phone. Hawkins was standing in front of the Supreme Court corralling a group of 30 anti-abortion activists. Almost all of the activists were young women—only a few men and one MAGA hat—gathered to make their voices heard at the Women’s March on DC which, according to Students for Life, was discriminating against anti-abortion feminists.

“This is what a pro-life feminist looks like,” the sweatshirt of one young anti-abortion activist proclaimed, a play on a familiar feminist t-shirt, the kind worn by the already thousands of women streaming into the Mall to gather for the rally. The anti-abortion marchers quietly watched them stream by in the distance, a river of pink hats and punny signs. The activists from Students for Life spoke the language of feminism—respect and concern for women—and they used the word “feminist” to describe themselves. “Feminism is empowering women to be the best they can be. When feminism...takes a life...that’s when it’s gone too far,” two young activists, Lori, 21, and Lauren, 20, said, completing each other’s thoughts.

They were there to reclaim feminism for the anti-abortion movement, to use the language of feminism, but to recenter on “pre-born” women and the abortion industry. “We’re marching for the pre-born,” Lori told Jezebel. Both of them were unhappy about the unapologetically pro-choice stance of the Women’s March.

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“I feel like it excludes a whole population of women that are pro-life,” Lauren explained. “I think it’s wrong that NARAL and Planned Parenthood can just buy a whole march.”

Lori and Lauren.

That sentiment was reiterated by all of the Students for Life who cheerfully and politely rehashed media-ready talking points. “We believe in women’s rights. We’re being excluded because we’re pro-life,” Mary, a student at Christendom College, a Catholic school in Northern Virginia, explained. Next to her stood Colleen— one of the group’s few brunettes— whose sign read “Pro-Life, Pro-Woman, Pro-Trump”—even though, she explained, today wasn’t really about Trump.

“It says that because I know this is an anti-Trump march,” she said, gesturing at the enormous crowd. “I’m not here to disrespect my president. I’m here to encourage him to respect women.”

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Mary had hoped that she’d be able to find “some common ground” with the rest of the women’s marchers, she said, but that wasn’t quite the case: “I don’t think they understand why we’re here.” Mary added that her goal was to see the repeal of Roe v. Wade.

“We’re cheering for unborn women!” Colleen added. She was nearly drowned out by a pro-choice marcher named Michele Mulholland France, a 54-year-old federal employee who’d positioned herself in front of the anti-abortion group and was carrying on a screaming-volume monologue about the importance of pap smears and birth control.

“They have a right to be here!” she yelled, waving an arm at the anti-abortion marchers. “But we worked too hard to give up the Supreme Court right now. I’m staying here! I would much rather be listening to the Indigo Girls, but guess what? I’m gonna stand here, with maybe little spittle flecks flying out of my mouth!” The anti-abortion marchers winced politely and looked away.

Next to France, pretending not to hear her screaming, Sheila Doherty stood with her sign propped against her feet: “Female fetuses are women too. They have a God-given right to life!”

Sheila Doherty.

Doherty, 54, is a stay-at-home-mom who cares for a daughter with autism. She was feeling bright about a Trump presidency, having heard a rumor, widely spread by anti-abortion websites, that he would sign an executive order to defund Planned Parenthood by Sunday.

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“I knew that with Hillary, there would definitely be no hope for the unborn,” she explained. “But with him, I was very hopeful.”

The goal, she said, was improved rights for women, even the ones who don’t yet exist. “Unborn women are underrepresented,” she explained. “And people should represent them.”