As political barnstorming events went, it was both energetic and peculiarly hamstrung. “We pray, we fast, and we vote pro-life,” declared David Bereit at a spirited right-to-life rally held Tuesday in front of Santa Barbara’s Planned Parenthood offices that drew about 75 enthusiastic supporters.
It wasn’t exactly clear, however, who Bereit wanted people to vote for. And he wasn’t saying, either. He urged those attending, many carrying anti-abortion signs, to go to the polls and vote for the candidates supporting a pro-life agenda. No political candidates were mentioned by name. The name most conspicuously not mentioned was that of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who in recent debates has been explicit and emphatic in his embrace of the pro-life platform. Trump said he would make abortion a litmus test for anyone he appointed to the Supreme Court, predicting the downfall of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that defined a woman’s right to choose as a matter of constitutional principle.
In recent weeks, Trump’s candidacy has become a harder pill for many of the evangelical persuasion to swallow, given the release of the now infamous videotape in which Trump boasts of sexually assaulting women. When asked why Trump wasn’t mentioned, given his support of the anti-abortion agenda, Bereit stated, “Some people question that. He says he’s pro-life. I look at the action.” When pressed further, Bereit elaborated, “[Trump] says he’s pro-life, but he’s also said the exact opposite.”
Despite such ambivalence about the top of the ticket, Bereit told those assembled that he is convinced this November’s election results will mark a historic reversal when it comes to reproductive rights in the United States. “Your children will tell you they’re proud of what you did,” he said.
Bereit, who runs an anti-abortion organization called 40 Days for Life, said he used the occasion of this year’s election — “even with all its toxicity” — to hit the road on a grueling 50-state, 128-city tour, departing from Washington, D.C., on September 28 and concluding November 6, two days before the election. In San Luis Obispo, Bereit said, he drew a crowd of 200. In Sacramento, he got 300. “The bad news is that California leads the way for abortions in the U.S.A.,” he said, stating 181,000 California pregnancies were terminated annually. “The good news is that California is leading the way for the pro-life movement.”
Some of the crowd quietly sang “Ave Maria.” Others prayed. Two brothers, Dan and Mike Engler, brought along their life-sized cardboard cutout of Pope Francis, who, Bereit noted, had endorsed his campaign. “It’s not just an old white guy’s issue,” Mike Engler stressed. A woman protester displayed a range of fetus-sized dolls, asking passersby to pick them up and feel how much they weighed. Although Bereit said anti-abortion protesters understand their mission is to be faithful rather than successful, he also understood their need to see results. He said 12,000 lives had been saved since he undertook his mission nine years ago. The Engler brothers said that quiet prayerful protests turned away as many as 75 percent of women seeking abortions.
Bereit pointedly noted that Planned Parenthood celebrated its 100th birthday the previous week. “That’s ironic,” he said, “when you consider Planned Parenthood has prevented more birthdays than any other organization in history.” Planned Parenthood employees and administrators monitored the demonstration from their parking lot, having just returned from a “Save Lives” event hosted by Assemblymember Das Williams and the American Cancer Society in support of Proposition 56, the California ballot initiative to increase the taxes imposed on a carton of cigarettes. In a written response, Planned Parenthood spokesperson Julie Mickelberry characterized the rally as “harassment,” adding, “If opponents of safe and legal abortion truly cared about reducing unintended pregnancies, they would be working with Planned Parenthood to expand access to birth control and comprehensive sexuality education.”
Also unmentioned Tuesday was any reference to the 24th Congressional District race, in which the Democratic candidate Salud Carbajal, a county supervisor, has described himself as “100 percent pro-choice.” Carbajal, a onetime Planned Parenthood boardmember, has touted the “giraffe” award he received from Planned Parenthood for “sticking his neck out.”
By contrast, Carbajal’s Republican opponent, Justin Fareed, has been clench-jawed in recent debates about his positions on abortion, describing it as a “deeply personal” issue for which the federal government should have no role. When pressed about the role the federal government does, in fact, have, Fareed stated, “It is the law of the land.” On funding for Planned Parenthood — which Carbajal supports — Fareed stated some of the organization’s non-abortion health services were valuable, but he was nonspecific as to whether he’d support continued funding.