Ask someone (a man for example) to define a typical feminist, and they might describe a hairy, angry, man-hating shrew. Then ask that same person to outline a typical pro-lifer, and they’ll probably characterize them as a zealot who cares more about fetuses than women. Now meet Dallas native and pro-life feminist Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, who fits into neither of those pigeonholes.
Herndon-De La Rosa and her activist organization, New Wave Feminists, are set on proving feminism and pro-life values aren’t mutually exclusive. Together with her league of followers, Herndon-De La Rosa is working to dismantle the patriarchy and abortion simultaneously.
Last week, Herndon-De La Rosa was thrust into the spotlight when she was featured in a VICE News article covering the 47th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. There, she marched alongside thousands of others, including fellow pro-life feminists, to protest abortion.
“We’re pissing off feminists, we’re pissing off pro-lifers,” she says of her organization. “But we’re challenging everybody to see the woman and the child both as equally human.”
Herndon-De La Rosa created New Wave Feminists 14 years ago — her first platform for the activism group was a Myspace page. Since then, the movement has accrued more than 48,000 Facebook followers (some of whom she jokes probably “rage-liked” the page).
Now, Herndon-De La Rosa is opening a New Wave Feminist chapter in Buenos Aires (where the recently multitudinous, vocal, relentless presence of the feminist movement is tied to abortion rights), with spinoff groups cropping up in Mexico City, Chile and the United Kingdom. She frequently speaks at universities nationwide to promote her message, which she says can attract the occasional angry student protester or two.
But Herndon-De La Rosa insists that her organization isn’t at odds with the morals that most feminists espouse. Rather, New Wave Feminists adhere to one remarkably simple tenet: All life is valuable and sacred. Following this principle, Herndon-De La Rosa says New Wave Feminists are anti-war and anti-death penalty. They’ve organized drives to provide supplies to migrants at the border and donated tampons to Hurricane Harvey victims. They fiercely oppose human trafficking and believe all humans are deserving of compassion, protection and care.
“We basically follow a consistent life ethic,” Herndon-De La Rosa says. “We oppose any form of violence throughout the duration of a person’s lifetime: womb to tomb.”
In 2017, the activist told PBS:“As pro-life feminists we firmly believe in nonviolence, and violence against women is never acceptable, even in the womb."
When pondering which came first, feminism or her pro-life beliefs, Herndon-De La Rosa explains she’s always held both. It’s an unconventional combination that she attributes to her upbringing.
Herndon-De La Rosa’s mother became pregnant with her when she was a 19-year-old student at the University of Texas. Dropping out of school, she moved back home to Dallas to raise her newborn daughter. Childhood was hard, Herndon-De La Rosa says. As a kid, she faced poverty and grew up without a consistent father figure. Or as she puts it, she experienced all the “horrible things” that are used as justification for abortion.
“At the end of the day, feminism is just stepping up and being there for women. Then abortion becomes unnecessary, because she has the support she needs.” — Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa
Then, when she was just 16, Herndon-De La Rosa herself became pregnant by her high school boyfriend. She knew she didn’t want to have an abortion but struggled with whether to parent the child or to place it up for adoption. But after some soul-searching, she chose the former.
Herndon-De La Rosa credits her hard-knock experiences with crystallizing her vision for New Wave Feminists.
“Being on both sides of it has given me a unique perspective, because I was both the fetus and the scared woman facing an unplanned pregnancy,” she says.
Holding these seemingly disparate values has earned Herndon-De La Rosa her fair share of haters, but she insists that her organization boasts a veritable rainbow of diversity — with Trumpers, Bernie Bros, Libertarians and everyone in between melding together for the same cause.
Herndon-De La Rosa was a Republican when she was younger, she says. But she later left the party when she realized she disagreed with nearly everything it stood for, abortion notwithstanding. In fact, Herndon-De La Rosa recently penned an editorial for The Dallas Morning News. In it, she argues that Trump, the oft-called “Most Pro-Life President,” could be doing a lot more than he is to end abortion.
But that doesn’t mean that Herndon-De La Rosa goes to bed each night praying that 1973’s landmark Roe v. Wade ruling will be overturned. In fact, she agrees with most pro-choicers in their prediction that if abortion were made illegal today, women would seek it anyway using far riskier means.
“Abortion is a symptom,” Herndon-De La Rosa says. “And so I think it’s really, really important that we look at women and say, ‘What is standing in the way from you being able to make a nonviolent choice here?’”
Well, a lack of support for one, she says. In Herndon-De La Rosa’s perfect world, abortions would be needless and unthinkable, not just illegal. Pro-life activists should band together to create day care and babysitting programs for moms in need, Herndon-De La Rosa argues. Paid parental leave — for both men and women — should be mandatory in the workforce, and schools should implement comprehensive sex education and pregnancy mentorship programs to better prepare new moms for motherhood, she says.
Then eventually, the need for abortion would diminish enough to make Roe v. Wade nothing but an antiquated dictate, Herndon-De La Rosa says.
“At the end of the day, feminism is just stepping up and being there for women,” she says. “Then abortion becomes unnecessary, because she has the support she needs.”
A new study out of the University of California at San Francisco concluded that 95% of women who had an abortion reported they made the right decision five years later. Herndon-De La Rosa is wary of this study, incidentally. She cites rebuttals on right-leaning outlets like the National Review that claim the results were skewed by the number of women who declined to participate. But Herndon-De La Rosa believes there are likely scores of women who fall in the gray area between “satisfied” and “horrified”; some may think abortion was the right choice for them at the time, but still experience pangs of regret.
The activist also says that she has nothing but the utmost compassion for women who must make the difficult decision to abort an unwanted pregnancy. Many of her best friends have had one themselves. But she also believes that women should be 100% informed of the gravity of the choice they’re making before their procedure. Herndon-De La Rosa says they should see the sonograms and hear the fetal heartbeat so they fully understand what they’re about to do.
Still, pro-lifers aren’t getting anywhere by hurling bloody fetuses at Planned Parenthood patients, Herndon-De La Rosa says. And old-school feminists aren’t doing the movement any favors by snubbing their pro-life allies. Rather, Herndon-De La Rosa hopes that people on both sides of the aisle will set aside their unmoving convictions and listen to one another.
“I want to invite everybody into this conversation and have people work together,” she says. “Because ultimately, I think at the heart of what pro-choice and pro-life advocates are doing is compassion for women.”