This week, many of the various factions of the anti-abortion movement will gather in Washington for the March For Life, an annual event that marks the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade.
The wide array of events surrounding the march reflect many of the strands of the anti-choice movement. This morning, far-flung members of the “rescue” movement — those who protest outside of clinics and sometimes harass providers and patients — joined local activists who have been protesting at a new Planned Parenthood building, much to the dismay of the elementary school next door. On Wednesday, a group of demonstrators elsewhere in Washington mistakenly protested outside of a closed Planned Parenthood building. Over the next few days, young activists will have two rallies and a conference dedicated just to them. Lawyers and law students will meet about legal strategies for turning back abortion rights. For the first time, there will be a conference focused on evangelicals.
But many of these events will be connected by the presence of one familiar face: David Daleiden, the young activist whose “sting” operation against Planned Parenthood has shaken up the anti-abortion movement. Daleiden isn’t scheduled for a main-stage slot at the march, but he’ll be making appearances at the Planned Parenthood protest, the evangelical summit, the lawyers’ event and a Family Research council event, along with a related Students for Life event on the West Coast on Sunday.
Daleiden’s influence will likely be felt even at events where he isn’t present: The keynote speech at the march itself will be delivered by Carly Fiorina, the Republican presidential candidate who has routinely recited a false story of what she claims to have seen in one of Daleiden’s films.
The central role of Daleiden in this week’s events reflects the extent to which his project, which stemmed from one of the most radical strands of the anti-choice movement, has brought radical protest groups back to prominence and shifted the strategy and priorities of the more “mainstream” parts of the movement.
Last summer, Daleiden started releasing a series of videos, taken undercover in conversations with Planned Parenthood employees, which he claimed showed the women’s health organization illegally profiting off fetal tissue donated for research. Those claims didn’t hold up, but they opened up a new line of attack for the anti-choice movement — along with a new wave of violence — that culminated in the recent votes in Congress to defund Planned Parenthood, something that anti-choice leaders say they will now be able to do once and for all if a Planned Parenthood foe is elected president. Planned Parenthood is now suing Daleiden and his accomplices.
This renewed focus on Planned Parenthood has helped to elevate the rescue movement, which Daleiden’s project grew out of. Two of Daleiden’s closest advisors, Operation Rescue’s Troy Newman and Life Dynamics’ Mark Crutcher, helped to pioneer the strategy of cutting down access to abortion by making life miserable for abortion providers and patients. Crutcher has specialized in doing this through “sting” operations, including one that Daleiden’s was modeled after, and now hopes to train and “unleash a whole army of David Daleidens” on abortion providers.
Planned Parenthood has long been a target of these groups. After Daleiden started releasing his videos, anti-choice groups began directing their activists to protests in front of Planned Parenthood clinics led by some of the old guard of the rescue movement. This created what Newman described as “the largest coordinated protest of abortion clinics” since the prime of the rescue movement in the 1980s and 1990s.
Daleiden’s videos have also prompted a shift in how major anti-choice groups are talking about their work. Americans United for Life, the influential anti-abortion legal group, has been a leader in the strategy of pushing abortion restrictions in the name of “women’s health,” offering legislators anti-choice model bills through what it calls its “Women’s Protection Program.” But since Daleiden started releasing his videos, AUL has sensed an opportunity and started shifting its rhetoric toward legal rights for fetuses, launching what it calls an “Infants’ Protection Project” that quietly aims to build on “personhood” protections for fetuses.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, the head of the anti-choice campaign powerhouse Susan B. Anthony List, told ProPublica that in Daleiden’s videos, her group “saw our opening — and we jumped all in.”
That has certainly also been the case with Fiorina and her fellow Republican presidential candidates, nearly all of whom say they want to remove federal funding from Planned Parenthood’s services to low-income women (none of which goes towards abortions), and several of whom have vowed to attempt to ban all abortion, some through a radical “personhood” strategy.
The official theme of this year’s March for Life is “Pro-Life and Pro-Woman go Hand in Hand,” a nod to the strategy of portraying abortion restrictions as protections for women. But it seems likely that it will be hard to escape Daleiden’s attack on Planned Parenthood and its aftermath.