Pro-Life Democrat Launches Presidential Bid as Protest Against Party’s Abortion Agenda

Terrisa Bukovinac's protest candidacy seeks to push back against the "anti-life" agenda promoted by the Democratic Party
Pro-Life Democrat Launches Presidential Bid as Protest Against Party’s Abortion Agenda
Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising founder Terrisa Bukovinac speaking outside of The Washington Surgi-Clinic, Dr. Cesare Santangelo’s abortion clinic in Northwest Washington on Sept. 14, 2023. (Sam Dorman/The Epoch Times)
Sam Dorman

WASHINGTON—“What happened to small government?” one protester yelled.

“We’re progressives!” another from the crowd said in apparent response.

Such was the scene where pro-life Democrat Terrisa Bukovinac announced her presidential candidacy at an abortion clinic in northwest Washington on Sept. 14. “I will travel to Iowa and New Hampshire and possibly South Carolina,” she told The Epoch Times. “Mostly I will be raising money to run ads in any states where I can hope to get on the ballot.”

The 42-year-old atheist doesn’t expect to win but wants to launch a protest candidacy against the Democratic Party while bringing attention to aborted children she found last year at the same location where she announced her candidacy. In total, she and activist Lauren Handy uncovered 115 apparently aborted babies, including five who appeared to be later in gestational age.

“I’m not going to be president,” she told The Epoch Times. “The American people need to see these victims. Any FCC [Federal Communications Commission] TV station must run the ads of all federal candidates uncensored. Justice looks like hearings for these babies in Congress and a national ban on abortion.”

Live Action News reported on Ms. Bukovinac’s discovery at Dr. Cesare Santangelo’s abortion clinic while quoting medical experts concurring that some of the babies looked older in gestational age. Former abortionist Dr. Kathi Aultman, for example, said one of the babies looked like it belonged in a nursery. Another, still encased in its amniotic sac, could have been born alive, according to Dr. Aultman.
That baby, and prior statements by Dr. Santangelo, have raised questions about whether he complies with federal law mandating medical care for abortion survivors. It’s unclear what exactly happened to those babies but experts said at least one appeared to show signs of an illegal partial-birth abortion.

Ms. Bukovinac’s discovery and the ensuing coverage helped shine a light on abortion and prenatal development just months before the Supreme Court released its decision overturning Roe v. Wade. While Ms. Bukovinac said Thursday that she celebrated Roe’s end, she also underscored the reality of efforts to protect abortion access in states across the country. And like other pro-lifers, she’s indicated that merely outlawing abortion wasn’t enough.

“I am absolutely promoting a two-pronged campaign not just calling for an abortion ban but for leftist policies that will help address the abortion crisis,” she said. “My position is that neither providing for families and banning abortion alone will end abortion, it must be both.”

She and other Democrats attempt to promote what they call a holistic pro-life approach that uses government to both outlaw abortion prevent its socio-economic drivers.

It’s a position that’s not represented often in national debates. That’s probably because the Democratic party has consistently supported abortion and, according to people like Democrats for Life Executive Director Kristen Day, pushed out pro-life voices.

“Terrisa’s campaign is a sign that our movement is growing,” Ms. Day told The Epoch Times. “We appreciate the courage and commitment that Terrisa is demonstrating as the only pro-life Democrat in the race. We hope the DNC [Democratic National Committee] will take note and reconsider its extreme abortion policy and litmus test.”

 Catherine Glenn Foster opening Terrisa Bukovinac’s Sept. 14, 2023 announcement that she’s running for president. (Sam Dorman/The Epoch Times)
Catherine Glenn Foster opening Terrisa Bukovinac’s Sept. 14, 2023 announcement that she’s running for president. (Sam Dorman/The Epoch Times)

Catherine Glenn Foster, who previously led Americans United for Life and currently works on Ms. Bukovinac’s campaign, opened Thursday’s event with a speech denouncing the “sold-out Biden-Harris anti-life agenda.”

According to Gallup’s historical polling on abortion, Americans have tended to support at least some limits on abortion but still indicate majorities support its legality and the decision in Roe v. Wade. Polling has also tended to show Americans opposing taxpayer funding of abortion.
During her speech, Ms. Foster alluded to data showing that a sizeable portion of Democrats don’t agree with their party on abortion. Ms. Bukovinac’s candidacy comes at an unprecedented time for the party as it pushes to codify Roe and remove several protections against taxpayer funding for abortions. During the 2020 presidential primaries, then-candidate Joe Biden reversed his longstanding position in support of the decades-old Hyde Amendment.
Republicans, meanwhile, show varying views on abortion, according to Gallup. Electoral losses earlier this year prompted an internal debate earlier this year with some warning pro-lifers about going too far in their anti-abortion demands. The White House leveraged a loss in Wisconsin as an opportunity to defend abortion and reiterate many on the left’s argument that the procedure is a form of reproductive freedom.

“This week’s election in Wisconsin reaffirmed what we already know to be true: the majority of Americans believe and agree that every woman, not her government, should have the freedom to make decisions about her own body,” a statement from Vice President Kamala Harris read.

After the fall of Roe, however, some pro-life leaders have insisted on total or national abortion bans, putting them at odds with many elected Republicans.

Ms. Bukovinac, perhaps seeing an opening for new alliances, described the political landscape as obviously “dismal” while calling for “course correct[ion]” through a renewed focus on the principles espoused in the Declaration of Independence—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

“Terrisa is a smart, effective, and unrelenting anti-abortion progressive,” pro-life leader David Daleiden told The Epoch Times.

“If establishment presidential candidates continue to fail to cast a bold vision to protect infants and families from the predatory abortion industry as the National Defender of Life, then they can expect the pro-life voters who decide elections to rally around someone else who will.”

Reckoning with Two Parties, Two Sides of One Movement

There is an uneasy tension within the pro-life movement over multiple issues, including what activists describe as “rescues” or attempts to stop women from proceeding with their abortion appointments.
On the day of Ms. Bukovinac’s announcement, President Biden’s Justice Department was prosecuting its second round of rescue defendants for their role in an October 2020 operation at Dr. Santangelo’s clinic. They were found guilty on Friday of violating the FACE Act and conspiracy to violate civil rights, as was Ms. Handy in the prior trial.

Part of Ms. Bukovinac’s campaign entails calling for an end to FACE, a Clinton-era law that punishes pro-lifers for obstructing clinic access. She was one of the many pro-lifers in the courtroom for Ms. Handy’s verdict and detention, to which Ms. Bukovinac responded by calling Ms. Handy a hero.

Lauren Muzyka, who leads Sidewalk Advocates for Life, released a statement lamenting the verdict but argued that blocking clinics was a “type of aggressive, legally risky outreach” that could hurt the pro-life cause. Former Planned Parenthood Director Abby Johnson retweeted that statement while Live Action’s Lila Rose offered a full-throated defense of the rescuers, hailing them as heroes.

Ms. Bukovinac told The Epoch Times that rescue critics are “wrong." "Nonviolent direct action is the necessary path for success of any social justice movement,” she said.

She added that “[t]he criticism is expected and part of achieving justice for the children means moving past the haters and continuing on in the face of adversity. Rescue is our best hope of ending abortion in all 50 states and I believe that through rescue we will.”

Besides “rescues,” differences in the pro-life movement emerge around religion, sexuality, and economic policy. Ms. Bukovinac’s Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU), for example, caused a stir on social media when it posted a cartoon appearing to mock conservative pro-lifers in response to their views on sexuality.

Ms. Bukovinac, who also founded Secular Pro-Life, told The Epoch Times that she “was a pro-choice Democrat until I lost my faith (I am an atheist). When I no longer believed in life after death or divine justice I began to rethink the ethics of taking someone’s only life, an extremely rare experience of the universe.”

That perspective is relatively rare in a movement dominated by conservative women, as well as those who invoke faith to argue for the sanctity of unborn life. Ms. Johnson, for example, regularly posts about her Christian faith alongside anti-abortion messages on social media.

“I’m not sure we need ‘policy’ to bring about a pro-life world,” Ms. Johnson, who runs private charities for former abortion workers and women in crisis pregnancies, told The Epoch Times. She said that cultural “change will only come through a recognition of the intrinsic value of life gifted to every human being at the moment of conception. And that value only comes from God.”

Ms. Johnson added that “even though I personally like Terrisa, a proclaimed atheist is not a candidate that would ever be able [to] bring about the culture change necessary to make abortion unthinkable.”

As a whole, the movement is largely led by religious conservatives who tend to support candidates criticizing socialism and the type of big government policies, like universal health care, that Ms. Bukovinac touts.

Things could be changing on the right, however, as people like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) promote “pro-family” policies, under which he includes increasing funding for the Women, Infants, and Children or WIC program. Earlier this year, Foster and Day called for a program to “make birth free” for mothers. Advancing the idea of free birth, they also published an op-ed in the publication started by Sohrab Ahmari, an intellectual who has defended conservative social norms while criticizing what he suggests is an excessive ideological commitment to free market capitalism.

“Abortion is tied to some of the worst problems that we have in America,” Ms. Bukovinac said in Washington on Thursday.

“Anti-union laws cause lower wages, which causes abortion. A racist criminal justice system causes incarceration, which causes a lack of support, which causes abortion. Employers who write letters saying that they’ll pay for their employees’ abortions but refuse to provide basic accommodations for pregnant people in their workplace cause abortions. Policies that fail to expand affordable housing cause houselessness, which causes abortions. We cannot address the abortion crisis in this country without a holistic, intersectional, and whole life approach.”