Melissa Linebaugh was looking forward to taking part in the Women’s March on Washington with her mother and her 9-year-old daughter.
A self-described Christian liberal from Dover, Pa., she was horrified by President Trump’s rhetoric toward women and minorities during the campaign. This was their chance, she thought, to stand with other women in support of a more inclusive and equal world.
Then she read that the organizers had refused to partner with a group of antiabortion feminists. Would she, Linebaugh wondered, be welcome?
“As liberal as I am,” she said, “my one real issue that I struggle with is abortion.”
She was not alone. Across the United States, many women who oppose abortion decided to stay away from the marches planned in Washington and around the country Saturday. Others said that they would march anyway, though in some cases it would be to protest what they see as the outsized influence of abortion providers on the women’s movement.
Not sure of what to do, Linebaugh turned to the march’s Facebook page, where a debate was raging between those who support and those who oppose abortion rights. The vitriol she saw in some of the posts stunned her.
“The pro-life stance reduces women to nothing more than walking incubators,” one defender of abortion rights wrote.
“The Pro Life movement has tried to destroy Roe v. Wade ever since it was upheld by the Supreme Court!” another wrote, referring to the 1973 decision that legalized the procedure nationwide. “Absolutely they should not be a part of the Women's March.”
Linebaugh was crushed. Why couldn’t these women see that “everybody could be together for the same cause and still have and respect different viewpoints?”
“I sat there and literally cried.”
The ruckus began when the Atlantic reported Monday that the march organizers had recognized the New Wave Feminists, a Dallas-based antiabortion group, as one of hundreds of official partners. Hours later, the organizers issued a statement apologizing for “this error” and dropped the group from the list.
“The Women’s March platform is pro-choice and that has been our stance from day one,” the statement said.
Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, head of the New Wave Feminists, said she wasn’t offered an explanation for the reversal but believes that the organizers caved in to pressure from the “pro-choice feminist community.”
“I understand that when you say ‘pro-life,’ people assume bullhorns and bloody fetus signs,” she said, but added that her group takes a very different approach.
“While we are a pro-life group, we do not work to make abortion illegal,” she said. “We work to make it unthinkable and unnecessary by loving women and serving them well enough that they would never feel the need to turn to abortion.”
Herndon-De La Rosa said she was heartened by an outpouring of support on social media from women who support abortion rights but were disappointed at the organizers’ decision and wanted groups like hers to feel welcome.
When thousands of women take to the streets of the nation’s capital Saturday, she plans to be there, and she has encouraged other women to march too.
“We have so many things in common, fighting domestic abuse and human trafficking and just oppression worldwide,” she said.
Heidi L. Sieck, a cofounder of the #VOTERPROCHOICE campaign who helped put together the march’s policy platform, said, “There was never a moment that this march wasn’t about reproductive freedoms.
“There are individuals who for whatever reason wouldn’t want to have an abortion — it’s not something they’d choose for themselves,” she said. “You can certainly march if you are in that category … But the whole principle is, don’t try to take away someone else’s freedom of choice.”
Linebaugh, a former lawyer turned stay-at-home mom, continued to agonize for days. She believes, passionately, that life begins at conception. But she recognizes that there are circumstances when an abortion might be necessary and says she would never judge a woman who makes that choice.
Old friends who are staunch defenders of abortion rights reached out to her on Facebook and said they would be proud to march with her. But the thought that others might not want her there “just took some of the heart out of it,” she said.
She also worried about exposing her daughter, Selah, to a confrontation, if antiabortion groups turn out with their banners and start accusing other participants of being “baby killers.”
In the end, she decided to skip the march in favor of a “girls’ weekend” with her mother and daughter.
Times staff writer Laura King in Washington contributed to this report.
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