[Terrisa Bukovinac is the new president of Democrats for Life, which seeks to support Democratic Party candidates that are pro-life. She is an atheist, feminist, vegan, Democrat, and a consistent life activist. She is the Founder and Executive Director of Pro-Life San Francisco, a co-leader of Secular Pro-Life, and serves on the Executive Boards of Rehumanize International and Let them Live. She spoke to Charles Camosy.]
Camosy: Congratulations on your new role as president of Democrats for Life. Can you tell us a bit about your background and the path that led you here?
Thank you! It’s truly an honor to lead this organization and it’s meaningful coming from someone who’s been as involved through the years as you. I grew up in Adrian, Michigan, and raised in the Worldwide Church of God. My parents were strict when it came to religious obedience, were not at all political, and vaguely pro-choice.
I got my professional start as a radio personality in high school, and later graduated from a media arts school. I spent the next 15 years of my life managing retail and e-commerce teams for several fortune 500 companies and luxury brands. During those years I was a typical young liberal girl living by then in Atlanta, Georgia.
As someone who was sensitive to the welfare of animals, I was challenged by someone on my pro-choice position when they asked how I could care about the dolphins but not care about unborn children being killed in the womb. I was confronted with images of the unborn that helped me to understand that abortion was in fact violence. But I was involved with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America by that point and they don’t really take a position against abortion, so I just kind of considered myself personally pro-life but politically pro-choice for many years. It wasn’t until I lost my faith altogether that I began to really think about the implications of the practice. If we only get one life to live and there’s no god to bring about justice in the end, how could abortion be just?
By 2011, I’d been living in San Francisco for four years and deep into my secular journey when I saw someone I used to work with post on a Facebook page called Secular Pro-Life (SPL) which ultimately changed everything. Seeing others like me empowered me to come forward and be seen. I became more active in the pro-life movement online and in 2014 assumed my current role as a co-leader of SPL, eventually establishing my own organization, Pro-Life San Francisco (PLSF), in October 2016. In 2017 I left my career in fashion to work for PLSF on a full-time basis. PLSF is headquartered in the most pro-abortion city in America, and has grown since then to be the largest and most active Millennial-led local pro-life effort in the nation.
In the summer of 2019, I began traveling to the national Democratic debates with the Democrats for Life of America banner organizing local activists to demonstrate against abortion extremism. Since then DFLA has received unprecedented interest and media exposure, positioning us to move into a major growth phase for 2021.
Lots of people – including me, if I’m honest – have given up hope on Democratic Party when it comes to abortion. But then I think about the uphill battle you’ve had witnessing to life in a place like San Francisco – and I wonder if your experience in that town is the best possible preparation for being president of Democrats for Life?
San Francisco is the home to the University of California San Francisco which is the late-term abortion training capital of the U.S. and the most politically involved medical institution on abortion worldwide. The Bay Area is home to Pelosi and Harris, and is where David Daleiden is being prosecuted by Xavier Becerra for exposing fetal tissue trafficking in California.
That said, the numbers are not on the abortion industry’s side; even most Democrats don’t support abortion beyond viability. And that’s true for blue states and cities across America. No matter how much the media buries the narrative, abortion is not a settled issue anywhere in America, even in places like San Francisco, and that is terrifying for the abortion industry. They are more afraid of pro-life Democrats than pro-life Republicans, and for good reason.
We could all use a bit of hope here in the new year. Can you give us some specific reasons for pro-lifers to be hopeful about the future of the Democratic party?
Without a doubt. While it’s easy to feel totally discouraged by the blatant abortion extremism emanating from our party, the reality is that the most substantial source of power for the abortion industry as a whole is the Democratic Party, and while we have the most extreme leadership we’ve ever had on abortion, we also represent the most pro-life constituency in the recent history of our party. A 2020 Marist poll shows 58 percent of Democrats support restricting abortion to after 6 months, earlier, or non-elective circumstances. According to Gallup and Pew polling there are still roughly 21 million Democrats who actually call themselves pro-life!
The abortion industry is terrified of pro-life Democrats finding our voice. They know we have the power to end them completely. I travel to pro-life conferences across the nation, some attracting thousands of attendees, but I rarely see pro-choice protesters. The exception to that is the DFLA annual conference, which consistently draws intense opposition from pro-choice activists. In Colorado, a local NARAL affiliate paid for a pro-abortion billboard to be parked outside of the conference center and industry leaders held a televised press conference on site. In Lansing last year, a local group paid for three more expensive billboards that said “Go home Dems for Life” and flyered the conference room and hotel in the days leading up to the conference.
We should also be encouraged that there was literally no mention of abortion at the 2020 DNC, compared with 2016 where Ilyse Hogue of NARAL and Cecile Richards both addressed the convention.
And finally, we should be excited to see Tulsi Gabbard, a progressive millennial woman of color, a high-profile former presidential candidate, breaking party lines to champion common-sense protections for infants born alive during abortions and pain-capable fetuses beyond 20 weeks.
It’s important to understand that social justice movements have come and won that people were told were completely impossible. The goals of the pro-life movement are absolutely realistic. We can win. But it cannot be done without pro-life Democrats. We are the ones in a position to truly end this practice and we will do it by using every opportunity for visibility, speaking out, pushing back, and attracting more and more people to our whole-life movement.
I’ve got the sense that you are particularly committed to reaching out to young people. Can you offer some strategies or pro-lifers as we try to pass on pro-life values to the next generation?
Thank you for noticing! There’s a reason for that. Millennials specifically are the largest generation in the history of our country and make up the largest segment of the population today. We are the most secular, left-leaning, LGBTQ+ inclusive, and racially diverse generation in our nation’s history. And we are just as anti-abortion (only 3 percent to 9 percent less likely) as our parents, and even more so as it relates to late-term procedures. The abortion industry knows this. They also know that it’s very difficult for religious conservatives to reach this demographic, so they platform off of every other left-leaning issue: immigration, police brutality, racial justice, healthcare, LGBTQ+ issues, feminism, that they know millennials care deeply about.
My advice to young people is three things. First, you must do everything in your power to demonstrate consistency with Millennial values. Studies show that when people are presented with facts that contradict their preconceived worldview, they will double down on their position. Facts trigger people’s confirmation bias and makes them less likely to consider our position legitimately. The only thing that seems to help lessen the effects of confirmation bias is to show how similar the new idea is to the old idea. The easiest and most effective way to do that in my opinion is to dress very cool. If you take a group of pro-choicers and a group of pro-lifers and no one is holding any signs or messages, you’d 100 percent be likely to guess which side was which anyways just based on how the groups are dressed. That visible difference creates a psychological divide that is instantaneous. The cooler and more relevant we look the more likely we are to be heard by those that disagree with us and the more babies we will save.
The second thing is just as important and is a willingness to disrupt the status quo. No social justice movements are won without critical nonviolent direct action and yes it’s scary to do a disruption or a sit-in and everyone is looking at you and possibly you’re risking arrest, but it must be done and it’s probably you reading this who needs to do it. Ending the influence of one of the greatest evils of our day is going to take an enormous amount of bravery. So read some Gene Sharp, buy a megaphone, use it, and multiply its effect by documenting and sharing on social media.
The third thing is to remember that our pro-life position rests on our recognition that we are all uniquely valuable and we all have the potential to contribute to this world in phenomenal ways. The key to success has never been in fitting in but in our ability to stand out and to resist the urge to conform. You are more rare and precious than a Chanel handbag or a Lamborghini. There’s something special about you that will help our cause and we’re counting on you to find it and to boldly live out your unique path.
It has now become a cliche to say that “the pandemic has changed everything.” But it pretty much has. How do you see Democrats for Life helping shape the pro-life movement post-pandemic?
The work of Democrats for Life is essential business. We must act urgently to end the influence of Big Abortion in our party. Pro-life Democrats are by nature survivors and the pandemic has not hindered our ability to do our work in a significant way. But we do recognize the gross mishandling of the pandemic by the Trump administration leading to so much loss of life and how that has further challenged an already uphill fight for the pro-life movement to gain mainstream legitimacy. Biden’s win was likely due to pandemic-related concerns, but his near loss indicates abortion is still a major issue of contention among voters.
Our support of Democratic policy as it relates to the pandemic will help demonstrate our core values to those whose minds we are trying to change and hopefully help build life-affirming bridges wherever possible. We of course hope it will set an example for the pro-life movement as well, encouraging them to embrace life-saving precautions as the pandemic continues. But it’s also my hope that we will not allow our differing Democratic worldview to hinder our ability to work together with pro-life people from across the spectrum. Unity is required for victory. Going into 2021 under a Biden/Harris administration will require pro-life Democrats to take the lead within the movement in a way we previously haven’t. To effectively lead any movement, you must be willing to work as a team and that’s what I intend to do.