Outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in Downtown Brooklyn, a small but noisy band of anti-abortion activists stand in front of the entrance pushing pro-life pamphlets at people walking into the building. The group, Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU), has traveled from Washington, D.C. to “sidewalk counsel” patients. Those of us there to counter them are on-edge, watching closely to see if they’ll try to enter the clinic, as they have been known to do in other cities. A man walks up, confused about which of us are pro-choice and which are pro-life. The PAAU activists laugh about getting mistaken for abortion supporters. Their signs are perplexing to the uninitiated: “liberal atheist against abortion” and “divest from big abortion now.” One anti-abortion activist with a pin from the abolitionist group Survived and Punished states her opposition to prisons and talks about her fundraising efforts for incarcerated pregnant women — while she was serving prison time for invading an abortion clinic in Michigan.
These oddball extremists, who mix seemingly lefty politics with civil disobedience tactics, have carved out a niche for themselves in the anti-abortion ecosystem. Founded in the fall of 2021 with the stated aim of “reclaiming progressivism for life,” PAAU prioritizes direct action and publicity stunts to attract media attention and recruit young activists who feel out of step with mainstream pro-life groups because of their political views or marginalized identities.