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Terrisa Bukovinac, 38, is an atheist, vegan, Democrat, feminist, animal rights activist, and LGBT advocate.
Yet, since 2017, Bukovinac has run Pro-Life San Francisco. It’s not uncommon to see her with a bullhorn, a homemade sign, or a fetal model in hand—or at pro-life gatherings with Catholics and Christians. “She has a pretty loud voice, and she uses it,” one of her friends said.
Bukovinac met up with me recently at a downtown San Francisco coffee boutique, where she sported fuchsia lipstick, metallic combat boots, and a leopard print jacket. We talked for nearly two hours about her beliefs, her struggles, her growing millennial following, and her concern for unborn babies.
The pro-life movement is attracting more people like Bukovinac. Pro-abortion folks, she says, “don’t really know what to do with me.”
In recent months, Bukovinac demonstrated outside the University of California, San Francisco, protesting its fetal tissue research program, one she noted relies on tissue from dismemberment abortions of live unborn babies. She also publicized pro-life activist David Daleiden’s court trials, held in San Francisco, in his high-profile legal fight against Planned Parenthood.
As a teenager, Bukovinac thought abortion was a simple procedure to remove a “clump of cells.” She grew up in Herbert Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God, but when it unraveled, so did her parents’ marriage. After that, she says, she became a rebellious teenager and adopted liberal political views. In her 20s, her then-boyfriend, an agnostic, showed her pictures of unborn babies and abortion procedures: “I was completely shocked.”
Bukovinac eventually rejected belief in God, natural law, and the afterlife. But she couldn’t shake the pictures of aborted unborn babies. Since she no longer believed those babies went to heaven, she says, she felt “an extreme sense of urgency” to fight for their rights.
She began connecting online with a small network of other pro-life atheists. In 2012, she became involved with a friend’s startup, Secular Pro-Life, an online-based group that now has 30,000 Facebook followers. She has had leadership roles with other groups, including Rehumanize International and Democrats for Life of America, and has participated in events with Consistent Life Network. Last year, the March for Life organization featured Secular Pro-Life on its website with a picture of Bukovinac.
Despite the increased publicity, Bukovinac operates her own organization month-to-month, struggling to find financial support. Her views on God and sexuality turn away many Catholic and Christian supporters, even though she often links arms with them at protests and a few even sit on her board. Pro-Life San Francisco recently hosted its second annual conference at the University of California, Berkeley and included a transgender speaker along with Frank Pavone, a Catholic priest and national director of Priests for Life.
In our conversation, Bukovinac repeatedly referred to women as “people with wombs.”
But several pro-life advocates I spoke to emphasized the important role secular pro-lifers play in the movement. Pavone told me Bukovinac is “breaking stereotypes” in secular, urban cities: “Many of the young people she engages with might not otherwise give second thought to the issue.”
Faith Paull, executive director of Alpha Pregnancy Center in San Francisco, said Bukovinac recently toured her faith-based clinic, live-streaming the visit on social media so viewers could see the facility’s case management room, ultrasound technology, counseling room, and supply room for single mothers.
“She is this young, poppin’ millennial who doesn’t use the same rhetoric as most people in the movement,” Paull told me. “She’s willing to step up to the plate for pregnancy centers and use her platform to educate people with real, rational conversations about abortion.”
Still, Bukovinac admits that recent years have been tough. She suffers from Ménière’s disease, a disorder that causes debilitating vertigo, hearing loss, and nausea. She also battles loneliness: She has been married twice, and now lives alone with her two cats. “I don’t want to live my entire life on the edge of my seat, not able to sleep because … babies are being dismembered,” she said. “I want something for myself in the end.”
What is it she wants? “To find true love. … To give [my] best talents in a way that’s fulfilling and not stressful,” she said. Later, she added, “I’m not here to fight abortion. I’m here to end it.”
—This story has been updated to correct the descriptions of Bukovinac’s roles with Secular Pro-Life and Consistent Life Network.