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Secular Pro-Life Perspectives

Terrisa Bukovinac at A Walk for Life in San Francisco (Secular Pro-Life Perspectives)


Unconventional ally

In one of the most pro-abortion cities in the nation, unborn babies have an unlikely defender

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.

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The international Blue Water Bridge at the Michigan-Ontario border (iStock)


North to South

The summer migration crisis sparked a big migration for border officers too 

It’s a warm morning in early autumn at the Michigan-Ontario border. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officers Ken Hammond and Greg Calhoun stand in a closed lane at the Port Huron primary inspection booths in their dark blue uniforms. It’s overcast, but both men wear sunglasses. Behind them, cars, RVs, and semitrucks split into their assigned lanes as they approach the booths from the Blue Water Bridge. The bridge, which connects the United States and Canada over the St. Clair River, quivers under the weight of the hundreds of vehicles, some from as far away as Arizona or Florida. 

This wind-swept bridge, sandwiched between Michigan’s Port Huron on one side and Ontario’s Sarnia on the other, is one of the four most heavily traveled border crossings between the United States and Canada. In 2018, more than 1.5 million personal vehicles and 800,000 trucks entered the United States through the port. As Officer Calhoun points out, that’s a big number for a small Michigan city with a population of less than 30,000. 

But the typical 15- to 30-minute wait here at Port Huron is negligible compared with the hours travelers spend at the Texas-Mexico border crossings in El Paso, where almost 12.4 million personal vehicles entered the United States last year. That’s why this summer, as the influx of migrants at the southern border intensified, CBP moved some of the officers at the northern border south to help keep operations moving at the Mexico border.

In June, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported that the CBP priority of securing the U.S.-Mexico border was preventing CBP offices at the U.S.-Canada border from fixing “staffing and resource challenges.” But the report said those shortages mainly impair the effectiveness of the divisions of CBP responsible for monitoring the border between legal ports of entry. For the Office of Field Operations, the division responsible for the legal ports of entry like the Blue Water Bridge, the main consequence is longer wait times for travelers. 

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Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/Sipa USA/AP

Protesters make gestures to symbolize demands during a demonstration in Hong Kong. (Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/Sipa USA/AP)


Decades of fighting

An 80-year-old democracy activist sees a new generation take up his cause

Week after week, black-clad protesters face off with riot police in Hong Kong’s neighborhoods and business districts. Tear gas haze, laser pointers, blockade fires, and mall sing-alongs of the newly minted anthem “Glory to Hong Kong” have become common occurrences in Hong Kong’s summer of discontent.

Protests that began as a pushback against a now-withdrawn extradition bill have transformed into a social movement urging greater democracy and denouncing the Beijing-backed government leaders in the city of 7.4 million.

One of the protesters may not look the part: 80-year-old Pastor Kwok Nai-wang. But Kwok has been active in the fight for Hong Kong democracy since the 1980s, and now he’s watching as another generation takes up that cause.

Born in Hong Kong, Kwok grew up in a Christian home and studied philosophy at the prestigious Hong Kong University before attending Yale Divinity School and becoming an ordained minister. He returned to Hong Kong in 1966, where he became a pastor in Shek Kip Mei.

Shek Kip Mei Estate is the first public housing in Hong Kong built after a fire in 1953 burned down wooden shanties and left 53,000 people homeless. Most were refugees from mainland China who couldn’t afford Hong Kong’s housing.

Gambling, prostitution, and drug use were common in Shek Kip Mei, and Kwok began to see reaching out to the community as part of his role. Kwok’s church met with the residents, listened to their needs, and worked to help the poor and marginalized. The church put together community events, published community newspapers, and started a kindergarten. Kwok mentored young people in the church: In the 11 years he pastored the church, 13 parishioners decided to go to seminary, and half of them now pastor local churches in Hong Kong.

In 1977, Kwok became the general secretary of Hong Kong Christian Council, the ecumenical Protestant body in Hong Kong and the second-largest social service provider in the city. The more Kwok spent time helping the poor, the more he saw problems stemming from a “highly unjust society.”

He viewed democracy as the best way to allow Hong Kong residents to participate in government, and he says the current unrest is “because [citizens] don’t have a say in electing the chief executive, who is not responding in any way to the demands of the people.”

Even though the Chinese Communist Party tried to curry his favor with invitations to mainland China, Kwok remained active within the democracy movement, according to Hong Kong’s Apple Daily. Some pastors in the council disagreed with his social activism, claiming that the Church shouldn’t be involved in politics. Others thought that by drawing closer to China, Hong Kong churches would gain access to evangelize inside mainland China. Yet Kwok believed that Christians needed to pursue justice in society, and in 1988 he left to form the Hong Kong Christian Institute (HKCI), a pro-democracy Christian think tank.

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