Terrisa Bukovinac entered the race for president on Thursday — but she has no illusion of winning the Democratic primary.
Instead, the progressive pro-life activist is hoping to bring what she believes is a much-needed voice of reason on abortion to the Democratic Party.
At 42, Bukovinac also hopes to represent millennials in the race that has been dominated by older candidates. She joins Robert F. Kennedy Jr., 69, and Marianne Williamson, 71, in challenging President Joe Biden, who would be 86 at the end of a second term.
“I spent the last part of 2019 and 2020 traveling to every single Democratic debate and I organized groups there. We held the ‘Democrats for Life’ banner and I was a bit frustrated and I demanded representation,” she told National Review in an interview ahead of her official announcement in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. “I thought, ‘I just can’t go into another election without doing it myself.”
Democrats, she says, are “being totally misrepresented by the party elites and the party platform.”
Bukovinac is the founder of the Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising, the group behind a 2020 “rescue action” at a Washington, D.C.-based abortion clinic that recently resulted in the conviction of five pro-life activists with the group on charges of conspiracy against rights and violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE Act.
The incident began when a pro-life activist with Bukovinac’s organization made an appointment at the Washington Surgi-Clinic under a fake name. When clinic staff opened the door, pro-life activists from the group rushed from the building’s emergency stairwell into the facility, where they formed a blockade for more than three hours until authorities removed them.
An altercation allegedly left a clinic employee hospitalized with an ankle injury.
Prosecutors accused five of the activists of violating the FACE Act, which is a federal law that prohibits the use of physical force, threats of force, or the intentional damaging of property to prevent someone from obtaining or providing abortion services.
Two of the activists said their decision to blockade the clinic was inspired by Live Action’s “Inhuman: Undercover in America’s Late-Term Abortion Industry” video, which was released ten years ago and shows Cesare Santangelo, the head of the Washington Surgi-Clinic, telling an undercover activist that if she went into labor and delivered before the “termination part of the procedure . . . then we would not help [the baby].”
“We wouldn’t intubate, let’s say,” Santangelo said in the video.
Three other activists are on trial now in connection with the incident.
While Bukovinac is outraged that the Department of Justice has decided to “come after peaceful pro-life activists,” it was really an experience outside the Washington Surgi-Center in March 2022 that served as a catalyst for her run.
She planned to visit the abortion clinic at that time to see if there were any patients who might only be choosing abortion out of a need for financial support, she explains on her campaign website. Months earlier, she’d met an expecting mom in the waiting room who was choosing to have an abortion because she was facing eviction. Bukinovac says she was able to connect her with $4,000 she needed and the mother chose not to have an abortion after all.
While she planned to search for similar such cases in March 2022, she instead arrived at the center with a fellow activist and saw a medical waste truck parked outside, she says.
She asked the driver who was loading boxes onto his truck if he would get in trouble if they took one of the boxes. They told the driver they would give the aborted babies a funeral and a burial and he gave them a box.
Inside the box, they say they found the bodies of 115 aborted babies. “Most of them were pulverized first trimester abortion victims. You could still see their tiny rib cages, their spines snapped in half, their smashed heads, and dismembered limbs, hands, & feet,” Bukovinac writes on her campaign site.
Bukovinac has committed herself to pursuing justice for five of the babies who were in their third trimester.
“I literally held the victims of late-term abortion in my hands,” she told National Review. “I’ve seen abortion extremism that comes from the Democratic Party up close and personal. And there’s just no going back from that for me.”
“I absolutely am committed to bringing about justice for these children because the Democratic Party is … to blame,” she said.
While she’ll be traveling to Iowa, New Hampshire and potentially South Carolina, the primary purpose of her campaign is raising money to run “explicit” ads showing the cruel reality of abortion in any states where she can get on the ballot. FCC-regulated broadcasters have limited ability to censor the ads of presidential candidates.
Bukovinac said she hopes to create a safe space for pro-life Democrats to come out of the shadows and voice their beliefs.
While Democrats once argued that abortions should be “safe, legal, and rare,” the party has moved away from that notion in recent years. The party removed the word “rare” from its official platform in 2012, shifting its position to favor “safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay.”
The declining support for the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits taxpayer money from funding abortions, similarly shows Democrats’ radical shift on abortion: While it once was a bipartisan provision, the Democratic Party moved to call for its repeal in its 2016 platform.
While the idea of promoting “safe, legal, and rare” abortions was coined by a Democrat — former president Bill Clinton — former representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii used the phrase during a presidential primary debate in 2019 to much backlash from the Left.
Gabbard supported abortion rights early in pregnancy and the prospect of codifying Roe v. Wade, but said she’d prohibit abortion during the last three months of pregnancy “unless the life or severe health consequences of a woman are at risk.”
Even that proved too pro-life for the modern-day Democratic Party, with the Ohio affiliate of NARAL Pro-Choice America writing in a tweet, “This is a position — making abortion ‘rare’ — not supported by pro-choice advocates.” A Vice headline said Gabbard was “stuck in the ’90s.”
Biden has supported a federal bill that makes abortion beyond viability and until birth legal whenever a single “health-care provider” determines that killing the viable baby would protect the mental health of the mother.
Biden’s other primary opponents have both voiced opposition to abortion restrictions.
While Kennedy seemed to voice support for a 15-week abortion ban last month, he later walked back his comments, claiming he misunderstood an interviewer’s question due to “a crowded, noisy exhibit hall at the Iowa State Fair.”
Kennedy initially told NBC News’ Ali Vitali that the “decision to abort a child should be up to the women during the first three months of life.” Asked to clarify whether that constituted a 15-week abortion ban, Kennedy answered: “Yes.”
However, his campaign followed up later that day to say: “Mr. Kennedy’s position on abortion is that it is always the woman’s right to choose. He does not support legislation banning abortion.”
Williamson writes on her campaign website that she believes the decision should be left up to women.
“I believe the decision of whether or not to have an abortion lies solely with a pregnant woman, according to the dictates of her conscience and in communion with the God of her understanding,” the site says. “I trust the moral decision-making of the American woman, and I do not feel the government has a right to deny or restrict her decisions.”
Biden is far ahead of his challengers; a Real Clear Politics polling average shows him with 66.7 percent support, followed by Kennedy at 12 percent and Williamson at 6.5 percent.
While Bukinovac’s campaign is centered on abortion, she said she is a progressive who believes the systemic problem of abortion is better addressed through Democratic socialist policy.
“I think millennial voters in particular want to see a strong environmentalist and someone who is going to work to address systemic racism and reduce, you know, over-policing,” she said.
The “issues” page of Bukinovac’s campaign website makes it clear that she is still a dyed-in-the-wool progressive. Among the issues she promotes are healthcare equity, economic justice, racial justice, criminal justice reform, and environmental justice.
“I stand for the same leftist values as I have throughout my entire pro-life career and that doesn’t change with my presidential candidacy, but this campaign is about abortion,” she said.
“I believe there cannot be justice for these babies until I can break the toxic relationship between the Democratic Party and the abortion industry,” she said. “So, do I think that this campaign is going to accomplish that? Probably not. But is this campaign going to create space for that to happen in the future? I believe it will.”