Courtesy of Jaicie Smallwood

Over the past few months, videos of young women standing up to pro-life protesters outside an abortion clinic have circulated the ever-popular social media platform, TikTok. Through these numerous 15-60 second clips, they illustrate the daily scene outside the clinic to thousands of viewers.

Nineteen-year-olds Jaicie Smallwood and Hannah Bauerle of pro-choice group Charlotte for Choice, have helped lead the use of TikTok to document their experiences as clinic defenders at abortion clinic in Charlotte, N.C. The job of clinic defenders is to distract pro-life protesters in order to protect clinic patients from harassment. In depicting the conflicts between obstructive anti-abortion protestors and pro-choice clinic defenders that occur daily in front of clinics, they have ignited a conversation about reproductive rights and youth among the newest generation, Gen Z.

“We are normally at the property line of the clinic taking any of the heat from the anti-choice protestors and pointing people into the clinic,” said Bauerle. “We also let [the patients] know that the Anti’s are not associated with the clinic and that they do not have to speak with them if they do not want to.”

Pro-life protesters, who oppose the clinics on the basis of the abortion procedures they provide, have long staked out on the perimeter of abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood centers. These groups, which often include Christians and other religious groups, argue that life begins at conception, which is largely why they consider ending a pregnancy to be immoral.

Smallwood said these anti-choice protestors routinely “park an RV right out front loaded with an ultrasound machine and lots of model babies at various weeks.” They have also used a large speaker to pipe their voices to the back of the clinic.

The Charlotte-area clinic where Smallwood and Bauerle volunteer outside of offers services for pregnant women, such as pregnancy testing and surgical abortions.

The clinic is “extremely accessible which makes [it] so important for many people, ” said Bauerle.

The number of abortion clinics in the United States continues to dwindle each year, according to the Guttmacher Institute. States like Mississippi and Missouri now only have one clinic that offers end-of-pregnancy operations, making it extremely difficult for women of these states to safely access these procedures.

Under the Trump administration’s watch, there has been a push for states to pass laws limiting the accessibility and availability of abortions. Part of their goal is to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case that established a woman’s right to choose. Recently, 9 states have drafted restrictive abortion legislation, creating barriers for women to safely undergo the procedure. While some of these bans, from Georgia and Tennessee, have been blocked by federal judges and are not yet in effect, others seek to be challenged and eventually arrive at the highest court in the land.

The issue of access to birth control services has remained a timely issue through the pandemic. The outcome of the 2020 presidential election will dictate the future of reproductive rights. Democratic candidate Joe Biden has vowed to persevere a woman’s right to choose, while President Donald Trump has expressed his continued interest in overturning Roe v. Wade.

While the abortion debate has persisted for decades, social media activism adds a new element to the mix.

“I was the first Gen-Z volunteer and therefore the most experienced with TikTok,” says Baurle. “I posted a few videos when I started defending just to document the craziness.”

These videos, and the videos from other clinic defenders, have reached thousands of personalized Tiktok feeds through algorithms and user sharing. Garnering millions of views, the TikToks have shed light on the opposition patients face and the role clinic defenders play in ensuring their safety.

“I think we all underestimated the need for these types of videos,” Bauerle says.

Although these TikToks are often humorous, with the clinic defenders incorporating TikTok trends in their videos, Smallwood advises viewers to look beyond the initial comic relief they may provide, and to contemplate their underlying purpose.

“This is very real for a number of people,” she said.

To continue their fight for reproductive rights and the safety of the patients, Bauerle said the next step is education about birth control and reproductive rights.

“We are putting together book clubs and “social media task forces” to put petitions out there, provide helpful resources, and keep the conversation about abortion going,” says Smallwood.

The virality of TikTok has allowed Gen-Z activists to voice their opinions to a global audience. An app once solely dedicated to dances and comedic sketches has now begun to ignite social change within younger generations.

“TikTok was a catalyst to a much bigger movement and I can’t wait to see where it goes,” says Bauerle.

One hashtag used by the clinic defenders, #christok — a play on words in reference to the name of a frequent pro-life protests that occur the clinic — has reached over 32 million views.