“Ruth Sent Us” was a slogan used in the wake of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a strong backer of abortion rights. A periodical search indicates that the phrase was first reported in a September 2020 protest outside then-Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home, when the Senate was proceeding with the confirmation of Justice Amy Comey Barrett.
Pro-abortion rights women’s marches used the phrase in October of that year. One year later, the Women’s March of South Florida used “Ruth Sent Us” as the theme for its October 2021 protests.
While costumed protests have taken place for years, the Ruth Sent Us group did not appear in mainstream news media reports until early May 2022. It made the news for two reasons: It posted a map of the streets where U.S. Supreme Court justices lived, and it linked its previous church disruption to other activists’ calls for pro-abortion rights protests on Mother’s Day.
The protesters’ costumes take inspiration from a television series based on Margaret Atwood’s novel “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The pro-feminist dystopian novel portrays life under a bizarre and tyrannical variant of Christianity that forces young women to bear children for older couples. In the novel, the sect also proscribes Catholicism and executes Catholic priests.
What is this Strike for Choice? Why Mother’s Day protests?
The Ruth Sent Us group backs a May 8-15 protest called Strike for Choice. Its social media call for Mother’s Day protests at churches was not originally part of this action, since the relevant TikTok video was posted on April 27.
In a May 3 tweet, the group posted the video and sought to link their efforts to a call for a Mother’s Day Strike. That separate call to action was other pro-abortion rights activists’ response to the leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion that appears set to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The Strike for Choice website calls for protests of Whole Foods and AT&T. This protest aims to pressure the Texas-based Whole Foods to speak out against the recent Texas abortion law and to pressure AT&T over its campaign contributions to legislators who passed the law.
A sign-up form for the strikes seeks participants in various ways of protest, including as both unpaid and paid protesters.
What do we know about Ruth Sent Us allies?
The Strike for Choice website lists 12 groups in its coalition. The best known of these is Code Pink, a women’s activist anti-war group that dates back to 2002. It had been founded to protest the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
The Vigil for Democracy group is the fiscal host of a fundraiser for the Strike for Choice at the Open Collective fundraising site. As of May 10, the group had raised under $1,400. Some 15 individuals had contributed at least $58 each to support a “striker.” It is unclear whether the money for Strike for Choice participants includes Ruth Sent Us demonstrators.
Refuse Fascism and its project Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights are two more backers of the Strike for Choice.
On its Twitter page, Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights said it protested outside St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in New York City on Mother’s Day because “it’s a symbol for the enslavement of women.” It said “Christian fascist lunatics” on the Supreme Court aim to overturn Roe v. Wade, adding “only the people can stop this.”
The protest, which did not disrupt church services but did block a pro-life walk to an area abortion clinic, drew dozens of people to the historic Catholic church.
What does Ruth Sent Us think of Catholicism?
A TikTok video of the group’s Feb. 27 disruption at San Francisco’s Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption gives us an idea.
“For 2,000 years the Catholic Church has been an institution for the enslavement of women,” one costumed disruptor shouted at the front of the cathedral. This first disruption video, titled “take it to the oppressors,” drew about 234,000 views on TikTok.
On its social media Ruth Sent Us has polemicized against Catholicism and even threatened to burn the Eucharist.
It also objects to a Catholic majority on the Supreme Court.
“Seven of nine Justices on our Supreme Court are Catholic. That’s 78% of Justices, compared to 23% in the population. WHY?!” the group said in its Feb. 27 TikTok post.
Neil Gorsuch reportedly was raised Catholic. Sonia Sotomayor is expected to be a safe vote to preserve Roe v. Wade.
What does Ruth Sent Us say about itself?
On Twitter May 15, the group invoked anti-segregation sit-in protests of the civil rights movement, saying “Extremist Catholic and Evangelical Churches and Judges are 'lunch counters' of today,” using a hashtag to ask “What would Martin Luther King do”?
It contends that protests backed by Planned Parenthood and NARAL are “massive rallies” that are “easy with social media” but ineffective. Ruth Sent Us contended that “direct action” and intentional crossing of “societal red lines” is a more effective path. Its comments sometimes praise peaceful action but also declare the need to make its foes uncomfortable.
“To fight the theocracy, we believe we must take it to extremist judges and churches,” the group said.
Pro-life groups see double standard
Some pro-life advocates see a double standard in how a group like Ruth Sent Us is treated by TikTok and other social media platforms.
“The social media platform pro-abortion bias cannot be denied,” Caroline Wharton, a staff writer with the pro-life group Students for Life of America, told CNA. “It's very conspicuous that pro-abortion groups are allowed to exercise their freedom of speech, even up to and including violating the law, while pro-life groups like Students for Life of America get arrested for merely chalking public sidewalk.”
In August 2020, police arrested both an employee and a student member of Students for Life for writing the pro-life message “Pre-born Black Lives Matter” on the sidewalk outside a Washington, D.C., Planned Parenthood clinic.
“There are double standards on these apps, and every effort is taken to drown out the voices for the vulnerable preborn,” Wharton said.
In late January 2020, the pro-life group LiveAction was banned from TikTok for allegedly violating “multiple community guidelines” and then reinstated quickly. TikTok said the ban was a result of human error by a moderator.
LiveAction was permanently banned from Pinterst in 2019 for alleged misinformation regarding vaccines and “medically inaccurate information and conspiracies that turn individuals and facilities into targets for harassment and violence.”
The group rejected the allegations.
Before LiveAction was banned, former Pinterest employee Eric Cochran, a reputed whistleblower, said that the social media company had classified as a conspiracy theory the reports from investigative journalist and activist David Daleiden, who has explored connections between abortion providers and possible illegal sales of fetal tissue from abortions.
TikTok’s terms of service bar any material which is “defamatory,” “hateful” or “inflammatory.” Its terms bar material that is discriminatory on the basis of religion, among other characteristics. The terms of service bar “any material that would constitute, encourage or provide instructions for a criminal offense,” as well as “any material that is deliberately designed to provoke or antagonise people, especially trolling and bullying, or is intended to harass, harm, hurt, scare, distress, embarrass or upset people.”
CNA contacted TikTok for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.
CNA staff writer Katie Yoder contributed to this story.
Kevin J. Jones is a senior staff writer with Catholic News Agency. He was a recipient of a 2014 Catholic Relief Services' Egan Journalism Fellowship.