The man who runs anti-abortion summer camps for kidsBBC Three

The man who runs anti-abortion summer camps for kids

An image of Catriona White
Catriona White

Abortion has been legal in the US since 1973. (It was legalized in the UK in 1967). Some American states allowed it in cases of rape or incest, but most had previously prohibited it completely.

For Jeff White, that’s how it should be. He’s spent the last three decades fighting to have abortion banned in America again.

Many anti–abortion extremists have targeted abortion clinics by burning or bombing them, there have even been cases where doctors have been murdered.

Jeff takes a different approach.

Jeff White runs an annual anti-abortion Summer Camp, called ‘Survivors Pro-Life Training Camp’.BBC Three

In 1998 he founded the anti-abortion movement, ‘Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust’, a self-professed Christian anti-abortion group based in Southern California.

He’s been arrested over 100 times, largely for reasons surrounding his group’s public demonstrations.

He also runs an annual anti-abortion Summer Camp, called ‘Survivors Pro-Life Training Camp’, which is attended by around 50 kids from all over America, aged from 11 to 24.

According to its website, the camp’s mission is to “educate and equip young activists who are willing to be used by God to defend those unjustly sentenced to death”.

Stacey Dooley spent two weeks at Jeff’s anti-abortion camp filming for the BBC Three Documentary ‘ Brainwashing Stacey’.

Stacey DooleyBBC Three

Jeff told her he believes anyone born after 1973 has survived what he calls the American “abortion holocaust”.

Over two weeks, students attend anti-abortion talks, workshops and “field training”.

This takes place towards the end of the fortnight. Students are sent on to the streets with placards showing graphic images of aborted fetuses, or they’re taken to abortion clinics to do some ‘chalking’, where they scrawl anti-abortion messaging on walls and pavements outside.

The force of anti-abortion sentiment amongst the kids Stacey met was striking.

One told her, “If it meant the end of abortion, I would die for this cause”.

When Stacey asked them if they’d make an exception for pregnancies caused by rape, they said no.

“If a woman is raped,” said one girl, “having that baby doesn’t make her ‘unraped’, and we will look after her when she has the baby”.

Stacey chats to some students of the anti-abortion camp.BBC Three

Stacey told her, “I’ve met women all over the world who have been raped, and lived in a country where abortion is illegal. They’ve been forced to go through with pregnancy, and then they’ve gone on to kill themselves, because they just cannot bear to look at that child.”

Jeff, father to 11 children (and godfather to nine), draws parallels between the voluntary termination of unplanned pregnancies and the organised persecution of Jews by the Nazis.

His group recently campaigned outside a Holocaust museum in Albuquerque to underline this comparison – a move the museum board called “misguided and offensive”. Stacey accompanied the camp kids on another campaign trail, as they ‘chalked’ outside a Planned Parenthood clinic (which provides abortions). They are regular visitors, and the clinic recently built a wall specifically to keep Jeff and his protesters off the premises.

Anti-abortion activists BBC Three

One patient told Stacey, “How dare they come in here and say this is wrong. It makes an already difficult situation even harder.”

Stacey herself said, “I have a real issue with forcing this agenda down kids’ throats. It can feel like they’re manipulating these impressionable youngsters”.

Jeff has personally convinced several women not to have an abortion, on the basis that he’ll support them.

He told Stacey he houses 18 mothers and their children in his own properties, and even pays for their education.

Stacey met a South Californian ex-survivor student, Ashley, who has adopted a baby girl, Stella, after stopping her mother from having an abortion.

Stacey meets Ashley and her adopted baby girl Stella.BBC Three

Stacey said, “I can’t argue with the fact that there’s every chance Stella would have been aborted if they hadn’t have interjected. To see Stella knocking about with her sister, playing with Jeff, it is real food for thought”.

But life isn't always that simple. Some women feel they cannot bring a child into the world due to financial problems, relationship instability or mental health issues, among a myriad of other reasons.

The pro-choice movement argues the control of one's own body is a fundamental right.

With the election of Donald Trump and his recent confirmation to the Supreme Court that he was “ pro-life”, women are rushing to Planned Parenthood for help with longer term birth control.

The debate over abortion, which many thought was concluded back in 1973, looks set to rage on.