AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Since President Trump took office, there has been an upswing in rallies and protests outside clinics that perform abortions. During the campaign, Trump vowed to try to overturn Roe v. Wade. That promise has emboldened activists on both sides of the abortion debate. Youth Radio's Maya Cueva traveled to one clinic in Texas, where she met two young women in opposing camps.
MERCEDES SOTO: Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come...
MAYA CUEVA, BYLINE: It's midday on a Tuesday. And 32-year-old Mercedes Soto is standing outside Whole Woman's Health in McAllen, Texas. It's the last remaining abortion clinic in the entire 1,800 square mile region known as the Rio Grande Valley.
SOTO: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed is thou amongst women, and blessed...
CUEVA: Soto is demonstrating with fellow anti-abortion protesters who call themselves prayer warriors. She doesn't look like the other women praying. She's a lot younger. The word misunderstood is tattooed in cursive on the outside of her arm. Soto says she had a rough childhood, said she always felt isolated and unloved. So when she turned 18, she left home.
SOTO: If you would have looked at me in my old life, you know, you wouldn't expected anything good. I was in very, very bad steps. I had turned to drugs as a coping mechanism. I started hanging out with the wrong crew. I joined a gang. I just wanted to belong. I wanted to belong. And I wanted somebody to be there for me.
CUEVA: Then, two years ago, she got pregnant. That's when she came here for the first time to this clinic, except not as an anti-abortion protester, but as a patient.
SOTO: I was on the other side. I was contemplating abortion. And I was very headstrong about my abortion.
CUEVA: On her way to the clinic that day, Soto was stopped by a woman, an anti-abortion activist praying outside the clinic.
SOTO: She starts telling me I'm beautiful. And I wasn't trying to hear this woman. I wasn't
CUEVA: But she got to her. Soto decided not to have an abortion. Now, she's carrying a sign with what looks like a gory fetus and the words abortion is murder. In her other hand, she's holding an even more persuasive tool...
SOTO: See now, mama. Look at you, sweaty piggy piggy.
CUEVA: ...Her 1-year-old son, Samson, who she often brings with her to protest trying to shut down the McAllen clinic. In January, hundreds of protesters rallied here outside the Whole Woman's Health clinic in McAllen. One group is marching against the abortion clinic. And another smaller group was standing to protect it.
LAURA MOLINAR: Seeing all of these women here has just ignited the fire.
CUEVA: Twenty-five-year-old Laura Molinar traveled over 230 miles from San Antonio. She's holding a hand-drawn sign on yellow poster board with the words don't tread on me on top. The flag is one you see all over the place in Texas. Only this time, the snake is wrapping around a giant uterus.
MOLINAR: Took me a while to draw this uterus (laughter). It's not the best.
CUEVA: There used to be one other abortion clinic, about 35 miles from here. But it closed because of a Texas law known as House Bill 2. HB2 was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court. But many clinics affected by the law never reopened. For Molinar, these closures would have been celebrated in the church she grew up in as a teenager.
MOLINAR: I was so involved with the Catholic Church, you know, doing praise and worship.
CUEVA: Friends from her church youth group used to pray outside abortion clinics. But last year, the issue became personal for Molinar.
MOLINAR: I was faced with making that choice for myself. And I never thought that that would happen to me until it actually did. And I remember feeling so alone and so scared and unworthy. And I remember telling myself that I will do everything in my power from this point on to help women so that they will never feel like that.
CUEVA: In the Rio Grande Valley, the local Catholic diocese is a major organizer of anti-abortion efforts. But for Laura Molinar, her religion remains a guide. For her, it's not just about maintaining abortion access in this part of Texas, but also fighting for all the other services the clinic provides to low income and undocumented women like birth control, prenatal care and pap smears.
MOLINAR: I still identify as Catholic. And I still feel that God loves me. I don't think I've confronted that yet. And I feel that a lot of members of the church shame these women. And they make them feel unloved and unsupported and that God doesn't love them, which is not true.
CUEVA: With abortion, it so often seems like the national divides are entrenched, that nothing will change a person's point of view. But in this Texas town and across the U.S., there are women like Mercedes Soto and Laura Molinar who defy what you might think, and sometimes even switch sides. For NPR News, I'm Maya Cueva.
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CORNISH: And that story was produced by Youth Radio.
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