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Want to Be an Anti-Abortion Foot Soldier? Here's an Internship for You.

The newest front in the abortion wars, as The New York Times reported last week, is Albuquerque, New Mexico, where Christian activists are pushing for a citywide referendum that would bar abortions at 20 weeks. The ruckus in Albuquerque is the work of a single couple, Bud and Tara Shaver, who moved to New Mexico three years ago with the express intention of shutting down the Southwestern Women's Options clinic in Albuquerque. Before that, the Shavers were interns at Operation Rescue, a Kansas-based group that targets clinics with a combination of on-site harassment and legislative assault. Yes, an organization known for beleaguering pregnant women, and whose second-in-command has served jail time for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic, has an internship program. If those are your aspirations, here’s the lowdown on the program.

What is the internship like?

Operation Rescue’s president Troy Newman says he assigns a hefty reading list, which includes The Art of War and The Bible. He makes his charges peruse contemporary pro-life commenters, but also packs in some Martin Luther King, Jr., speeches so that “they learn about other social movements and how that played out.” Otherwise, interns just help out with the daily work at Operation Rescue, typing up public information requests in an attempt to catch clinics in a code violation, or prodding the media to write about the countless abortion horror stories they claim to have found. Most interns just stay for a summer, though some, like Tara Shaver, stay closer to a year, living on the program’s small stipend.

How can I apply?

You have to be recruited—as Newman told me, “I don’t take just anyone off the street.” Newman says he gets all his interns via “referral” from other big names in the anti-abortion movement, or meets them at the annual Students for Life conference, where he is often asked to speak. Many past interns, including Bud and Tara Shaver, started out with a Christian youth group called Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, which Newman co-founded, or were “coming up the ranks of the pro-life movement” working with another organization. There is no written application for the internship, just an interview with Newman. 

“I have to understand your commitment level,” he says. “I’m not going to waste my time and spend several months training you if you’re just going to go home and do nothing.” The interview is also supposed to determine “that you have some common sense as it relates to action. If you’re just going to play on Facebook all day and post ‘bumper sticker theology,’ as I put it, you can do that without my help. But if you seriously want to commit your time and energy to ending abortion, I’ll train you how to do that.”

What kind of questions will be in the interview? 

“It’s the standard set of questions, like, ‘Why are you pro-life?’ and ‘What makes you interested in the plight of the pre-born child?’ The other question I ask them is, ‘Do you think we can win?’ Because if you don’t think we can win, I don’t want to talk to you. I can’t change your mind on that. I also ask, ‘Do you think we are winning?’ ‘How soon do you think we can abolish abortion in America?’ Because I’m an optimist. The person that thinks they can’t do anything won’t do anything.” (Newman told me he expects legal abortion to be a thing of the past in America by 2018.)

Who is a strong candidate?

Newman says he usually picks youngsters who are “more on the activist side,” not just anyone who thinks abortion should be banned. “If you’ve never taken the time to stand in front of an abortion clinic with a sign or something like that, this isn’t the place for you,” he told me. “I like to see people with some battle scars, people who’ve been in the fight just a little bit, enough to know this isn’t easy and they’ll take a little retribution for their stand.”

He calls the Shavers the perfect example, and the former interns he is “most proud of.” Before coming to Operation Rescue, they had spent months touring the country in a motor home, getting out at college campuses and picketing with their signs. As Newman said, “That’ll grow you up real quick in the pro-life movement.” And if you need a final bridge into adulthood, in anti-abortion activism, as in so many other industries, you can apply for a coveted spot as an underpaid intern.

This post has been updated.

Nora Caplan-Bricker is an assistant editor at The New Republic. Follow her on Twitter @NCaplanBricker.