Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal
Think June and Ward Cleaver with a soapbox and a megaphone.
Bud and Tara Shaver, who head the anti-abortion group Protest ABQ, have taken New Mexico leaders to task, particularly Gov. Susana Martinez and Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry, for claiming to be pro-life, “but not doing enough” to end abortions.
They have targeted administrators at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center for sending doctors to train at local clinics that perform abortions; they have called New Mexico the “abortion capital of the Southwest” and Albuquerque the “late-term abortion capital of the country.”
They have angered residents of neighborhoods for exposing unsuspecting children and parents to graphic images of aborted fetuses plastered on the side of their “Truth Truck,” which also features text shouting “Stop the Killing.”
Parents to three children ages 5 and younger, Bud Shaver, 37, and Tara Shaver, 31, are soft-spoken but articulate and passionate about this issue, and they have gained a national reputation within anti-abortion circles, said the Rev. Stephen Imbarrato, a Catholic priest in Albuquerque who recruited them to work with him in the local movement.
“We’re just Christian people who want to see babies’ lives saved and moms protected,” Tara said.
“We ultimately want to bring our culture and community in New Mexico to a point, not where we enforce our will on New Mexico,” Bud said, “but where New Mexico understands and embraces a culture of life.”
In many ways, the Shavers are indistinguishable from their neighbors. They live in a modest rented home in Albuquerque’s International District, where their children, two of whom were born with the aid of a midwife, are the center of daily family life.
“We have a TV and sometimes watch movies but don’t watch TV programs or the local news,” Tara said.
The family plays card and board games, regularly goes on outings to parks and museums, and frequents local libraries.
Their weekly schedule, however, also includes two or three anti-abortion protests, targeting such places as Planned Parenthood, the Southwestern Women’s Options clinic, UNM Center for Reproductive Health, even Bank of America, which “matches their employees’ charitable contributions to Planned Parenthood,” Tara said. “Sometimes the kids go with us to the protests, weather depending.”
‘Dyed-in-the-wool true believers’
District 6 City Councilor Pat Davis said he met the Shavers when he attended some of their community meetings “to hear their message and to see what they were telling voters.”
He agreed that if someone were to “have a conversation with them about anything else, you wouldn’t come away thinking they were out of the ordinary.”
But on the issue of abortion, he said, “they come off as extreme and unmovable.”
Davis is executive director of the nonprofit ProgressNow New Mexico, which promotes progressive issues and policies, and challenges what it calls “conservative misinformation.”
The organization opposed a 2013 special election ballot amendment pushed by Protest ABQ that would have banned abortions in Albuquerque after 20 weeks. The measure was defeated by 55 percent of the voters.
Last year, when Davis was running for City Council, the Shavers sent mailers to District 6 voters, calling Davis “too extreme” for his district. The fliers contained a photo of what Davis described as a bloody and deformed fetus held over a trash can, as well as a photo and caption of what was identified as a woman lying dead after a failed abortion. The Protest ABQ Truth Truck also took to the streets in that district.
A Davis co-worker at ProgressNow filed a complaint with the city ethics board, which later fined Protest ABQ and the Shavers $1,000 for not filing paperwork and registering as a political action committee. The Shavers said they are appealing that decision.
“The Shavers are dyed-in-the-wool true believers on this issue, and it guides most of the things they do in life,” Davis said. “But I also have the impression that they thrive on being the center of attention for this movement. They get a lot of national recognition within anti-abortion circles, and the more extreme they get in their tactics, the more attention they get.”
Christianity and anti-abortion activism were certainly not a focal point in either Bud or Tara’s life when they were growing up.
Bud was born in New York. His father worked for the Army Corps of Engineers, which afforded the family an opportunity to live in Germany from the time Bud was 7 until about 15.
The family were evangelical Christians, but from a practical point of view, Bud said, “Christianity was about going to church, rather than having theological discussions at home or engaging in religious activism.” In 2000, living back in New York, Bud was hanging out with friends who were feeding the homeless and doing other community outreach. The friends were students at Sunset International Bible Institute in Lubbock, Texas.
“What they were doing really appealed to me, and I began to see the need for Christianity – not what to think, but how it can transform our lives and our city and our culture, especially in New York, where I was living.”
He subsequently went to Texas and enrolled in the Bible college, where he became an ordained minister and where he met Tara.
Tara grew up in a small town outside Fort Worth, where she and three younger half sisters were raised by a single mom who was dysfunctional on many levels, she said. Tara had little contact with her father, she said, who left soon after she was born, although her mother sent Tara to live with him for a while when she was in middle school. “He was weird,” she said, “a lot of brokenness.”
She returned to her home, which she described as being “completely void of Christian nuances.”
Tara and her three sisters were all on birth control by the time they were 12, and her sisters were “pregnant by the time they were 14,” she said. “Birth control is not a deterrent to getting pregnant. In fact, it was a license to go and be sexually active.”
Tara, however, had other things on her mind, she said. “When I was a child, I remember looking at the stars and wondering how did this come to be? I always had these questions and never got the answers as a child, but as I looked into Christianity, I found the answers.”
She was introduced to Christianity while in high school by a friend.
“I went to church with his family and to escape my own life,” she said. “When you’re growing up, you think that all families are like your family. For me, once I realized there was a different way of life, it really appealed to me.”
It was with that family that she attended a Christian-oriented “soul winning” workshop.
“I just felt really convicted,” she said. “I met this pastor who talked with us and opened the Bible and made it so clear.”
Bud and Tara meet
After graduating high school, she attended the Bible college in Lubbock, where she met Bud in 2002. They were married two years later.
Around 2007 the couple, then living and doing pastoral work in Flagstaff, Ariz., attended the “Spirit West Coast” event in southern California, “a kind of Christian Woodstock,” Tara said. As Bud recalls it: “Tara walked by a booth and found a pro-life informational packet, and that’s what opened up our lives to the pro-life issue. We had no idea about abortion, so we started working with an activist youth group, Survivors of Abortion Holocaust. We were with them for a year touring the country, going to college campuses, just engaging our peers and defending the pro-life position in the public square.”
Bud and Tara were living in Kansas in 2009 and working with the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, when Dr. George Tiller, who operated a clinic in Wichita that performed abortions, including late-term abortions, was shot and killed by an extremist. Many placed the blame directly at the feet of Operation Rescue. A commentary subsequently written by Operation Rescue and posted to its website denounced the killer, condemned the act of violence and said the action hurt the pro-life movement.
Tiller’s clinic closed permanently, and two doctors who worked for him wound up at Southwestern Women’s Options, an Albuquerque clinic that performs abortions, including late-term abortions.
Troy Newman, president of Wichita-based Operation Rescue, contacted the Rev. Imbarrato in Albuquerque, who was running the Catholic anti-abortion ministry, Project Defending Life, and suggested that Bud and Tara might be valuable allies. By 2010, the Shavers were living in Albuquerque and working with Imbarrato.
In 2013, Imbarrato formed Protest ABQ. He has since stepped back from that to devote more time to working with the national organization, Priests for Life. Bud is now the executive director of Protest ABQ, and Tara is the senior policy adviser. They have a core group of 20 to 30 people who can quickly mobilize, and a base of up to 100 people.
Protest ABQ operates on a monthly budget of about $500 from private donations, a chunk of which goes for the maintenance of the Truth Truck that is leased from Operation Rescue.
As missionaries, said Tara, she and Bud live off money from fundraising events, as well as donations received from supporters nationwide “who believe in the work we are doing.”
The Shavers fully understand that some of the measures they employ are not embraced warmly.
“The reason we use the truck and the tactic of graphic images is to restore meaning to the word abortion,” Bud said. “If these images are so horrific in the violence they depict, then that – the violence of abortion – is what should be rejected, not the truth of this reality existing in our community.”
Added Tara: “We’re just the messengers.”