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The Controversial Anti-Abortion “Rock for Life” Tent Is Back at Warped Tour This Year

Rock for Life, the anti-abortion organization whose presence at the 2016 Warped Tour attracted criticism from bands and the music media, is back for the 2017 edition of the tour. Festival founder Kevin Lyman confirmed Rock for Life’s return presence in a phone interview with SPIN on Tuesday afternoon. Lyman said that the Rock for Life’s politics “absolutely” do not reflect those of Warped Tour, or his personal views, but added that last year’s minor controversy “strengthened my resolve” to allow them back.

Rock for Life, which first began traveling with Warped Tour in 2016, markets itself as an organization that promotes “human rights for all people, born and preborn.” It is a subsidiary of Students for Life, a Virginia-based nonprofit whose mission is stated in explicit terms on its homepage: “Abolish abortion in our lifetime.” Photos posted to social media recently show Rock for Life representatives at Warped Tour selling t-shirts with pro-life and pro-adoption slogans and conducting a poll about when it is appropriate to have an abortion. (On its site, Rock for Life has pages dedicated to listing “bands who support life” and “bands who advocate for abortion.”) A schedule on Rock for Life’s website shows appearances at multiple upcoming Warped Tour dates. “We’ve asked to attend some of their events and they have graciously allowed us to, just like many of the other non-profits that they allow on,” Rock for Life director Erik Whittington said in an e-mail.

According to Lyman, Rock for Life is one of 73 nonprofit organizations of varying political viewpoints that are given space to set up promotional tents at Warped Tour, including Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice, advocacy groups focused in part on expanding access to abortion. He identified himself as a pro-choice advocate, pointing to his involvement in the Rock for Choice benefit concerts of the 1990s. “I grew up in punk rock in the ’70s and ’80s. We were OK with having people with conflicting views in the same room,” he said. “If we don’t allow people of varying opinions in the same space, we’ll never fix the problems in this country. That’s why I’m doing this.”

“I go to the booth, and I see people talk to them,” Lyman added. “They’re really promoting adoption, and other things besides abortion. I’m adopted. I’m not supporting them, but they can have the spot. They’re not hassling people.”

It’s true that much of Rock for Life’s merchandise and literature focuses on adoption as a humane alternative to abortion. However, in social media posts, the organization is unambiguous about its more extreme positions, such as advocating for the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

In 2016, publications like Stereogum and Brooklyn Magazine ran critical pieces about Rock for Life’s inclusion on the Warped Tour. At the time, the band Sorority Noise tweeted a photo of a Rock for Life poll with the caption “A women’s right to chose reduced to a sticky note collage at Warped Tour.”

Warped Tour has faced criticism in the past for an alleged unfriendliness to women performers. A 2014 piece in Wondering Sound headlined “Warped Tour’s Woman Problem” pointed out that less than 20 percent of the 120 performers on the tour last year included women. “It’s not the issue people should talk about,” Lyman said when asked whether the inclusion of a Rock for Life tent dovetails with these broader criticisms. “Anyone can focus on the bad if they want to. We’re just a microcosm of society as a whole right now. Everywhere you go in this world, there’s issues. These problems don’t come from Warped Tour, they come from outside.”