From pro-choice TikTok to campaign trail

Allie Phillips went viral with her abortion story. Now she’s running for office.

OCTOBER 5, 2023


If you’d asked Allie Phillips last year whether she’d consider running for office, she would have given you a quick “no.” But that was before a series of events gave her a front-row seat to just how little Republican politicians understand about women’s lives. Back in March, the 28-year-old Tennessee mom and home daycare worker had gone viral on TikTok for sharing her gut-wrenching abortion experience: At her routine 19-week anatomy scan, she’d found out that her daughter, whom she’d already named Miley Rose, had severe fetal anomalies and would not survive outside the womb. Her doctors told Phillips that continuing the pregnancy would put her at risk, but because of Tennessee’s strict abortion ban, they couldn’t help her. She’d have to find another way.

By the time she’d raised thousands of dollars for out-of-state travel and arrived at a New York City clinic for her abortion, she got the heartbreaking news that she’d already lost the baby. Being forced to confront that reality alone in an unfamiliar place with doctors she’d never met made her feel like a “piece of dirt underneath someone’s shoe,” she tells The Meteor. It was “completely inhumane.”

She quickly became not only a passionate pro-choice advocate online and a plaintiff in the Center for Reproductive Rights’ ongoing lawsuit against Tennessee, but also a magnet for other people’s stories. She thought she didn’t know anyone who’d had an abortion, but after sharing her experience, many of her friends and “very immediate family members” told her they’d had the procedure, too. She’d lived in Tennessee since she was six months old; most of the people around her were deeply conservative. “Abortion is a naughty word down here,” she says.

@.allie.phillips I hope my story can make a difference with these laws..😔 #mileyrose #highriskpregnancy #fetaldevelopment #nonviablepregnancy #holoprosencephaly #birthdefects #pregnancyloss #pregnancylosssupport #braindefect #abortioncare #abortionban #tnabortionban #abortionrights #healthcareforwomen #infantloss #fetalcremation ♬ Oceans Hillsong United – gospelreells

Which is why, when her friend set up a meeting with her representative, House Republican Jeff Burkhart, she had a feeling it would be like talking to a brick wall. But his lack both of sympathy and of basic reproductive knowledge still shocked her. He told Phillips, she recalls, that if his daughter had been faced with the same terrible news, he’d tell her to continue her pregnancy, even if doing so would endanger her life. When Phillips mentioned she had a six-year-old daughter, she says he cut her off mid-sentence and said he thought miscarriages could only happen with first pregnancies. “You didn’t think to do an ounce of research, and you’re voting on women’s reproductive health?” Phillips remembers responding aloud. “Are you serious?” 

That night, her mom suggested she run for office. Over the next few months, several more people suggested the same. And eventually, Phillips knew what she had to do: She’d run to unseat Rep. Burkhart for Tennessee’s District 75.

Phillips is one of many women whose abortion stories have transformed them into full-throated pro-choice activists since Roe v. Wade fell—and she might be the first of a new wave of candidates, too. Sharing their stories have led some of these women to have close encounters with politicians, exposing how little they actually know about abortion and pregnancy.

Nancy Davis, a woman who was denied an abortion in Louisiana shortly after Roe was overturned and who later established a foundation to help other patients, had a similar wake-up call in the company of legislators. Earlier this year, she testified at a hearing on Louisiana’s ill-fated HB522, which would have prevented doctors from being prosecuted for providing abortions. “Seeing the lack of empathy that was shown to other women and other families, it really had me outraged,” Davis says. After she testified, a male legislator stood up and said his wife had been faced with the same decision but decided to continue the pregnancy. “And I was thinking, ‘You guys still had the right to do what was best for you and your family,’” Davis says. “The bottom line was, he still had that option.”

Like Phillips, Davis realized the most direct way she could confront ignorant policymakers was by voting them out—and possibly replacing them. Davis had a three-hour phone conversation with Phillips recently that inspired her even more. “I just think what she’s doing is amazing,” Davis says. By running for office, Phillips will “motivate other women to do the same thing.” In fact, Davis is hoping to be one of them: “I do plan on running for something [next] year,” she tells The Meteor. It’s the first time she’s revealed this decision publicly.

It’s a well-worn pattern when it comes to closing the gender gap in politics: As women encourage each other, Phillips’ decision to run may prove to have a domino effect. “I told [Davis] the time is now,” she says. “We have got to let these Republican men know that women are powerful, we’re pissed, and we’re coming.”