Maison Des Champs knew he would likely be arrested once he reached the top of the New York Times Building in Manhattan on Thursday but he was at peace with that — he had been arrested just two days earlier after solo climbing the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco.
Surprisingly, the police were nowhere to be found when he finished his climb that morning. Des Champs hightailed it out of there, racing down some 52 flights of stairs in climbing shoes before he slipped out through an emergency exit.
The only physical evidence of his trespass were a couple banners Des Champs had hung above the New York Times sign on the front of the building. One read: “Abortion kills more than 9/11 every week!”
Some days Des Champs is a 22-year-old finance student at the University of Nevada Las Vegas who enjoys spending his free time hunting and rock climbing.
Other days he can be found scaling skyscrapers — free soloing, climbing without a rope and harness — to raise money for groups that work to convince women to not have abortions.
His chosen type of activism tends to get him into trouble. Before he was arrested in San Francisco, he was arrested while climbing the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas last summer — he was protesting COVID restrictions on that climb.
“Climbing has a history of not asking permission. We have, I guess, an outlaw tradition,” he told NPR. “So, we tend not to ask permission. We tend to just do what our heart tells us to do.”
When he climbs these buildings, he does so without the aid and protection of ropes, a harness and other gear. This method of climbing, known as free soloing, is incredibly dangerous. Even a slight miscalculation or a poorly placed hand or foot can result in falling to one’s death.
That being the case, Des Champs carefully chooses what buildings to climb.
“When you climb skyscrapers,” he says, “you have to pick out something that’s realistic and way under your skill level. Because you don’t want to be up 600 feet without a rope and then start to doubt yourself.”
During the climb, Des Champs picks out a spot to stop and rest every 10 feet or so. He doesn’t view the climb as a 1,000-foot endeavor, instead, he sees it as many small accomplishments.
The fact that the Supreme Court’s draft decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked the day before he climbed Salesforce Tower was a coincidence.
Des Champs’ ascent was planned a month in advance, he said, spurred on by news he read that allegedly involves a doctor in Washington, D.C., who provides services including abortions.
Des Champs hopes his ascents will bring attention and raise funds for groups he supports. He also wants police to investigate the doctor.
“The charities I’m raising money for provide housing, they provide health care services, they provide ultrasounds and adoption services to women who are abortion-minded in an effort to try to prevent them from going through with an abortion,” Des Champs said. “So many people I talked to who are pro-choice, I can tell they haven’t been exposed to the pro-life argument.”
He added: “I don’t expect any woman who does not want a child to take care of their child. That’s not good for them, nor the baby. That’s why I think we need to really push adoption over abortion.”
Des Champs said he believes a person should be allowed to have an abortion in instances where the individual is forced to choose between their own life and that of the fetus, but opposes aborting a fetus over issues such as disabilities and deformities.
“There’s just so many factors. And it’s not up to man to make those decisions, you know, that that’s up to whatever higher power you believe in,” Des Champs said.
Should the Supreme Court follow through on its draft ruling, laws on abortion would be left to individual states. As things stand now, about half the states would either severely limit abortion or outlaw it entirely. Patients seeking abortions will likely increasingly travel to states that will continue to allow them. Limits on abortion access can also lead to negative health effects and economic hardship, according to one study.
Des Champs acknowledged that many won’t like his message. He said he’s not as much focused on laws, he’s more concerned about how he sees things morally.
“I don’t think Roe v. Wade does all that much, if I’m being perfectly honest,” he says. “… I think abortion is just morally wrong. It’s about abortion in general, not necessarily law, because I believe like, even if it was perfectly legal, [I would be] trying to, I guess, fight it.”