For the mainstream movement to ban abortion, graphic photos and aggressive language have generally gone out of style. The winning slogans, the ones Republican politicians prefer, are warmer, fuzzier: Thumbsucking ultrasound photos, or “women’s health” used as a pretext to shut down safe abortion clinics, including three in Texas this month alone. The losing slogans involve Akin-like “legitimate rape” and comparing Planned Parenthood to the Klan.
Abolish Human Abortion (AHA) begs to differ. Founded out of Norman, Oklahoma, and with chapters nationwide, AHA activists wear t-shirts emblazoned with “End Child Sacrifice” and proudly display photos of bloodied, fully developed fetuses. They protest outside churches – yes, churches – accusing them of not doing enough to end abortion, and talk scornfully of “pro-lifers” who make peace with rape exceptions to abortion bans.
AHA activists disdain the phrase “pro-life” altogether. They prefer “abolitionists,” with all slavery comparisons explicitly intended, and they want to push the larger movement to abide by their uncompromising positions. That means moving away from the incremental strategy – 20 week bans, admitting privileges laws for clinics – and sticking to banning all abortion without exceptions, equating hormonal birth control (even the daily pill kind) with abortion, and advocating that women who have abortions be tried as murderers. That sort of unblinking absolutism in the face of the messiness of real life decision-making may be what has drawn nearly 34,000 people to like their Facebook page.
In February, Abolish Human Abortion decided it wasn’t enough to confront people outside abortion clinics. They have been taking their struggle to what they called “the front lines” – high schools, with arresting, graphic novel-style materials to go with them. Across the country, at dozens of high schools, self-styled abolitionists are stopping teenagers in front of their schools. And on day one, in a joint collaboration of “Melissa Harris Perry” and msnbc.com, we were right there with them.
Meet Toby Harmon, a onetime drug dealer who found Jesus in jail, and his co-founder, former graduate student Russell Hunter. Along with their wives and their young children – Harmon’s are homeschooled, and he says standing outside Norman’s abortion clinic alongside graphic images is part of their education – they have given over their lives to try to change what they refer to as “dissenting from the culture of death.”
They don’t care who they offend. They aren’t interested in a political or legal strategy; they reserve their deepest scorn for the incrementalists who have crafted a step-by-step plan to overturn Roe v. Wade. As far as AHA is concerned, those guys are sellouts. But in the end, there isn’t so much that the mainstream movement and Abolish Human Abortion disagree on besides tactics.