Meet Toby Harmon, a onetime drug dealer who found Jesus in jail, and his wife and three homeschooled kids who regularly join him outside Oklahoma abortion clinics in protest. Harmon is the co-founder of Abolish Human Abortion, a new, uncompromising anti-abortion group that is growing in presence around the country.
Harmon and his associates call themselves “abolitionists,” with all slavery comparisons explicitly intended. 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 wear t-shirts emblazoned with “End Child Sacrifice” and proudly display photos of bloodied, fully developed fetuses. Last month, they started showing up outside of high schools for what they call “Project Frontlines.” That’s where MSNBC.com recently joined them – and then came home with the Harmons.
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 in recent weeks alone. The losing slogans involve Akin-like “legitimate rape” and comparing Planned Parenthood to the Klan.
That’s not how AHA – or many of the 34,000 people who have liked their Facebook page – sees it. They want to do for the anti-abortion movement what the Tea Party did for the Republicans: Push them to be purer. 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.
Film by Jon Groat, editor, senior video producer MSNBC.com; Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau, directors of photography, Reel Peek films; and Irin Carmon, national reporter, MSNBC.com.