Hours after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade last week, a man with a wiry, squared-off beard and a metal cross around his neck celebrated with his team at a Brazilian steakhouse. He pulled out his phone to livestream to his followers.
"We have delivered a huge blow to the enemy and to this industry," the man, Jeff Durbin, said. But, he explained, "our work has just really begun".
"Even the states that have trigger laws", which ban abortion at conception without exceptions for rape or incest, did not go far enough, Durbin, a pastor in the greater Phoenix area, said. "They do not believe that the woman should ever be punished."
Resistance to "the question of whether or not people who murder their children in the wombs are guilty," he said, "is going to have to be something we have to overcome, because women are still going to be killing their children in the womb".
Even as those in the anti-abortion movement celebrate their nation-changing Supreme Court victory, there are divisions over where to go next. The most extreme, like Durbin, want to pursue what they call "abortion abolition", a move to criminalise abortion from conception as homicide and hold women who have the procedure responsible — a position that in some states could make those women eligible for the death penalty. That position is at odds with the anti-abortion mainstream, which opposes criminalising women and focuses on prosecuting providers.
Many people who oppose abortion believe life begins at conception and that abortion is murder. Abolitionists follow that thinking to what they believe is the logical, and uncompromising, conclusion: from the moment of conception, abolitionists want to give the foetus equal protection as a person under the 14th Amendment.
Abolitionists have long represented a radical fringe, minimised by prominent mainstream national groups who have focused on advancing incremental abortion restrictions.
But the abolitionist reach has been growing over the past year, largely through online activism and targeted efforts in some state legislatures and churches. Durbin's group, End Abortion Now, which started in 2017, filed an amicus brief in the recent Supreme Court case overturning Roe along with the Foundation to Abolish Abortion and 21 other like-minded groups from states like Idaho and Pennsylvania. His YouTube channel has more than 300,000 subscribers, and he leads Apologia Church, a congregation of about 700 people.
Durbin, driven by his set of Christian beliefs, and others in the abolitionist coalition recently pushed a bill in Louisiana that would have classified abortion as homicide and enabled prosecutors to bring criminal cases against women who end a pregnancy. The measure failed, but it got further than any of the other so-called "equal protection" bills abolitionists have worked to introduce in about a dozen states over the past two years.
The bill generated significant opposition from other anti-abortion groups. In an open letter, about 70 anti-abortion groups urged all state legislators to reject such initiatives.
"As national and state pro-life organisations, representing tens of millions of pro-life men, women, and children across the country, let us be clear: We state unequivocally that any measure seeking to criminalise or punish women is not pro-life and we stand firmly opposed to such efforts," the letter stated. It was signed by groups including National Right to Life, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America and Americans United for Life. Other groups, like Students for Life, say they want to "abolish abortion" and make it "unthinkable and unavailable" but oppose criminalisation of women.
Privately, some leaders of mainstream groups worry about how quickly abolitionists have gained a foothold.
About one in three American adults believe that if abortion is illegal, women who have the procedure should serve jail time or pay a fine or do community service, according to a Pew Research Centre study conducted in March. Men, white evangelicals and Republicans are among the most likely to believe a woman should be punished, the study found.
Already, some prosecutors have used homicide and child abuse laws to charge women for things like inducing abortion or experiencing miscarriage; about 1300 women have faced such charges or arrests since 2006, according to National Advocates for Pregnant Women.
Ultimately, abolitionists believe they are fighting a holy Christian mission, answerable to the God they worship.
Durbin is working to achieve abolitionist goals with a multipronged approach: evangelising online and preaching at his church, training congregations on how to keep women from walking into an abortion clinic, and travelling to state legislatures to promote bills classifying abortion as homicide.
Durbin, 44, has five children, as well as three grandchildren and five black belts. Before he was a pastor and online activist, he was a national karate champion who played Johnny Cage in Mortal Kombat: The Live Tour. He married his wife when he was 20 and she was 18 and pregnant with their first child, and he devoted his life to Jesus after he nearly overdosed on ecstasy, he said.
It is no accident that "abolition" is the word the movement chose for itself. Durbin and his fellow activists portray their mission as comparable to the push to abolish slavery in the United States before the Civil War. And abortion abolitionists — as well as many in the broader anti-abortion movement — equate supporters of abortion rights with defenders of slavery.
"There were people arguing against the abolitionists at the time," he said. "They were saying, 'Well, sure, it's wrong. But if you don't want a slave, don't get one.' You know, so everything was sort of, 'That's their plantation, their choice.'"
Like many people who go to the church, Christine Schwan first stumbled upon Durbin on YouTube and saw him give a Mother's Day message about a woman who did not abort her baby. Days later, she joined one of the church's protests at a Planned Parenthood clinic. It was something she felt she had to do.
"Because of what I had done," Schwan, 63, said. "Because of having had an abortion."
Asked how old she was when she had the procedure, she simply said, "Younger," and declined to give specifics. They were irrelevant to the real truth of the matter, she said.
"I am not a victim. I was a sinner. I was a complete sinner," she said.
Schwan is now an assistant to Durbin and the other pastors — all men.
"What upsets me most is when the pro-life industry says that women are victims," she said. "That means I don't have to take responsibility for myself.
"Do you know what I did? I killed a baby. It doesn't get any worse than that," she said. "Because that is what we were created for."
She believed what her pastors taught, even if it meant she would face severe consequences.
"I took a life; I should give my life," she said. If authorities were to come for her, "I would right now, I would absolutely go to court and say, 'Yeah, I am a sinner. I did it.' And if that was my punishment, I would take it."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
Written by: Elizabeth Dias
Photographs by: Adriana Zehbrauskas and Doug Mills
© 2022 THE NEW YORK TIMES