You may have seen them at the Apple Blossom Festival last weekend. You may have heard them. They were there, this small and ghastly group, at the parade and the food fair, holding up oversized posters of bloody fetuses, yelling about murder and genocide and hell. Maybe they yelled at you, or your children. Maybe you wondered who they were.
The protesters who targeted the festival this year are part of a distinct breed of extreme anti-abortion activists. They call themselves “abolitionists,” and they preach a very different message than mainstream pro-lifers. The group’s base of operation during the festival was a Baptist church in Cashmere, though its participants came from all over the country. They congregated in Wenatchee during our biggest celebration of the year to wave their signs, to yell at us, and to strategize ways to push forward a piece of legislation that would ban all abortions in the state. No exceptions.
That’s the only goal of the abolitionist movement: a total end to legal abortion. These people look at the four states that have recently banned abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy — so early that many women don’t even know they’re pregnant — and they think, “Not even close to good enough.”
In the past, pro-life and evangelical organizations have generally treated women who have abortions as victims who deserve compassion, solace and God’s love. Abolitionists believe these women should be tried as first-degree murderers. In states with the death penalty, these women should be put to death, they say. Abolitionists supported legislation in Texas earlier this year that would have classified all abortions as homicide, making women who got abortions eligible for capital punishment. The bill didn’t pass, but it was the first such proposal to receive a hearing in a legislative body anywhere in the U.S., a sign of just how far the abortion debate has lurched to the right in recent years.
Emboldened by Donald Trump’s presidency and Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Republican lawmakers across the country are putting forward previously unthinkable policy proposals — like an outright ban on abortion — and waiting for the day when the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.
Abolitionists are trying to move the boundaries of what is considered acceptable anti-abortion policy, and that should frighten anyone who thinks abortion ought to remain safe and legal. Again and again in recent years we have seen policies once considered off-limits for debate or just plain bonkers — like building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, or banning Muslims from entering the country — go from totally unfeasible schemes to politically viable positions debated casually on the Sunday morning shows.
And these abolitionists are dangerous for other reasons, too. Their tactics, for one. Someone at least loosely affiliated with the group that gathered here last week circulated the home address of a Wenatchee federal judge because he ruled against the Trump Administration on abortion. For a movement with a long history of perpetrating violence against those who oppose them, it is irresponsible to shrug off this violation, though that’s exactly what this group would like us to do.
One of the group’s organizers, T. Russell Hunter, told NCW Life Channel that there was no malicious intent behind the release of the judge’s address.
“I would say there’s not a violent bone in the body of anyone coming in that group,” he told the news station.
Except we know that’s not true. One of Hunter’s compatriots who attended the festival rally last week is Jake Eakin. Locals might remember that name because Eakin was one of two Ephrata boys who bludgeoned a classmate to death in 2003. Eakin is out of prison now and has taken up the abolition crusade with zeal. He calls doctors who perform abortions “assassins.” He says “we should bring everyone aiding in this crime to justice, not merely the mother.”
Eakin’s fellow abolitionists know about his past. They compare him to the apostle Paul.
Eakin and his ilk — these street corner preachers with their megaphones and their signs and their shouts of hellfire — will never, ever face the possibility of being pregnant. These men’s beliefs and tactics were hatched inside the walls of churches that too often deny women leadership roles, where Sunday sermons focus an awful lot on which people God does or does not want us to have sex with, and where women’s wombs are fodder for all manner of righteous outrage.
Abortion is a complicated issue for most thinking, feeling people. The philosophical and moral complexities of the issue can feel even more knotted up for those of us who have given birth to a perfectly loved, desperately wanted and planned for child. I am pro-choice, but I hummed lullabies to my pregnant belly. This is the paradox, and this is why I understand the passion of my anti-abortion friends and neighbors.
But no matter how many days in a row these passionate friends stand on the sidewalk next to Planned Parenthood, no matter the legal status of abortion in this country, this one thing will never stop being true: In some times and places, for some women, abortion is the right thing.
And I trust women to make that most personal of decisions. I do not trust any group led by men — fueled by the words and doctrine and opinions of millennia of men — who would put a woman to death for deciding to end a pregnancy. Their rhetoric is dangerous. We should not normalize it.
Kelli Scott’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.