During the Feb. 17 Colorado House Health and Insurance Committee hearing for Rep. Stephanie Luck’s (R-Penrose) proposed law to require pain medication be administered to fetuses before abortion procedures, Will Duffy, president of Colorado Right to Life, and Jeff Durbin of End Abortion Now testified against the bill.

“Since I am adamantly opposed to abortion, you might be wondering why I oppose this bill,” said Duffy, whose organization opposed a partial abortion ban on the Colorado ballot in 2019. “I’m here to strongly urge the committee, including sponsors of the bill, to do something heroic and historic, and that is to vote against this bill. You see, giving a painkiller to an unborn baby before you end his or her life is no different than administering anesthetic to a born child before killing him or her.

“It’s no different than saying we should demand men give women Rohypnol before raping them. Imagine putting forth legislation, while slavery was legal in this country, forcing slave owners to give their slaves whiskey before beating them. These ideas are simply unimaginable. Yet here we are doing the exact same thing concerning babies who have not yet been born. There is still time to do the right thing. You can still make the choice to vote against this bill, even if you previously put your name on it as a sponsor.”

Duffy (blue sweater) testifying in opposition to Luck’s require pain meds for fetuses.

The bill was voted down, with Rep. Matt Soper (R-Delta), Rep. Mary Bradfield (R-Fountain), and Rep. Ron Weinberg (R-Loveland) voting in support of it.

This vote illustrated the distinction between the abortion abolitionists and the so-called “pro-life” movement. For the abolitionists, anything short of the complete abolition of abortion is a compromise, incrementalism, and ultimately, based upon their interpretation of the Bible, a sin.

“Right now in Kansas, there’s a bill before the legislature that would abolish abortion,” said Jesse Watkins, a pastor at Friendship Southern Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, during the Abolition Now Conference in Wichita last week. “Now the pro-life movement, what they did is they introduced a heartbeat bill. So the pro-life vision is, well, we just need incremental steps. That hasn’t worked. It hasn’t worked for 50 years. That’s the same argument they made to end slavery.”

Last year, when the Louisiana abolition bill, HB813, cleared committee and went for a House vote, a coalition of “America’s Leading Pro-Life Organizations” signed an open letter opposing the legislation. A key part of the abortion abolition bills is their push for equal protection under the law for fetuses, which criminalizes abortion patients and the doctors performing abortion.

“We are America’s leading advocates for life,” read the May 12, 2022 letter. “We come from very different backgrounds and perspectives, but we are united in our mission to protect unborn children and American women from the greed of the abortion industry. We have been in this fight for decades – many of us have dedicated our lives to this cause. We understand better than anyone else the desire to punish the purveyors of abortion who act callously and without regard to the dignity of human life. But turning women who have abortions into criminals is not the way. … In fighting for our country’s future generations, we are called to act with love and compassion as we seek fairness, justice, and liberty for unborn children and their mothers. Criminalizing women is antithetical to this charge. We will continue to oppose legislative and policy initiatives that criminalize women who seek abortions, and we will continue to work for initiatives that protect unborn children and policies that provide and strengthen life-affirming resources for abortion-vulnerable women.”

Abortion abolitionists don’t just disagree with the pro-lifers when it comes to criminalizing abortion patients, they also oppose what they call the pro-life movement’s “double victim narrative,” which posits that abortion patients themselves are also victims of abortion.

“Despite promises from her partner to the contrary, a woman’s relationship will often dissolve following an abortion,” read the open letter. “The clinic staff is gone, and the woman has no desire to return to the place she associates with failure. Even friends who know about the abortion hesitate to bring up the subject. When this happens, she is left to deal with her pain, her doubts, her questions all alone. Women are victims of abortion and require our compassion and support as well as ready access to counseling and social services in the days, weeks, months, and years following an abortion. As national and state pro-life organizations, 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 criminalize or punish women is not pro-life and we stand firmly opposed to such efforts.”

Abortion abolitionists regularly cite the website Not a Victim, which, similar to Libs of TikTok, compiles videos and social media posts of abortion patients discussing their abortions.

Abortion advocates also agree that abortion patients are not victims, but for different reasons.

“It’s well known that the real psychological trauma comes from not being able to access health care that you need,” says Zack Gingrich-Gaylord, the communications director for Wichita’s Trust Women clinic, which provides abortion services.  “It’s the same flip that they do with trans health, right? They say that gender-affirming care actually creates problems, when in fact, it’s the opposite. … They know this is not true. They don’t care, and so they’re saying it because people are going to hear it. Same thing with abortions, too. This is life-saving, life-affirming health care. People do this in order to empower themselves to access their future, to access their present. Being pregnant for some people is something that would foreclose their ability to live a free life.”

Among the signatories of the May 12, 2022 open letter was Brent Leatherwood, the then-acting president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

“The people who are the messengers [voting members within the SBC] in 2021 voted overwhelmingly to adopt a resolution on abolishing abortion,” said Dusty Deevers the pastor of Grace Community Church in Elgin, Oklahoma. “In that resolution, they say unequivocally that we will not pursue any strategy to toward our pre-born neighbors that would compromise God’s word or show partiality in any way, and that the only strategy that they would use is one to promote equal protection for all lives from conception and fertilization, which would abolish abortion. … I believe that the abortion abolition movement, which is for protecting those children equally, is the fastest growing movement in the SBC. Now, there are a few folks from the platform who are in leadership or who have been involved in the pro-life establishment for years who don’t see things the way we do.”

Deevers during the Abolition Now conference.

During the June, 2022, annual SBC meeting, Leatherwood rejected the abortion abolitionist position. “You’re not going to get me to say that I want to throw mothers behind bars,” he said. “That’s not the view of this entity. That is not the view of this convention. It is not the view of the pro-life movement that was proven yet again today. I believe the same principles that Jesus used in John four and John eight apply right here. Maybe instead of rushing in like a mob, we instead rush in with the truth given to us by the author of life, showing we are able to bear the burdens of others and offer the healing that comes with grace, just as has been poured out for us.”

SBC President Bart Barber took to Twitter on Sept. 15, 2022, to chastise Deevers and other abortion abolitionists. “Unless you 100% agree with every jot and tittle of Deevers’s obsession with sending 16-year-old girls to prison for succumbing to the coercion of their parents to have an abortion, he will label you ‘against the innocent preborn,'” he tweeted.

Barber has since repented of his use of the term “obsession” in the original tweet, but the enmity between the abortion abolitionists and pro-lifers remains. In the ERLC’s Winter 2022 issue of LIGHT magazine, Barber addressed the conflict between the pro-life and abortion abolition movements. “It is only in the most recent years that people who have taken a stand for life find that they are the targets of slanderous attacks not only from adherents of the pro-choice movement but also from people who share the pro-life movement’s commitment to the abolition of abortion,” wrote Barber. “These attacks have arisen from a group that rejects the pro-life label and instead styles themselves the ‘Abortion Abolition’ movement. Proponents of both the pro-life movement and the abortion abolition movement affirm in common the same underlying principles: that life begins at conception, life is sacred, abortion is a wrongful taking of life, abortion should be abolished, and the law should make abortion a criminal act. It may mystify many people to discover that two groups who share those beliefs in common could come to have a volatile relationship with one another.”

Deevers responded to Barber’s criticism in an article recently published on Free the States blog. “Barber’s LIGHT Magazine article and his Twitter tirades are gross slander, malignment, obfuscation, and demonization of equal protection of preborn children from fertilization and the abortion abolitionist movement,” he wrote. “Fidelity to God’s Word is always a winning position, no matter the opposition. Opposition will arise. It must. ‘For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart’ (Hebrews 4:12, emphasis mine). So, for the glory of our Lord, and the burning zeal for justice for our preborn neighbors, we will continue confronting the detestable arguments devised by Pro-Life establishment leaders like President Bart Barber and promoted by the ERLC with Brent Leatherwood at its helm.”

The ERLC did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

This is Part Three of a multi-part series on the abortion abolition movement. Read Part One here. Read Part Two here.