By Tom Midlane @goldenlatrine

A MODERN pro-life church who believe that women should get the death penalty for intentionally aborting their babies are looking to change the face of the anti-abortion movement in the US

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Videographer / director: Ruaridh Connellan
Producer: Dan Howlett, Ruby Coote
Editor: Marcus Cooper

Jeff Durbin is the pastor at the pro-life Apologia Church in Tempe, Arizona

With his immaculately groomed beard, tattoos and Aviator sunglasses, the Red Door Ministry’s telegenic pastor, reformed drug addict Jeff Durbin, 38, looks every inch the young, modern-day American hipster.

But the group’s views are resolutely old school - they say abortion is ‘worse than the Holocaust’ and regularly enlist children as young as two to picket Planned Parenthood clinics, armed with signs reading 'Babies are murdered here’.

Based in Tempe, Arizona, the ministry is part of the Apologia Church, a militantly pro-life organisation with their own radio station and social media channels.

The church campaigns to overturn Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that gave women a constitutional right to an abortion in the early stages of pregnancy.

“We might look different than people with short hair and suits and ties, but doctrinally our beliefs are pretty ancient,” Durbin told Barcroft TV.

The church campaigns to overturn Roe v Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that gave women a constitutional right to abortion

Controversially, the young pastor even draws a parallel between abortion and the Nazi genocide, but says the comparison is unfair - to Hitler.

Durbin said: “We consider abortion to be the modern day Holocaust, although I believe it is a bit of an insult to Hitler to compare what he did in Nazi Germany to what we have before us.

“If you take a body count of Hitler’s Germany to what we’ve had since Roe v Wade, we beat him by the metric tonne.”

For the first time in the US’s history, the number of people who regard themselves as pro-choice outnumbers those who are pro-life, according to a 2015 Gallup poll.

But with new US President Donald Trump installed in the White House, abortion rights are once again back on the political agenda.

In his first week in power, President Trump reinstated the ban on federal funding going to international groups that provide information on, or perform, abortions - a move critics say could lead to a spike in maternal deaths as a result of unsafe abortions or avoidable complications during pregnancy.

Ohio lawmakers also recently proposed a bill which would have made terminations illegal once a heartbeat was detected - typically at around six weeks, before many women realise they are pregnant.

The church frequently take children as young as two to picket Planned Parenthood clinics

While the bill was vetoed by Ohio governor John Kasich, he did sign off on a new law restricting the legal limit to 20 weeks.

Trump also caused controversy during the Republican presidential primaries by saying that he would consider “punishments” for women who underwent an abortion.

While his team later backtracked on that claim, at the Apologia Church pastor Durbin is not shy in calling for the ultimate sanction against the medical practitioners who carry out abortions.

“I think that anybody that severs the head and arms and legs off a baby should receive the death penalty,” he said.

And Durban also believes that women who intentionally abort their foetus should ultimately face the same punishment.

He said: “Whether it’s a mother who kills her child in the womb or a mother who kills her five-year-old twins by drowning them in the bathtub, we would want it to be treated as a murder charge, and for that to be applied consistently under the law.

"I belief that a just answer to murder is the death penalty. Historically that’s the standard we held to for a long time, and ultimately when God has spoken to the issue of justice for murder, he says it’s a life for a life."

Jeff surrounded by his family outside the church

Despite the strength of his current devotion, Durbin was raised in a non-religious home.

"I remember as a teenager that my dad had pro-choice bumper stickers on his car,” he recalled.

As a young man the pastor fell into a hedonistic party crowd who indulged in heavy drinking and drug use.

“There were areas in my life that I had not turned over to Christ and I ended up falling into drugs and alcohol addiction,” he said.

"It was about a year-long pursuit of ecstasy and pills and marijuana and alcohol.

“One night I almost OD-ed - I had been taking a lot of ecstasy and drinking and I was overheating, my body was red, just absolutely blood red.

"I jumped into a bath tub with ice and cold water but that wasn’t helping it - I melted the ice and I knew that I was dying. I said to God ‘I know that what I am doing is sin, please just don’t take my life, don’t kill me yet'.

Members of the church out protesting next to pro-choice campaigners

"I saw Christ for who he is, my need for him and forgiveness, and I turned to him and I trusted in him and my life changed."

As well as picketing abortion clinics, the Red Door Ministry also make full use of a slick social media operation and modern technology to spread their anti-abortion message.

The church even has its own radio station and YouTube show which they use to try and attract new converts to the cause.

Their media output sees them railing against the estimated 3,000 abortions carried out per day in the US, which pastor Durbin describes as “a 9/11 every day”.

The pastor argues that abortion is never acceptable, even in case of rape or incest, and that the times when an abortion is medically necessary to save the life of the mother are “almost infinitesimal”.

He added: “Rape is the violation of another person’s body, but that’s what’s taking place in abortion.”

And while some may criticise the church’s choice to enlist such young children in their protests, the Red Door Ministry is adamant that what they are doing is no different to any other parent.

The church has its own in-house radio station, which allows Jeff to spread his message widely

He said: “We teach our children very very young to do justice. Some people might say ‘You’re indoctrinating your children’. I’d said ‘Right, and so are you’.

“Everybody goes about the business of indoctrination, it means teaching."

Jeff’s daughter Immagin, 15, said: “Sometimes I do wish that I could have lived a different life where things were easier, like most kids go to public school, I’m homeschooled, I grew up this way, this is what’s right to me.”

The church’s critics accuse it of intimidating women seeking an abortion and fear the right to a legal abortion in the US may be under threat.

Due to the number of anti-abortion protestors, there are now established teams of escorts who accompany women to abortion clinics.

Ashley Grey, State Advocacy Advisor at the Centre for Reproductive Affairs, said: “I’ve seen anti-abortion groups shoving bits of rubber that look like a small fetus in women’s faces.

"I have seen them trying to hand woman chocolate because if they ingest food, they can't go under anaesthesia.

Jeff's daughter Immagin (r) is also part of the Apologia Church, along with friend Annaleigh Croom (l)

"So that either ruins the appointment and they can come back or even worse, they forget they ate the chocolate, they go under anaesthesia and they could die."

And she is all too aware that the Red Door Ministry present a new type of threat to Planned Parenthood and other providers of abortion services.

She said: “These guys in Arizona are a lot younger than most protestors I have seen. They look like cool guys, you know, that you'd want to have a beer with.

"I think that they are trying to change the image around what a pro-life protestor looks like. Most people think of old, white people waving Bibles, whereas they want to be seen as more approachable.

"I think they could cause us more problems than the older generation, especially with social media and technology.”

Nevertheless, Ashley is adamant that women will have abortions regardless of whether it is legal or not, and that places like Planned Parenthood offer a chance for women to have terminations in a clean and safe environment.

Despite their hipster beards, the church's beliefs are resolutely old school

She said: “Before abortion was illegal women were dying all the time from backstreet abortions, and when abortion was made legal that stopped overnight.

"No more deaths due to botched back alley illegal abortions."

But for Durbin and the Apologia Church, the fight continues - and nothing will suffice but a complete end to legal abortion.

He added: "I would say my hope is that we get to a place where because of the gospel, because of the people who have turned to Christ, because hearts change, we begin to see children again as valuable in our nation and we begin to see murder as a wicked crime.

“We want the state to actually say that if a mother kills her child, it is a murder charge."