It wasn’t initially clear how Marcus Silva, a Texas man, even knew about his ex-wife’s abortion. Last month, just weeks after the divorce his wife had filed for was finalized, Silva filed a “wrongful death” lawsuit against three of her closest friends, seeking $1m from each. He claims that the women helped his wife obtain abortion medication in July 2022 – two months after she had filed for divorce from him, and just a few weeks after the Dobbs decision overturned Roe v Wade and states like Texas outlawed abortion. And Silva had text messages to prove it.

His legal complaint included photos of what Silva claimed was a group chat between his then wife and the three women he is now suing. In it, the women can be seen working together to help their friend end her pregnancy and extricate herself from Silva. In the group chat, the women delegate tasks, each taking on the responsibility to look for abortion providers or financial assistance. They also speak of the need to keep both the pregnancy and the abortion from Silva, speculating that his wife will be made to suffer more if he finds out. “Delete all conversations from today,” one woman tells Silva’s then wife. “You don’t want him looking through it.”

But it seems that Silva did indeed look through it. New reporting from NPR strongly suggests that Silva and his attorneys obtained the text messages because Silva rifled through his wife’s purse when she wasn’t looking, and took photos of her text threads with his own phone. The images themselves are off-center and blurry; there’s a glare on the screen; and in some of the pictures, you can see what seems to be the outline of Silva’s own thumb reflected on the glass of his wife’s cell phone. Lana Ramjit, the director of operations at Cornell’s Clinic to End Tech Abuse, was frank about her assessment of the images to NPR, describing them as “janky”. “They are pretty clearly photos of a phone,” Ramjit says.

The photos do, however, include a time stamp from the text thread: “Today, 6.38pm.” That time stamp, combined with a recently unearthed police report from when Silva reported the texts to the police, both indicate that Silva knew of his wife’s pregnancy, and her intent to abort, before the abortion took place – a reality that would dramatically undermine his lawsuit’s claim of emotional damages, which relies heavily on the notion, asserted by Silva’s attorneys, that the abortion took place without his knowledge. “He went into his wife’s purse and located a Post-It note containing the phone number to a hotline for an abortion clinic,” the police report reads.

James Bond this guy is not. But perhaps the anti-choice movement has never had so perfect an avatar as Marcus Silva. Silva’s lawsuit – his transparent malice and jiltedness, his obsessive attempts to exert exacting control over his wife, his use of petty and obvious, rather than sophisticated, technological surveillance over her and the women who would help her escape his control – offer both a clear vision of the anti-choice movement’s project of enabling men’s private entrapment and abuse of women, and a decent metaphor for the creepy, stupid and cruel nature of the anti-choice movement writ large. Maybe it is their identification with his trifling cruelty that has drawn the leaders of the anti-choice movement to embrace Silva so closely: the attorney representing him in his lawsuit against his wife’s friends is Jonathan Mitchell, the architect of Texas’s bounty-hunter abortion ban, SB8.

Silva’s lawsuit against his wife’s friends follows several trends that have long been advanced by the anti-choice movement. His legal claim of “wrongful death” relies, for example, on naming the embryo as a person – so-called fetal “personhood” – a charge that would make his wife’s friends, who allegedly helped her obtain the medication, something like accomplices to murder.

“He went into his wife’s purse and located a Post-It note containing the phone number to a hotline for an abortion clinic.”

His lawyers claim that Silva was wronged, too, by his wife’s choice to terminate the pregnancy “without his knowledge or consent”, a claim that suggests that a man who impregnated a woman gains the ability to compel her to give birth against her will – a kind of property right over her body, conferred by virtue of insemination.

The so-called “spousal consent” theory that men can force their wives and girlfriends to give birth has long been one of the tactics used by the anti-choice movement to further men’s private control over women with the assistance of the state. And it has fans on the Supreme Court: now-Justice Samuel Alito voted to uphold a Pennsylvania “spousal consent” law that required women to obtain a husband’s permission for an abortion in the early 1990s, when he was a judge on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

A similar logic of the supposed entitlement and authority of husbands and fathers is at play in a series of anti-choice laws that allow third parties to sue abortion providers – but limit the ability to sue to a woman’s family, or to the man who impregnated her; as if these people have some claim to control the woman’s choices or enforce on her a pregnancy that she does not want.

The theory reduces women to glorified property, placing their bodies and lives under the control of men, and sees the state less as a protector of women’s personal freedom than as an enforcer of men’s rights to control women. For the anti-choice movement, that’s precisely the point.

James Bond this guy is not.

But perhaps most notable – and most typical – is that the lawsuit targets the abortion patient’s friends, looking to treat their care, cooperation and solidarity as criminal. In that sense, Silva joins a long line of abortion opponents who have increasingly turned to so-called “aiding and abetting” statutes, which target those who help women and girls get abortions.

Texas’s SB8, the bounty-hunter law crafted by Silva’s lawyer, is an “aiding and abetting” law, targeting not abortion patients but the people who help them in their moment of need – by getting them accurate health information, or getting them access to pills, or lending them money, or giving them a ride to a provider. (Because Texas state law shields abortion patients themselves from liability, Silva was not able to name his ex-wife as a defendant in the lawsuit. One gets the sense that he would if he could.) Idaho’s so-called “abortion trafficking” law, which limits women and girls’ right to travel by making it a felony to transport a teenager to get an abortion, takes the same strategy of attacking those who try to help a woman or girl control her own life.

It’s the anti-choice movement’s dark and sadistic warping of the concept of “family”. They advance a vision where men who can claim to be a woman’s “family” are entitled to control and hurt her, with the help of the state. And where relationships that are worthy of being called “family” – the friendships, the solidarity, the relations of mutual respect and affection in which people help each other to be free – are demonized, intimidated and punished by the law.

Moira Donegan is a U.S.-based columnist for The Guardian, covering gender and politics