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An Inside Look

There is hardly anyone in this country who has not at least given some thought to the abortion issue. Out of those people, few can honestly say they do not have an opinion one way or another. Neutrality simply has never worked for this emotionally charged issue, and it is not uncommon for angry debates and nasty slogan throwing to occur between people on opposing sides. However, out of all the people who believe one way or another about abortion, the number of people who have gotten actively involved in standing up for what they believe is relatively small. The activists make up a small percentage of the population. They know what it is like to give all they have for what they believe. They know about the opposition, the obstacles and the sacrifices they face. They know the rejection and loss of respect imposed by their peers. They know the sense of camaraderie experienced from working with others who hold the same convictions. The rest of the population has nothing but the scant press coverage of certain isolated events on which to draw their knowledge of the activist world. If they are lucky, they might know someone who is a part of that world.

For two and a half years, I was part of that world. I attended the rallies; I went to the abortion clinics; I participated in political lobbying in Washington DC; many of my friends had gone to jail several times. I have met and talked to several of the big names: Randy Terry, Keith Tucci, Pat Mahoney and Joan Andrews. My goal here is to give you, the reader, an objective and accurate idea of what the activist world—specifically the pro-life activist world—is like.

I am unequivocally pro-life. I have always believed that abortion is murder and I will forever hold to that belief. I have no apologies for what I believe; I need none. There exists no worthy excuse for the senseless killing of innocent defenseless human beings, and I shudder to think of what accounting this country will need to give before God for promoting this crime. More American lives have been lost to abortion than have been lost in all the American wars combined.

A letter to the Governor

When I was ten years old, I felt I ought to write to the current governor of my state, who was firmly pro-choice, and ask him to reconsider his views. However, being so young, I couldn’t see how that could possibly make any difference. What does a mere child have to say to someone like the governor of Michigan? I asked God to please let me know if the idea came from Him and if it was something I ought to pursue. After a few minutes of prayer, I opened my Bible at random and read the first passage I saw:

I am young in years and you are old; Therefore I was shy and afraid to tell you what I think. I thought age should speak, And increased years should teach wisdom. But it is a spirit in man, And the breath of the Almighty gives them understanding, The abundant in years may not be wise, Nor may elders understand justice. So I say, “Listen to me, I too will tell what I think.” (Job 32: 6-10)

I took that to be my answer. I wrote the letter a few days later. As far as I know, nothing came out of it. Governor Blanchard continued to resist any kind of pro-life legislation until he was voted out of office, losing the election to Governor Engler, in 1990. I never received a reply to my letter so I assumed it either got lost or discarded. But it is significant to me because it was my first step taken to act on my conviction.

Getting more deeply involved

When I was a junior in high school, Operation Rescue became the topic of conversation among members in my church. Operation Rescue (OR) is a national organization of pro-life people who take the injustice of abortion so firmly to heart that they will block the doors of abortion facilities to prevent women from following through on plans for abortions. The rescuers, as they like to be called, will quietly sit down in front of the entrance, praying or singing worship songs, until they are arrested by the police. Upon arrest, they simply go limp and allow themselves to be carried, but generally offer no further resistance. They are taken to jail, and graciously accept whatever sentence is imposed on them, or try to protest it through legal channels. Many people from my church who were close to my family got involved in OR, and would talk about their experiences with it. The first major rescues (OR sit-ins) were held in Binghampton, New York, and were lead by Randy Terry, a charismatic idealist who possessed spark and vision but lacked diplomacy. Some of our friends got involved as a family, and the children would block the doors as well.

My parents let me and my sibs know that while they supported the idea of blocking the doors to abortion facilities, they did not see themselves as being involved that way, and in no way were they going to let their children get arrested. I knew I wanted to be involved in fighting abortion in a direct way, and I wanted to be involved in the rescues. On the same day that the much hyped pro-choice march in Washington DC was to be held (April of 1989) the pro-life communities across the nation held their own individual prayer rallies. I attended the one held in Washtenaw County, where I lived. At this rally, I learned of a way I could be involved without purposefully placing myself at risk for getting arrested, and that was by being a sidewalk counselor.

A sidewalk counselor is someone who stands in front of an abortion clinic and attempts to intercept the women going in. The idea is to see if the woman will be willing to talk for just a few moments, so that she can be told some of the biological facts about the child she’s carrying and also know that should she want to change her mind and keep the baby, there is practical and emotional assistance available through the local crisis pregnancy center. When I took my training, I was told to be at the abortion clinic in a spirit of prayer, and to approach the women I met in love, not forcing myself on them in any way, and respecting their wishes even if they chose not to talk to me. Most of the women, I was told, would go in and have the abortion anyway, but if only one changed her mind and one life was spared, that one life was definitely worth our feeble efforts. Sidewalk counseling could be done as part of a rescue or as an isolated event. Before OR became popular in certain pro-life circles, there were teams of sidewalk counselors doing time in front of abortion facilities across the country.

My first event was a rescue in the town next door to mine. The abortion clinic was a storefront place called “Womancare” which provided abortions twice a week. This was one of the first rescues put on by the pro-life community in Washtenaw County. It was also one of the first rescues where pro-choice activists showed up in an organized fashion. They wore blue armbands which identified them as “clinic escorts.” Their goal was to prevent the sidewalk counselors from talking to the women. Our leaders instructed us to ignore the escorts and do our best to talk to the women who wanted to get into Womancare. At that rescue, I found that what I learned at training about being gentle and unobtrusive did not work very well because the clinic escorts were a lot more aggressive than that. They would run to the women, immediately identify themselves as clinic escorts and instruct them not to talk to us. I was lucky if I could get in “Jesus loves you!” or “Please let us help.”

After that, I continued to go to abortion clinics as much as I could, either as part of a rescue or with just one other person. I also participated in a number of pickets at the local Planned Parenthood, Womancare, as well as traveled to rescues in Detroit, forty miles away. I cannot count how many hours I’ve clocked holding vigil in front of numerous abortion facilities. Eventually, I chose to target on in particular, “Healthcare for Women,” a dingy non-licensed storefront “clinic” located in my hometown of Ann Arbor. This place which I called “Hellcare” was my high school hangout. My goal was to have someone be present at this clinic every time there were abortions being done. If I couldn’t be there or know that someone was there on an abortion day, I felt like I had failed somehow.

Three or four other women shared this desire with me, so we scheduled to go to the clinic in pairs on alternating weeks. At that time, Healthcare did abortions once a week. Although I was the youngest, I was the initiator and leader of this enterprise. I called the abortion clinic on a regular basis to find out the times, I scheduled myself and my friends to be there during those times, and I encouraged them to keep at it and not give up even if it got frustrating.

For a period of about three months, this scheme worked quite well. Although none of us could report that any woman we talked to had changed her mind about wanting an abortion, almost every time we went, there would be at least one or two people who would drive into the parking lot, see us near the door, and turn around and leave. We would pray for them, that if they had been thinking of having an abortion, our presence at the clinic would be a permanent deterrence to them going through with it.

One time a young girl who could not have been older than fourteen years old and her boyfriend drove up. The young girl seemed really troubled, and my heart went out to her. I talked to her some and gave her some of the literature I was carrying. She thanked me kindly for my concern and said that she would definitely think about it. She and her boyfriend went into the clinic for a short time, and then came out saying that they did not intend to go through with the abortion that day, but were still not sure what they wanted to do. My phone number was on the tract I had given the girl, so I told her she was welcome to call me if she wanted to talk more.

I prayed for this girl for days after this encounter. I never learned her real name, but I started calling her Claudia. She seemed only a few years older than my little sister, and I couldn’t imagine the kind of anxiety and pain she must have been dealing with. I hoped she would call me because I so desperately wanted to be her friend.

Two weeks later, she and her boyfriend returned to the clinic, and this time, without a word to me, walked inside. I knew they had decided to go through with the abortion. There was nothing I could do to stop them from carrying out this decision. That evening I cried for Claudia and her now dead baby, which I had named Christopher. I felt like it had been my own child that had been cruelly torn apart and thrown away.

Another time, I was standing in front of Healthcare clinic with one of my friends. It had been a gloomy day weatherwise, and we hadn’t had much success in talking to anyone. We were about ready to leave, because no one else was coming. Tired, I leaned against the aluminum door frame, then jumped back at what I heard coming from inside. It was a soft, high pitched, sucking sound. I had never heard it before but I knew what it was: the abortion machine at work. Babies were being killed at that very moment. I do not remember what happened afterwards or when we finally left the clinic that day, but even years later, I can never forget that sound. I can still hear it in my head every once in a while—that sickening, horrifying sound of death.

Wichita

I was fortunate to be able to participate in the national rescues in Wichita, Kansas. By then, the more gentle, tactful Keith Tucci had replaced Randy Terry as the director, which really helped OR’s public relations. The big deal about Wichita was George Tiller, a man who operated a third trimester abortion clinic, which attracted clients from all over the US and from six other countries. This event was supposed to last for one week, but ended up going on for the entire summer. I was there for the first nine days of it. During those nine days, George Tiller’s clinic, as well as two other abortion facilities, were effectively closed down. For nine days, no abortions were done in Wichita.

This actually was harder to accomplish than it sounds. It meant holding continuous vigil in front of Tiller’s place, because he had stated that he would do the abortions as soon as he could, meaning as soon as we left him alone, even if that meant opening his place at one in the morning. All the people who came were divided into six squads, and assigned shifts to either Tiller’s clinic or one of the others. There were people present at Tiller’s round the clock.

The rescuers in Wichita based themselves in the Wichita Plaza Hotel and were given access to most of the rooms, the lobbies and the swimming pool. The owner was quite supportive of the cause and even rented rooms at generous discounts. We piled about five or six people in a room and took the place over while we were there. The entire hotel was filled with rescuers, and elevators were always crowded with people on their way to or from a rally or their shift. Two rooms, one on the ground floor and one on the 26th floor, were designated as prayer rooms, and people could go there to have quiet time whenever they wanted. A dining hall on the 6th floor became our meeting site, where all the rallies were held. A room on the ground floor, with about four phone lines, was converted into the “command center.” All of us were given two phone numbers and instructed to call the command center if anything unusual happened at one of the abortion clinics.

The shifts lasted three hours apiece and each squad was given about two shifts a day. Each squad consisted of about 40 or 50 people and one or two squad leaders. My squad leader was Chet Gallagher, a former police officer who commanded respect by his very presence. He was a soft-spoken, fervent leader who took the time to talk to and look after every single person in his squad. While we were on our shifts, he would rally us together as a group and encourage us to pray or sing songs together. Although this was not required, every time I passed him I would salute him and call him captain.

During one of our shifts, it started to rain, and people were getting cold and tired. He called us all together, gave a motivating speech about the necessity for us to be willing to sacrifice all for the babies and encouraged us tremendously for our willingness to take the stand we were taking. After he spoke, he lead us all in singing the Our Father. We all held hands and sang our hearts out. I didn’t know the people sitting next to me and around me, but they were my brothers and sisters. They were my comrades at war. When we were done singing, it started to pour, but the sun was shining behind us. In front of us, suddenly appeared the brightest rainbow I have ever seen.

As the Wichita rescues continued more and more pro-life supporters kept coming, wanting to participate in the rescues, and hence a decision was made to continue. People who were already there were encouraged to stay a little longer if they could. I wanted to stay three more days, but I needed forty dollars in cash in order to do so. There was no way for me to access my bank account or have my parents send me any cash. At a rally, we were instructed to go to the command center if we needed money to stay. Those who had money available were encouraged to share, and regular offerings were being collected. I went to the command center as instructed but got nowhere. Apparently they were trying to deal with some sort of incident and weren’t able to help me. I want back up to the 6th floor, wondering what I should do next about borrowing some money (which I had every intention of paying back once I got home). Keith Tucci, the director of Operation Rescue National, was standing near the front of the room talking to some people. I approached him.

“Hi, I’d really like to stay for a few more days, but I need to borrow some money. How would I go about getting it?” I queried.

“How much do you need?” Keith asked.

“About forty dollars,” I replied. Keith reached for his wallet, pulled out two twenties and handed them to me.

“Here, take this,” he said. “I’m glad you want to stay.”

“Oh, thank you!” I said gratefully. “I’ll pay you back as soon as I can.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

On day ten, the police, who hadn’t arrested anyone all week, decided to start making arrests when they realized we weren’t just going to leave. However, they were overwhelmed by our large numbers and weren’t sure how to begin. They started rather violently, and for about fifteen minutes there was absolute chaos. I had crossed the street leaving a relatively peaceful scene to talk to some curious bystanders and came back to confusion and screams of pain. They came from a man who was being pressed down on the street. As it was 98 degrees outside, the burning asphalt was searing his skin. About twenty feet from there, Mark, one of my friends from Ann Arbor, was being repeatedly pushed to the ground by two officers with billy clubs. I learned later that Chet Gallagher had gotten both of his wrists sprained because the police put flexi-plastic handcuffs on him and dragged him off by the handcuffs. The chaos and violence stopped as abruptly as it had started, leaving tension in its wake. This never happened again; the next day, arrests were made peacefully. I went home a couple days after that. The rescues continued the whole summer.

A life saved

Towards the end of my involvement in the pro-life movement, I experienced a tangible victory. Mark and I were at Healthcare on what we called an off-day, a day when they weren’t doing abortions. At this time, the workers at the clinic were trying to “work around us” by having their abortion schedule change from week to week. I tried to keep track of the schedule changes by calling the clinic often, but that didn’t always work out, so Mark and I ended up being there on an off-day.

Presently, a young woman accompanied by two small children got out of her car and approached the clinic. I talked to her first:

“Hi, my name is Nanda and could I tell you a little bit about this clinic here?” We were making the most of the fact that Healthcare was not a licensed clinic.

The woman surprised me by saying: “Sure, I’m listening. What do you have to say?” Most of the women ignore the sidewalk counselors. I stuttered and couldn’t say anything coherent at first. Marcy (not her real name) stood still and listened. I got out what I wanted to say, and Mark joined in. Then Marcy told us her story. She had recently discovered her pregnancy and had not decided what to do about it, but was considering abortion as an option. She didn’t particularly like the idea, however, and was open to other possibilities. We all talked outside of Healthcare for about an hour and she left without even going in.

During this time, she had told us where she lived. Mark and I befriended her, visiting her frequently, and inviting her to church and social events with our respective churches and with the rescue group. Marcy got to know several of our friends that way.

Throughout her pregnancy she kept going back and forth about wanting to keep the child versus having an abortion, and this made me very nervous. At one point she told us flat out that she couldn’t afford another baby, but that if a certain detail worked out in her life, she’d go ahead and have the baby. She wouldn’t tell us what she needed, though.

“I know you better than that,” she said. “If I tell you, you’ll set it up.”

Mark, our friends and I prayed fervently for Marcy and for her child. I knew that I would be devastated if Marcy ended up having an abortion. But I also knew that there was a certain point beyond which I couldn’t cross. Ultimately, the decision was for Marcy to make and we needed to let her make that decision. We prayed that God would work things out in her life so that she would be able to have her baby.

One day, Mark and Lucy (one of the local rescuers) stopped by Marcy’s apartment. Marcy told them that she had decided to keep the baby. The baby’s father, who had initially given her $300 upon learning of the pregnancy and told her to “take care of it” changed his mind and decided that he wanted to raise the child himself. This was the “detail” that Marcy had been referring to.

On November 23, 1991, Marcy gave birth to a son, whom she named after his father. About a week later I got to hold this baby and marvel at the miracle of life. This small child in my arms was what it all boiled down to. I could only look in awe and wonder at this child who might have been dead, but was now safe and alive. All slogans became meaningless for me at that point. The little baby said it all. It is babies like him for which the pro-life movement exists.

This is what it is like to be a pro-life activist. I have told of the rescues, the rallies, the hours spent in front of abortion facilities. I have tried to let you in on the intensity, the conviction, the emotion, and ultimately, the purpose behind the movement. I hope that regardless of your personal stand on abortion, you now have a better understanding of what the issue looks like from the inside.

Society | Rights | Political Philosophy


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