Peaceful Pro-Life Rescuers Face Years in Prison
Ever since abortion was legalized in America, there have always been those pro-life advocates who have felt called to prophetically witness to the humanity of the preborn child. Certain individuals, deeply convicted of the great evil of abortion, have engaged in acts of peaceful civil disobedience, heedless of the costs to themselves. Their motivation has been to save lives, save women from a lifetime of regret, and to witness publicly to the gravity of the crime being perpetrated in our midst.
Such were the many thousands of participants of the “rescue” movement, which reached its peak in the late 1980s and early 90s. During these years, many thousands of pro-life activists peacefully blockaded the doors of abortion clinics. In this, they were consciously following the example of other civil rights activists, such as Martin Luther King Jr., who brought about society-wide transformation through the use of peaceful protests.
During one memorable summer, called the Summer of Mercy, over 2,500 pro-life activists were arrested over the space of three weeks for peacefully blockading three different abortion facilities in Wichita, Kansas. All told, however, tens of thousands of pro-life activists participated in the event, which culminated with a prayer rally led by Evangelical preacher Pat Robertson.
The rescue movement largely came to an end, however, when President Bill Clinton signed the so-called Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. This bill instituted large fines and significant jail time for those who blocked abortion facility entrances, making it prohibitively difficult for pro-life organizations to continue carrying out organized rescue efforts.
However, even since the passage of the FACE Act, various pro-life activists have continued to stage rescue operations, convicted that the chance of saving even a single human life, or changing a single mind on the evil and violence of abortion, is worth the possible consequences.
FACE Act Convicts Pro-Life Rescuers
Among those who have continued to engage in rescues are several pro-lifers who were arrested in Sept. 2020, after they entered an abortion facility in Washington D.C., and chained themselves to furniture.
Those arrested include William Goodman, Lauren Handy, Heather Idoni, John Hinshaw, Herb Geraghty, Joan Bell, Jean Marshall, and Jonathan Darnel. In two separate trials in recent weeks, all eight were found guilty of violating the FACE Act. All of them were immediately taken into custody at the conclusion of the trials.
As is standard in FACE Act cases, the judge prohibited the defendants from entering into evidence anything that might concretely show the humanity of the preborn child. Among the pieces of evidence that the pro-lifers attempted to bring forward were photographs of the over 100 bodies of preborn children that Lauren Handy, one of those convicted, had recovered from dumpsters outside the Surgi-Clinic abortion facility in Washington, D.C.
Most of those preborn children were given a proper burial by a Catholic priest. However, police recovered the bodies of five late-term aborted children that Handy had retained, in the belief that the children may have been killed in illegal partial-birth abortions. At the time police raided Handy’s apartment, Handy had been attempting to deliver the bodies to police, so that they could conduct an investigation into the abortion facility. Unsurprisingly, that investigation never seems to have taken place.
Although the members of the group have not yet been sentenced, they face up to 11 years in prison. It is worth noting that some of the group members are quite elderly, including Joan Bell (75) and Jean Marshall (72). Should they receive the maximum penalty, these women will not be released until they are in their mid 80s. According to witnesses, family members of the elderly women were seen shaking and crying during the trial.
‘It’s Just Prison’
However, the convicted activists themselves seem unperturbed by the prospect of spending years in prison for seeking to rescue preborn children. “It’s just jail,” said Jonathon Darnel, one of the group, following the conviction.
The humanitarian motives of the pro-life activists were expressed with moving clarity by Joan Bell in a statement that she made to the court. The statement is worth quoting in full, as a powerful look into the hearts of those pro-life activists who continue to run significant personal risks for the chance to witness to the great evil and violence of abortion.
As Bell notes, at the heart of her actions is a deep desire to follow Christ’s admonition to lay down one’s life for others. Importantly, this includes abortionists and abortion activists, towards whom she feels called to demonstrate a Christ-like love.
“I am a pacifist,” begins Bell’s statement.
Always have been. Being Catholic and knowing that human life is sacred, I’ve been deeply involved in fighting injustice against persons since my pre-teens, from the civil rights movement, Citizens against the Death Penalty, the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 1970s, to the pro-life movement, resisting the worst mass murder of all.
My means of resistance, I have always been totally non-violent along with compassion and respect shown towards those with whom I am in opposition.
Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. have been my spiritual mentors. Jesus Christ is the ultimate standard: lay down your life for others.
I vehemently opposed the anti-war movement leadership when those around me were verbally disrespecting the police by calling them “pigs” and calling soldiers “baby killers.” I opposed and finally departed any group that would not cease their violence or promoted violence, verbal or otherwise. That stands true to this very day. And I will tell you the most caring and non-violent group I have ever been part of is the pro-life movement. After over 50 years working with thousands of others to protect human life in this cause, this is the most compassionate, most caring, most non-violent people of which I have ever been a part, verbally and physically. Yes, I have blocked the killing of babies, but never verbally accosted an abortionist or anyone else, especially a pregnant mother. We love them.
At a rescue before this one, I had an abortionist say, “I know you love me.”
Please understand we have an absolute standard that cannot be violated whether you are sidewalk counseling, at a pro-life march or rally or doing a rescue inside or outside an abortion center. You may not touch anyone! If you are assaulted, you can only lie down to protect yourself. To protect someone else you cannot touch the attacker. You are only allowed to block the attack of others by putting your own body between the assailant and the victim. If the victim is on the ground, you can place your body over the other to take the blows for him or her. This is an absolute standard. Nothing else is tolerated.
Growing Legal Threats
While the pro-life movement has received a major boost in the wake of the repeal of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court last summer, the effort to defend life still faces enormous obstacles. At the moment, one of the most significant of these is that the federal government is largely controlled by extreme pro-abortion activists.
Tragically, President Joe Biden—a self-declared “Catholic”—may well rank as the most extreme pro-abortion president in U.S. history. Similarly, Democrats in the House of Representatives (currently in the minority) and the Senate Democrats (in the majority) have formally committed the Democratic party to fighting for abortion on demand, without restrictions, throughout all stages of pregnancy.
It is hardly surprising, then, that recent years have witnessed a troubling increase in the use of the coercive power of the state, including law enforcement, to heavily penalize pro-life activism. As Haly Strack notes over at the National Review, the Biden-era Department of Justice (DOJ) is engaging in “a blatant political witch hunt designed to threaten and charge activists out of saving children.”
As Strack notes
In the District of Columbia, burglary, attempted robbery, theft, aggravated assault, stalking, drug distribution (except narcotic/abusive), firearm possession by a felon, misdemeanor sexual abuse, third- and fourth-degree sexual abuses, a DUI, unlawful publication of revenge pornography, arson, fraud, destruction of property, perjury, and more are all crimes with lesser prison sentences and fines than what Marshall and Bell face.
And yet, “What was Marshall and Bell’s crime, worth up to 11 years in prison and a $350,000 fine? For a matter of hours, they prevented the clinic from tearing babies limbs from their mothers’ wombs.”
This prosecution of the rescuers is only the latest piece of evidence that the Biden administration’s DOJ is using excessive force to target pro-life activists. Consider, for instance, the appalling treatment of pro-life dad Mark Houck. Last year dozens of heavily-armed FBI agents conducted an early-morning raid on Houck’s house, after they received allegations that Houck had assaulted an abortion facility escort.
Houck was ultimately charged with violations of the FACE Act. In the end, he was acquitted on all charges. However, not before the FBI had traumatized Houck’s family, and sent a chilling message to all other pro-life Americans about how the heavy fist of law enforcement would be used to intimidate those on the “wrong” side of this issue.
A Prophetic Witness
Not everyone is called to risk hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines or time in prison to witness to the humanity of the preborn child. However, those pro-life activists who peacefully engage in civil disobedience, and do so out of a compassionate concern not only for the preborn children at risk of being killed, but also for the welfare of abortion-bound women and abortion facility workers, serve an important role in the pro-life movement.
Not only do they often reach abortion-bound women, literally saving lives, but they also keep this most-crucial of social issues in the public eye. Thanks to the blatant abuse of the FACE Act to persecute peaceful pro-life activists such as Mark Houck and the rescuers just convicted, Republican politicians are currently making a renewed effort to repeal the FACE Act.
In a press release announcing a resolution to repeal the FACE Act, Rep. Chip Roy said that “free Americans should never live in fear of their government targeting them because of their beliefs. Yet, Biden’s Department of Justice has brazenly weaponized the FACE Act against normal, everyday Americans across the political spectrum, simply because they are pro-life.”
Rep. Chris Smith also supported the resolution, arguing that “the FACE Act prescribes harsh, mean-spirited punishments when pro-life individuals engage in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience.”
“The Biden Administration has weaponized the FACE Act, singling out nonviolent pro-life advocates and punishing them as felons,” Smith continued. “At the same time, there has been no documented arrest in over 80 instances of violent attacks, firebombing, and vandalism by pro-abortion activists in a coordinated effort to intimidate front-line volunteers and licensed medical professionals providing critical support to mothers in need and their unborn baby boys and girls.”
We also cannot underestimate the spiritual power of the holocaust being offered by the likes of Joan Bell, who have committed themselves to offering their temporal sufferings up for the end of abortion. Bell has written from prison that she wants her time in prison “to be a time of undistracted prayer, as well a time of penance – for myself and our nation.” She added, “I want to make my cell as it were a cloistered monastery cell.”
We can trust that the Lord will not allow those prayers to go to waste. While we continue to work outside prison walls for the end to abortion, we can be confident in the spiritual sustenance given by the prayers of Bell, and the many other prayerful pro-life prayer warriors who are crying out to heaven for mercy for our preborn brothers and sisters.
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Father Shenan J. Boquet was ordained in 1993 and is a priest of the Houma-Thibodaux Roman Catholic Diocese in Louisiana, his home state, where he served before joining HLI as its President in August 2011. Father Boquet earned a BA from Saint Joseph Seminary College, a Master of Divinity (MDiv) from Notre Dame Seminary Graduate School of Theology, a Certification Program in Health Care Ethics from the National Catholic Bioethics Center, and a Master of Science in Bioethics (MSBe) from the University of Mary in Bismarck. In 2018, Father Boquet was awarded an honorary visiting professorship by the Benedict XVI Catholic University in Trujillo, Peru. He is available for interviews and bookings on behalf of HLI by emailing email@example.com.