Years ago I spent a morning with a group of other young men and women chained together with kryptonite locks to an abortion machine in a “women’s health center.”
In two teams of six each, we were at the clinic when it opened. Before the abortionist arrived, the teams entered the abortion rooms and chained ourselves to the equipment. It took the locksmith four or five hours to clear the rooms; by then the “clinic” had been closed for the day. As for the rescue teams, we were promptly arrested and carted off to jail.
How did a law-abiding citizen, husband, and father of four children get to this moment in his life? It began with some language that offended me!
My wife and I had been supporting pro-life causes since early in our marriage. We had written letters and financially supported crisis pregnancy centers who cared for young women in crisis pregnancies. To this point in my life, I had been a student pastor and church pastor, and at the time of this experience, I was working for an international relief and development organization to recruit and train young Christians to work in poor communities overseas.
One day, while reading an article by Chuck Colson, I was introduced to a pro-life activist named Joan Andrews, who had been called the ‘Mother Teresa of the Pro-Life Movement.” Joan counseled and prayed with women entering “clinics” to “terminate their pregnancies.”
“Rescue those being taken away to death”
The rescue movement, born in the 1980’s, advocated non-violent intervention to protect the lives of mothers and babies by picketing and seeking to shut down abortion providers. The movement was inspired by such passages as Proverbs 24:11-12:
Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?
Joan Andrews was among the early rescuers; she had been arrested dozens of times. In the spring of 1986 she was arrested for entering a Pensacola, Florida abortion clinic and unplugging the equipment used to “evacuate” the baby from her mother’s womb. The judge sentenced Joan to five years in prison, twice as long as the sentencing guidelines prescribed. In an article, Chuck Colson rightly castigated the judge, who, on the same day, sentenced two men convicted of manslaughter to six months of probation. What an outrage! What injustice!
Joan Andrews was someone to be admired, someone living out the courage of her convictions. Later, I heard she was writing letters from prison and sending them out through her lawyer. I found a copy of one. In it, Andrews said something that highly offended me and changed my life.
Stunned by offensive language
The letter included a report by John Cavanaugh O’Keefe for Human Life International, in January 1988. In it, Joan referenced a woman named Christy Anne Collins, a fellow pro-life activist. Miss Andrews wrote:
Christy Anne Collins left her AIDS ministry to work fulltime for unborn children. She began counseling women approaching the abortuary every day it was open. Her approach was direct. … In one ten-month period, she persuaded over 80 women to turn away from death and choose life for their children.
I was stunned and revolted by Andrews’ use of the word abortuary, a term sounding like vocabulary from Nazi Germany. How dare someone from the pro-life movement use such a word to describe what we had known as a “women’s health center” or “abortion clinic”?
Yes, they did abortions there and that was wrong. But why “abortuary”? That’s such a loaded word. I didn’t sleep for a couple of nights, I was so disturbed by it.
And then the thought came to me, What if she is using the appropriate language and I am not? Maybe she is accurately describing what’s going on in these clinics, the murder of babies, and I’m using the approved language of our culture, “women’s health clinics,” “treating a medical condition,” “terminating pregnancies.” Those words didn’t sound so bad. They are not offensive. They are “nice.” What Joan Andrews said was not nice!
It was at that moment that I began to seek God in this and talk with my family about crossing a threshold from tame actions like writing letters and giving money to doing active rescues.
Deceptive news reporting
I remember the first time I went to a rescue at a – what should I call it – clinic/abortuary. I was not ready to rescue, but simply brought a protest sign and marched up and down the sidewalk with a couple hundred other protesters while 30-40 people sat quietly and peacefully in front of the clinic’s doors. The supporters were grandparents with their grandkids, singles, teens, parents and their children. It felt more like a Sunday School picnic than a protest.
I went home that night and watched the TV news reporting. They characterized the event as a violent street protest that threatened clinic staff. I had been there the whole day and saw nothing remotely violent. I realized how distorted the evening news had been.
This experience pushed me over the edge. I became a rescuer, as depicted in my opening story. In the intervening years, I have written and spoken hundreds of times about the evil of abortion.
And I have struggled with the kind of language I use. Many friends have encouraged me to be “nice.” But Joan Andrews’ offensive language enlightened me, woke me to reality. Had she used “nice” words I may have never been shaken from my lethargy. Ever since, I have understood why we need to call things what they are. Clarity is more important than agreement. Sometimes it takes being “not nice” to be clear and loving!
Thank you, Joan Andrews, for having the courage to speak things that need to be said.
- Darrow Miller