“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
“Rescue those being dragged to death, and from those tottering to execution withdraw not.”
“If we believe abortion is murder, we should act like it.”
Not so very long ago, tens of thousands of pro-lifers, inspired by the above statements, blocked the doors to abortion centers. Thousands were arrested, hundreds convicted in courts of law, and many served time in jail. I am of course referring to the heyday of the pro-life rescue movement—a movement that began in the mid-1970s and ended in the mid-1990s—a movement that involved priests, ministers, Protestants and Catholics, men and women, a whole host of young people, and even a few bishops such as Daniel Lynch and Austin Vaughn. The commitment of these pro-lifers was epitomized by Joan Andrews Bell who served two years of a five year sentence, eighteen months of which was spent in solitary confinement. Under the leadership of Randall Terry, Operation Rescue marked the high point of this activist effort in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
One may ask: Where did all the rescuers go? The answer to that question is complex, but certainly a large part of the answer lies in the passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) passed by Congress in 1994. FACE had the very effect the abortion industry hoped it would—it brought what had been the largest movement involving civil disobedience in American history to a halt. Prior to FACE, pro-lifers who blocked the doors to abortion centers received city citations or state misdemeanor charges for trespassing or disorderly conduct. Now anyone blocking ingress or egress to an abortion facility could be tried in federal court, risk a lengthy federal prison term and, with a second FACE conviction, become a felon. Add to this, several major rescue leaders, including myself, married and began to have children. Needless to say, it’s hard to mother children from a jail cell. And with the movement facing the hammer of FACE, no one stepped forward to assume leadership that involved such serious risk. In a word, few pro-lifers were willing to face the sacrifices such defense of the unborn required.
However, a small band of pro-lifers, who had been active in the rescue movement, continued to be prodded by the words of Proverbs 24:11: “Rescue those being dragged to death, and from those tottering to execution withdraw not.” They gathered for a series of meetings in the Spring of 2017 to discuss whether it might be possible to begin doing rescues again. For literally decades I nurtured a strategy, perfecting in my head a new way to do rescues that did not involve, nor even necessitate, blocking abortion clinic doors. I envisioned that pro-lifers would enter abortion centers, sit down next to the mothers in the waiting room and make a last effort to persuade them not to abort their children, offering words of encouragement and practical help. But should women still opt to kill the unborn, the pro-lifers would remain in the abortion center in solidarity with the unwanted about to be executed—in other words, be a pro-life presence for as long as possible inside the very places where the killing actually occurs—offering a non-violent act of defense for them.
The idea had its model in the valiant witness given by Canadian pro-lifer Mary Wagner, who for the last ten years has, by herself, entered abortion clinics in her native land to talk to the mothers. As a symbol of the sanctity of human life, and the sanctity of their own lives, Mary offers roses to each of the women. We decided to do the same. Thus, Red Rose Rescue was born.
The foundation of Red Rose Rescue is built on a number of philosophical and spiritual principles. The unborn are a victim class. Indeed, the argument could be made that they are the most oppressed people-group in the world. The unborn scheduled for abortion are the outcasts of humanity. The Red Rose Rescue is based on a basic Christian principle—namely: “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.” Unborn children about to be murdered deserve someone to come to their aid and they deserve that someone should witness to the sacredness of their lives. Red Rose Rescuers place themselves in the shoes of the unwanted unborn—if our lives were threatened, certainly we would want someone to defend us against such threats—to at least stand in the way of the impending assault. So the rescuer does for the outcast unborn what they would want done for them.
Now, one may argue that defending the unborn and offering help to their mothers can be accomplished short of breaking the law and risking arrest. Sidewalk counseling, through which thousands of lives have been saved, is the best example of such an effort; and arguably this apostolate, coupled with the work of pregnancy help centers, forms the backbone of pro-life activism. This author is a seasoned sidewalk counselor who began standing outside of abortion centers to reach out to the mothers in the Spring of 1978.
As any sidewalk counselor knows, tragically most women refuse the help offered to them and enter the clinic intent on going through with the scheduled abortion. Once the woman enters the abortion center, her unborn child is on the brink of doom. The question becomes: Should we simply leave these unborn children to the fate that awaits them? The rescuers enter the abortion center to make a final attempt to persuade the mothers to choose life. The killing is not happening on the sidewalk. The killing is taking place in a specific location—inside the abortion center. Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta was inspired to begin the Missionaries of Charity when Christ said to her, “Come, be my light. Bring me into the dark holes of the poor.” Thus she brought Christ into the shacks and the hovels of Calcutta’s most needy souls. The Red Rose Rescuer seeks to also go “into the dark holes of the poor.” An abortion center is one of the darkest holes of death and despair. The entering of such a place is based on an incarnational principle—to “be with,” to “abide with” those who are needy, the mothers and those who are unwanted and outcast—the human beings scheduled for abortion.
This aspect of a Red Rose Rescue is very important. Should the rescuers fail to persuade the women to choose life, the rescuers will not simply leave the clinic. We have found that, with few exceptions, the mere presence of pro-lifers in the abortion center has the practical effect of disrupting the abortion process. In other words, as long as the pro-lifers are there, the killing is halted. Yes, one can assume that soon after the rescuers are arrested the killing will resume. But the rescuers’ refusal to leave is based on the principle that they will “stay with,” remain in solidarity with the unwanted, continuing for as long as possible to plead for their lives, be a voice for them, be a visible witness to the sacredness of their lives. They cannot leave—they must be “taken away.”
Red Rose Rescue is not a protest of abortion. The goal of a Red Rose Rescue is not to glut the waiting room. That is why a team of not more than six rescuers enter the facility—and as noted earlier, they seek to “blend in” for as long as they are able. The rescues have lasted from fifteen minutes to four hours—as did the latest Red Rose Rescue in Silver Spring, Maryland, January 30th of this year. The rescuers bring roses tucked under their jackets or concealed in purses. Attached to each rose is a card which states: “You were meant for love and to be loved. Your goodness is greater than the difficulties of your situation. Circumstances in life change. Give yourself a chance and let your baby live.” The reverse side contains phone numbers to local pregnancy help centers. At some point in the rescue, usually when clinic staff have detected that pro-lifers have entered the clinic, the rescuers will offer the roses to the women and even to clinic staff. The latter have occasionally even accepted them! When the police arrive, pro-lifers who made a decision to not risk arrest will leave when ordered by the police to do so. Yes, it is possible to participate in an RRR up to the point of arrest. But at least some of the rescuers must opt to stay with the unborn scheduled for abortion.
The rescue, however, doesn’t end once the pro-lifers are placed under arrest. The rescuers continue to witness to the sanctity of life to the police officers, and when placed on trial their witness continues in court, to the judge, the jury, the bailiffs, the pro-abortion spectators and witnesses—and to any secular reporters covering the case.
In court the rescuers, through their attorneys, in principle ask for a “defense of others.” This is a common law defense that states that a law may be broken to prevent a greater harm from occurring. Only rarely, however, has this defense been granted to pro-lifers. Due to the Roe v. Wade decision, the unborn are not recognized as legal persons and thus supposedly no harm is caused when abortions are performed to justify the breaking of the law to defend them—outrageous as this is! Indeed, it is a kind of insanity! Recently however, a Michigan judge granted the “defense of others” to a group of pro-lifers who participated in a rescue in which they actually blocked doors to the abortion center. It will be interesting to watch the outcome of this trial.
The rescuers have faced penalties from absolutely no charges whatsoever to serving just more than a month in jail. This was my experience with Will Goodman and Matthew Connolly for our December 2017 RRR we conducted at a West Bloomfield, MI abortion center. We refused to accept probation imposed by Judge Mark Barron, who ordered that for a period of one year we remain 500 feet from every abortion clinic in the United States and her territories! Needless to say, we disobeyed the order. Barron figured we were not good candidates for probation after all and imposed a jail sentence instead, which we served in the Summer of 2018.
Saint Thomas Aquinas taught: “Human law has the nature of law insofar as it partakes of right reason…but insofar as it deviates from right reason, it is called an unjust law, and has the nature, not of law, but of violence” (ST. I-II, 93,3). That he should characterize an unjust law as “violence” is most apt in the context of abortion, as the violence caused by legal abortion is written into the shattered bodies of the unborn.
As a consequence of Red Rose Rescues, a few unborn children have been spared their scheduled execution or at least were given a reprieve. Indeed, during the RRR that took place just this January 30th a Hispanic woman told rescuer Lauren Handy that she had decided to keep her baby and exited the abortion clinic while the rescue was still in progress. A remarkable testimony to the effectiveness of Red Rose Rescue came during a court hearing before Judge Mark Barron. The abortion clinic had filed a motion seeking restitution for income lost to the clinic as a consequence of our December 2017 rescue. Taking the stand, clinic manager Pam DiMaggio told the court that eleven women never showed up for their abortion appointment and one woman had actually left the clinic. She stated that follow-up calls were made and none of them rescheduled their appointment. Nothing like this had occurred in the thirty years of the clinic’s operation. DiMaggio even submitted a chart illustrating in detail the lost appointments! Happily, Barron did not grant the restitution. Let me put this in context. Should twelve women not go through with their scheduled abortion due to pro-life sidewalk counselors, so many “turn-aways” on one day would be an enormous victory; each mother given the chance to reconsider the abortion.
In 1986, I wrote a justification for the pro-life rescue that appeared in the newsletter of the Milwaukee chapter of the Christian Action Council. It bears repeating here:
Those who rescue perform a concrete witness to the mothers, the fathers, the abortionists and the community by demonstrating that preborn children slated for death are worthy of defense.
Many may ask, “What does a rescue accomplish?” “How many babies are actually saved?” “Isn’t it all just a waste of time?” First of all, some babies have been saved due to pro-life rescues. However, those who are only concerned about the net number of babies saved pose the wrong question. When the parents of a preborn child schedule an abortion, in effect, their baby has become abandoned. The pro-life rescue may be the only act of love performed for that child in his life. Even if killed by abortion, that child did not leave this world unloved. Someone performed an act of sacrifice for him. Therefore, don’t ask only how many babies have been saved; ask first how many babies have been loved.
For more information, contact Red Rose Rescue at www.redroserescue.com.
[Photo: Fr. Fidelis Moscinski, CFR being carried out by police at an abortion clinic in Washington, DC (May 2020). Supplied by author.]