WASHINGTON, D.C. (LifeSiteNews) — Three pro-life activists currently on trial in Washington, D.C. for taking part in a “traditional rescue” at a notorious late-term abortion facility in 2020 expressed faith and firmness of resolve even while potentially facing more than a decade behind bars.
Pro-life rescuers Joan Andrews Bell, 74; Jonathan Darnel, 40; and Jean Marshall, 72; spoke to their supporters outside the district courthouse in Washington, D.C. on Monday, the opening day of their trial following jury selection last week.
“I just want to say thank you for being here,” Bell said. “Thank you for all of you who are praying for the little babies and for our case.”
Taking the podium, Marshall asked pro-lifers to “unite” with them, even if they don’t understand the rescue movement or cannot take part in it.
Darnel urged supporters to recognize the importance of the rescue movement and discounted the significance of being faced with a potential jail sentence, arguing that incarceration isn’t “the end of your life or the end of your effectiveness.”
“It’s just jail, a normative part of following God in a nation that hates Him,” he said.
The activists face charges of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act and committing conspiracy against rights for blocking access to the Washington Surgi-Clinic in downtown Washington, D.C., in a “traditional rescue” in October 2020. Pro-life “rescues” involve activists physically intervening to try to stop women from going through with abortions.
The new trial comes after five other anti-abortion activists – Lauren Handy, 29; John Hinshaw, 67; William Goodman, 52; Heather Idoni, 61; and Herb (Rosemary) Geraghty, 25– previously stood trial for their involvement in the same rescue late last month.
As LifeSiteNews previously reported, on August 29, a Washington, D.C. jury found the five pro-life activists guilty of conspiracy against rights and violating the FACE Act, which prohibits “violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services.”
All five were immediately incarcerated following the verdict because their actions to physically block the abortuary were considered a “crime of violence.” The Thomas More Society has attempted to appeal the decision on behalf of Lauren Handy.
When sentenced, the activists could face more than a decade in prison.
Now, rescuers Bell, Marshall, and Darnel are standing trial for the same October 2020 rescue and could likewise face more than a decade behind bars. Fellow rescuer Jay Smith, 32, has already accepted a plea deal. A fifth defendant, Paulette Harlow, 73, has been deemed unfit to stand trial.
Outside the courthouse, Bell said her involvement in the October rescue effort attempting to save babies at the Washington Surgi Clinic – which she called a “terrible death camp for little babies who have been killed” – had been a “privilege.”
She cited fellow pro-life rescuer Will Goodman, who observed in a letter after being convicted and locked up in the Alexandria Adult Detention Center in Virginia that, in “some ways a jail cell is like a womb in that it is a place of confinement, hope and waiting.”
“Being in jail kind of puts you in the thought to be isolated in the womb,” Bell said, explaining that jailed pro-lifers are “in communion with our little brothers and sisters who this very day are dying, or being prepared to be killed.”
Jonathan Darnel told pro-life supporters that “two opposite lessons” could understandably be learned from the prosecution of himself and his colleagues for their anti-abortion activism.
“Number one, [pro-life advocates] can learn that it doesn’t pay to be a hero,” he said, suggesting they might believe that “crossing the property line” of an abortion facility “is a stupid act and if you want to avoid the wrath of the U.S. government, you best keep your head down and let the baby killers ply their trade in peace.”
However, advocates for the preborn could also recognize that “loving pre-born kids is no more of a waste of time in loving your own family.”
“The U.S. government must be scared silly of citizens who they can’t frighten into submission,” he said.
The 40-year-old pro-life advocate expressed hope that fellow pro-lifers “learn the right lesson and follow the right path so our sacrifices will not have been in vain.”
Critiquing opposition to the rescue movement, he said the real problem isn’t one of strategy but of refusal to put oneself on the line to save preborn babies.
“Whatever else ending abortion might entail, we refuse to believe that it might ever require us to suffer in the way the pre-born child suffers,” he argued. “Almost all mainstream efforts to end abortion today are built on the assumption that ordinary people will play no real role beyond that of praying, voting, and donating money.”
He suggested that surgical abortions in the United States could be shut down “in a matter of weeks” and “every single abortion clinic” could be closed “permanently” if pro-life Americans were “ready to mobilize… and do what was necessary.”
He said rescues don’t “call us to lay down our lives” in the purest definition of the phrase because “we’re not living in a totally tyrannical state yet, although many of us want to pretend that we are, because that would excuse us from our duty of trying to make the world a better place.”
While he said he doesn’t “necessarily want [supporters] to imitate” rescuers, he expressed “hope that whatever happens and however long we languish in prison, you won’t be able to forget us or the children that we represent.”
He called on supporters to “first and foremost… love your neighbor the same way that you would want to be loved.”
If convicted, each rescuer could face 11 years in prison plus three years of supervised release and up to $350,000 in fines.