WASHINGTON, D.C. (LifeSiteNews) — During the course of the second FACE Act trial in Washington, D.C., LifeSiteNews spoke with three long-time heroes of the pro-life rescue movement, two of whom were immediately incarcerated following Friday’s jury verdict.
Jean Marshall and Joan Bell, defendants in the second of two D.C. FACE Act trials, together with a fellow colleague in the rescue movement, Jennifer McCoy, shared how their faith has informed their work in the pro-life movement and their efforts to rescue babies about to be killed through abortion, together with their experiences in the prisons, in which they conducted a kind of pro-life ministry among the inmates, saving lives even while behind bars.
Joan Bell: We can make prison ‘a monastery of prayer’
Grateful to God for the many blessings of working to save the unborn, Joan Bell told LifeSiteNews that she measures herself against the heroes of the civil rights movement who refused to pay fines or take probation. These heroes “didn’t compromise in any way,” she said.
In the case of abortion, “the children are dying,” Bell emphasized, insisting that she could not compromise in trying to save them.
Commenting on the 11-year prison sentence she could be facing, Bell said that many friends have counseled her to “try to do anything that might help you not go to jail.”
“But I don’t know how that’s possible with a judge that is very, very pro-abortion,” she remarked.
Bell continued, “I’m a coward, and so I think, ‘What if I were tortured like some of these wonderful people in Greece and Nigeria and other places around the world where Christians are facing infernal life and all kinds of other tortures?’ [But]I said [to myself], ‘Come on, we have it pretty good: 11 years in jail, it’s not so bad.’”
“Now, during the time we are there, it may even get worse, and they might start torturing us and hanging us or whatever,” Bell remarked. “But for now, it doesn’t look that bad because I think anything less than strict torture isn’t so bad.”
Turning to the question of the apparent uselessness of prison time, Bell continued, “But the main thing is, a lot of pro-lifers think, ‘Isn’t it a waste of time going to jail, when you could be out doing some more counseling and doing other pro-life ministries?’ But I think prison ministry is a great ministry,” she declared.
Explaining that being in prison means that inmates in need of abortion-related counseling and healing will “see me all the time” and that her pro-life work will thus be “around the clock,” Bell said that she would be “living with people who are going to be talking to their family members” who may be pregnant, and that she would be counseling pregnant women in the prison.
Recounting the story of a pro-life friend in jail who counseled a man to encourage his girlfriend not to have an abortion, Bell said the man called his girlfriend back “within a day” asking her not to go through with the abortion.
“And they kept the baby,” Bell said. “So there’s always pro-life ministry in a jail.”
“But more important than that is the prayer,” she continued. “We can make it [prison] a monastery of prayer. How many women can we get to join us for prayer?”
Drawing inspiration from cloistered monks and nuns who give themselves wholly to a life of prayer, Bell said that Catholics don’t question why those in the cloister aren’t out doing pro-life work at abortion clinics “because they’re saving the babies from their prayer life.”
She continued, “I remember when I was a little girl, my mother, who was a nurse in World War II, said it was the nuns and priests in the monasteries, praying constantly, that saved the whole world. So, maybe while we’re in jail, we’ll help save those babies and other people who are physically in front of the abortion mill… So, it’s prayer. It’s never a waste. We do God’s will, no matter what the state, the government… Whatever anyone does to you. It always gives honor and glory to God.”
Bell described how, when she was 24 and abortion was declared legal by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, her faith prompted her to dedicate her life to working to save the unborn from abortion.
“When that [Roe] came out, the first thing that struck me was that I cannot face God when I die unless I spend the rest of my life trying to save these little babies and stand up for the truth of Jesus Christ and the love of the gospel,” she said. “From that moment … my faith informed everything I did and everything I thought.”
After expressing gratitude for prayers, Bell asked, “Keep praying for us and the little babies… The greatest comfort is… you’re just focusing on the children.”
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” she said. “It starts with prayer. It starts with adoration. It starts with begging God to come into the soul of every human being He created. He walked the face of the earth for their conversion… Protect these little babies, whatever it takes… Whatever they do to us, we have to remain faithful.”
Jean Marshall: ‘St. Augustine said no unjust law is a law at all’
Jean Marshall recounted how her mother’s death at the age of 56 caused in her a powerful “spiritual awakening” that prompted her to think about “life, death, heaven, hell.”
“Seeing the real evil in the world… I realized that God loved me enough to give me the faith, but he expected something from that,” Marshall recounted. “And I said, well, what is the worst evil in the world today? And it was, of course, the killing of an innocent child.”
After getting involved with pro-life organizations, helping start a local group in Boston, and trying to get pro-life legislation written and passed, Marshall felt she wasn’t doing enough. She then saw a news report about a rescue taking place in New York City involving hundreds of pro-lifers sitting in front of an abortion clinic.
“I immediately knew this was the right thing to do,” she said.
Explaining that in Operation Rescue, pro-lifers “were trained on how to do civil disobedience just as Martin Luther King,” Marshall related that “Martin Luther King would often quote St. Augustine. St. Augustine said that no unjust law is a law at all, and Martin Luther King went on to say that we are obliged to obey a moral law, but on the other hand, we are obliged to disobey an unjust law.”
Likening the pro-life recue movement to the civil disobedience that overturned segregation laws in the U.S., Marshall said that Martin Luther King knew that when the world saw the brutality of law enforcement against blacks as they marched peacefully, there would be a “visceral reaction.”
“Shortly after Martin Luther King went to prison, President Johnson more or less had to sign into law the Civil Rights Act, which undid all the segregation laws,” Marshall recounted.
Commenting on “civil disobedience” and its effectiveness in securing human rights, Marshall said, “Maybe it’s time to make that a household word again. And another household word we should be talking about is human rights at conception.”
Marshall said she hopes that pro-life corporate America would put public pressure on the Supreme Court to hear her own FACE Act case and finally declare that life begins at conception.
“They should be demanding of the Supreme Court… that this case be heard,” she said. “If we’re found guilty, we know that it’s going to the Appeals Court, but we’re hoping that it will go all the way. But unless people are pressuring the Supreme Court to hear the case, it will go nowhere.”
“We’re hoping that the Supreme Court will declare the FACE Act illegal because they’ve already determined that a woman does not have a right to kill her child,” Marshall said. “That’s the ultimate goal, to have this go to the Supreme Court.”
Marshall then recounted that in Boston in the 80’s and 90’s four abortion clinics closed because of Operation Rescue.
“Now, extrapolate that all across the country: all these clinics, these mortuaries are closing,” she said. “And I believe that’s the real reason that the FACE Act came along: because the abortion industry went crying to President Clinton to do something: ‘They’re destroying our businesses, they’re destroying it, they’re destroying abortion’.”
“So I believe that was the real reason that people were worried,” Marshall said. Meanwhile, pro-lifers “were willing to suffer, physically suffer” to end abortion.
A lay member of the Franciscan Order, Marshall said that early in her pro-life work she began visiting prisons to be a “channel of peace.” However, “you cannot have peace when there is no justice,” she insisted. “So even if we have a good life, if there are other people whose children are being killed… there’s no peace in their family.”
Marshall committed to visiting a prison with a friend once a week for a whole year. Her friend once remarked, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a ministry where we actually lived inside the prison?”
“I didn’t want to discourage her, but I said to myself, ‘Well, how would that ever happen?’” Marshall recounted. “And here we are… twenty years later… and here’s our prison ministry inside the prison.”
“I know for a fact that whenever people are unjustly imprisoned … God showers graces on them,” she said. “And those graces can be used on the outside too… But immediately, there are many people that are pregnant or have significant others that are also pregnant that they communicate with. And as Joan explained earlier, we’re saving lives even inside the prison.”
Marshall has great admiration for Bell’s witness to the sanctity of life.
“When I think of Joan, I think of solidarity for the babies,” she said. “She denies herself a legal defense in many cases. So, she’s spiritually in solidarity with these children.”
Mother Teresa told Jennifer McCoy, ‘You have to do what’s best for the babies’
Jennifer McCoy, a long-time pro-life advocate and Bell’s friend, related how in 1996, shortly after the FACE Act had been passed, the Clinton administration tried to combine FACE with racketeering laws, and McCoy found herself facing a 48-year prison sentence for taking part in a rescue.
While on probation facing this sentence, and seven months pregnant with her fourth child, McCoy went to see Cardinal O’Connor in New York. He contacted Mother Teresa of Calcutta and asked her to help.
The night before McCoy had to decide whether to enter into a plea agreement, she spoke with Mother Teresa, who told her not to compromise.
“You’re under an evil regime,” Mother Teresa told her. “You have to do what’s best for the babies.”
The next day McCoy was offered an agreement that commuted her sentence to five years, with only two and half years to be served in prison. She accepted without having to compromise on anything. While in prison, she counseled and persuaded many young women who were pregnant not to have abortions.
McCoy related that on one occasion, an inmate asked her the reason she was in prison. “…I told her about the babies and about abortion and what I believed. And she just said, ‘I never thought about it like that.’ And she left. Two weeks later, she sat down next to me at breakfast and said, ‘I want to tell you something. I was scheduled to be taken out for an abortion, so I could go to a program that would get me out of prison earlier. But after we talked, I just couldn’t do it. But I need to put my baby up for adoption.’”
“Word got back to Mother Teresa, and she called… the prison,” McCoy said. “The warden came and got me. And right there, on the phone, Mother Teresa talked to this girl [and] set up the adoption for that little baby who was born on the 8th of December. And she named her Faith and put her up for adoption.”
Grateful for the opportunity to engage in pro-life work within the prisons through her time of incarceration, McCoy affirmed that pro-life work like that of Rachel’s Vineyard “can be done very much in the prisons.”
On Friday, Sept. 15, pro-life rescuers Joan Andrews Bell, 74; Jonathan Darnel, 40; and Jean Marshall, 72 were found guilty of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act and conspiracy against rights for blocking access to the Washington Surgi-Clinic in downtown Washington, D.C., in a “traditional rescue” in October 2020. They were immediately incarcerated.
The trial followed closely on the heels of an earlier one in which five other anti-abortion activists – Lauren Handy, 29; John Hinshaw, 67; William Goodman, 52; Heather Idoni, 61; and Herb (Rosemary) Geraghty, 25, were charged and found guilty in connection with their involvement in the same rescue.
As LifeSiteNews previously reported, all five activists in the first trial were found guilty on August 29 and immediately incarcerated ahead of sentencing 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 Handy’s behalf.