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Top row, left to right: Will Goodman, Lauren Handy, John Hinshaw, 'Herb' Geraghty. Botton row, from left to right, Heather Idoni, Jean Marshall, Jonathan Darnel, Joan Andrews Bell (Missing: Paulette Harlow) LifeSiteNews

(LifeSiteNews) — As I write these words nine pro-lifers could be sent to jail for up to eleven years. On October 22, 2020 they participated in a rescue at Cesare Santangelo’s Washington Surgi-Center, where he kills the preborn through the ninth month of pregnancy. They were charged with violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) and also, unprecedented in the history of the pro-life movement, the Department of Justice brought an additional charge: “conspiracy to interfere with civil rights.”

In August and September 2023 they stood trial before federal judge Colleen Kollar-Kotoly and were convicted. They are William Goodman, Lauren Handy, Heather Idoni, John Hinshaw, Joan Andrews Bell, Jean Marshall, Jonathan Darnel, Paulette Harlow and pro-lifer Herb Geraghty who identifies as “non-binary.” Eight of the rescuers currently imprisoned, and Harlow on house-arrest, will be formally sentenced this coming May.

On February 29th an article appeared in The Federalist penned by Lauren Muzyka, head of Sidewalk Advocates for Life, entitled “How to Sidewalk Counsel Abortion-minded Moms Without Going to Prison” in which she voiced severe criticism of pro-life rescues and rescuers. I am grateful to LifeSiteNews for allowing me the opportunity to offer this response.

Beginning in the mid-1970s the pro-life rescue movement, pioneered by such leaders as John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe and Joan Andrews Bell, active in the anti-war movement, sought to provide a non-violent defense of the preborn. These rescues involved sitting down or standing in front of the doors to abortion centers. Sometimes pro-lifers would chain themselves to heavy objects to prevent their being taken away. Operation Rescue founded in the late 1980s resulted in the arrest of tens of thousands of pro-lifers – constituting the largest non-violent civil disobedience movement in American history. All this came to a near halt in 1994 with the passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act – making mere pro-life “sit-in” type activity a federal crime. Operation Save America, despite the FACE act, has in recent years conducted these types of rescues. And on February 1, in Nashville, Tennessee, another six pro-lifers were convicted of violating the FACE law.

I have participated in rescues since 1978, stood trial several times and have served 4 prison terms – one most recently last year – a 45-day sentence at the Oakland County “Hilton” in Michigan.  I do speak from a certain position of authority on the need for, purpose and effectiveness of rescues. In 2017 a new rescue method came into being – namely, Red Rose Rescues – a method that blends the best of sidewalk counseling and defense of the preborn.

The rescuers are not subject to the FACE act because Red Rose Rescuers do not physically obstruct anyone or anything. A small group of pro-lifers quietly enter the abortion facility, sit down next to women in the waiting room and counsel them to choose life. The pro-lifers offer roses to the moms as a sign of life and hope, and even offer them to abortion center staff – and often the women and staff take the roses. Their goal is to maintain a peaceful presence in a place where there is no peace – to enter the “dark holes of the poor” as Mother Teresa described her ministry. If women still opt to kill their children, at least a few of the pro-lifers will stay in the “dark holes” with the unwanted preborn, remain as a witness to the sanctity of their lives and this is where the risk of arrest comes in.

Many believe, as does Muzyka, that pro-lifers in jail are basically wasting their time, as jail time supposedly removes them from active pro-life ministry.

Wrong. Indeed, in my most recent incarceration my fellow imprisoned Red Rose Rescuer, Laura Gies, talked her cellmate out of an abortion! Matthew Connolly, a Red Rose Rescuer also in the same jail, talked a fellow male inmate out of coercing his girlfriend to get an abortion. The inmate phoned her and told her he was sorry and really wanted her to keep their baby. Moreover, pro-lifers in jail give an incredible witness to the sanctity of life to their fellow inmates, the guards, chaplains and other jail staff and all pro-lifers on the outside who are inspired to do more! My point is, of course, that when pro-lifers are in jail this is hardly “downtime” – and hardly a waste and indeed our jail experience was filled with blessings.

READ: Veteran pro-life activist Monica Miller answers several common objections to rescues

Pro-Life rescuers also face Muzyka’s unjust accusation that women are not turned away from abortion during a rescue. To the contrary, during one of our trials in Michigan, Pam DiMaggio, the abortion center manager actually testified under oath that twelve women did not go through with their “procedures” – and she illustrated her testimony complete with a chart! She also testified that not a single woman rescheduled. Let me put this into perspective. If sidewalk counselors had twelve “turn-aways” in one day as a result of their efforts, this would be an incredible victory!

During this same RRR one woman got up and left the clinic after rescuer Patrice Woodward spoke to her—and this woman was also listed on DiMaggio’s chart!

Another example: During an RRR at an abortion center in Alexandria, VA, Lauren Handy spoke with an Hispanic woman in the waiting room – and this woman said “I’m going to keep the baby” and  exited the abortion center.

Also, during RRRs sidewalk counselors are present to aid any woman who may leave the abortion center. I have also written on sidewalk counseling – and called it “the backbone of pro-life activism.” I have been a sidewalk counselor since 1978.

Rescues are a response to Proverbs: 24:11 “Rescue those being dragged to death, and those tottering to execution withdraw not.” Every woman who enters the abortion center, with the intent to continue with the abortion, is a woman not counseled or who failed to respond to the sidewalk counselor. Red Rose Rescuers seek to give these women a final chance to turn away. The majority of Red Rose Rescues take place at abortion centers where sidewalk counseling is exceptionally difficult or impossible, at abortion centers surrounded by a huge parking lot. The only effective way to speak to mothers and save their babies is by going onto the property where the preborn are scheduled for execution.

Rescues are based on a spirituality that believes we are called to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And the other words of Jesus: “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers – that you do unto me.” And, yes, all pro-life efforts fulfill these teachings of Jesus. The pro-life rescue is based on that spiritual premise that if your life was in danger – if indeed, a law existed that permitted others to kill you – certainly you would want someone to defend you, to at least stand in the way – to have that person put himself between you and the assailant. Certainly, Muzyka would want someone to do at least that much for her. It is a matter of being consistent with the reality of the injustice of abortion – always seeking to act with peace and non-violence because we must show the mothers that we love them too.

Muzyka believes pro-life rescuers are tied up in “needless litigation.” Instead, we should appreciate that rescuers continue to provide a needed powerful public witness to police officers, bailiffs, judges, prosecutors, jurors, reporters, and all those attending the trial that includes abortion center staff. In court, rescuers publically stand up for the innocent preborn, insisting on a “defense of others” – insisting before the system that facilitates their killing, that the preborn are indeed “others” who have a God-given right to exist. Many rescue cases are currently on appeal.

Imprisoned rescuer William Goodman wrote these words to abortion center staff during a 2018 Red Rose Rescue in Trenton, New Jersey: “Our actions are guided by love and truth. We care about you and love you. We love those deemed to be unlovable or even ‘expendable,’ such as the little child in the womb of her mother. We are compelled to work peacefully, in a non-threatening way, to strive for justice for the abandoned ones and share God’s mercy with all. Again, please do not resort to taking life, but rather serve both mother and child with human compassion.”

We need to cultivate an appreciation for the spiritual value of enduring injustice. Imprisoned rescuers unite their suffering with the rejected, crucified Jesus. In union with Him, they become victim souls offering the much needed reparation for the evil, the sin and injustice of abortion. Instead of deriding and criticizing pro-lifers who suffer injustice for the cause of life, we need to pray for them, write to them – show them our support!

READ: Second DC FACE Act trial sees explosive closing arguments in courtroom

Some ask, “What does a pro-life rescue accomplish?” “Isn’t it all just a waste of time?” However, those who are only concerned about the net number of babies saved pose the wrong question. The rescuer performs a further act of sacrificial love for the most unwanted. Therefore, don’t ask only how many babies have been saved. Ask first, how many babies have been loved.

Monica Migliorino Miller, Ph. D., is a nationally known pro-life activist leader, director of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, author of Abandoned—the Untold Story of the Abortion Wars.