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(Catholic World Report) — “As behavior protected by the Constitution and regulated by statue in every state, abortion cannot be defined as ‘public or private injury.’ As we have shown, the defendants’ contention that the fetus suffers great injury has no meaning for this Court, nor does it qualify as the requisite “injury” to justify the assertion of the defense of necessity….[T]he fetus has no rights, nor does the State or any individual have an interest in protecting the continuation of fetal development. During this period, the mother’s individual rights are absolute. … The only rights involved in an abortion performed… are the rights of the mother… [As] defendants stated in their memorandum, their actions ‘were calculated to save the lives of these unborn children.’ Defendants’ acts were intended to protect nonexistent rights and prevent the exercise of rights guaranteed by the Constitution.”

I was only 24 years old when I, with eleven others, stood in front of the hallway that led to the “procedure” rooms at the now closed Concord Medical Services in Chicago. This “sit-in” in defense of the unborn was organized by the late Joseph Scheidler, known as the father of pro-life activism. The year was 1978 and what would later be called the “rescue movement” was still very much in its beginning stage. We were then full of hope, believing that when we stood trial the unborn would have their day in court—and believing that standing trial was an opportunity to tell the world all the biological facts of the humanity of the unborn and be acquitted on their behalf through a “defense of necessity,” thus chipping away at the legalized abortion.

While the lower court judge denied us the necessity defense, we were confident that on appeal we would prevail. In these early years of Roe v. Wade, the twelve of us could never possibly imagine that every hope that we had would be crushed by an argument presented by Concord’s attornies—the very chilling argument we heard them make to the judges of the Illinois appellate court—the very words quotes above.

According to the Roe v. Wade decision, when unborn children are killed in abortion no injury takes place, no rights are infringed, and no suffering or injustice occurs. The loss of unborn children in elective abortion not only has “no meaning for the Court,” but it has “no meaning” for anyone else—neither to the state nor to the individual. However, the penalty imposed on us for that early rescue was a mere six months of court supervision.

Undaunted by such legal setbacks, the rescue movement took off in the late 1980s. Under the leadership of Randall Terry, Operation Rescue was founded and resulted in nationwide rescues in which tens of thousands of pro-lifers were arrested for blocking the doors to abortion centers. This movement lasted into the mid-1990s but was effectively halted when Bill Clinton signed into law the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE)—making such clinic blockades a federal offense and possibly even a felony. Overnight, pro-lifers who used to be charged with perhaps no more than a city trespassing ordinance could spend up to a year in federal prison.

In recent years, however, there has been an effort to resurrect rescues in defense of the unborn, notably Red Rose Rescues—which do not involve any type of physical obstruction—and thus are not subject to the FACE law. However, since 2017, a few of the “traditional rescues” have taken place. One such rescue organized by Lauren Handy and Jonathan Darnel occurred on October 20, 2020, at the Washington D.C. Surgi-Center where abortionist Cesare Santangelo kills unborn children up through the ninth month of gestation. Ten pro-lifers participated. A few of them blocked the abortion center’s staff door across from the elevators while others blocked the door inside the waiting room that led to the “procedure” rooms. Some of those rescuers went a step further and actually wrapped themselves together with bicycle locks and chains to prolong their life-saving efforts.

The pro-lifers anticipated that they would be charged with FACE. However, the Department of Justice, under the rabidly pro-abortion Biden administration, brought an additional charge, namely “conspiracy to interfere with civil rights,” which carries a maximum ten year jail term and a $250,000 fine. No one expected such a charge against pro-lifers; it is unprecedented in the history of the pro-life movement.

No defense of others

From the start of court proceedings before Washington D.C. federal judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, these rescuers had little chance of anything even approaching a fair trial. Jury selection took place last May 2023 for which this writer was present for the hours-long process. Prospective jurors were “voir dired” one by one. Many of them stated they supported legalized abortion and donated to Planned Parenthood; some even attended women’s marches in support of a “woman’s right to choose.” Even with their biased position, the judge refused to strike them “for cause”.

Such supporters of abortion just had to say the magic words: “Yes, I can be unbiased and render an impartial verdict in this case.” This forced the defendants’ attorneys to use up their precious “preemptory strikes”—and there were not enough such strikes to make sure none of these pro-abortion prospective jurors would be among those twelve finally seated. This is analogous to allowing persons who support and donate to the Ku Klux Klan to sit on a jury involving defendants protesting segregation in the South.

As was expected, the rescuers were denied a “defense of others,” and so once again rescuers were forced to endure the artificial, fantasy world of the sanitized pro-life trial in which the unborn victims of abortion remained completely unacknowledged and completely unseen, as if they didn’t even exist.

Lauren Handy, in particular, attempted to mount a defense based on what motivated her to choose to do the rescue at the Santangelo abortion center as Kollar-Kotelly, up to a point permitted her to explain her motivation. Handy began to tell the jury that she did her own research on the incidence of live births on post-viability unborn children. She testified that she watched an undercover video produced in 2013 by the pro-life group Live Action. In this video, a member of Live Action, passing herself off as someone seeking a late-term abortion, asks Santangelo about the abortion procedure. He said that he “cuts the umbilical cord” which leads to fetal demise. This was followed by the question, “Could there be any complications such as the fetus possibly being born alive?” He admits that live births do occasionally occur. The interviewer asks what he does in such cases. He said: “We don’t do anything.” In other words, Santangelo allows such babies to die from neglect. Handy, very disturbed by this admission, explained on the stand that she was prompted to do research on the incidence of liv-births in “post-viability” abortions. She stated that one study shockingly revealed that the incidence of such live births could be as high as fifty percent.

The whole point of this testimony was elegant and clever. If Handy could show that she was motivated to do the rescue at this particular abortion center because she reasonably believed that Santangelo was responsible for killing unborn children illegally—those born alive and left to die, in violation of the Born Alive Infant Protection Act—then she and possibly some of the other defendants could not be charged with violating FACE. However, the judge stopped Handy’s testimony and even alleged that it could not be established that late-term abortions were conducted at the Washington D.C. Surgi-Center—despite the fact that Santangelo clearly admits on the Live-Action video that he performs such abortions!

Kollar-Kotelly further stated that “there’s a limit” on what the defendant is permitted to say regarding her motivation—and “this defendant is moving toward jury nullification.” Why was Handy moving toward “jury nullification”? Because Handy’s testimony on what she believed was true regarding Santangelo’s illegal abortion procedures bled into presenting these illegal procedures as actual fact—and thus the rescue was legally justified to prevent abortions that were not protected by law.

Federal prosecutor John Crabb hoped to stop any further testimony regarding Handy’s contention it is likely that Santangelo performs illegal abortions. With obvious indignation, he addressed the judge: “Try to package this any way she (Handy) wants—she’s really trying to present to the jury that abortions are wrong, to inflame the jury, prejudice the jury about abortion—really attempting to tell the jury why abortions should not be allowed. There is no foundation for her testimony; it’s based on rank hearsay.”

The judge called a recess to consider Crabb’s objection. Upon returning to the bench she ruled that Handy could not testify as to the “specifics of the studies as this would be too prejudicial to the jury.” Martin Cannon had hoped to submit the Live Action video into evidence, at least to demonstrate the foundation for Handy’s personal beliefs that Santangelo was committing illegal abortions. Kollar-Kotelly denied the request, calling the Live Action video “propaganda” edited for effect from a much longer video. When Cannon asked that the entire video “B roll” be shown to the jury, the judge also ruled against this as Handy had never seen the “B roll,” thus had not been influenced by it and, furthermore, the video would also prove too “prejudicial” to the jury! And Kollor-Kotelly, who supposedly watched the entire Live Action video, even declared that the “clean” version never indicated that babies were occasionally born alive in Santangelo’s abortion procedures—when indeed, he says exactly that.

Justice for ‘The Five’

However, Handy’s belief that the unborn were being killed illegally by Santangelo would receive the most distressing form of corroboration. On March 25, 2022, she and Terrisa Bukovinic actually obtained the bodies of 115 unborn children killed at his abortion center when the driver of the Curtis Bay medical waste van agreed to give them the boxes in which they were contained.

Five of these victims were very large babies, clearly aborted in the late second or even into the third trimester. Suspecting that some or all of them were killed in illegal abortion procedures, Hardy and Bukovinic turned the bodies over to the D.C. Medical Examiner’s office—where they remain to this day waiting for justice and waiting for a burial.

But the jury would never be told about these aborted babies, much less be allowed to see photos of their mangled and dismembered bodies as Kollar-Kotelly stated that “the medical examiner didn’t find that any illegal abortions were committed on these five.” Cannon correctly pointed out to her: “The medical examiner didn’t conduct full autopsies” and in over two years such an investigation has yet to be conducted.

The trials and the sentencings

One of the pro-lifers, Jay Smith pled guilty to the charges, and took full responsibility, when unintentionally he caused a clinic staff member to sprain her ankle when rescuers attempted to enter the waiting room. The remaining nine pro-lifers were divided into three separate trials. The first five tried in late August, the next three tried in mid-September, and Paulette Harlow tried alone in late September 2023. The author of this article attended the first two trials, heard all the testimony, saw all the exhibits, and watched all the video clips of the rescue over and over again—clips from the abortion center security cameras and police body cams.

Deprived of a real viable defense, the defendants’ attorneys tried all they could to gain an acquittal based on legal technicalities, but in the end the nine were found guilty.

Eight of the pro-lifers were sentenced—three on May 14, another three on May 15, and one on May 22. Paulette Harlow will be sentenced on May 31st. As the principal organizer, Lauren Handy received the harshest sentence of 57 months (four years and nine months). Next harshest was Jonathan Darnel with 34 months; Joan Andrews Bell, Jean Marshall, Will Goodman and Herb Geraghty, a woman who identifies as “non-binary,” received 27 months; Heather Idoni received 24 months and John Hinshaw, with the least prison time, received 21 months.

All of them will be granted credit for 9 months of their prison time as they were taken directly into custody upon their convictions. Why? Kollar-Kotelly always declared at the start of each sentencing: “The jury found that physical force was used in the obstruction of reproductive health care.” Thus, anyone convicted of such a felony must be taken directly to jail to await formal sentencing.

In addition to the formal prison terms the pro-lifers are subject to three years of court supervision loaded up with conditions—the most egregious of which is that they are forbidden to go within a thousand feet of any clinic that provides “reproductive health services.”

The pro-lifers were sentenced individually. And each one had to hear a sharp reprimand from the judge when she said in regard to the women they prevented from receiving “medical care” and adding that “your personal views took precedence over them as human beings.” Santangelo kills the unborn in despicable acts of violence, and their dead bodies are treated as so much trash. It is Santangelo and his staff’s peculiar personal beliefs that take precedence over the right-to-life of the unborn.

The DOJ’s pre-sentencing document refers to the women who came to his clinic on the day of the rescue as “vulnerable persons.” But the truly vulnerable persons are the innocent unborn delivered to a killer by their mothers. Helpless to escape, these children were the ultimate victims—and their plight is deliberately kept hidden from the jury as if they didn’t exist.

Then there was light

“The defendants’ contention that the fetus suffers great injury has no meaning for this Court.” The darkness of an Illinois courtroom in 1978, continued in the courtroom of the “DC Nine” in 2024. Only after suffering the pronouncement of their sentences did any light penetrate to illuminate the truth that indeed the unborn do exist and, as fellow human beings, have a right to be defended.

The truth poured in when the convicted pro-life felons finally addressed the judge in their sentencing statements. John Hinshaw was particularly eloquent; indeed his beautifully crafted address is a rhetorical masterpiece, quoted here in part. It begins with reference to his wife Brenda who

…rises from our bed and walks her house alone.  The slightest discomfort in one of her children displaces her from sleep. …  for she is a mother and as such, is bound to the deepest link on this planet.  To call it a bond is an insufficient term.  It is a covenantal bond, but this too is an insufficient term of description.  To call it “a relationship” is an insult.  This deep, deep unity is one of those rare, truly inexpressible things to which words cannot do justice.  My wife knows she carries the DNA of each and every one of her children into eternal life …

All the years of court-protected slaughter have led us here, where I stand convicted, though guiltless. I am sent here, sent as I am, to take upon myself the guilt of this court. I stand here for Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to accept the punishment that is actually rightly hers. The Latin term for this is Spem in alium. And as I open my arms to plead the mercy of this court on Kollar-Kotelly, I ask the One True Judge, whom she and I will be seeing very soon, to accept my act of love toward her as an expiation of her great guilt of pride, indifference, and intolerance.

So, from the depths of my cell, I will continue to unite my cries with those of the children, whose cries rise nightly to their mothers’ ears, who weep, with Rachel, for their children who are no more.

It is the same hour of the night my wife arises.

And Heather Idoni told the judge the story of the Ten Boom family, who in Nazi-occupied Holland hid Jews in their home. “One day a Jewish woman who had just given birth prematurely begged the Ten Booms to hide her child. But they were concerned that, being an infant, the child might cry and give the others away. They asked a pastor, whose house was located in a remote wood, if he would take the baby. The man recoiled: ‘What!? Don’t you know you could lose your lives? We could lose our lives!’ to which Mr. Ten Boom exclaimed: ‘To lose my life for this baby would be my greatest honor.’”

Heather then referred to one of the women who, during the rescue tried to enter Santangelo’s abortion center. Heather stated: “I believe it is in the record that she said her baby was missing its limbs. When I heard this, my heart leapt—and during my trial I cried out to God: ‘What an honor that I helped defend that baby.’ All life matters. I knew then I had no regret that I was there that day.”

Jonathan Darnel’s address to the court was short and to the point. He said “Abortion is immoral. And abortion is also illegal unless we want to do away with the 14th Amendment. As a soldier fighting for my country, I took an oath to defend the Constitution. As a Christian, I took another oath to ‘Love my neighbor as myself.’”

Will Goodman, explained to the judge that he did the rescue to defend the women and their children, and ended his statement poignantly reciting Mary’s Magnificat.

Lauren Handy, however, to everyone’s surprise, declined to speak. But perhaps her choice to be silent was the most poignant and the most appropriate statement that could be made. In a court that silenced the aborted unborn, she was in solidarity with them.

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.

Reprinted with permission from the author.