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Operation Rescue & Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s

By Leilani Corpus
Published September 1, 1988

ATLANTA (FR) – During the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, America was confronted with the ugly realities of racism each night on evening news broadcasts. We watched as non-violent protestors in southern cities were rounded up by police and locked in jail for their demonstrations against segregation. We listened as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., champion of the peaceful revolt against bigotry in America, pierced our consciences with his moving appeals for love and justice.

Now, more than 25 years later – with racial segregation policies behind us – a new civil rights movement has begun in the South. Its focal point during the months of July and August has been the city of Atlanta, where a growing number of non-violent protestors have been held in jail since the Democratic National Convention began. Ironically, some of the first demonstrators arrested were held in the same jail where Martin Luther King once spent the night during his struggle.

But the Civil Rights Movement of the 1980s is different in many ways from its 1960s counterpart. This time, peaceful demonstrators are protesting the legalized practice of abortion in this country, and they are risking their lives to defend the right to life for the unborn. And, unlike the 1960s demonstrations, television networks are not broadcasting daily updates on the progress of the jailed protestors. The story is being noticeably ignored by the media.

Pro-life activists in the 1980s, dissatisfied with the lack of results from the traditional lobbying tactics of letter-writing, petition gathering, and picketing, are now getting arrested in droves by conducting non-violent “rescues” in front of abortion clinics which are very similar to the sit-ins conducted in the 1960s to stop racial segregation.

From all parts of the nation, ranging from ages 8 to 80, these activists are not typical “radicals,” but simply representatives of grassroots America. “They’re just ‘Joe Citizen’ types who pay their bills and have jobs,” said Florida pro-life activist Jerry Ford.

Operation Rescue, the organization behind the recent Atlanta event, is a coalition of pro-life pastors and Christian ministries which are being mobilized to stage massive sit-ins at abortion clinics around the U.S. – and their primary goal is to save the lives of unborn babies. Based in Binghamton, New York, Operation Rescue is under the direction of Randall Terry.

Since Operation Rescue’s efforts began in Atlanta on July 19, 711 total arrests were made while four clinics were closed down. Several of the demonstrators have been released on personal recognizance, but over 300 have chosen to remain in jail – and more are expected to join them in the coming weeks. While the demonstrations took place outside of clinics including Mid-Town Hospital, Atlanta Surgi-Center, Feminist Women’s Health Center, and the Atlanta Women’s Medical Center, police carried the clinic’s clients over the heads of the protestors.

Despite efforts to continue their services, clinic staff at the Feminist Women’s Health Center said that the city’s abortion business has decreased 20 percent since the protesters converged upon Atlanta. Editors at the Atlanta Constitution said in an editorial that the demonstrators should be just turned loose. “…releasing the demonstrators is preferable to bogging down the court system and jamming the jails.” Juli Loesch, spokeswoman for the group, said, “The purpose of this unfriendly editorial is to urge the release of the pro-life prisoners so as to prevent the development – day by day – of a rapidly growing movement centered around Atlanta.”

Protest leaders promise that more would soon join them in an attempt to overwhelm the judicial system. Those arrested are identifying themselves as “Baby John Doe” or “Baby Jane Doe,” and have been charged with criminal trespassing and giving false names. The bond for each offense is $500. Their first arraignment was cancelled and State Court Judge Nick G. Lambros was expected to sign a court order that will bar arraignment until they give their names, indefinitely prolonging their stay in jail.

Corrections officials say they have more than enough room to accomodate the jailed offenders. Neal Horton, press secretary for Mayor Andrew Young, said the cost of housing the prisoners is $42 per person per day for the city. Currently, the cost has surpassed $170,000. They are being held at the the Fulton County Jail as well as the Pre-Trial Detention Center.

Protest leaders in Atlanta said an agreement was made with the police department to free the demonstrators. However, leading pro-abortion activist Marge Pitts-Haines forced authorities to renege on the agreement. “If we can overrun the judicial and court system of Atlanta, then they will be forced to let us go,” said Baby Doe #84, currently still held at the Fulton County Jail.

Despite the reneged agreement, and the possibility that some of the protestors will lose their jobs while in jail, #84 said prayer meetings are being held three times a day, and that seven people have become Christians since the pro-lifers arrived. “Each day is filled with hours of prayer, praise and worship, and the ministry of the Word by the ministers amongst us. This is the most life-changing retreat I’ve ever experienced.”

One of the prisoners, the president of a trucking company in New Jersey, said he may return to a bankrupt business. He and his wife celebrated their 22nd wedding anniversary in jail with a lighted match on top of a scoop of their mashed potatoes. “I’m planning on staying until the end,” he said emphatically.

Baby Doe #97, who is a self-employed carpenter, was arrested at the Atlanta Surgi-Center and has been in jail for three weeks. “I lose $100 a day from not working,” he said, “but my church is paying for the rent this month and buying groceries for my wife.” The 130 incarcerated say they are planning on staying until they are released without bail.

Loesch, said, “Everyone is feeling jubilant, and we are in a better situation to see everyone released.” Terry was arrested and released twice since the Atlanta Rescue began. After his appearance on “The 700 Club” and Dr. James Dobson’s popular radio show, “Insight for Living,” Terry was arrested upon his return to Atlanta for “aiding and abetting others in commission of crime,” said Loesch.

A prominent family in Atlanta used their home as collateral to pay the $10,000 bond in order to release Terry. Rev. Jerry Falwell, head of the Liberty Federation, presented a check to Operation Rescue for $10,000 and told reporters that he expected to get arrested in the future after wrapping up his national campaign against the movie “The Last Temptation of Christ.” Falwell said he would be joined by other prominent Christian leaders.

“We were a marginal movement,” said Loesch. “Now, with the support of prominent Christian leaders who are advocating risking arrest, we’re in the mainstream of pro-life activism. The abortion establishment is frantic.”

Over 300 pro-life activists, not officially related to the Operation Rescue organization, marched in Tallahassee, Florida, on August 5, to protest legalized abortion and the imprisonment of pro-life champion Joan Andrews. Bearing signs with slogans and pictures of aborted babies, they had come from as far as Washington and Oregon at their own expense. Some were teachers, executives, housewives and clergymen. Presbyterians, Catholics, feminists and other concerned citizens all found a common cause in the Tallahassee event.

For some, this was their first time to protest against abortion; for others, they would be getting arrested for the 21st time the next morning. “We’re not eccentric, or extremist, but we’re here to see Joan Andrews free,” said Dr. William Marra, professor of philosophy from Fordham University. Marra is also a presidential candidate on the newly formed Right to Life political party ticket in New York.

While the protestors chanted, sang, and prayed in the capitol’s rotunda, a group of the pro-life leaders met with Gov. Bob Martinez’s staff to negotiate a clemency hearing for Joan Andrews. Although Gov. Martinez was in town, he was not available to meet with the pro-life delegation. Several protestors were disgruntled that the pro-life governor had no time to address the rally.

After several hours of closed door meetings, Brian Ballard, the governor’s director of operations, told the protestors that although Martinez was opposed to abortion, he couldn’t grant a clemency hearing due to the opposition in his cabinet. Four more cabinet votes were needed before a hearing could be conducted. They voted against the hearing because they believed Andrews refusal to cooperate and her history of more than 100 arrests didn’t merit giving a hearing.

“While Gov. Martinez will not decide on the merits of this case prior to a clemency hearing, he will continue to support the holding of such a hearing,” said Ballard. Assistant Attorney General Andrea Hilliard said an investigation would also need to be conducted prior to the hearing. “This is the first case of its kind that I know of,” she said.

Ballard said he also viewed, “Houston Proud,” a 4 1/2 minute film featuring live footage of an actual abortion. “I found it very graphic and compelling. I’m going to set up a time for the governor to view it. I believe in the rights of the unborn. However, I think the facts have been misrepresented about Joan Andrews.”

Andrews, 40, is serving five years in the Broward Correctional Facility in South Florida for entering a Pensacola abortion clinic in 1986 and trying to unplug a fetal suction machine. She has been disciplined 16 times for not following prison rules and has said that she wouldn’t stop protesting against abortion after release. Since then, pro-life leaders have been up in arms over the strip searches and perceived brutal treatment of Andrews by prison guards.

While Ballard drafted a statement, protestors kneeled in the marble halls in front of the governor’s office and said a short prayer. Susan Brindle, Andrews’ sister, told protestors, “Don’t nurse any grievance against the governor or the cabinet members. We need to write and lobby the remaining four cabinet members.”

Don Treshman, head of ‘Texas Rescuers’ and organizer of the Tallahassee gathering, vowed to return with 10,000 next time if Martinez didn’t take any action. “We’re asking him to fight a battle that we can’t fight,” he said. “This is the tip of the iceberg.” Brindle added, “The governor of Delaware went on TV to say we should release Joan. We’re tiptoeing around on this case.”

Congressman Robert Dornan (R-CA) encouraged the group to support the governor and presented a letter signed by 17 congressman asking for the release of Joan Andrews. “This situation stinks,” he said to a cheering crowd. In the letter, the congressmen wrote that they believed that the sentence was “a form of cruel and unusual punishment, prohibited by Amendment VIII of the constitution.”

A Mississippi pastor challenged the news media in front of the capitol to conduct an investigative report on clinical abortions. “The bottom line is that these are babies,” said Rev. Jack Keane while showing the actual aborted fetuses in preserved in wax casing to the media in front of the Civic Center before the march up the hill to the capitol. “Do we have enough humanity to save these children? Abortionists don’t show photographs,” he added.

A funeral service was later held for 800 aborted fetuses at the Faith Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee. The fetuses were contained in six white coffins with a rose lying on top of each. “There is no question about why we are here: abortion is murder. If you ‘personally support’ abortion, it’s like ‘personally supporting’ gassing,” said Rev. Robert Evans. The fetuses preserved in jars and were discovered on a loading dock in Chicago.

The burial at Roselawn Children’s Cemetery was considered the “first act of kindness,” said Monica Migliorino, director of Citizens for Life in Milwaukee, during the graveside eulogy. Congressman Dornan pointed to the fetuses while protestors wept and said, “I stood here thinking, ‘could that have been the first lady president? Could that have been a great concert pianist? … This is a whole village of people we are burying today.”

Migliorino said the fetuses were found in February of this year after an anonymous phone call from a lab in Chicago. They were marked “for disposal,” added Tim Murphy, who was with Migliorino when the fetuses were discovered. “I saw crates shipped from eight cities and nine different centers. The boxes were being shipped by U.P.S.,” explained Migliorino.

“They were coming from major centers in the Northeast, such as Indiana, New Jersey, Delaware, and Wisconsin. On February 20, we discovered dozens of boxes open, and filled with bodies of aborted children ready to be incinerated.” The fetuses were in plastic bags with the name of the mother and the doctor written on a label outside.

Migliorino said she doesn’t care if confiscation of the fetuses illegal, and would love a court trial on it. “It’s been spooky because no one has asked any questions,” she added. Over 5,000 were found the first time, and she visits the dock weekly with Murphy and Miller. The fetuses for the burial were found during one week’s visit.

The next morning after the funeral service, protestors marched from the Ramada Inn East to the North Florida Women’s Health Center. Police were waiting with two buses and stretchers to carry the demonstrators, who were instructed by rescue leaders to resist arrest.

Police carried 122 protestors to the bus for arrest in four hours while six women held a counter demonstration across the street. There were 67 males, 57 females and four juveniles arrested. “We’ve got them from two and a half years old to 80 years old,” said Dick Simpson, spokesman for the Sheriff’s department. The juveniles were remanded to the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services.

Treshman said that an agreement to release protestors that afternoon had been worked out with the police department. However, Simpson said that he didn’t know about the agreement. The protestors were bused to the North Florida Fairgrounds, which was used as a makeshift courthouse to conduct the hearing. Charged with 3rd degree misdemeanor for trespassing, and bonded for $100, many refused to be released until the whole group was released. Two were put in jail downtown for resisting arrest.

Bail was reduced to $50, and 42 were released the following Sunday. The remaining 80 were moved to Leon County Jail and were released over the course of the next four days. Bail was set again at $100, but charges were dropped. Treshman said the group planned to go up to Atlanta to participate in the sit-ins.

“This is the first time that arrests were made on such a massive scale,” said Simpson. He said it cost the city $15,000 a day for housing and food for the group and added, “I’ve pretty much drained my budget.” Housed at the fairgrounds, doctors were also on staff for the elderly with heart problems. The only complaint was the Florida heat, which can easily reach 100 (degree mark) on a summer day.

The Florida heat is not the only thing that has been intensifying during these rescue missions in the South. The ideological battle over abortion is also heating up – and causing the American people to make a clear choice on what is emerging as the key moral issue of the decade.


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