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Randall Terry: Reformer of the Year 1988

By Editorial Staff
Published December 1, 1988

BINGHAMTON, NY (FR) – Three years ago when Randall Terry and and his wife, Cindy, were spending 40 hours a week picketing and counseling women against abortion outside of clinics, they didn’t foresee their pro-life activism growing into a movement which would affect cities and leaders across the nation.

In fact, activism was the farthest thing from their minds, especially since they had plans to be missionaries in Mexico after their graduation from Elim Bible Institute in Lima, New York. But as Randall began to study the historic legacy that Christians have had in social activism, he sensed that God was calling him to another mission field – the abortion clinics of the United States.

During lunch hours and days off, the Terrys consistently picketed in front of local clinics. Their efforts to dissuade women from aborting their children seemed futile, however, because the few that responded later decided to follow through with their abortions. One woman, a clinic staffer, told Terry that she would keep her baby. Later, however – after being influenced by abortion clinic rhetoric, she chose to abort. “It seemed the work that God had called us to was filled with constant hopelessness and despair,” Terry said.

The first breakthrough came four months later, when members of the Pierce Creek Church, where the Terrys were attending, began picketing with them. Within two weeks, five women decided to keep their babies as a result of the demonstrations. In 1984, the Terrys founded Project Life and the Crisis Pregnancy Center. Six days a week the center was opened to offer women free pregnancy tests, confidential counseling, baby clothing, and other assistance. Three years later they started The House of Life, a haven for unwed mothers.

As a result of their successes, Terry began speaking to concerned citizens’ groups, showing films, appearing on television, doing radio interviews, and educating people on lobbying techniques. In the midst of all this activity, Randall Terry began to sense that his efforts were not enough – and that Americans were really losing the war against abortion. “In the spring and summer of 1986, during prayer and introspection,” he said, “I began looking at American history and realized that we were losing the war. I then began to get a sense of what God wanted to do.”

Terry realized that if abortion was murder, then he needed to act like it. “If my little girl was about to be murdered, I certainly would not write a letter to the editor! I would dive in with both hands and feet and do whatever was necessary to save her life,” he said. “We were all clamoring about abortion being murder, but we had not even tried to blockade abortion mills. As these ideas took shape in my mind and the truths of God’s word grabbed my heart, the foundation for Operation Rescue was laid.”

At that point, Terry staged the first rescue mission, conducted with only seven people in January of 1986, at a clinic in Binghamton, New York. The rescuers locked themselves in one of the inner rooms of the abortion mill right after it opened. Police arrived and asked them to leave, but the rescuers felt that they needed to obey God’s higher law, and they continued to block the clinic. They spent several days in jail as a result.

“Sometimes I’ve felt good about being in jail, and other times I’ve experienced feelings of intense anger and frustration,” said Terry. “I’m forced to stay behind bars with criminals all around me. I’ve felt a terrible sense of injustice. I was in jail for trying to save babies from death and mothers from exploitation, while the killers (wrongly called doctors) were on the outside free!”

Randall Terry – in the manner of a true reformer – has admirably endured insults and misunderstandings throughout the history of Operation Rescue. There have been times when he and his wife have had to stand alone in their struggle – although they have always had the support of their friends at the Pierce Creek Church.

Today, the seven original rescuers have grown into a national grassroots movement with the official name of Operation Rescue (OR). Although it does not claim membership, thousands of sympathizers are being trained in the tactics of paralyzing the business operations of abortion clinics. Planned Parenthood officials and pro-abortion leaders admit that the movement is a threat to their business.

Fifteen years after the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision, which has left in its wake 25 million aborted children, hundreds of people are being arrested for attempting to rescue unborn children. Terry has mobilized a growing army of Americans who are tired of plodding politicians who have given promises to stop abortion. Thanks to Randall Terry, the abortion issue is now being taken to the streets.

Another Civil Rights Movement

Many observers say that 29-year-old Terry is spearheading another civil rights movement in the 1980s. Atlanta, the cradle of the original civil rights movement against racial discrimination, was the scene of unprecedented police brutality against pro-life rescuers in early October of this year. Stunned city officials, some of whom were former civil rights demonstrators, launched an investigation of the police department because of the treatment of the demonstrators.

City councilman Hosea Williams said, “I think what is happening in Atlanta right now is just terribly anti-American. It hurts me so bad that we who were the leaders of the movement in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, are now the political leaders, and we are doing the same things to demonstrators that George Wallace and Bull Connors did to us.”

Earl Shinhoster, southeastern regional director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told the Atlanta Journal and Constitution that OR’s methods are similar to those used in the civil rights movement. “As a tactic and strategy,” he said, “I see a great many similarities between the abortion protestors and the tactics of the ’60s. I think they tore a page straight out of the book of the ’60s.”

Ironically, Atlanta’s Mayor Andrew Young, also a former civil rights activist and ordained minister, has refused to meet with OR’s leaders and has been silent on his position. During the October rescue, Operation Rescue circulated flyers throughout Atlanta about Mayor Young’s stand on abortion. One city official even urged Young to join the ranks of OR because of his civil rights record.

Like all true reformers, Randall Terry’s efforts have stirred opposition. Because of the impact that the Atlanta rescue had on the rest of the nation, pro-abortion leaders took notice and began counter-demonstrations. Molly Yard, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), alerted her supporters about Terry’s work.

To this date, over 100 clinics have been successfully closed by the rescue efforts, and 400 children have been saved this year. Recently a young black woman from Atlanta, who was scheduled to have an abortion, turned away from the clinic after seeing the rescuers. She testified later on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” about her child being saved, and thanked OR for its work.

The Forging of a Network of Activists

Besides saving children, Operation Rescue is also making its mark on correctional institutions across the nation and forging a network among Christian activists. Many inmates have converted to Christianity as a result of the singing, praying, and Bible-reading that takes place in jails during a rescue campaign. Pastors who have spent time in jail always return to their churches with a new zeal for changing society.

In an Atlanta jail in October, a priest associated with Mother Theresa’s work in Calcutta, a leader of a Christian rock band, and several rabbis and nuns shared “war stories.” A jailer who heard the conversations said the prison had become a “school of revolution,” because individuals swapped stories of former arrests and rescues in other cities.

Documentation of bad prison conditions have also been compiled during rescues, which may lead to improvement. After a rescue mission in Tallahassee, Florida, reporters received stories about women being denied medical treatment, no air-conditioning, denial of telephone privileges, and other forms of abuse inflicted on prisoners. According to reports filed with OR, Atlanta inmates were rudely awakened several times during the night and moved, and were also threatened by officers.

Reformation of prison conditions may be a side affect of OR’s cause to save the unborn. Massive crowds in jails have forced city and state officials to evaluate the conditions and to eventually either upgrade facilities in preparation for a rescue or succumb to criticism from those jailed.

Operation Rescue’s Future

It has not been an easy road for Randall Terry: “I look at it as a time of sacrifice,” he said. “I have enemies and lawsuits, and I try to keep my family out of it.” But the rewards are fulfilling: testimonies of babies who have been saved from death – like the one in Atlanta – provide the greatest encouragemen.

Terry’s movement has grown beyond manageable proportions into a national phenomenon which has touched the nerve of the nation in mobilizing masses willing to risk arrest for their cause. There is no sign of waning on the horizon, either. Many Americans believe that Operation Rescue may very well be the key to reversing the Roe vs. Wade decision on abortion.

An outstanding model of modern-day heroism, Randall Terry has motivated and inspired business and church leaders, athletes, and grassroots America to lay down their lives for defenseless children. The staff of The Forerunner salutes Terry and his family as true reformers who have been willing to sacrifice and to defend the truth of God when it has not been popular to do so.


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