Operation Rescue’s activists certainly can’t be stereotyped. They are not former ’60s protestors who burned dorm buildings and American flags in the student center. But they will take a bus at their own expense to another city across the nation to get arrested. John Ryan, 33, has been arrested for his pro-life stand nearly 400 times while a student. “I quit counting at 350,” he said during the recent rescue effort in Tallahassee.
A former social worker, Ryan says he spent most of his collegiate career in jail. “I was working full-time, going to school full-time, and in jail half of the time. Although I’ve been in jail a lot, it’s amazing how God takes care of you.” In the morning, he would go to class and then catch a bus to a local abortion clinic in St. Louis, Missouri, to participate in a rescue and to counsel women entering the clinics. “I thought of the injustice of it all,” he said. “I didn’t encounter any pro-life sympathy at the time, and the university had little to do with my involvement.”
His first arrest was in St. Louis eight years ago. Although he spent most of his college years in jail, Ryan managed to graduate with a masters degree in Social Work within five years. The total time he has served in jail adds up to one year. “Some days I got arrested twice,” he said. “The judge was pro-life, so he would let us off with a city ordinance violation charge which was the lowest penalty. The City was never in a hurry to hear our case, either.”
How did his time in jail affect his lifestyle? “I felt like I lived in two worlds,” he explained. “I would come home from jail, and it would be business as usual. Ordinary things strike you as bizarre when you know there are children dying out there and someone is more concerned about how they look.”
He says his hardest times were when he didn’t pray about his activist activities, or when he did things simply out of habit. “As an activist, I have to constantly keep in mind that this is a spiritual battle. If it’s just a political force, it will go the way of every other movement and become ineffective.”
After being booked several times, Ryan said the police began to fill out the forms before he got to the jail. “After filling out the forms, I would just return to the clinic,” he added. Ryan has been on a sabbatical for the past year.
Sharon Henning, a housewife from St. Louis, Missouri, has been arrested over 20 times. She fasted for five weeks before making the decision to join in the rescues. “I saw the film ‘Assignment Life,’ and something gripped me. I felt that God had called me to do something, but I didn’t know what.” Henning got involved in Lutherans for Life and started picketing.
However, picketing didn’t seem enough when a rescue was underway at a local clinic. “While those in jail were fasting, I began fasting,” she said. People that were normally unconcerned about abortion, she said, had begun to ask questions during her fast. After five weeks, her husband told her he would rather that she go to the abortion clinics and protest than to continue the fast.
Those involved in Operation Rescue are from all walks of life … including teenagers. With several teens in jail in Atlanta and Tallahassee, 16-year-old activist Willie Hinton is starting the youth arm of Operation Rescue. The group was born the first night of the Democratic National Convention when a group of teenagers protested abortion at the Atlanta Surgi-Center.
Hinton began getting involved in pro-life efforts last January. He worked on former presidential candidate Pat Roberton’s campaign as the assistant financial director, and is working on several local political campaigns as well. When asked whether he would get himself arrested during the Atlanta rescue, he replied, “If my father lets me.”