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The necessity of disobedience


Banner promoting rescue at the 2023 March for Life

Early in the morning on March 30, 2022, I had just risen and was walking quietly about the darkened hallways of the Northern Virginia suburban home I shared with several other renters. The sun had yet to dawn and everything was quiet. Suddenly, this peaceful atmosphere was broken with a loud bang upon our front door and an aggressive voice on the other side, demanding entry. I was still disoriented but, fearing it may be police, hurried first to the room of my housemate who had recently suffered a run-in with the law. I reasoned it would be better for him to surrender willingly than be surprised in bed. As he stumbled towards the door to confront whoever was there, I activated my phone’s camcorder and began to record everything. This turned out to be a wise decision.


It was indeed the police, or rather the FBI, and they hadn’t waited for us to answer their summons. In the short time that I’d delayed, officers used a battering ram to break our locks and open both our front and side doors. Armed SWAT teams, brandishing their rifles as if storming a den of terrorists, entered from those directions and from a third, unlocked door leading to the basement where our other housemates slept. Bright spotlights shone directly into the living room, making it impossible for us to see who was outside. But we dutifully followed orders and, one by one, exited the home with our hands above our heads. Everyone was handcuffed. After a few minutes of listening to the officers’ conversation, it became apparent that they had not come for my housemate, but rather for me. The FBI conducted a sweep of our home as I was loaded into a police vehicle and driven to an undisclosed location.


As you can imagine, being abducted in this manner by our nation’s covert security agencies is a nerve-racking experience. I was never shown a warrant or read my rights, and agents would not answer my questions or even explain why I had been arrested (though after much prodding one did break silence and give me an inkling about what was happening). For my part, I spent this time calmly chastising the officers for participating in what they must have known was an unjust operation and telling them to get right with Jesus. Hours passed while I was photographed, finger printed and processed at one facility, then another and finally at a third where I was kept for a long time in a private cell. At last I was allowed to speak with a magistrate by phone who explained the terms of my release (but not the reason for my arrest!) Finally, I was jettisoned onto the streets of Washington, DC. Stumbling about in pajamas and shoes without laces, I somehow found my way home.


Communicating with friends, I learned that eight other individuals (four of them senior citizens) had been similarly arrested that same morning. One had returned home afterwards only to find herself locked outside by her landlord and the sidewalk swarming with reporters. She could only sit down and cry. Days later we received our indictments and the matter became clear: we are charged with violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act during a 2020 anti-abortion “rescue”, and each of us might serve eleven years in Federal prison.


Our case in context

The FACE Act is a pro-abortion law passed in 1994 to break up the anti-abortion rescue movement of the 1980s and 1990s, a period when thousands of citizens had caused great consternation to the baby-killing industry by peacefully blocking access to abortion clinics and saving numerous preborn lives. As this form of civil disobedience illustrates Proverbs 24:111 in action, it was dubbed “rescue”. The FACE Act legislated outrageous penalties for anyone who rescued - a second conviction is a felony - and as a result rescues essentially ceased for nearly 25 years.


Beginning sometime after 2017, however, a few pro-life Americans began to think it was time to test the waters again. Various teams began to conduct what came to be known as “red rose rescues”, wherein counselors enter an abortion facility not to physically intervene, but merely to counsel women more effectively. This, of course, is considered trespassing and resulted in arrests, but no one was charged with FACE. I had been a quasi-professional anti-abortion activist for around 8 years, and was looking for ways to be more effective. When friends began to rescue, I at first only supported them, fearful of crossing the property line. But after a great deal of prayer and consideration, I too began to participate in red rose rescues, and soon came to recognize their worth. Babies were saved and our downtrodden spirits were uplifted. I was arrested at least 3 times for rescuing before that fateful morning in 2022.



The incident for which we’ve received FACE charges took place in October of 2020. Eight pro-life activists, four of them senior citizens and including the well-known and much respected veteran rescuer Joan Andrews Bell, were arrested at the notorious late-term abortion mill of Cesare Santangelo in Washington, DC. Santangelo’s clinic was selected because he performs gruesome late-term abortions and because he is suspected of routinely violating Federal abortion regulations.2 I was present during this rescue, livestreaming the operation and working with volunteers on the street. Santangelo’s clinic was shut down most of that day and our video was shared with thousands of people. Very likely, lives were saved.


The eight rescuers had expected the government to press charges immediately. Instead, there was absolute silence for over eighteen months. No one was even called in for questioning. The absence of a response was strange but we chalked it up to COVID-19 and the fact that authorities had much more pressing matters to deal with. Other rescues had, until that point, resulted only in dropped charges and/or no jail time, so perhaps this one would as well.


We’d been wrong. Far from ignoring the matter, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI, no doubt under direction from the pro-abortion Biden administration, had been quietly planning a comprehensive crackdown against us: gathering emails, text messages and social media posts to build a case. That morning in 2022 they sprung their trap. As I’d not been arrested during the actual rescue, I never expected to be charged with anything. But the DOJ had decided to round up another individual and myself as conspirators, and we face the same threat of incarceration as all the others.


You probably already know that 2022 was an important year in the battle over abortion. Most attention has been on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs vs. Jackson that essentially overturned Roe vs. Wade. But a far more critical story is the persecution of anti-abortion activists, especially rescuers, occurring in the wake of Dobbs. We were the first group to be charged with violating FACE, but we were not the last. During the course of the summer and autumn of 2022, anti-abortion advocates were indicted for FACE in Michigan, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and North Carolina: twenty-six persons in total. Most famous of these has been Mark Houck, who had not participated in a rescue but was charged with FACE anyway! Houck is the only person to have gone to trial and been found not-guilty. The rest of us may not escape so easily. Our numbers include men and women, youth and seniors, Protestants and Catholics, conservatives and liberals. But the DOJ is determined to make an example out of all of us and prevent the rescue movement from spreading.


This, finally, is the reason I’m telling my story. The rescue movement must spread. One might ask how I can expect anyone else to rescue, seeing what is now happening to me. My answer is that incarceration is a very small price to pay if it leads to a speedier end to abortion. And rescue should do that.


A case for reviving the preborn rescue movement

Since its inception the concept of civil disobedience has always had detractors. Sometimes these are religious people who object to its morality, falsely interpreting certain Bible passages to mean that a good Christian must never disobey his government. How such a position is maintained in the face of innumerable Biblical passages to the contrary and the logical inconsistency it entails (the origins of any political order lie in a revolution against the previous regime) I can’t fathom. Solid arguments refuting that misguided position are easily found elsewhere and I won’t bother addressing them here.3


A more common criticism, however, is that while civil disobedience may be moral, it is not practical. “What’s the point of getting yourself thrown in jail?” say many detractors, “Couldn’t you do more good as a free man?” Such objections can also be refuted. What is more difficult to overcome is the spirit that lies behind them.


Physical interposition is the only peaceful action we can take that is not a compromise

It might hurt to admit this, but pro-life people are really pro-choice. Not ideologically, but functionally. We may speak out against abortion, campaign against abortion and offer a mother options to deter her from abortion, but if she still chooses to carry out her malicious intent, we will not stop her from exercising that “choice”. Only when we physically prevent people from killing their children are we truly without compromise. Only then are we genuinely anti-abortion.4


I understand that compromise is often necessary, but it should not be assumed. When one person is determined to murder another, our default duty is to interpose on behalf of the victim, and we can only justify our failure to do so on the grounds that maybe, if we evade the consequences of interposition this time, we can save more babies in the future. Immediate interposition is the default. Staying on the sidewalk is plan B.


Interposition is a personal duty of each individual

We live at a very unique point in human history. Never before has the individual been less directly responsible for the daily needs of life. Other people (who we seldom meet) grow our food, deliver water to our homes, dispose of our waste, educate our children, protect us, provide us with light and produce energy to power our numerous labor saving devices. To be sure, we work. But we work not to sustain ourselves but to produce goods or services for others in return for a paycheck. We are accustomed to paying other people for everything and managing very little ourselves. This might make life comfortable, but I think it gives us a distorted view about our duties, including our duty to help those in danger.


Modern policing is a very recent concept. Civilizations have always had some form of law enforcement, but the phenomenon of large, standing police forces has its origin in the 17th Century and didn’t become common in the United States until the 19th. Before then, the average person was expected to take the law into his own hands! If you saw a murder about to be committed, the natural response would be to interpose, not wait on some professional to do it for you.


Police should be protecting preborn babies from murder. The fact that they don’t does not mean that preborn babies have no defenders. It means that the duty to defend them defaults to us. We have a basic responsibility to interpose between the babies and those who wish to kill them. We may not always be able to carry out this duty, but it exists nonetheless.



Abortion will end faster via a strategy that includes rescue than via a strategy that neglects it

Rescue, therefore, is a fundamental response to ongoing murder. But it’s true that anyone who partakes in it risks being arrested and sent to prison. They may even be prosecuted for violating FACE. So why bother? I suggest that, despite these inconveniences, abortion will end faster when more of us rescue.


To begin with, let’s not forget that there are about thirty million fully anti-abortion adults in the United States.5 That is more than enough people to shut down every surgical abortion mill in the nation, as well as many of the pharmacies that sell abortion drugs. Even if each anti-abortion adult rescued only once, our criminal justice system would not be able to incarcerate that many people. While civil strife is a possible outcome, a much more likely result would be that our nation would be forced to alter its laws and outlaw child-killing. I realize, of course, that this scenario is unlikely to transpire, but it is unlikely only because pro-lifers are unwilling to rescue in massive numbers. If they were willing, the abolition of abortion would be practically a fait accompli.


Yet even sporadic rescuing by a much smaller contingent should have a positive impact, due to the effect it may have on the hearts and minds of Americans, and consequently American politics.


I have been involved in anti-abortion activism for nearly fourteen years. In that time I have become only more and more convinced that the thing truly enabling the abortion industry is not the pro-choice movement (there are relatively few pro-choice activists) nor the lust and greed of the population (these have always been a factor in every society throughout all of history). It’s not a lack of good tactics (we’ve had plenty of good advice). Rather, the thing that perpetuates abortion is the fear and apathy of pro-life people, especially Christians.


Ask the average Christian what he or she has personally done to address the continuous, brutal slaughter of children taking place in every city of America, and that person will usually not know how to answer. At most they might mention that they pray, donate to the local pregnancy help center and dutifully vote Republican; all in all, a pretty pathetic response to genocide. But what should we expect? No one has ever asked them to do more! The mainstream pro-life movement, the church and the Republican party characterize abortion as a political problem: change the courts, then the laws, and abortion will end. Since there is little the average person can do to speed up this process, rank-and-file pro-lifers feel little motivation to take personal action.


I wage war against this mindset, both in myself and in others. It is based on false presuppositions and is tailor made not to end abortion but assuage the consciences of pro-lifers who instinctively know our actions are inadequate but wish to deny it.


Rescue, even rescue by a few, can change this. Rescue demonstrates the suffering of abortion’s victims and validates their worth. It challenges pro-life law enforcement and local government to defy wicked policies, makes the pro-choice masses uncomfortable with their beliefs and makes pro-lifers uncomfortable with their inaction. The mere existence of rescue as direct, immediate and uncompromising interposition for the sake of the victims provides a center for the rest of the anti-abortion movement to rally around. Unlike the invisible, nameless, voiceless and forgettable preborn child, the rescuer is visible, named, memorable and possesses a voice. It is much harder to dismiss the persecution of a born person, especially if that born person is someone you know.


There are many historical examples of this phenomenon at work. Classical writers attribute the growth of Christianity in no small part to the stoic bravery with which early Christians faced persecution, especially in the Roman arena where they were often murdered for the entertainment of the crowds. In the 19th Century, anti-slavery sentiment increased in America’s northern states following incidents of pro-slavery violence against abolitionists. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s used civil disobedience in the form of sit-ins to highlight the brutality of Jim Crow and turn America against racial segregation. Defying wicked laws and suffering persecution for doing so had positive effects in India, South Africa and elsewhere.


Yet here history seems to contradict me. The original rescue movement of the 1980s and 1990s failed to change public opinion on abortion, was doggedly ignored by the majority of pro-lifers, began to decline after 1990 and was finally snuffed out by the FACE act. So it seems that, despite its success in other arenas, civil disobedience has no effect when it comes to abortion. This is a very serious challenge. I will try to respond carefully and with humility, because lives do hang in the balance.


Rescue inspired many, temporarily. This must not be overlooked. Over fifty-five thousand people were arrested for rescuing between 1985 and 1994.6 But as costs mounted, rescue was abandoned by the rescuers. Commenting on the decline in participation after 1990, author Joseph Foreman wrote in 1992 (two years prior to the adoption of the FACE Act) that “At the first sign of resistance we melted and began to turn to the political doors that had opened a few inches because of our boldness.” So perhaps it is not that rescue was ineffective, but that those who championed it fell away too easily. You cannot inspire others to carry a cross you yourself won’t carry.


Pro-lifers outside an abortion clinic in 2021

We are not fated to repeat the past. The study of history is a guide to understanding the future, but it’s not a crystal ball. Our lives are not predetermined. Everyday, each and every one of us is given a choice between living for ourselves and loving others. I haven't yet talked much about the spiritual or Christian aspects of rescue in this article, but in truth they undergird the whole concept. God has done amazing things in the past; we can expect Him to do them again. He works through the church, feeble and unwilling as it might be; we can expect Him to use the church again. He gives to each Christian the Holy Spirit, Who enables them to bear fruit and bring forth good works, even to the point of shedding their blood; we can expect them to find this courage at last. No, I cannot promise with certainty that Christians, and other anti-abortion people, will respond to rescue this time any better than they responded before. But neither can I assume they won’t. And if even a few rescuers are willing to hold fast and steadfastly endure the harsh (by American standards) penalties for more genuine love, I cannot help but believe that their sacrifice will impact the hearts of many others.


Overcoming our fear

There is, incidentally, an effort afoot to repeal the FACE Act and remove the most onerous threats currently imposed upon rescuers. A coalition of US Congressmen, anti-abortion leaders and rescuers is forming to demand the revocation of that wicked, unconstitutional law. If successful, this would go a long way in setting a national standard and encouraging more people to rescue, but it would not remove all legal risks. Until abortion is abolished there will always be sacrifices that those who oppose it must endure, among them our time, our personal ambitions and even our freedom.


Remember what abortion is: the wanton murder of an innocent image bearer of God. Remember how many are being thus mercilessly killed: thousands every day. Remember where you live: not in a dictatorship with no rule of law and no hope of changing the system, and not in a place with no Christian heritage to draw upon, but in what remains (for now) the freest nation on earth, founded and still inhabited by many men and women who can draw upon the indwelling power of Almighty God. Remember what persecutions we really face: not brutal execution in a Roman arena but mere temporary incarceration. Under such circumstances, should we be searching for reasons to avoid sacrifice, or ways to stop the killing? Should we ask first what cost there is to us, or what cost there is to the babies? Should we be dominated by fear or by a relentless passion to see justice prevail?


Already some are answering that question by enduring, with courage, the unjust penalties of interposition. Several of my friends recently spent several months in jail for a red rose rescue, and are now being sued by no less an authority than the New York attorney general. By all accounts they are only growing in character and love for others, happy to endure this light suffering if only it may serve to bring the end of child killing just a little bit closer.


The next trial against rescuers accused of violating FACE takes place August 9th, and my own begins September 6th. As that day approaches I want this story to spread across the nation and inspire as many people as possible. Please help by sharing this article and praying for a revival of preborn rescue. Become a rescuer yourself. The world has already been overcome.7 All we have to do now is overcome our fear.


 
  1. “Rescue those being taken away to death. Hold back those stumbling to slaughter”

  2. Santangelo admitted as much to an undercover reporter for Live Action in 2016. Incidentally, proof that such violations really do take place at Surgi-Clinic was obtained on March 25, 2022 (a mere five days before our arrests!) by pro-life sidewalk counselors who intercepted a box of 115 children in transit from Surgi-Clinic to an incineration facility. The five largest bodies bore signs of murder by either partial birth abortion or by simply being born alive and abandoned to die. Both are Federal crimes. Unfortunately, these five corpses fell into the hands of the pro-abortion government of Washington, DC, and remain locked away in the vaults of the DC Medical Examiner who has yet to order autopsies despite Congressional pressure. You can learn more about this horrific situation at ww.Jfor5.com

  3. Again, not all forms of rescue run afoul of the FACE act. Red rose rescue (www.RedRoseRescue.com) for instance, does not involve physical blocking of clinic entrances or the verbal intimidation of abortion-minded women. So it is a form of compromise, but less of a compromise than remaining safely on the sidewalk.

  4. It should be mentioned that in the United States, abortions (and all forms of murder) are in fact not legal and never have been! The 5th Amendment to the US Constitution forbids that anyone be deprived of life without due process of law, while the 14th Amendment forbids any state from denying any person the equal protection of the laws. Since the preborn are persons, state laws and court decisions that permit abortion are not constitutional and we owe them no obedience. This makes the position of the ‘we must obey the government’ crowd even more tenuous, as our current government is operating in violation of its own Constitution!

  5. This number is calculated by taking the lowest average percentage of persons who, in response to surveys on abortion opinion, report that abortion should “always be illegal” and multiplying by the number of adults between the ages of eighteen and sixty-five.

  6. Foreman, Joseph, Shattering the Darkness (1992) page 18

  7. “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

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