U.S. pro-lifers fear noted activist Joan Andrews Bell could face a life sentence following her latest court appearance Jan. 16 in Pittsburgh.

Bell was sentenced to three to 23 months in county jail stemming from a 1985 trespassing conviction at a Pittsburgh abortuary. However, her refusal to promise to stay away from abortion mills could keep her behind bars indefinitely.

“Go ahead, put me in jail,” Bell told Judge Raymond Novak after the sentencing. “It will affect my residence but it won’t affect my thinking.”

Bell became one of North America’s most noted pro-life activists after her 1985 arrest. At the time, she was convicted of trespassing and ordered to stay away from abortion clinics for 10 years.

Bell later participated in rescue operations in Pensacola, Fla., and after refusing another order to keep away from abortion mills, served two years in prison, most of it in solitary confinement. Overall, she has been arrested 200 times and has served nearly five years in prison.

Bell was given clemency by former Florida governor Robert Martinez in 1988, but not before her case helped rally pro-life forces. She was a driving force in the development of Operation Rescue activity, and some pro-life leaders speculate that her latest jailing could rekindle the rescue movement.

Bell had curtailed her activities recently, but early last year took part in a rescue outside a New Jersey abortuary. Abortion supporters, who have been keeping an eye on Bell’s activities, contacted authorities and a warrant for her arrest was issued.

Bell was in the final process of adopting a handicapped child from Mexico. A background check by immigration authorities noted the outstanding warrant, and Bell was subsequently arrested.

Don Treshman, director of Baltimore-based Rescue America, has been one of Mrs. Bell’s leading supporters. He said U.S. pro-life groups will take a “wait and see attitude” before plotting their response to Bell’s sentencing.

“Pennsylvania may well become the catalyst we have waited for to relaunch the rescue movement,” Treshman said.

“Joan’s jail sentence in Florida was the primer that ignited sit-ins at abortion mills in the late 1980s. We expect no less now that this saintly woman has been placed behind bars once again.” Treshman also said the Rescue America group is planning some type of public witness as a result of the Bell sentencing.