Editor’s note: Bernard N. Nathanson, M.D., is the best known convert to the pro-life movement. He once directed the world’s largest abortion centre in New York City and killed about 10,000 unborn children himself. He was also co-founder of NARAL (now the National Abortion Rights Action League), and pushed for the legalization of abortion on demand.
He is the author of Aborting American and The Abortion Papers. More recently, he has created and narrated several very powerful pro-life films. “The Silent Scream,” “Eclipse of Reason,” and “The Answer.”
“Eclipse of Reason,” which clearly shows the gruesome reality of a second-trimester abortion, has been shown on cable and public television and has already won three major film festival awards – at the Greater Columbus Film Festival (which makes it eligible for an Academy Award nomination), at the New York Television and Film Festival and at the Chicago Intercom Festival.
The following excerpts are taken from his talk, “Political Prisoners of Abortion,” at the 1987 Americans United for Life Forum, recently held in Chicago. It is reprinted from the December 1987 issue of Pro-Life Action News.
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I want to examine the anatomy of any protest movement – civil rights, anti-apartheid, anti-nuke. It boils down to this: – there’s always a left. The left is accommodational. The left is legalism: – go to the courts, present our case. There is always a right: – direct action, violence. And of course, there’s the middle – protest, non-cooperation. This is the way any protest movement reads.
The magnitude of fear of one wing or one spectrum of that area to another, how activists fear the pacifists, how the right fears the left, can be exemplified in a letter I received some time ago from a group that I was going to speak to. It said, “Our committee does not endorse or support illegal activities. Though we share common goals with those who engage in pro-life civil disobedience, we do not share strategies. We condemn no one who engages in peaceful efforts to protect the unborn. We do not however judge violation so of the law to be an appropriate or effective tactic for our committee.
“We ask that your remarks respect this policy. We ask that our convention not be used as a forum for encouraging people to participate in illegal activities. Therefore, we would ask you to refrain from including remarks about this topic in your presentation. I would appreciate your sensitivity to this matter.”
I wrote them back and said I did not appreciate having my remarks censored a priority and I was going to withdraw from the engagement. If any one is worried or disturbed about these views, I suggest they get another speaker…We are all familiar with the leftist approach. And in the middle we have, as I say, the non-violent protests and non-cooperation. I want to talk a little bit about non-cooperation. I want to talk to you about David Packer.
Many of you don’t know David Packer, but it starts with Henry Morgentaler. Henry Morgentaler is a notorious abortionist in Canada. He operates illegal free-standing clinics; he’s been arrested innumerable times. He’s always cleared. The authorities not only don’t go after him anymore, the government of the Province of Ontario subsidizes protection of his clinic with police to the tune of $450,000 a year.
David Packer is a constable in that police force in Toronto and he refused that duty. He is 35 years old, has five children and was commended by the police force of Toronto for rushing into a burning building to rescue a two-year-old child a couple of years ago. And yet, when he turned down that duty they put him up before a tribunal and are now threatening to throw him off the police force.
Mother Teresa wrote a letter for him. She said, “Just two years ago Constable Packer risked his life to rescue a child from a burning building and was decorated by the police department for this courage. I find it difficult to understand how such a man could accept duty guarding a building in which live babies are being killed; and by killing, dismembering them in their mother’s womb through abortion.” Mother Teresa. Now that man is up on trial before his peers, with his job and his career at stake.
Let me look for a minute at the direct action or rescue piece of the pro-life movement and talk to you about Jim Demers. You don’t know Jim Demers, a young man up there in British Columbia, who went into the local hospital one day, a Saturday, took an elevator up to the operating room floor, walked down into one of the main OR’s, nobody there, took the suction machine, wheeled it down the corridor, took the elevator down, went out of the lobby, put it in his car, took it to his garage and dismantled it and made it into a library book trolley and returned it to the hospital. “Here is your machine.” And then he said, “Call the police,” which they did of course. They arrested him and tried him, a jury found him guilty of theft, sentenced him to 18 months probation, a hundred hours community work and $2000 to replace the machine. Demers refused to pay the money. He went to jail.
Now I want to talk to you about Joan Andrews. Give you a little background on her. Her mother is a retired nurse, her father a retired attorney. She is 39 years old. She has had cancer in one eye. The eye was removed in 1980. The cancer is a particularly malignant one. It is a malignant melanoma and it can reappear at any time. It is a time bomb in her life. Since 1973 she has done nothing but work in the pro-life movement as a volunteer. She has been arrested well over a hundred times. She is involved in direct action. She is absolutely non-violent. She would not even resort to violence to protect herself.
On the 26th of March, 1986, she went into a clinic in Pensacola, Florida, climbed upstairs, went into the OR, grabbed the electrical cord of the machine, the suction apparatus, and tried to wrench it out of the machine. Now of course the police were called; it was a melee. She was arrested along with several other people. She was tried in a courtroom in Pensacola, Escambia Country, before a Judge William Anderson. On the 22nd of July 1986, she was convicted of burglary in the third degree, resisting arrest without violence, and maliciously damaging property.
Let me read to you briefly from the transcript of that trial. She was asked a question about her actions and she said, “There was a suction aspiration machine against the wall right up by the door and I pulled on the plug and tried to pull out the plug from the machine, to disarm it.” Notice the word, “disarm” it. She said, “It’s an abortion murder weapon and I tried to pull out the cord.
In answer to other questions she was asked “Well why did you do these actions?” she said, “Babies were scheduled to be killed and I was there to try and rescue them, to prevent the killing of these babies for that day. I only wanted to disarm the weapon.” She was asked again , here, “Well, what exactly was it that you did?” “I tried to pull off the electrical cord. I tried to disarm the murder weapon. I told them no children would be killed if I could do this. Just leave the children alone she said, don’t kill them.”
She was sentenced on the 24th of September to five years in state prison, maximum security. Maximum security! At her sentencing she stated the following, “My intentions on the 26th of March 1986 were to save lives by trying to non-violently prevent the abortion of pre-born children at the Ladies Centre abortuary. When the side door was opened, I walked in, went upstairs to a procedure room and tried to dismantle the suction machine, the death weapon. When pulled off the machine by the police, I went limp, was handcuffed and dragged out she said. No assaults were committed by anyone. I can never, however, accept probation, community control, restitution or pay a fine. I can only be put in jail or released as anything else is an agreement to let human beings to be killed or cooperate in a penalty for rescuing children. If such a sentence other than jail is imposed anyway, I will simply have to be held in contempt for noncompliance.”
Now on the same day that Joan Andrews was convicted and sentenced in that courtroom in Pensacola by Judge Anderson, in that same courtroom later on, the same Judge Anderson sentenced an accomplice to murder to four years in prison with time off for good behaviour, which would total two and a half years.
Now Andrews, or course, is a desperado, an arch-criminal. Let me just read briefly a passage from a letter from Andrews to me. “You know what else happened?” she said, “Just as I was starting to write this letter I was caused to wait a moment and look out at a couple of pictures I have of Jesus and His Blessed Mother because I had started to cry again and I couldn’t continue, and as I did this, a glint of bright orange caught my eye. It was so small I could barely see it. It came from my window which is painted over so that an inmate cannot see out. The window is over-laid with a large iron grate, but there is a spot high up out of reach from the floor where the paint is chipped. I had noticed this about a month ago when I decided to climb up the window to see if there were any such spots and I discovered it.
“Anyway, I jumped down from my bunk and I climbed up to the crack and peeked out. If I could only describe what I saw. It was so utterly gorgeous, a sunset. I stayed there till it disappeared, thanking our sweet Lord for this gift and for the both of you. I love you so very much and I pray that you will know God’s deepest peace and joy and consolation at all times. May He just wrap His arms around you, and hold you close in His tender compassion and care.
The arch-criminal Andrews! Now what I want to know is, in this appalling miscarriage of justice, where has the ACLU been? Where has Amnesty International been? Where has everybody been? Where has everybody been!
Let’s not delude ourselves here now. This movement, this pro-life movement, you can call it by many names, whatever you want to call it. It’s pro-life, pro-family, anti-abortion, it’s conservative, but in uncompromising political terms, we are dedicated to reversing the sickening excesses of the sexual revolution. We are, dare I say it, counter-revolutionaries and as the Chairman once said, “A revolution is not a dinner party.”
Martin Luther King said, “Direct action is not a substitute for work in the courts and in the halls of government. Bringing about the passage of a new law by a city council or the Congress or pleading cases before the court does not eliminate the necessity for bringing about the mass dramatization of injustice in front of the city hall. Indeed, direct action and legal action complement one another. When skillfully employed, each becomes more effective.”
We are going to face some pretty hard times. With political and moral pressure building, with a sense of urgency rising uncontrollably as the casualty figures mount inexorably into the tens of millions, with conventional pressure valves being more and more closed to us, the most pressing danger we face is disunity and a drift to the radical right. We are facing some very hard choices in the near future. Do you defend the protestors? Will you defend the non-cooperationalists? Will you provide advocacy for the activists?
And the hard times are not just political. They’re scientific as well. We have all kinds of crazy demands now surfacing…Parthenogenesis going on in the Steptoe and Edwards laboratories, no sperm needed. They have now kept alive a dividing egg until six weeks. We have the sale of fetal tissue. Recently a counselor in my old clinic wrote to me. She said she is still counseling in clinics, she believes she is doing the right thing, but they’ve gone too far she said. Now they are dickering over the sale of fetal tissue from these clinics to businessmen. She overheard a conversation in which they were actually drawing up the list of prices, with brain tissue, of coursed, at the highest price and arms and legs down at the bottom. This is not anecdotal.
I want these words of Martin Luther King to be my close. He is my beacon of wisdom and purity. He said, “Our hope for creative living in this world lies in our ability to re-establish the moral ends of our lives, and personal character and social justice. Without this spiritual and moral reawakening, we shall destroy ourselves in the misuse of our own instruments. Love is the most durable power in the world. This creative force, so beautifully exemplified in the life of Christ, is the most potent instrument available in mankind’s unceasing quest for peace and justice.”