For quite some time I had been hearing the name of Joan Andrews. I knew she was in prison in the States because of her stand for life. But I have to admit that I did not take the trouble to find out much about her. She was just another one of those brave people who make me feel ashamed.
It was only when I attended the Human Life International Convention in Los Angeles at
the end of April that she loomed into focus. Her name kept cropping up every now and then-at meals, during talks, in the prayers at Mass. So I decided to find out more about this heroine. I bought a book entitled, “You Reject Them, You Reject Me.” It is a mixture of Joan’s story plus letters from her to her parents and friends and vice versa. It gives a fairly complete concept of the very remarkable personality who answers to the name of Joan Andrews.
Joan was born in Nashville, Tennessee some 40 years ago. She has two older brothers and two younger sisters. Her mother has a nursing background. Her father practised law and taught school, but later returned to the family farm to breed and train race horses. Joan was raised in a strongly Catholic atmosphere. As she was growing up, she and her sister, Susan, helped their dad with the training of the horses.
Even from an early age Joan seemed destined to live a life of self sacrifice for other people. When she was 12 a younger cousin drowning. Joan jumped in the river and saved her. Later she told her mother, “I thought I was going to die. But I had to do something.” After high school she went to St. Louis University where she studied history. She read a great deal about the Nazi atrocities and was appalled by the story. She was often heard to say, “How could people not rise in defence of the Jews?
Joan was 25 in 1973 when seven men out of the nine decided for all America that the killing of unborn babies was legal. They legally “depersonalized” unborn children and thus instigated a holocaust far worse than that perpetrated by the Nazis. Joan expected that the pulpits would explode, that the people would take to the streets in protest, that the “Land of the Brave” would rise in defence of the defenceless. But very little happened and abortoriums began to appear all over the United States.
The girl who had risked her life at the age of 12 to save a younger child was not prepared to “get lost in the crowd.” Joan and her younger sister, Susan, took up the cause of the unborn in their area. They picketed outside the local abortuary; they counselled women and girls and saved lives. They opened their apartment to mothers and babies they had saved. According to Susan, Joan gave up her bed and slept on the floor for months at a time. Realizing that picketing was not enough they, with some of their friends, began to block entrances to the “houses of death.” Joan did not confine her activities to her home ground. Friends in other cities would contact her and she would go to protest with them and encourage in their pro-life activities. In all Joan was arrested 45 times.
The Red Letter Day
But Joan felt that she was not doing enough for the protection of the unborn. She decided on more drastic action. On March 8, 1986, she entered the Pensacola Abortion Centre in Florida, went to the operating room and tried, unsuccessfully, to unplug the suction machine. The police were called and she was arrested. She was charged with trespassing, burglary, malicious mischief, resisting arrest and assault. In Florida the latter charge carries a life sentence.
When Joan appeared in court she was asked the usual question, “Will you give the assurance that you will not engage in these activities again?” If she had agreed to give such an assurance she would probably have been discharged or be given a fine or a light sentence. But Joan’s answer angered the judge. She said, “No, your Honour. I could not promise not to save the life of an unborn baby. That would be scandalous.” She remained in prison for four months awaiting trial and with the possibility of a life sentence hanging over her head. The assault charge was later dropped as it was patently false.
On September 24, 1986, Joan appeared in court before Judge Anderson. The judge was obviously not impressed by her independence. She would not “kow tow” before the “Almighty Bench.” She told him that she would not co-operate even if she were sent to prison. The judge told her that, “the prison authorities have their methods” for breaking the wills of those who choose not to co-operate. He then sentenced her to five years in prison. Later that day the same judge sentenced two men to four years, who had been found guilty of being accessories to murder. On the principle that the state has no right to imprison a person for trying to save the lives of innocent people, Joan there and then refused to co-operate. She sat down on the floor and was carried away by the wardens. She had not co-operated since and therefore enjoys no privileges.
On September 28, Joan wrote to her parents, “I sure love you and miss you and I know how much you love and miss me too. But please know what peace as I pray you do. Just realize that I am going to use this time in a very special retreat. Dear God is so good and gentle. He is taking good care of me as I know he is taking care of my family and loved ones too. Through this He will bring about much good. So, please be joyful with me. I’ll see you when I get out and I’m not worried when that will be. Love always in Jesus and Mary. Joan.
I should have mentioned earlier that Joan is not a healthy person. In 1980 she had an eye removed because of malignant melanoma. Before the trial and physician wrote o the judge informing him of Joan’s precarious health. He concluded, “sooner or later it returns and the second bout is invariably fatal.”
An assessment of Joan. Is she a fanatic?
No doubt a number of readers are asking themselves, “Is she a fanatic?” “Is it moral to destroy the property of others, etc.?” A fanatic is defined as “one who redoubles his efforts when he has forgotten his aims.” Joan has certainly not forgotten her aims. But many people have not faced up to this reality – abortion is murder! Murder is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. Science has proved that the unborn baby is a human being and the most innocent one at that. So, killing him or her is murder. Suppose a man who lived across from your nearest school began shooting say 15 children each day as they came from class. Would you consider it wrong or immoral if a teacher broke into his house and put the gun out of action? The only purpose of this suction machine is to murder babies. And Joan received a five-year sentence instead of a decoration. Where is the justice? It just isn’t there. In a slightly different context Shakespeare wrote, “Oh Judgment thou has fled to brutish beats and men have lost their reason.” We need more people of the calibre of Joan Andrews. People who believe in the sanctity of human life, in the rights of human beings, in the authority of God. Of course, we all believe these truths – but do we act as if we did?