A late June letter from the American Life League requested that the U.S. government investigate the unjust and brutal treatment of imprisoned pro-life activist Joan Andrews.

“We are calling on President Reagan and the U.S. Justice Department to investigate these violations under the civil rights laws of this country,” said League president Judie Brown.  “Because Miss Andrews is a deeply religious and highly moral person, the prison systems I treating her worse than they would any hardened criminal.”

Brown urged the president to do all within his power “to see that the Justice Department commences and follows through with this investigation at once!…I am fearful for Joan Andrew’s safety.  She is vulnerable…as are all innocent pre-born babies in our nation today.  Will you please, and immediately, act to hold those in Florida, beginning with Governor Martinez himself, accountable for her safety!”

Florida authorities December 26, 1987 bowed to protests against the cruelty of her punishment and transferred Andrews to the Women’s Correctional Institute in Claymont, Delaware, closer to her sister’s home.  However, when she learned that this was not a preliminary to her release, Andrews asked to be returned to Florida.

June 17, the first day of her return to Broward Correctional Institute – the state’s only maximum security prison for women – officers subjected Andrews to a violent and abusive strip-search.  Prison guards including one male ripped off her clothes and searched her personal body areas when she tried to maintain her modesty.

“I wasn’t hurt except for a few bruises and lacerations,” wrote, Andrews in a mid-June letter to her family, “but emotionally I feel as though I went through an attempted rape with all the brutality and degradation.  It was horrible.

On account of this “show of strength and contempt,” Andrews has decided to increase the scope of her non-cooperation.  This will ‘entail accepting nothing from the prison, no care beyond the bare necessity to maintain life,” she wrote.

Florida secretary of state’s general counsel clearly expected to break Andrew’s spirit upon her return to Broward Correctional Institute.  Kenneth Rouse told Dennis Saddler, a Philadelphia area pro-lifer working for Andrew’s early release, that if she does come back here, I assure you she will cooperate.  We have ways to discipline disruptive people.”

His assurance was ill founded.  Joan Andrew’s experience of penal “discipline” has had a “powerful, radical influence” on her.  More clearly now does she understand the “Dehumanizing attacks on the dignity of the prenatal children, the new born handicapped, and the elderly of infirm “unwanted.”

This brutal violation of Andrew’s personal privacy is simply the latest act of a judicial system determined to punish her for her political position of non-cooperation.

On March 26, 1986, soon after entering an abortuary in Pensacola, Florida, Joan Andrews was arrested for trying – unsuccessfully – to disconnect the electrical cable of a suction machine.

In July of the same year, Judge William Anderson found Andrews guilty of burglary, criminal mischief and resisting arrest without violence.  Had she accepted this verdict and agreed with the court’s order not to protest at abortion clinics, bail (and probation) would have been granted.

But than as now, Joan Andrews did not flinch from confronting the abortion holocaust head-on.  To acquiesce in the judgment of the court (though that judgment was made on laws not directly connected to abortion), would be to accept the legitimacy of the legal “right” to abortion.  Andrews refused to repent of her ‘crimes’ and took her stand with the Church against laws that sanction abortion.

“Whatever the civil law may decree in this matter, it must be taken as absolutely certain that a person may never obey an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law approving abortion in principle.” (Vatican: Declaration on Abortion).

In September 1986, Judge Anderson delivered Joan Andrews to a cruel and unusual punishment of 5 years imprisonment, although the sentencing guidelines for her alleged ‘crimes’ stipulated a maximum of no more than 2 ½ years.  The severity of her punishment, stated Anderson, was due to Andrew’s promise not to cooperate and to her refusal to promise that she would not break the law in the future.

What lay ahead was intermittent solitary confinement, brutal strip-searches and religious freedoms denied – a persecution that the Washington Post’s constitutional scholar Nat Hentoff has publicly denounced as self-evidently illegal.

“There are no words to express the outrage that has been done to Joan Andrews by her jailers,” writes Joseph Sobran in The Wanderer, July 14.  “Normal humanity” he continues, “would lead people to treat such a prisoner with special respect, in the realization that she is where she is not as the result of some act of violence or greed on her part, but through an act of sacrifice.”

Those who thought that legalizing abortion would produce social peace in a generally law-abiding nation, “find that in order to continue dispatching the unborn, they also have to inflict suffering on others whose humanity they don’t question and whose conscience and fortitude are beyond question,” contends Sorban.

“Miss Andrews has forced the issue,” he concludes, “She has said in effect: “This society is sanctioning inhumanity.  I won’t go along with the pretense that it’s doing otherwise.  And in order to sustain it, you will have to become even more inhumane Are you prepared to that?”

Her recent treatment in mind, it appears that society is willing, but at what cost to justice for all and to freedom of conscience?