The rescue movement is growing. Unmistakably.

In both the numbers of people in participating, and perhaps most importantly in the determination of those people to persevere, the pro-life rescue movement is markedly more robust than it was only a year ago. This growth and strength are reflected by the number of rescues, the number of those risking arrest, and the numbers actually arrested. This growth is seen also in the frequency of rescues.

In the 15 years prior to 1988, about 4,000 arrests of pro-lifers took place across the United States. These mostly involved small groups of pro-lifers entering abortion “clinics” and blocking access to the abortion rooms. Some individuals (notably Joan Andrews and other pro-lifers in Saint Louis) were arrested 100 or more times each.


Beginning in May 1988, actions at abortion clinics grew dramatically in the numbers of people involved. Under the auspices and/or the inspiration of a new organization, Operation Rescue, hundreds of people began turning out for rescues. The pro-lifers’ strategy changed to blocking access to the entire abortion clinic. The large numbers involved often shut the clinics down for the entire day of the rescue. In some instances police decided not to arrest, or the clinic decided not to press charges simply because of the huge numbers participating in the rescue.

In the last 13 months, 29,067 pro-lifers have been arrested during rescue efforts. (An additional 12,000 have risked arrest, but for various reasons were not arrested.) The arrests took place during 380 rescue attempts, according to Operation Rescue, which compiled its figures from police reports.

The most important number out of Operation Rescue concerns unborn babies: 277 have been confirmed saved in the last year as a result of these rescues. (It is believed that many times this number have actually been saved.)


The growth and strength of the rescue movement are also reflected by the acceptance of stiffer penalties, including jail terms for first-time offenders, heavy fines, civil suits and even prosecutions under a federal statute (Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act) originally designed for use against the Mafia and other organized crime rings. Moreover, even before their cases are brought to trial, pro-lifers are sometimes being punished through the harsh treatment of arresting officers. Rescuers have suffered broken arms and wrists, concussions, beatings and lewd treatment at the hands of the police during some rescue efforts.

Mike Engler, of Human Life International’s Los Angeles office terms the alleged assaults “generalized savagery.” However, it is not believed that the actions are part of an organized offensive against pro-lifers. Violence against rescuers “is definitely out of the ordinary,” according to activist Jack O’Brien of Philadelphia. “Though there has been an increase in brutality,” stated Operation Rescue spokeswoman Barbara Magera, “treatment of pro-lifers varies widely form city to city. Some penalties have gotten stiffer in an effort to discourage rescuers, but it’s not working. Rescues are actually increasing.

New recruits

Although some individuals may have been deterred by the harsh consequences of participating in rescues, more have been brought in. Rescue leader Christy Anne Collins of Northern Virginia thinks this is because the suffering of non-violent pro-lifers gives abortion “visible victims” and causes people to look more deeply into the violence of abortion. John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe of Human Life International states, “The overall effect is exactly opposite of what they [the police and courts] intend. It convinces people that time to act is now. Pro-lifers are coming forward as a sacrificial offering and that is changing people’s hearts and softening people’s hearts.”

R.C. Archbishop Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles, who has been to a rescue to support pro-lifers and to praise their courage, stated, “We may well be the contemporary martyrs who will have to give our lives for the protection of all human life.”


The maturing resolve of pro-lifers is seen by some rescue participants to be related to an increased awareness on the part of Christian churches of their responsibility to protect the unborn. According to Ms. Collins, “There has been a significant awakening among churches to take action [to protect children] as corporate bodies rather than as individuals.”

Ms. Magera also sees increasing church involvement in rescues. “A year ago,” she said, “we had virtually no support from large organized churches. While no denomination has an official stand on rescues, we are now seeing leaders within the church saying “We are called to do this…And where the shepherd is leading, the people are following.”

Numerous Protestant leaders, including Jerry Falwell and Dr. James Kennedy have endorsed rescues and large numbers of Protestant clergy have been arrested.

Catholic involvement is also growing. While noting that the Catholic Church has always decried abortion, Bishop Paul Dudley of Sioux Falls added that he and others feel that participating in rescues is an important part of pro-life effort. Bishop Dudley, who himself has been arrested during a rescue, said, “There is a serious obligation to get off our often apathetic ways and put [protecting the unborn] back on the front burner.” When asked about the theology of rescues, Bishop Dudley said “Proverbs 24:10 and 11 is the heart of it, ‘Rescue those being led away to the execution, hold back those who are being dragged to the slaughter.’”

Mr. Cavanaugh-O’Keefe reports that more than 25 US Catholic bishops have publicly supported rescues and that three bishops have been arrested during rescue efforts. Additionally, many Catholic priests, nuns and brothers have taken part. The hardening resolve on the part of rescuers is also seen in their determination to continue rescues regardless of the resolution of the Webster case. (That case involves a Missouri anti-abortion law. It is now before the US Supreme Court and it is hoped that the Court will at the least curtail and perhaps even overturn Roe v. Wade.)


Said Ms. Collins: “We are well beyond the point of Christians saying ‘I’ll pray about it [rescuing unborn children]’. We are well beyond the point of leaving this to legislators. We know we cannot delegate this to the legislators or leave it to the courts and expect there to be a change. We have to take moral responsibility.”

Ms. Magers promised that “Our plan is to keep rescuing. We expect a decision [in Webster] any day now and we have heard that Roe v. Wade will be over-turned…Either way, we are calling for people to launch major offensives [against abortion] in thei rown communities.” Operation Rescue is already planning a three-day long “National Call to Repentance and reformation” in Washington, DC this year. They paln to have massive rallies, educational sessions and, of course, rescues.

“We are planning and projecting rescues into the fall. If Roe is overturned and Pennsylvania passes pro-life laws (which we expect it quickly would) then we [Pennsylvanians] would rescue in other states,” said Mr. O’Brien.

In Mr. Cavanaugh-O’Keefe’s view, regardless of the Webster decision “the fight is a long way from over.”

A new desperation and panic are seen on the part of American pro-abortion forces, due in part to Webster, but also attributable to the growth and strength of the rescue movement. “The rescue movement is recognized as the principle threat to the abortion industry,” asserted Mr. Cavanaugh-O’Keefe. Pro-abortionists are now turning out at rescues to counter-picket, disrupt the rescue attempt and, according to pro-lifers, beat up on the rescuers. At some rescues the number of pro-abortionists is equal to that of pro-lifers.

People sing

“Actually, the presence of pro-abortionists helps to close the clinic. That is not the intent but it is the effect,” said Mr. Cavanaugh-O’Keefe. “It is also clarifying,” he added. “On one side, people scream and are ugly and on the other side, people sing and are beautiful.”

“The opposition is much better organized [than a year ago]” said Mr. Engler. “They are very loud and violent. The police mostly ignore them, although in Redwood City [CA] they arrested 10 pro-abortionists for assaulting pro-lifers.”

The rescue movement has become increasingly sophisticated in its tactics. Solidarity on the part of rescuers and the use of non-cooperation have been very effective in preventing the police from giving additional charges to rescue organizers.

A new organization Victim Souls (for the Unborn Christ Child) has sprung up. According to Mr. Cavanaugh-O’Keefe there are several hundred pro-lifers in the group which is committed to total non-compliance at rescues and with the police and court systems. They act as a “mobile strike force,” traveling to areas around the country where pro-life rescuers are being isolated and oppressed by the police and courts and offer themselves sacrificially. Mr. Cavanaugh-O’Keefe said that in some cases this has been extremely effective. “The system spat them out immediately,” he reported.

Abstract sense

Rescues have not received the media attention commensurate with their numbers and scope. However, there has been some coverage, including reports on national public radio and in national news magazines, as well as in the religious press. Most significant – and favourable – according to Mr. O’Brien, is “the use of the word ‘rescue.’ The word is being used in real and not an abstract sense by the media, judges and the police. It is coming to be seen that indeed lives are being saved.” The rescue movement is growing in its ability to offer total care to the women it dissuades from abortion. Rescuers are “increasingly concerned [about the women’s plight] and committed to providing alternatives – to supporting pregnancy centers, pro-life education, and sidewalk counseling,” said Ms. Collins.

Swelling the ranks of rescuers are members of Rachel’s Rescue – women who have had abortions. A greater number of blacks have also become involved since the first all-black rescue in February in Lansing, Michigan.

Throughout Europe

In the second half of 1989, rescuers expect to spread their efforts to other countries. Joan Andrews will be traveling to Brazil, Scotland and throughout Europe this summer. An international base for rescue information will be set up in Ireland.

Pro-lifers expect the RICO suits against rescuers to fail and further predict that the law itself will be overhauled in the wake of its apparent misuse.

Pro-lifers also expect the current “trickle” of police refusing to arrest pro-lifers to grow.

They hope for a “domino effect” of support from the nation’s Catholic bishops and a “mushrooming” of support from all churches and pro-life individuals.

And many more rescues. And many more lives saved.