By Troy Newman and Cheryl Sullenger
Operation Rescue has a rich heritage derived from its experience as largest movement to engage in peaceful civil disobedience that our nation has ever witnessed. While our tactics have changed with the times, we still treasure our history of peaceful disobedience and the legacy of sacrifice of tens of thousands of moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, and pastors and priests who risked their freedom to place their bodies between the abortionist and the baby that was scheduled to die.
Occasionally, we will still engage in the tactic to draw attention to the plight of the pre-born, such as when Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue, was arrested with a number of other pro-life leaders in 2015 while peacefully praying during a sit-in outside former Speaker John Boehner’s office in Washington, D.C. in an effort to persuade the U.S. House to vote as promised on the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.
Today, civil disobedience at abortion facilities, which essentially was halted by the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, has been revived in a modified form by Red Rose Rescues. Those who participate in these rescues do not block ingress and egress. Instead they peacefully enter the abortion facility waiting room and offer women red roses in the tradition of Canada’s heroic activist Mary Wagner. Peacefully, some strike up conversations with women who are awaiting their scheduled abortions while others sit and pray. If police ask them to leave, they usually will decline the invitation and allow themselves to be arrested rather than leave babies to die alone.
While Operation Rescue has not participated in any of the Red Rose Rescues, we support them and have the utmost respect for those who are willing to sacrificially obey their consciences in this area.
Learning from History. Today, there are a large number of people in the pro-life movement who were not involved – some were not even born yet – when the rescues were saving babies and grabbing national headlines in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Because of this, many do not understand the tactic of rescue, what it did for the pro-life movement, and how it lit the fires of revival in the hearts of those who participated. They cannot comprehend how 75,000 peaceful Christians willingly going to jail to save a life challenged the conscience of America on the matter of abortion.
It is important to note that not one of those arrests at the abortion clinic doors was related to violence. Operation Rescue was the largest civil disobedience movement in U.S. history. History shows that in direct response to the rescues, sidewalk counseling ministries and pregnancy help centers exploded in number across the nation. In addition, the Rescue Movement motivated pro-life Christians to seek public office in record numbers and engage in other spheres of influence where their advocacy on behalf of the pre-born would have lasting impact.
As custodians of the legacy of Operation Rescue, we are obligated to offer a defense against a recent attack launched against the use of peaceful civil disobedience and the Red Rose Rescues by a group known as Sidewalk Advocates for Life (SAFL). The attack came in the form of a video posted publicly on YouTube.com. Because this attack was public, it merits a public response.
Fear is the basis for the video. It is unfortunate that those involved in producing the SAFL never experienced those heady years of rescue. They express a great deal of fear of something they simply cannot understand. They fear losing access to sidewalks near abortion facilities should the nominal acts of civil disobedience continue – something that never happened during the Rescue years. They express an unfounded fear of having their sidewalk counseling ministry destroyed, fear of violence, fear of a negative public reaction to the rescues, and more. The video’s message is characterized by fear.
However, 2 Timothy 1:7 states, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” Fear is never an appropriate Christian response to uncertainty. Instead, the Bible teaches us to “fear not.”
The video neglects to mention the history of support for civil disobedience from countless spiritual leaders. Dr. D. James Kennedy, Dr. Dobson, Dr. Falwell, Dr. Gary North, Dr. Grant, multiple bishops — even Pope John Paul II — and so many more theologians publicly cast their support behind peaceful, non-violent intervention on behalf of the pre-born babies. Scripture clearly allows for civil disobedience to rescue innocent life. The Egyptian midwives birthed the babies of the Hebrews and refused to kill them as mandated by law. The New Testament addresses civil disobedience in Acts 5:29, where Peter asserts that we ought to obey God rather than man. During WWII, some heroes, such as Oscar Schindler and Raul Wallenberg, defied the law of the Nazis and saved many lives from the concentration camps. As Christians, there is ample Biblical and historical support for engaging in peaceful civil disobedience to save innocent lives.
Fear of FACE and buffer zones. The SAFL video misapplies the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act as an argument against the Red Rose Rescues even though no access is blocked during these events. This modified form of rescue does not violate the FACE law as written. It is sad to see former abortion clinic employees in the video still repeating Planned Parenthood’s FACE rhetoric against pro-life activists who are not even violating FACE, and even sadder to see SAFL fearfully adopting that rhetoric as their own. As for buffer zones around abortion facilities, none have been enacted due to acts of civil disobedience. Many of the buffers that have been put into place — primarily to hinder legal sidewalk ministries protected by the First Amendment — have not withstood Constitutional muster.
The makers of the video have also opposed other successful life-saving tactics. Sidewalk Advocates for Life has chosen to attack and oppose other life-saving tactics, such as the use of Abortion Victim Photography, picketing or protests, and the use of bullhorns at abortion facilities.
It seems that SAFL has stood in opposition to really anything that might make abortion facility workers feel uncomfortable. Sometimes discomfort is necessary to bring about repentance and/or bring offenders to justice. Why this group feels the need to exert control over pro-life activism in an attempt to eliminate proven life-saving tactics is really is puzzling – unless they have been unduly influenced to acquiesce to the comforts of abortion facility workers, a number of which appeared in their video. If that is the goal, it has the (perhaps) unintended consequence of minimizing the overall effectiveness of the pro-life voice.
We have no doubt that if Planned Parenthood submitted the Sidewalk Advocates for Life video as evidence in court against peaceful civil disobedience and protests or in support of a buffer zone law, the judge would rule in Planned Parenthood’s favor. This places the SAFL directly on the side of Planned Parenthood and the rest of the Abortion Cartel!
Fear of placing themselves in peril. John 15:13 states, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” When pro-life activists place their lives and liberty on the line in order to save babies, that stands as a powerful act of love and a testimony to the culture that pre-born babies are worthy of the personal sacrifice. Many pro-life activists have bravely placed themselves in peril of lawsuits and jail time to save lives from abortion.
Sometimes social movements need a courageous few to ignite a fire in the conscience of a nation. Would these same people who criticize rescuers and others deride the Civil Rights movement because they broke the law in acts of civil disobedience, and in doing so, brought fundamental change in our nation? Our prayer is that millions would step up and boldly resist abortion and end this battle forever in the spirit of men and women like Rev. Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, the Egyptian midwives, Oscar Schindler, Raul Wallenberg, the Apostle Peter, and Mary Wagner.
We can no longer be silent while ideology of the Abortion Cartel takes root and grows within the pro-life movement. We must stand strong and resist the leaven before it leavens the whole movement, and diminishes our voice and our ability to end abortion once and for all.
“Cleanse out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump,” states I Corinthians 5:7 in part. It is our prayer that SAFL will put aside their attacks on Rescuers using the fear-based rhetoric of the Abortion Cartel, and instead walk forward with their life-saving ministry in faith, boldness, and grace toward others.
[Note: Operation Rescue did try to communicate about this with SAFL through private channels prior to writing this defense, but was rebuffed.]