Even though the pro-life movement is very rich and diverse, there is relatively little variety in the type of pro-life books published. Numerous personal testimonies, guides to debating abortion, and theological treatises abound. However, pro-life activists have devoted few resources to chronicling our own history. Monica Miller’s new book Abandoned: The Untold Story of the Abortion Wars, which relates her involvement in the rescue movement that she helped pioneer, is a welcome addition to any pro-lifer’s library. It is a compelling story that provides a number of insights about pro-life activism during the 1980s.
Miller is a professor of theology at Madonna University and serves as president of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society in Michigan. She is best known in pro-life circles for the photos she has taken of aborted babies. In fact, she is one of only a handful of pro-lifers who have handled the remains of the unborn. Like many pro-lifers, Miller was first confronted with the abortion issue as a college student. During her undergraduate years at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill., she discovered that a classmate of hers had had multiple abortions. In her senior year, she learned about the pro-life movement at a retreat sponsored by the campus Newman Center. In particular, she was influenced by the book Abortion and Social Justice, published by Thomas Hilgers and Dennis Horan. After graduating, Miller decided to pursue graduate studies in theology at Loyola Univerity in Chicago. That is where her story begins in earnest.
There comes a time in the life of nearly every pro-life activist when he or she feels that philosophical opposition to abortion is not nearly enough. There is an urge to do something tangible to oppose the injustice. Miller describes this moment in her life well. Upon arriving in Chicago, she spent her Saturday mornings sidewalk-counseling outside the Michigan Avenue Medical Center. One morning, she attempted to counsel several women seeking abortions, all of whom decided to enter the clinic. Afterward, Miller had a vision of a woman submitting to an abortion and of her helpless unborn child’s dismemberment. Miller attempted to enter the clinic but was promptly thrown out. This vivid image led her to engage in clinic blockades and “rescues,” where groups of pro-lifers would physically obstruct the entrance to an abortion clinic in hopes of either preventing the clinic from performing abortions that day or gaining more time for sidewalk counselors to dissuade women from having them.
Abandoned provides great anecdotes about the tenacity and creativity of those who were involved in the rescue movement during the 1980s. When local ordinances made clinic blockades difficult, Miller and other right-to-life activists responded by blockading the homes of abortion providers. In one instance, pro-lifers blockaded the car of an abortion provider at a rest stop, delaying him for hours. This gave the sidewalk counselors extra time to present life-affirming alternatives to women who were seeking abortions at his clinic. When the abortion provider finally arrived, only one woman was still interested in going through with the procedure.
Miller’s activism went beyond clinic blockades, and the book contains a number of inspiring stories about her efforts to protect the unborn and expose those who aided the abortion industry. For instance, during the mid-1980s, while serving as executive director of the Illinois Right to Life Committee, she read about a court case involving a mentally handicapped pregnant woman. It appeared this woman was being forced by her parents to obtain an abortion. Through a considerable amount of legwork, Miller found the parents’ address and then persuaded them to choose life for their grandchild. She also exposed a pet crematory that was burning the remains of aborted babies alongside those of animals.
It was through Miller’s extensive pro-life activism that she discovered that Michigan Avenue Medical Center routinely disposed of the remains of the unborn in dumpsters behind the building. She began to make weekly trips to the medical center to recover the remains of aborted children. Seeing their value to the pro-life movement, she took high-quality photographs and today estimates that 50 percent of the graphic images of aborted children come from her photographs. She felt that each child deserved a proper burial, but the vast numbers posed logistical problems. The Archdiocese of Chicago agreed to arrange one burial service for all the unborn but, fearing outside scrutiny, conducted the ceremony privately without even alerting Miller until afterward. Over time, the Archdiocese of Chicago warmed to the idea, and Joseph Cardinal Bernadin presided over a public burial ceremony in 1988.
Miller diplomatically but accurately describes the frustrations that nearly every pro-life activist has felt at one time or another. For instance, media coverage of rescue efforts was sympathetic to the abortion clinics but ignored the unborn. At times, various church leaders offered relatively little support for pro-life activities. Even worse, the legal system seemed rigged against pro-lifers. When pro-life activists faced criminal charges for rescue efforts, pro-life judges almost invariably recused themselves. However, judges that supported legal abortion almost never recused themselves — even in cases where they or their spouses were heavily involved in abortion-rights activism.
Indeed, Miller’s encounters with the legal system constitute a substantial part of Abandoned. Once, when engaged in a clinic blockade in Milwaukee, she was singled out for additional punishment. Most people who engaged in clinic rescues typically received warnings or citations for trespassing. In this case, however, because of Miller’s notoriety and her past record, a prosecutor from the district attorney’s office pressed criminal charges. The book includes a memorable exchange between Miller and a judge about the sanctity of life and civil disobedience. Although the judge finds Miller articulate and her testimony thought-provoking, he considers her a “dangerous person” and sentences her to several months in jail.
Miller used her time in jail to pray and talk to other inmates about pro-life issues. At one point, some inmates asked to see her photos of aborted babies. She also encountered some former employees of a local abortion facility who provided her with useful information about misconduct that was taking place within the clinic. Miller even wrote a letter to the judge telling him that her time in jail was productive and that she hoped he was persuaded, at least in part, by her testimony.
Overall, the best service this book provides is to give the reader a window on the pro-life movement from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. During this time, clinic blockades played a prominent role in the right-to-life movement. This was for a couple of reasons. First, the Roe v. Wade decision occurred as the Vietnam War was concluding. Many thought that the same civil-disobedience tactics used by opponents of the Vietnam War would be useful in stopping abortion. Second, those who engaged in clinic blockades thought that these tactics were strategically shrewd. When arrested, pro-lifers invoked a “necessity” defense — stating that their conduct was justified as necessary to prevent public or private injury. They hoped a necessity defense would allow attorneys to present evidence documenting the humanity of the unborn — and ultimately lead to a reversal of Roe v. Wade.
Eventually, the rescue movement faded. Most judges did not find the necessity defense persuasive, and pro-lifers began to pursue other legal strategies. More important, President Clinton’s signing of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) in 1993 effectively closed this chapter in pro-life history. FACE mandated criminal penalties for anyone impeding access to an abortion clinic. Most pro-lifers decided that the legal costs and the criminal penalties were too high to continue clinic blockades. Of course, the direct-action wing of the pro-life movement has not vanished. Countless pro-lifers still pray and offer counseling outside abortion clinics. In recent years, the “40 Days for Life” campaign has been successful at recruiting pro-lifers to engage in prayer vigils outside places where abortions are performed. Clinic blockades, though, occur only rarely today.
Readers of all kinds will benefit from Miller’s book. Young pro-lifers will learn about the history of the movement. Readers who are philosophically pro-life but not active in the pro-life movement may become motivated to do more. Active pro-lifers will sympathize with Miller and receive encouragement from her testimony and her success stories. People who support legal abortion may even obtain insights as to why pro-lifers invest considerable time and effort in trying to protect the unborn. Abandoned is a unique and important book that will doubtless inspire generations of pro-life activists for years to come.
— Michael New is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan–Dearborn, a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, and an adjunct scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New.