“The time may come when we date the beginning of the collapse of the
Soviet system from the appearance of Gulag,”
wrote a German reviewer of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s masterpiece, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An
Experiment in Literary Investigation. It may sound crazy, but the time may
also come when we date the end of legalized abortion in the United States from
the publication of Abandoned: The Untold
Story of the Abortion Wars by Monica Migliorino Miller (Saint Benedict
I recently began reading the abridged version of Gulag, and I was stuck by Solzhenitsyn’s descriptions of the
injustice and the powerlessness of the people in communist Russiain
particular, by how fittingly his descriptions of the power structures of the
Soviet system could be applied to the institutions that promote and protect
legalized abortion in this country. I thought it would make an interesting
story, so I requested a review copy of Abandoned.
I thought it would make a good point of departure to talk about Solzhenitsyn.
I’ve never read a
whole book about abortion. I’m a “good” pro-lifer who will on occasion pass out
pro-life voting guides to his friends. I have a pro-life bumper sticker on my
car, and I’ve been to the March for Life in Washington, D.C. a few times. I
thought I knew all I needed to know about abortion, and that if I learned
anything more, I’d just get more upset and frustrated. At least that is what I
thought until I read Abandoned.
I couldn’t put it
down. It wasn’t what I expected. It is not an abstract book of philosophy,
biology, ethics, politics, or theologyeven though Miller has her doctorate in
theology and teaches at Madonna University in Michigan. It’s not a rehash
of the same old pro-life rhetoric or arguments. This is the story of Miller’s
involvement in the pro-life movement in Chicago and Milwaukee from 1976 to
1993. Her activities were controversial and sometimes shocking, but she never
tells the reader what to do or think. The reader is forced to face the ugly
truth of abortion and then decide what he is going to do about it.
Miller has her
undergraduate degree in theater. She knows drama. She knows how to build scenes
and hold the reader’s attention. She kept a journal during her years of
pro-life work, so in writing this book, she was able to recreate scenes and
conversations that give you the “you are there” feel.
I keep thinking, “This book would make a great movie.” It is the
classic story of the underdog fighting the big bad bureaucracy to save the
innocent. It would be America’s version of Schindler’s
List, or Erin Brockovich with
more modest clothing. It may be a tough sell, but I’m hoping a pro-life movie
director will give it a try.
The movie would open with a group of people digging through a dumpster
behind a Chicago abortion clinic, collecting the remains of aborted children
and then bringing them back to the garage of pro-life pioneer and activist Joe
Scheidler. Saving Private Ryan won
all sorts of awards, and it had a gory beginning.
I would be a liar
if I said the beginning of the book didn’t shock me. I was also shocked when
Miller talked about taking pictures of the aborted babies. The New York Times ran a spread of her
pictures a few years ago. As this book has sunk into my mind, I’ve realized
that the natural aversion to the gruesome reality of abortion is the great ally
of those who support legalized abortion. Planned Parenthood can then hide
behind “cancer screenings” and “providing nutritional services” for poor women
because everyone else would rather avert their eyes.
How different is collecting the remains of unborn babies from
reverencing the remains of saints and martyrs? You could say the saints and the
martyrs made a choice to be holy or
to give up their lives rather than their faith. Therefore, they merit a certain
amount of special treatment. The unborn weren’t able to make that choice. They
could have chosen not to be saints or
Maybe that’s making the issue too abstract. The real problem is that
digging boxes of aborted babies out of the dumpster is disturbing. Did they
wear gloves or big wetsuits or something? Miller doesn’t tell us. But it must
have been gross for the early Christians cleaning up and collecting the remains
of the martyrs after a persecution. Performing a work of corporal mercy of that
caliber requires a special grace. If it makes me uncomfortable, maybe that is a
sign that I need to do something.
I could keep a copy
of Abandoned or some of Miller’s
pictures at my desk at work just in case the topic of abortion comes up. I
could say, “Would you like to see the results of a woman’s choice or the type
of ‘health care’ Planned Parenthood provides? The camera doesn’t lie.” I’m sure
I won’t have many takers, but nobody wants to be accused of living in a fantasy
world. If you think having an abortion is like deleting an e-mailit just
disappears like it never existedthen tell me about your pet unicorn or the
dragon that lives in your basement. Collecting aborted babies and taking their
pictures is extreme because the injustice of abortion is extreme. The question
then becomes not only, “What do you do about it?” but, “How far do you go?”
In 1995, Blessed
John Paul II wrote in Evangelium
Vitae, “Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can
claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws;
instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states
that “it is legitimate for [citizens] to defend their own rights and those of
their fellow citizens against the abuse of this authority within the limits of
the natural law and the law of the gospel” (CCC: 2242).
In some cases the
action is clear. If the government made it illegal to have more than three
children and you are pregnant with your fourth, you are obligated not to follow
a law requiring you to have an abortion.
in “rescues”blocking the entrances to abortion clinics, preventing women from
having abortion. She also participated in activities that prohibited abortion
doctors from getting to work. Are these activities a legitimate defense of the
unborn against the abuse of authority and within the limits of the natural law
and the law of the gospel?
On trial in 1991
for blocking access to abortion facilities, Miller said, “We have to treat
unborn children like human beings, and if a human being was on the street being
pulverized and torn limb from limb, I wouldn’t just write my congressman, I
wouldn’t just get a picket sign and say please stop doing that, I wouldn’t just
try to persuade an assailant from beating and tearing limb from limb this
helpless child…. I’d put my own body between the assailant and the victim.”
Miller was arrested
several times and spent several months in jail for putting her own body between
the assailant and the victim. Once she got married and started having children,
she couldn’t risk getting arrested and jailed. She had to put her family first,
which complicates the matter of how far anyone can or should go in protecting
says that the blocking of clinic entrances was a vocation for her and that
others should assess their own consciences on the matter.
What we learn from
her rescues and subsequent trials and incarceration is the stress put on the
judicial system to uphold an unjust law. Injustice is compounded with more
injustice, which has the unintentional consequence of making the story
inspirational for pro-lifers.
Imagine you are on
trial, like Miller was, for sitting in the entrance to an abortion clinic so that
women can’t get in to have abortions. Before you testify the judge tells you,
“You may not use the words ‘unborn children,’ and ‘abortion clinic.’
Furthermore you will not be permitted to use the words ‘fetus,’ ‘embryo,’
‘killing,’ or ‘murder.’” You say that you can’t comply, and the judge says that
you can’t testify.
The judge has
already “corrected” a previous defendant: “Do you understand now that you just
state what happened on March 8, 1986, what did you do, what did they do, and
avoid what I would say is language that’s colored by opinion, and I think
that…[words] like abortion mills should not be used. This is the Bread and
Roses facility when you talk about the facility, the Bread and Roses clinic.
Okay?” These quotes are from the official court transcripts, spoken by
Milwaukee Circuit Court Judge Patricia McMahon.
When Miller was on
trail in the early 1990s for resisting arrest during while blocking a clinic, a
judge said that her crimes “victimize the unborn children the defendant is
determined to save. To the extent that her strategy is perceived as fanatical
and dangerous, it undermines support for the passionately reasoned arguments
that others offer in opposition to abortion.” He added
that she victimized the community by denying others the right to obtain medical
services at those clinics and by wasting law enforcement resources that could
have been used elsewhere but were instead required to arrest her.
defendant’s crimes victimize democracy. Her crimes convey a clear message: if
you are certain you are right, you may break the law; if the Supreme Court says
you are wrong, you may ignore it.” These words are from the official court
transcript as spoken by Judge Charles Schudson. The case had been given to two
other pro-life judges, Louise Tesmer and Dominic Amato, but each of them
excused themselves citing their pro-life views. Schudson had no problem
announcing he was “solidly pro-choice” when he took the case.
Miller received the
What can you do when the judge thinks you are
committing crimes against democracy? Show him the evidence of what abortion is.
That’s how you get to collecting the remains of aborted babies from the
dumpsters behind abortion clinics. (That’s not the only reason. The babies were
given funerals and burials.) These babies don’t have a chance to write the Gulag, as Solzhenitsyn did. Their testimony against the injustice of abortion
can only be captured by photographs of their broken bodies. Miller includes a few of these pictures in the middle of the book as
well as a partial photo on the cover.
How “bad” are the
pictures? It depends on how sensitive you are to such things. I am very
squeamish. It’s an effort for me not to pass out when I’m having blood-work
done. I’ve never watched a horror movie.
I barely glanced at
the photos in the book. Last night when my two-year old daughter handed me one
of her little plastic baby dolls, I jumped. It reminded me of one of the photos
of an aborted baby
But you can skip
the pictures. The descriptions of women having abortions in the book are few
and brief, and, I thought, necessary. I read the whole book. There are some
tough spots, but not enough to make you close the book or skip pages.
Ultimately, Abandoned isn’t about
gore. It is about what it means to be pro-lifeto fight spiritual crisis
head-on. I would predict that if 1,000 people read this book, 1,000 people would
start new pro-life initiativesall non-violent.
advocate bombing an abortion clinic, for example, because you are not there for
the woman. The bomber bombs the place but he is removed from the situation…. I
do what I do because I want to enter into the suffering of Christ. I don’t want
to be a person of violence. I want to lay down my life for my neighbor, and to
do that I have to be one who becomes vulnerable in the situation involving a
rescue,” Miller said while on trial in 1991.
Miller’s book is a
reminder of the importance of individual initiative and participation. The law
of the land may say that abortion is legal, and judges may be forced to uphold
it for that reason, but Miller shows repeatedly that outside of the courtroom,
in the more important arena of people’s hearts, there is still much that is up
for grabs. Sidewalk counseling outside abortion clinics was another activity in
which Miller was involved. Although the practice is sometimes criticized for
not often succeeding in preventing women from getting abortions, Miller
explains that it’s not necessarily the number of abortions that are prevented
that is important in this case. What are important are the acts of love shown
to the babies that will be aborted. It may be the only act of love and
sacrifice those babies will ever know.
is also limited in that it is late in the process. A woman going into an
abortion clinic has already made the painful decision to abort and is looking
to get things over with quickly.
Still, there are
success stories. Miller tells the story of a mother of six whose doctor told
her that she needed to get an abortion because she was too sick to carry the
baby. Miller and a friend talked to her outside the abortion clinic and the woman
and her husbandwho were Catholicschanged their minds and kept the baby. It
turns out that the woman’s “grave illness” was morning sickness. Morning
sickness! Morning sickness, while extremely unpleasant for the mother, is a
sign of a healthy pregnancy.
While on trial in
1991, Miller said, “What’s going to overcome abortion is not bombing clinics.
It’s not marches in the street. It’s not even political action. Ultimately,
we’re dealing with a profound spiritual crisis of the human heart in this
country. The only way to overcome something like that is love, through true
sacrifice of the inner self in which you, myself, whomever, lay down their
life.” Miller has the formula, and it works.