Extending a Legacy of Courage and Conviction
Monica Migliorino Miller is not a name I was familiar with until about six weeks ago, when I received a copy of her book, Abandoned: The Untold Story of the Abortion War. She asked me to consider it for review.
As someone struggling to drum up an audience for my own abortion-related text, I know how hard it is to gain a hearing—which is why I'm generally willing to provide one for others whenever I can. That's not to say I read everything that comes my way, but I do my best to start reading everything that comes my way. How far I get depends entirely upon the quality of the work. In the case of Abandoned, I made it through all 20 chapters, which is no small recommendation in its own right.
Monica Miller is an excellent writer. My only criticism of the book begins and ends with the cover–which struck me as eerie and dated. In light of the subject matter, perhaps that's appropriate, but there's a fine line between turning people off to abortion and turning people off to your book. For my part, I'm forever guilty of judging books by the cover, and Dinesh D'Souza's prominently featured endorsement (calling Abandoned "the best book ever written on abortion") didn't help any. It's not the sullied credibility of Mr. D'Souza I take issue with, but rather the brandishing of superlatives like best or worst ever. To paraphrase the wisdom of Kip Dynamite: Has Dinesh D'Souza even read every book on abortion?
Thankfully, once I got past the cover, the rest of the book was extremely engaging—particularly for someone like me, whose vocational foundation was laid by the men and women whose stories unfold within its pages. Abandoned may read like fiction, but it's an entirely true account—right down to the names, dates, and places. And if I'm ever tempted to lament what a life combatting abortion has cost me, Abandoned is a humbling reminder that it hasn't cost me anything like what it cost those who went before me.
Miller calls her story "an important episode in the history of the anti-abortion movement seen through a narrative microscope." I concur. It is a story of tragedy and hope. Though the ultimate vision of these courageous activists was not realized, they stood in the gap in ways that few had before and few have since. The legal system may have denied their attempts to give the the unborn "their day in court," but Miller and her colleagues held the line in remarkable ways. Their disappointments, and there were many, were mitigated by the knowledge that they did not sit idly by while babies were being killed. They crossed social and cultural barriers, even legal barriers, to intervene for the marginalized and oppressed. She writes:
One failure of the pro-life movement is that while we say and believe the preborn are human, we often fail to act as though they really are human—human beings whose very lives are destroyed with unspeakable violence… To be pro-life is to be enveloped by a desperate, agonizing moment in history… When I (first) heard about the rescue mission… I thought it would be a very good thing for me to be part of that, to see if I had the courage of my convictions, to see if I could be as defenseless as those little ones we tried to defend… That moment which crushes the life of the unborn also crushes my heart; and when that moment seizes you, it is no longer possible to live a normal life, as though the world were a normal place.
Monica Miller marks January, 1976 as the beginning of her pro-life journey. I was two months removed from the womb at the time. Her narrative continues through 1994, "the year that the anti-abortion clinic blockades basically came to an end" and the year I graduated from high school. Over that span, Miller would endure a lengthy imprisonment and, with the help of friends, reclaim the torn bodies of more than five thousand aborted babies—mostly from in and around Chicago and Milwaukee. And because she believed so strongly that these children deserved a burial—the only act of mercy they would receive on earth, she went to great lengths to make sure that happened.
But Monica Miller was also committed to publicly exposing the dark work of abortion, and that she did! Whereas I have been criticized for showing pictures of abortion, Monica, a stalwart sidewalk counselor, showed the aborted babies themselves—prior to their burial. At an event coordinated with Joe Scheidler, they conducted a press conference outside a Chicago abortion clinic, with more than 500 aborted babies present. She writes of that experience:
Most of those who looked at the crushed bodies were dumbfounded at the obvious humanity of the fetal babies and aghast at the evidence of violence written upon the torn flesh and severed limbs… The aborted babies, who were never meant to be seen, now intruded into the lives of these strangers… I knew that those who saw the fetal children would never think of abortion in the same way again.
We were disappointed with the media coverage. What we had hoped would happen did not… Despite over five hundred bodies of aborted babies laid out before them, the media chose not to show the victims themselves. The reporters took photographs of the coffins, but not what they contained. The television camera crews filmed us, but never the broken bodies that we held in our hands.
All the anti-abortion pickets in the world cannot convey the loss you feel when you look at a ten-week old fetus in the bright sunlight. You can be for abortion or against abortion. It doesn’t matter. You look and you look away and you feel lousy for a long time afterward.
Expressing the heart cry of my own book quite well, Monica continues:
These are the very least of Christ’s brethren, the poorest of the poor. Why are these aborted babies the very least? Because they’re small, helpless, utterly and completely dependent? Yes. Because in terms of what the world values, they didn’t contribute anything? Yes. But the real reason is because they received the least charity. Indeed, while they lived, they received no charity at all.
Through the course of its 400+ pages, Abandoned touches on the suicide of a fellow activist, a disturbing, abortion-clinic run-in with Jeffrey Dahmer, and a seedy animal cemetery/crematorium that was contracted to burn aborted babies alongside cats and dogs. It calls the extraordinary effort to delay a circuit-riding abortionist at a Chicago-area Oasis the most "serious, genuine and intense effort by pro-lifers to prevent an abortionist from killing the unborn" that the author had ever seen. Reading the account, you well might agree—though the tactical use of gutted cars, welded shut around protestors whose arms are chained together through barrels of cement is nothing to scoff at. Abandoned also tells of one pro-life activist who spent "twenty-two months in solitary confinement" and others who were arrested more than 100 times. When an obscure Florida pastor named Paul Hill came out in public support of killing abortionists, Monica pleaded with him by phone to retract his statement. "The greatest weapon pro-lifers’ possess to prevent abortion and to convert hearts and minds," Miller argues, "is living a life of nonviolent self-sacrifice according to the teachings of Christ’s Beatitudes." Paul Hill would go on to murder Pensacola abortionist, John Britton, and his bodyguard. Such killings "provided already eager pro-abortion politicians with a powerful excuse to quash what they perceived to be harassment of abortion doctors." "Just a few years after FACE became law," Miller explains, "the pro-life sit-in movement, in which thousands had participated, essentially dissolved."
What's the takeaway from all this? Among other things, Miller's book demonstrates that "after nearly forty years of controversy, it appears that the war over abortion will not come to a quick and easy end." As I spoke about last week, despite all our failures and all our setbacks, the decisive move has yet to be played. The crucial moment remains—"a moment in which we have before us that great struggle over life itself and the meaning of human existence." How should we carry ourselves in such a moment? This is how Miller sustained herself during her time of imprisonment, and it's a worthy model for us as well: "I tried to enter into the heart of Christ. He had every right to protest the injustices done to Him, but instead He acted as if He had no rights and gave Himself over completely to the suffering laid upon Him… I learned [to] expect rejection—and [to] not think another second about it."
May we do the same.
Michael Spielman is the founder and director of Abort73.com. His book, Love the Least (A Lot), is available as a free download. Abort73 is part of Loxafamosity Ministries, a 501c3, Christian education corporation. If you have been helped by the information available at Abort73.com, please consider making a donation.