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Pro-lifers on Trial and the Denial of Reality

For the first time ever pro-lifers were accused of employing prayers and hymns as weapons against women seeking abortions. Apparently one need not shoot an abortionist or torch a clinic to be justly accused of violence.

On March 8, 1986, nine pro-lifers blocked the doors to the Bread and Roses abortion center in downtown Milwaukee. I was among those nine and charged with “criminal trespass to a medical facility.” We stood trial a year later before Judge Patricia McMahon. This was the early days of the rescue movement, and we could still hope our motions for “defense of others” or a “defense of necessity” would be granted. But this hope quickly faded. McMahon denied these defenses, arguing in her written decision: 

the prevention of death or harm to another person is an objective, not a subjective determination. Abortion is legal, thus it is unreasonable to believe that one must commit an act of criminal trespass to protest an activity that is legal and constitutionally protected. 

Translation: The law determines what is “objective.” “Objectively” the unborn are not persons, and it is just “subjective” opinion that they are persons entitled to protection. Thus, McMahon could even declare that we were “unreasonable” for believing laws may be broken to defend the unborn. 

The lie that the unborn are not persons is the first step into the insanity of a pro-life trial. However, the insanity deepened. On April 6, 1987, the first day of our trial, McMahon made further rulings to purge the trial of what she termed “language colored by opinion.” By this she meant words like “abortion,” “abortionist,” “abortion clinics,” “abortion mill,” “killing,” “murder,” “suction machine,” “unborn child” and “baby.” She ordered lawyers and defendants to use “neutral speech” so as not to bias the jury. For example, Bread and Roses was to be called a “facility,” not an “abortion clinic,” and the “suction machine” became simply “equipment.” 

McMahon and the prosecutor wanted a sanitized trial on criminal trespass. We wanted a trial that would do justice to the unborn. They wanted us to act as though the unborn did not exist. In conscience we resisted the insanity, prompting headlines such as “Judge losing patience in abortion trial” and “Judge rebukes lawyers in trespass case.” 

Fast forward to 2023. Enter D.C. federal courtroom 28 of Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, where five pro-lifers stood trial and on August 29th, denied any effective defenses, and were convicted of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) and “conspiracy to interfere with civil rights.” Together, these charges carry a maximum eleven-year jail term; one year for FACE, ten years for conspiracy. 

The charges stem from the October 22, 2020, rescue at Cesare Santangelo’s Washington Surgi-Center, where he kills the unborn through the ninth month of pregnancy. The convicted pro-lifers are William Goodman, Lauren Handy, Heather Idoni, John Hinshaw, and pro-lifer Herb Geraghty who identifies as “non-binary.” On September 15th, three more pro-lifers: Joan Bell, Jean Marshall, and Jonathan Darnel were also convicted of the same charges, for the same rescue, before the same judge—in which the insanity of the pro-life trial reached even new levels of the absurd.  

Consider this September 12th testimony: “I am Catholic! I’ve been Catholic all my life! I showed him my rosary…I told him, ‘this is my rosary’ and I showed him the medal of my patron Saint—Our Lady of Sorrows!” This is not the testimony of devoutly Catholic defendant Joan Bell—or, frankly, any of the defendants. This is the Hispanic woman, testifying under the alias “Tina Smith,” who operates the Washington Surgi-Center—where she personally presides over the killing of the unborn. She shares a pew with Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden—two others who, despite their legal facilitation of the abortions committed by “Smith,” each also proclaims: “I am Catholic.” 

As I listened in shock to this abortion center manager’s “profession of faith”—her absolute, shameless audacity—the insanity of the pro-life trial reached its climax. Here is the ultimate disconnection from reality, the ultimate separation from truth. “Smith” claims the Catholic Faith while murdering the unborn—a practice in complete contradiction to that Faith—apparently not realizing she is excommunicated. The incongruity is staggering! 

John Machado, Jean Marshall’s attorney, asked “Smith”: “What did you hear the pro-lifers say to the clinic patients in the waiting room?” “Smith’s” already bizarre testimony became even more bizarre. She answered: “They were praying their prayers and singing.” This certainly gave the jurors a positive impression of the pro-lifers. They behaved in a peaceful manner. After all, how does one act violently when praying and singing? 

Then Smith quickly added: “But, they were doing it so loud—so that the women in the back could hear it. These prayers and hymns were a form of harassment—they were harassing our patients.” Machado asked: “So, you’re accusing the defendants of ‘harassing’ your patients with their prayers and their singing?!” Smith: 

Yes, they were using prayers and hymns like a weapon against our patients, using the prayers and singing to coerce our patients, to try and make them feel uncomfortable, to make them feel guilty. That’s why we put on the air horn to drown them out. 

Certainly, for the first time ever—pro-lifers were accused of employing mere prayers and hymns as weapons against women seeking abortions! One need not shoot an abortionist or torch a clinic to be justly accused of violence. All pro-lifers need to do is sing and pray!

Equally bizarre was the testimony of pro-lifer Caroline Davis. She was present at the rescue but was not arrested as she did not block any doors or hallways of Santangelo’s abortion center. However, the Department of Justice threatened to charged her with FACE as someone who “aided and abetted” the “blockade” and participated in the “conspiracy to interfere with civil rights.” 

To avoid prosecution in this case and in two other FACE case rescues, thus facing a maximum 33-year jail term, Davis turned state’s evidence and took the stand against fellow pro-lifers. As if he was her personal body guard, FBI special agent Michael Biscardi, who as chief investigator also testified for the prosecution, escorted Davis in and out of the courtroom. 

Twenty-four-year-old Davis, pale and exceptionally thin, claimed she had been “duped and manipulated” by rescuers in Michigan—in particular, Protestant leaders who took advantage of her pro-life zeal. Prosecutor Sanjay Patel asked her, “What is a rescue?” Davis replied: “I used to think it was putting yourself between the victim and the aggressor, to prevent the killing.” She then even went on to say: 

Rescue is an interposition, a peaceful interposition to aid those in need like what Jesus did—if you receive a beating on their behalf, you become a martyr for the babies as you act to prevent the abortions from taking place. 

She added: 

Rescue is from the Bible. If you knew what time and place someone was going to be killed, you’d show up to defend them. You could pay a high penalty, like going to jail—like Jesus on the cross—be a martyr.

This all might sound as if Davis really understood, even appreciated the meaning and purpose of the pro-life rescue; but her testimony was meant as a caricature of rescues, especially when she concluded: “You know, I was told, better to go to jail than go to hell.” 

On cross examination, Jonathan Darnel’s attorney, Christopher Davis, asked Caroline, “Why did you take the plea agreement?” Miss Davis explained: 

I don’t want to go to jail. I’ve had a change of heart. I’ve seen the light. I don’t believe that my religious beliefs supersede the law. I believe I was part of a cult—that I jumped on board to become a martyr. Nothing good comes from rescues.

And she then added: “Anyone who protests in a rescue are all cult members.” 

Now the pro-life rescue movement is a “cult” that employs prayers and hymns as weapons! 

Davis had been successfully deprogrammed by the “intervention” of the Department of Justice. And while Davis may no longer wish to become a martyr, her testimony, in which she identified each of the rescuers as part of the “conspiracy,” helped secure the martyrdom of others. Surely, it is possible to understand and perhaps even sympathize with Davis as to why this young, scared woman would make a deal to escape prosecution, possible to understand why she would supply facts when under oath. But Davis went way beyond the “facts”; characterizing the rescue movement as a “cult,” she discredited pro-life rescues and those who participate in them. 

During the rescue, an Indian woman came to Santangelo’s abortion center on the third day of her late-term abortion. She was there to “deliver” a dead baby whose umbilical-cord Santangelo severed the day before. Experiencing labor pains, the woman slowly slumped to the floor of the hallway near the abortion center’s entrance. This drama was caught on the Washington Surgi-Center’s security cameras—and video of this episode was shown in court by the prosecution. 

On the video, pro-lifers Will Goodman and “Herb” Geraghty are seen gesturing toward the abortion center door. Suddenly, pro-lifer Jean Marshall, trained as a nurse, enters the hallway. She goes over to the Indian woman. She tenderly assists her, touching her hand, her arm, and gently stroking her face. The video shows, unequivocally, that Marshall had great concern for the Indian woman and was compassionate toward her. Geraghty testified in the first trial that the pro-lifers urged the Indian woman to call 911. However, later during the rescue, the woman, with her husband, are seen in a video entering the abortion center for the completion of the abortion procedure. 

Reality, however, was once again denied when prosecutor Patel addressed the jurors in his closing argument: 

Marshall came out of the clinic, not to comfort this woman, not to assist her. She came out to accost her! When Marshall touches her hand, her arm, her face—she was pushing this woman, to keep her down to prevent her from receiving reproductive health care!

This prosecutor, so desperate to discredit Jean Marshall, honestly thought that he could get jurors to disbelieve their own eyes—as if to say: “Accept my fiction as reality!”

Confronted by mountains of incriminating evidence, defense attorneys Machado and Davis did their best to exonerate their clients, Darnel and Marshall, but their closing statements were ultimately unconvincing.

Davis argued three points—One: Darnel (who did not actually block anything) did not plan to obstruct the abortion center. Two: Darnel really meant to plan a Red Rose Rescue (which does not involve blockading anything). Three: Caroline Davis was not a credible witness.

In his attempt to discredit the testimony of Caroline Davis, Attorney Davis told the jury: 

When Davis says she “saw the light”—hey folks she didn’t “see the light”—she saw the emergency exit! Here’s a young woman facing a possible twenty-two years in prison for two other rescues in which she has participated. You need to view Davis as nothing more than a puppet on a string. Why did she agree to testify for the prosecution? Was she promised anything? Yes! Only three years probation. Bingo! The Prize!

Jean Marshall’s attorney next addressed the jury. Similar to Davis, Machado argued that there really was no plan, an important argument to convince the jury that his client was not guilty of “conspiracy to interfere with civil rights.” Indeed, there was no evidence that Marshall had attended the planning meeting the night before, as even Caroline Davis told the court: “I can’t remember if she was there.” 

Machado concluded: “Furthermore, regarding the supposed plan? Caroline Davis testified that at the gathering the night before, the pro-lifers were told to ‘just do what the Holy Spirit inspires you to do.’ Well folks, the Holy Spirit was never indicted!”

While Marshall and Darnel both had legal counsel, Joan Bell opted to act pro se—meaning Joan acted as her own attorney. Her decision was spiritually motivated. Decisions of Kollar-Kotelly kept the unborn invisible and voiceless; so Joan, in solidarity with them, would remain essentially without a voice. Joan did, however, compose this opening statement: 

I am a pacifist. Always have been. Being Catholic and knowing that human life is sacred, I’ve been deeply involved in fighting injustice against persons since my pre-teens, from the civil rights movement, Citizens against the Death Penalty, the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 1970s, to the pro-life movement, resisting the worst mass murder of all.My means of resistance, I have always been totally non-violent along with compassion and respect shown towards those with whom I am in opposition.Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. have been my spiritual mentors. Jesus Christ is the ultimate standard: lay down your life for others.I vehemently opposed the anti-war movement leadership when those around me were verbally disrespecting the police by calling them “pigs” and calling soldiers “baby killers.” I opposed and finally departed any group that would not cease their violence or promoted violence, verbal or otherwise. That stands true to this very day. And I will tell you the most caring and non-violent group I have ever been part of is the pro-life movement. After over 50 years working with thousands of others to protect human life in this cause, this is the most compassionate, most caring, most non-violent people of which I have ever been a part, verbally and physically. Yes, I have blocked the killing of babies, but never verbally accosted an abortionist or anyone else, especially a pregnant mother. We love them.At a rescue before this one, I had an abortionist say, “I know you love me.”Please understand we have an absolute standard that cannot be violated whether you are sidewalk counseling, at a pro-life march or rally or doing a rescue inside or outside an abortion center. You may not touch anyone! If you are assaulted, you can only lie down to protect yourself. To protect someone else you cannot touch the attacker. You are only allowed to block the attack of others by putting your own body between the assailant and the victim. If the victim is on the ground, you can place your body over the other to take the blows for him or her. This is an absolute standard. Nothing else is tolerated.

There was only one thing wrong with Bell’s opening statement. The judge forbade her to deliver it. Kollar-Kotelly claimed: “It comes too close to arguing for jury nullification.”

Joan was also forbidden to deliver the following closing statement:

I did not want a lawyer representing me though the court insisted I have a lawyer as legal advisor in the courtroom.… Mr. Stephen Brennwald has been a great blessing, and I do thank the court. But I did not want to be represented because the little babies being put to death on the day I and others attempted to rescue them were never given due process of law before their falsely legal execution: no day in court, no representation.Please understand. I can love God in prison or out of prison. What matters to me is for you to know that God loves you with a passion! I hope with all my heart that if you do not already know this…you will come to know this truth most personally and deeply.

However, something odd and unexpected happened before the end of closing arguments. Kollar-Kotelly suddenly addressed Bell, who, once her closing statement had been banned, had declined to address the jury. But the judge offered Bell a last chance to say something. Bell seized the opportunity: “Well, Your Honor, maybe I could just say hello to the jury?” and Kollar-Kotelly said: “Sure, go ahead.” 

Bell got up and stood before the jurors. In a quiet voice she told them: “I have chosen to remain silent because….” Suddenly, prosecutor Rebecca Ross leapt out of her chair and shrieked, literally shrieked: “Objection!” startling those in the gallery and perhaps even the jurors! The judge said: “Sustained.” 

What just happened? No doubt Ross anticipated what was probably the remainder of Bell’s sentence: “… because I have been denied what I really want to say—that we were there to peacefully defend innocent unborn children from being violently put to death in abortion,” or perhaps something as simple as “…because the judge would not permit me to tell you what’s on my heart.” Bell took her seat, and Kollar-Kotelly, as if resigned to fate, remarked: “I give instructions—but not everyone follows them.” 

Like the first five rescuers, Bell, Marshall, and Darnel, having endured the insanity of a pro-life trial, were found guilty of all charges, and, on September 15, 2023, were immediately taken into custody. Adding to the madness, on the very same day, charges were dismissed in a Michigan courtroom against abortionist Theodore Roummel—who drove his car over pro-lifer Mark Zimmerman, breaking his leg! And it was the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.

Article can be found on Crisis Magazine .

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