PAUL BUTLER, HOST: It’s Thursday the 8th of December, 2022.
Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Paul Butler.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. First up: bringing back the pro-life rescue movement.
In the 1980s, police arrested thousands of pro-lifers who physically blocked access to abortion facilities. A 1994 law called the FACE Act largely squelched that movement by increasing the penalties for obstructing entrances.
BUTLER: But some younger pro-lifers want to bring back the pro-life rescue movement. WORLD’s life reporter Leah Savas followed one of these activists to a court hearing as her friend was sentenced for participating in a pro-life rescue.
LEAH SAVAS, REPORTER: It’s 7 a.m. on a Friday morning in November, and 23-year-old Cassidy Schooltz is driving her silver Ford Taurus through a snowstorm.
AUDIO: [Driving through storm]
Schooltz is braving the weather for an hour forty minute drive to Flint, Michigan, where her friend Lauren Handy and three other pro-life activists will get their sentences for entering an abortion facility in 2019. They went in to tell women about their alternatives to abortion and now face up to two years in jail.
In her bright pink coat, Schooltz doesn’t look like someone who spent time in jail. But she did for two days, back when she was interning for Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising or PAAU, a pro-life group that Handy helps run.
CASSIDY SCHOOLTZ: I remember how much it meant. I surprised how many pro-life advocates actually came to just sit in the court when I was going to jail.
Schooltz, her friend Lauren Handy, and four other pro-lifers served time in Virginia’s Alexandria Adult Detention Center this summer. Their crime? Entering and refusing to leave an Alexandria abortion facility in November 2021. Pro-lifers call that a “rescue.”
SCHOOLTZ: Of course, the goal of the rescue is to be peaceful. We want to go in and gently offer women other options. Our goal isn't to be intimidating or scary. So we went and we sat in the waiting room, and we, you know, pass out roses and offered the women other options than abortion. And so then I'm pretty sure very quickly, the abortion clinic staff called the police very fast.
Schooltz and Handy, who is 29, are a part of the younger generation of pro-lifers who want to bring the rescue movement back. They look to the example of people like Martin Luther King Junior who used nonviolent direct action to bring attention to racism.
Schooltz is a Christian. Some of her fellow activists are atheist or agnostic. Many—like Handy—are Catholics, but Schooltz is a Protestant and Conservative, and she said that makes her somewhat of an anomaly in her circles. For many, the goal of the rescues is to start a social movement reminiscent of the civil rights era.
SCHOOLTZ: …through rescue, and we say actually, these children are in danger. And it's dangerous enough that we're willing to do something risky to draw attention to their cause.
Not all pro-lifers support the rescue movement. Some think it makes the pro-life movement look belligerent. Others say rescues are not an effective way to save babies—in part because just a couple hours inside of an abortion facility can wind you up in jail for days or months.
Schooltz sees it as a part of being obedient to the Lord.
Schooltz now works for the pro-life organization Protect Life Michigan. She signed an agreement that prevents her from participating in rescues while at this job. But her time with PAAU still changed her life.
Schooltz arrived at the courthouse about a quarter till nine, just before Lauren Handy’s sentencing.
Handy was taking pictures with a couple of her friends in front of a Christmas tree set up in a hallway before the group walked into Judge David Newblatt’s courtroom.
Handy started doing rescues as teenager, when she first saw videos of early pro-life rescues. She used to do them alone.
Since then, she’s racked up arrests—and more pro-lifers have joined her. This summer, she spent 15 days in the Alexandria jail for the rescue she did with Schooltz and four others.
HANDY: My mentors, they just early on prepared me saying, like, Lauren, if you go down this path, then you're going to be in and out of jail the rest of your life. And so from the very beginning, I had to like reconcile that if I go down this path, that would be my future.
In March, the federal government charged her under the FACE act for a 2020 rescue in Washington, D.C. For that, she faces the possibility of 11 years in jail and a three hundred fifty thousand dollar fine. But she thinks even that would be worth it.
HANDY: If we truly believe they are human, fully human, have equal worth and dignity that I had to, I had to seriously reflect, are my actions reflective of that reality? And I believed in the context of nonviolent direct action, that rescue is the way to fully express what it means to believe that they are human.
Before the sentencing hearing in Flint, Handy said she got ready for the possibility of several months in jail. She shared important passwords with her parents and paused monthly subscriptions.
About an hour after walking into the courtroom, Handy and three other fellow pro-lifers received a sentence of 45 days for trespassing, disturbing the peace, and resisting a police officer in the 2019 rescue. They left in handcuffs.
After lunch, Schooltz went to the Genessee County Jail with three other pro-lifers. Most of them had been in jail for rescues before and were going to do some favors for their friends. They gathered around a kiosk in the jail lobby.
MONICA MILLER: We are putting money on our friends commissary so that they can make phone calls and buy Snicker bars.
TERRISA BUKOVINAC: And deodorant and soap and Chapstick.
CAROLINE SMITH: More importantly, make phone calls, and they have to buy the wristbands while they're in there.
TERRISA BUKOVINAC: For me the worst part about being in jail was not having Chapstick.
Once they finished, the foursome pulled out a couple bullhorns and signs and made some noise on the sidewalk outside.
These pro-lifers are close friends. It’s clear they enjoy being together and they like making a ruckus. But the reason why they’re there still weighs heavy on their minds. Lauren Handy’s friend and the founder of PAAU Terrisa Bukovinac said they didn’t like being there but that she sees it as necessary.
TERRISA BUKOVINAC: We are like 50 years too late. 60 million, more than 60 million babies have been murdered. And so to come to terms with that it's an enormous burden. And once you do, then generally, you end up acting like these rescuers. And you realize that it's up to you to challenge these institutions to challenge these laws, and to put the babies first to center these victims of this horrific violence and not ourselves.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Leah Savas in Flint, Michigan.
WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.
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