ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — In its heyday, Operation Rescue was known for shutting down abortion businesses long enough to save a few lives.
But the Clinton-era Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances law threatened draconian fines and long prison terms for those who block entrances — and sharply curtailed Operation Rescue’s activities.
Now, celebrating its 20th anniversary, the group founded by Randall Terry is aiming to shake the conscience of America’s Christian community rather than lie down in front of abortion businesses.
As part of Terry’s efforts, his wife, Andrea, and their four sons are on a 10-week, 20-state road trip in a 32-foot motor home to enlist young people to help bring about an end to abortion. Terry is speaking at churches and college campuses, and to pro-life groups, and he plans a training session in Philadelphia Nov. 23-24 on the anniversary of Operation Rescue’s founding.
“All of the polling data shows that the nation is steadily sliding toward an end to child-killing,” said Terry, a Catholic convert. “Our purpose is to recruit, train and unleash the next generation of pro-life activists, with the ultimate goal of making child killing illegal.
“Father Frank Pavone and I are the youngest of the first generation of pro-life leaders,” he said. “There’s a massive leadership void staring us in the face. We need to raise up the next generation.”
His message resonated with at least one young adult on the tour.
“What they are doing is very much in line with what Bama Students for Life is about,” said Erin Little, president of the University of Alabama’s pro-life student organization. “We want to go out and do something about it.”
Terry has also assembled a young staff to help him to speak the language of the next generation. They include people like Joe Landry, a 26-year-old former youth minister, Mario St. Francis, a 30-year-old former model and actor, and Debbie Womack, who left her job and home to support Operation Rescue 20 (see randallterry.com).
“Our generation is the most pro-life generation,” said St. Francis, who is doing advance work for Terry’s speaking engagements. “But there’s no leadership for pro-life work to launch them out into the fields.”
“Many of the folks who were involved are retired and older,” added Landry, a former youth minister from the Diocese of Wichita, Kan., who is handling communications for Operation Rescue 20 in St. Augustine, Fla. “The youth are already pro-life. You don’t need a conference to talk them into it.”
Filling a Void
Organizers plan to make great use of the Internet.
“We want to use every modern resource and technology — MySpace and FaceBook groups, blogs, YouTube videos,” said Landry. “The youth and young adults spend a lot of time on the computer every day.”
In August, Womack, who serves as Terry’s office manager, left the job she held for the past five years in development at Franciscan University of Steubenville, and moved to Florida to join Operation Rescue 20.
“I had no intention of leaving Franciscan University. It came out of the blue,” said Womack. “I’ve watched a generation of young people graduate who are transforming the culture around them. This is a step up from that.”
“It’s critically important to get young people involved and invested in the pro-life cause in a way more than talking about it,” she said. “Terry is calling forth young people to become zealous again and to go into their families, schools and communities to cry out for the unborn.”
Key to the organization’s efforts is a free training session to be held the weekend following Thanksgiving at the Philadelphia Convention Center. Terry is inviting young adults to the historic city, hoping for a rebirth of the pro-life movement. Training will focus on utilizing new technologies to bring media attention to abortion, street activism and political action with talks by Terry, Father Frank Pavone and 40 Days for Life’s David Bereit.
“The 20th anniversary celebration of Operation Rescue has the potential of being a new Pentecost for the pro-life movement,” said Father Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, who added that he hopes young adults will “come … catch the fire and be emboldened in speech and action for the unborn.”
“On Saturday morning we’ll be at abortion mills in Philadelphia,” said Terry. “We’ll be teaching people how to save babies by example.”
According to Terry, about 100 people are already registered to attend the training. He hopes to have between 1,000 and 1,500, at least half of whom are college students.
Some wonder whether Terry will resurrect Operation Rescue’s former methods of non-violent street activism and arrests.
“I’m not going to ask people to lie down and get arrested in front of abortion businesses,” said Terry. “Do I think that some people will end up doing that over the next year? Perhaps, but that’s not the goal. The goal is to have young people who are not afraid of their reputation being tarnished, as they create the tension necessary to end child killing.
“The greatest crisis we face is the failure of the Christian community to live out its faith in the social and political realm as it relates to child killing in America,” he said. “The Christian community has grown calloused and complacent to the killing. We have agreed to politely, peaceably and passively coexist with child killing. I want to bring that treaty to an end.”
Terry “wants to create the social tension necessary for change,” said Landry. “There are so many youth who are pro-life but don’t know what to do. Whatever we’re doing right now isn’t working.”
Terry compared his efforts to those of the Americans during World War II.
“The English were in a stalemate with Germany,” explained Terry. “Bringing in new troops was critical to winning the war. We are going to revive street-level activism, but integrate it with political action as well as utilizing the new generation of media to persuade young people’s hearts. Our actions must be commensurate with the beliefs we profess. If we believe this to be murder, are we doing something about it?”
Tim Drake is based in
St. Joseph, Minnesota.