By Abigail A. Fuller

Department of Sociology

University of Colorado, Boulder

Conflict Resolution Consortium

Campus Box 327

University of Colorado

Boulder, Colorado 80309

(303) 492-1635

December, 1990

Working Paper #90-12

This paper was written with a small grant from the Conflict Resolution Consortium, University of Colorado. Funding for the Consortium and its Small Grants Program was provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The statements and ideas presented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the Conflict Resolution Consortium, the University of Colorado, or the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.


Funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the University of Colorado, the Conflict Resolution Consortium is a coordinated program of research, education and application on three of the University's four campuses. The program unites researchers, educators, and practitioners from many fields for the purposes of theory-building, testing, and application in the field of conflict resolution. Current focus areas include international conflict; environmental and natural resource conflict; urban, rural, and inter-jurisdictional conflicts; and the evaluation of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.


The Conflict Resolution Consortium working paper series includes a variety of papers written by our members as a part of their research. Usually these papers are in preliminary draft stage and are being prepared for eventual publication in professional journals or books. Other papers record discussions from Conflict Resolution Consortium seminars and plenary presentations.

The purpose of the working paper series is to generate a dialogue about the work presented. Readers are encouraged to respond to the papers either by contacting the author directly or by contacting the Consortium office.

Additional copies of this or other working papers can be obtained from the Conflict Resolution Consortium, Campus Box 327, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, 80309-0327. Phone (303) 492-1635.

Conflict Resolution and Conservative Ideology:

The Use of Civil Disobedience by Operation Rescue*

Abigail A. Fuller

Department of Sociology

University of Colorado at Boulder

The research for and writing of this paper were supported by a grant from Conflict Resolution Consortium of the University of Colorado.


Ours is a society increasingly characterized by the use of extra-institutional means of waging and resolving conflicts. As the state becomes increasingly unable or unwilling to intervene in public conflicts, more and more individuals join social movements as a means to protect and expand their rights and interests. As a consequence, the use of civil disobedience, one method of nonviolent action, has become more common.

Civil disobedience refers to "the deliberate and peaceful violation of particular laws, decrees, regulations, ordinances, military or police orders, and the like," either because such laws, etc. are considered unjust or because breaking them is a means of opposition to some wider government policy.1 While civil disobedience has been utilized extensively in more liberal and radical social movements (those seeking to promote social change, such as the Indian campaign for independence from Britain, the civil Rights movement in the United States, and the various antiwar movements of the twentieth century), it has rarely been used by conservative social movements (those seeking to prevent social change). An anomaly is Operation Rescue.2 In 1988, anti-abortion activists in the United States formed the organization Operation Rescue, which began a campaign in which protesters blocked the entrances to abortion clinics in an attempt to prevent abortions from being performed. In Atlanta, over the course of several days 1,664 anti-abortion protesters were arrested for blocking the entrances to abortion clinics in that city.3 In subsequent months, similar actions were held and arrests made in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Florida. Operation Rescue has held national training conferences and has a national office which aids local groups in staging civil disobedience actions.4

Some theorists of nonviolence, notably Gene Sharp, claim that nonviolent action is not the exclusive property of the Left, that it is a politically neutral tactic which can be used by individuals of any political persuasion.5 Yet typically, it has not been. This is likely due to the fact that the use of civil disobedience depends on a willingness to challenge the authority of the state. Conservative ideology is identified by support for the status quo and, since the state upholds the status quo, respect for the laws of the state. In contrast, for more radical groups the use of civil disobedience is a logical extension of the belief that since social change is desirable, and since the state functions to uphold the status quo, then disobeying the laws of the state is an appropriate tactic for promoting social change.

Given its conservative bent, Operation Rescue's use of civil disobedience raises some questions:

--Since the use of civil disobedience does not appear to fit neatly into conservative ideology, how do Operation Rescue participants explain their use of this tactic?

--How do participants' views of civil disobedience relate to their beliefs about conflict and conflict resolution, and more generally, social order and social change?

--How are participants' beliefs about conflict and conflict resolution, and social order and social change, affected by participation in Operation Rescue?


The first part of this study is descriptive. Before analyzing Operation Rescue and its participants, it is useful to provide a comprehensive picture of the organization. The second part of the study focuses on answering the above questions regarding individual participants' beliefs about civil disobedience and the effect on these beliefs of participation in Operation Rescue's civil disobedience campaign. Data was gathered from: interviews with participants in Operation Rescue in Colorado; personal observations of several Operation Rescue rallies and civil disobedience actions; local and national media coverage of the organization; and Operation Rescue literature, including the video "Operation Rescue."


As a framework for describing Operation Rescue as a social movement organization, the collective action map developed by Wehr and Downton is used.6 The map focuses on various aspects of a social movement organization: its origins in the sociohistorical environment (and, in turn, its effects on that environment); initial organizational development; the development of power potential (mobilization of resources); targets for change; and environmental control factors.

Environmental Sources of Social Strain

Operation Rescue is an organization that is part of the prolife movement in the United States.7 The origins of the prolife movement itself can be traced most directly to the Supreme Court's 1972 decision that laws making abortion illegal before the third trimester of pregnancy are unconstitutional. Arising mostly among Christians, and, among those, Fundamentalist Christians, most participants in the prolife movement base their involvement on a belief that, according to Christianity, abortion is morally wrong.

In 1985, 1986, and 1987 several bombings of abortion clinics occurred, receiving much media coverage. It is speculated that the formation of Operation Rescue as an organization committed to the use of nonviolent civil disobedience as a tactic grew partly out of a desire of some prolife people "to put a new face on the movement".8More generally, Operation Rescue, as part of the pro- life movement, which is in turn a part of the "New Right," is a manifestation of the conservative reaction to societal change in the late twentieth century. As evidenced in the rhetoric of Operation Rescue leaders, the organization's agenda is broader than simply its efforts to stop abortion: the ultimate aim is to restore the United States to what it is perceived to have once been. OR sees the rise of the incidence of abortion as part of a general decline in traditional values in the United States, which is evidenced in such social changes as the demise of the nuclear family, rising divorce rates, an increase in sexual permissiveness, and an increase in drug use and in crime.

Initial Organizational Development

The initial development of a social movement entails the occurrence of a crisis or crises, and, in response, the emergence of social movement leaders, the building of constituencies, and dissemination of information concerning crises and formation of opposition. One crisis which precipitated the rise of Operation Rescue was the perceived failure of the prolife movement to succeed in stopping abortions using legal methods. Operation Rescue is distinguished from other, previous, prolife movements by its tactic of blocking the entrances to abortion clinics in an attempt to prevent clients from entering and undergoing abortions. It is evident from the leaders' and participants' rhetoric that this civil disobedience has been a major factor in recruiting people to Operation Rescue.

For 20 years we've written letters and talked to our congressmen and stuff like that, and nothing has worked.

[We] have talked for 16 years....We're now here to save children.

Over 14 years of mostly education and political lobbying has gotten us virtually nowhere. Over 20 million children are dead.

Wisdom calls out in the streets. We've been to the halls of Congress. We've been to the stairs of the Supreme Court. We've been to the offices of our senators. We've written thousands of letters. It's time now to go to the streets of America.

Another likely precipitating crisis was the bombing of abortion clinics that occurred around the country during 1984 and 1985. Some in the prolife movement may have felt that an nonviolent alternative to bombings was necessary, either because they saw that tactic as immoral or simply because they feared that the bombings were creating a negative reputation for the movement.

Randall Terry was the first and has been the foremost leader of Operation Rescue. Terry and his wife had begun protesting outside of a local abortion clinic in Binghamton, New York. In April 1986, Terry attended the third annual convention of PLAN (Pro-Life Action Network), sponsored by Joseph Scheidler to train pro-life activists in direct action tactics to shut down abortion clinics. Scheidler had written the book Shutdown: 99 Ways to Close Abortion Clinics, which catalogs such tactics (such as putting glue in the clinic door's locks). It was at the PLAN convention that Terry first used the term "rescue" to denote the blockading of an abortion site. Later that year, Terry, Scheidler, and others met in Pensacola, Florida to lead a protest against an abortion clinic there. In March 1987 Scheidler visited Terry in Binghamton and, in a change of tactics from those previously advocated by Scheidler--which was necessary due to a lawsuit brought against Scheidler by the National Organization for Women--the two formulated a plan to physically blockade clinic doors instead of using invasive techniques. At the May 1987 PLAN convention in Atlanta, Scheidler and Terry, among others, were elected to the steering committee of the organization, which decided to begin training participants for rescues.

Civil disobedience was used to protest abortion as far back as 1975. Unlike the Operation Rescue membership, the early protesters tended to be Catholics or Quakers who identified politically with the Left and pacifism. They were adherents of the "seamless garment" doctrine, promoted by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago, which espoused a consistent "prolife" stance across the board of social issues--not just in the case of abortion, but also nuclear weapons and death penalty, for instance.

The first Operation Rescue action took place at a Cherry Hills, New Jersey abortion clinic in November 1987. It was deemed a success, with 300 protesters attending and 211 of them arrested. The next action was a week-long series of rescues in New York City in May 1988, during which over 1,600 protesters were arrested. A July 4 rescue in Philadelphia followed. The next series of rescues, which was to be both the largest and to generate the most nation wide publicity for Operation Rescue, took place in Atlanta in August of that same year, where the Democratic National Convention was in progress. After the Atlanta rescues, financial contributions to and participation in Operation Rescue increased dramatically. Operation Rescue called for a national day of rescue in October 1988 and again in April 1989; on the latter date, rescues were held in more than sixty cities nationwide.9

While Terry has remained the most visible leader of the organization, members of the clergy have also taken on leadership roles, at least symbolic ones. (Clergy are not, at least in Colorado, responsible for the actual management of the organization). Constituencies have been built both through the clergy's recruitment in the churches, and through the dissemination of information about the organization through national and local media.

There now exist approximately 100 local Operation Rescue groups in the United States10. As of July 1989, Operation Rescue's national leadership estimated that 395 rescues had been staged in the United States and Canada; 43,442 people had risked arrest; and 30,822 had been arrested.11 However, the national office of Operation Rescue was recently closed as a result of financial difficulties incurred from lawsuits against the organization.12 In Colorado, local leaders traveled to Los Angeles to work with Operation Rescue there and, having gained experience, returned to Colorado and started the Colorado chapter of the organization in February 1990.

Development of Power Potential

The development of the power potential of a social movement organization involves various tasks: developing a coherent and convincing ideology; recruiting participants; building leadership; developing the methods to be used; raising necessary funds; and building alliances with sympathetic individuals and organizations.


Every social movement has a unique ideology, or set of beliefs shared by participants, which is one factor in its success or failure. Two beliefs are common to Operation Rescue participants: 1) that--according to the church or to God--abortion is murder and so it is morally wrong, and 2) that because abortion is morally wrong, it is right to break governmental laws to protest it.

For the vast majority of participants, the belief that abortion is morally wrong has a religious basis. Many participants, particularly those who are Fundamentalist Protestants, interpret the Bible literally, and the Bible is the source of their belief that abortion is wrong. Passages from the Bible are frequently evoked as evidence of this. The "battle cry" of Operation Rescue, which appears frequently in its literature, is a biblical proverb (24:11): "Rescue those unjustly sentenced to death...."

As discussed above, Operation Rescue has a larger agenda than the abortion issue. Operation Rescue's ideology regarding social issues in general is conservative--that is, a return is called for to traditional values and behaviors. On the one hand abortion is seen as the cause of various social ills, such as sexual promiscuity and the breakdown of the nuclear family. On the other hand, abortion is one manifestation of a more general moral decline in society. According to Terry, "the very survival of America as we know it is at stake."13 the final goal is rescuing America from the path of destruction it's on....If we do not bring this nation back to moral sanity through rescues, through upheaval, through repentance, then America is not going to make it.14

Terry has also called for: the leaders leading, the people volunteering, the hosts of God fighting with us, all springing from a platform of repentance. And we could see this child holocaust ground to a halt, we could see our country restored, and we could see revival and reformation in this country such as some people perhaps couldn't even dream of having.15 Child killing will fall, child pornography and pornography will follow, euthanasia, infanticide --we'll totally reform the public education system....We will take back the culture.16

Other participants in Operation Rescue express similar views:

[W]e have not discipled America. That is why we have abortion on demand and many other social ills and God has said that we are the light of the world, we're the salt of the earth, and if we were doing our job, abortion wouldn't have been here.

Our hope is that others might be converted not only to the pro-life position, but to a belief in our life giving Savior Jesus Christ.We are standing not only for the babies, but for Christian values. If abortion and other social ills are not halted, then the United States is in danger of incurring God's wrath.

According to a member of the clergy involved in Operation Rescue:

The Scriptures teach very clearly that if innocent blood is shed and unavenged, the entire nation may perish. For example, Judah was destroyed by invading armies because they were sacrificing their children. The Bible says, "So he sent them against Judah to destroy it...because of the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and also for the innocent blood, which he shed, for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood and the Lord would not forgive (2 Kings 24:2-4).

The narrator in the film "Operation Rescue" states that: the rescue movement's primary objectives are to save children and mothers from the nightmare of abortion, and to call the church, and the nation, to repentance....

In any social movement, the use of language is an important medium for communicating and reinforcing its ideology. As in other social movements, language is used in Operation Rescue to reinforce the perceived immorality of abortion and the justness of the anti-abortion cause. An important way that Operation Rescue participants use language in this way is by substituting more graphic language for what they see as euphemisms. Some examples follow:

--Instead of the commonly-used abortion clinic, OR refers to a site where abortions are performed as a death mill (the word "mill" connoting a factory where procedures are performed rotely) or an abortuary.

--Those who are in favor of legalized abortion are called pro-aborts and are considered to be pro-death.

--The prochoice volunteers who escort patients to and from a clinic during an Operation Rescue are termed deathscorts, a play on the word escort, which is used by prochoice people.

--The medical terms fetus or embryo are not used; instead, they are called unborn children, pre-born children, or babies.

--Medical personnel who perform abortions are the abortion industry. OR believes that one reason for the high rate of abortions is the financial profit made by those who perform abortions.

--Holocaust is used to indicate the widespread incidence of abortion.

In addition to the use of graphic terms in place of perceived euphemisms, OR participants use language that promotes the validity and heroism of the anti-abortion cause and of OR's tactics. Blockades of abortion clinics are termed rescues, and those participating are rescuers. People who picket abortion clinics and attempt to persuade women entering a clinic not to have an abortion are sidewalk counselors.

In contradiction to Operation Rescue's prolife stance, much of the organization's language is militaristic. Social movements of the Left that are committed to nonviolence tend to intentionally avoid using language that evokes images of violence, including words that evoke a militaristic analogy with the movement. The Colorado chapter of Operation Rescue terms its rescues Minuteman rescues, evoking the citizens' militia during the American War of Revolution. Other literature states:

We are among the front line troops in this battle for life. Together we will win!

We have an army of people. The battle is raging....The Commander is calling most of us to the front lines.


Leadership plays a role in the formation and development of any social movement organization. The clergy have played a central role in Operation Rescue's leadership by lending legitimacy to the organization. Clergy have served as symbolic leaders of the movement who have recruited participants in their churches. Accordingly, the organization makes frequent pleas to clergy to become involved, as in the following quote from the film "Operation Rescue":

One reason the rescue movement has grown so quickly is because of the leadership and involvement of the clergy. If God's blessing is to continue, and the movement grow, the participation of ministers must continue and increase.

This plea is followed in the film by the testimony of several clergy involved in Operation Rescue.

I would just urge pastors to consider rescue before God, consider leading your people as God has called you to be a leader, to shepherd your flock; they will follow you. Consider this before the Lord. If this is right before God, you need to lead. You need to lead your people into what is right before God. We are to follow Jesus...especially, you know, those who have leadership in the church....How did Jesus get the Apostles to follow him? Because he did what the Father wanted. We are going to get the people to follow Jesus because we are doing the same thing.


Until March 1990, Operation Rescue maintained a national office in Binghamton, New York. Local OR groups have been formed in communities nationwide. While local groups have received literature and other resources from the national office and used the national organization's name, they exercise autonomy in deciding where and when to conduct "rescues" and other activities. In Colorado, there are three OR groups along the Front Range (eastern slope), plus one each in southern Colorado; the western slope; metro Denver; and Northern Colorado. The statewide organization's mailing list numbered about 1,200 in late 1989, mostly from the eastern slope.17

The office of Operation Rescue's Colorado chapter is staffed by unpaid volunteers. These include several "in- terns," who are given free room and board with families involved in Operation Rescue in exchange for working for the organization.

Methods of protest

Operation Rescue's method of protest--civil disobedience--is what distinguishes it among pro-life groups and is the cause of both its attraction to participants and contro- versy. Sharp distinguishes four types of civil disobedience: purificatory (motivated by the desire to remain true to one's beliefs); reformatory (aimed at changing particular law(s) or aspects of a state); revolutionary (aimed at the overthrow of a state); and defensive (in defense of a legit- imate state or order).18 Operation Rescue's use of civil disobedience can be categorized as both purificatory and reformatory. It serves the dual purposes of demonstrating obedience to God and preventing abortions.

In addition to rescues, Operation Rescue participants picket outside abortion sites and act as "sidewalk counselors." Often Operation Rescue participants will act as sidewalk counselors, standing outside the abortion site and attempting to talk with women to dissuade them from entering the clinic and having an abortion and also offering them literature and advice about abortion and other alternatives. The organization strives to maintain a continual presence at the sites.


Operation Rescue prides itself on the image of its participants as "average" people. This is a grassroots movement; most of the participants are volunteers. They are really average people, lots of retired people.These aren't frightening people. These are our neighbors. We're not some select group out on the fringe of society that's lobbying for special interest so people can make money, and I think the media and the police and everybody needs to recognize that we're the people that live next door to you. We're not people that do not go to work every day, do not take care of their children, do not pay their bills. We're those people and we're the people that are concerned about babies that are being destroyed in mothers' wombs and they're not even given a chance (OR film). We're from the political left and right, all theological spectrums.

However, Operation Rescue participants are "average" only in reference to the white, middle-class Christian population in the United States, not to the population as a whole, which tends to be more diverse in race, class, and religion. At a rally of about 1,000 people which I attended, for example, nearly all participants were white. There were several priests and nuns in attendance, and I saw one person wearing a yarmulke. Other observers also report that the members is largely white and Christian.19 The most salient characteristic of Operation Rescue participants is their religious affiliation. Participants in the pro-life movement in general, and Operation Rescue in particular, are overwhelmingly Christian. They tend more often to be Catholic than Protestant.

There is some speculation that there exists a core of 500 or so "rescuers" who travel about the country continuously, getting arrested at different Operation Rescue actions.20 There is evidence that some participants do travel to participate in rescues in other states. A contingent of Operation Rescue Colorado participants traveled to a veteran's rescue in Washington, D.C. in November 1989. Bishop James Mote of Denver has been arrested in Atlanta, San Francisco, and Indianapolis, as well as in Colorado. Another participant spoke of having hoped to save enough money to travel to Atlanta to participate in the summer 1988 rescues there.

The recruitment of members into Operation Rescue seems to occur not through the churches, but through word of mouth or personal friendships. Several participants said they first heard of Operation Rescue through the national media. Operation Rescue participants tend to be individuals with little or no prior experience of active participation in social movement organizations. In civil disobedience actions staged by Left organizations, one commonly finds a few participants who have been doing civil disobedience for decades. According to one organizer of Operation Rescue, most of the protesters "don't know anything about civil disobedience except that they were against it when blacks did it.21 One participant stated:

In fact, when [Martin Luther King] was doing what he was doing I was very much against it. But now I can understand.

In response to the question whether he was ever involved in other movements that used civil disobedience, such as civil rights, another participant replied:

No. I was a Korean War veteran. I was too old for that nonsense.

Of particular interest is the fact that participants tend to have been only passive supporters of the prolife movement in the past. Operation Rescue participants seem drawn largely from the ranks of the ideologically prolife but politically inactive.


Money may play a relatively large or small role in the development of a particular social movement organization's power potential. In order to achieve some measure of success, an organization must have at least one of two major resources: money or participation. Organizations which focus on recruiting a large number of individuals tend to rely less on financial resources. Such organizations rely on the sheer number of participants for their power. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the lobbying organization, whose primary tactic is to use financial donations from its constituency to influence legislators. Operation Rescue falls in the former category, relying primarily on member- ship rather than financial resources to attain its goals. Nevertheless, as the number of OR participants has grown, so has its financial resources: the organization's budget grew from $43,000 in 1987 to $300,000 in 1988.22 While OR is secretive about its finances, court documents showed that the organization received $300,000 in donations during the last half of 1988. There are fifteen staff members on the payroll. Terry himself received a salary of $30,000 in 1988.

According to some sources, Operation Rescue has also limited its financial resources to prevent the accumulation of assets that might be seized in the case of a legal judg- ment against the organization.23 The National Organization for Women successfully sued Operation Rescue under RICO laws. (The case is currently under appeal). Because of its avowed commitment to breaking the law, OR cannot run as a nonprofit organization and receive tax-deductible contributions, and so it is run as a for-profit business under Terry's control. Lawyers for NOW contend that OR moves bank accounts from state to state to keep its assets safe from seizure. Checks are cashed only to cover immediate expenses, while the remainder of funds are kept as uncashed checks which can be destroyed or returned. The office equipment is all leased or borrowed so that it cannot be seized by the court.24


Alliances with other organizations or movements can be an important factor in determining whether or not a social movement organization is successful. For Operation Rescue, the important alliances are with other prolife organizations, with churches, and with politicians.

Operation Rescue's relations with other prolife organi- zations have been mixed, largely due to its controversial methods. On the one hand, there has been some cooperation. In December 1988, Operation Rescue and the Moral Majority sponsored together a "Summit on Rescues," and Rev. Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority has publicly endorsed Opera- tion Rescue. On the other hand, prolife organizations have refused to endorse but declined to condemn Operation Rescue. It is possible that other groups benefit from the labeling of Operation Rescue as the more radical element in the prolife movement, enabling other groups, such as the Nation- al Right to Life Committee to position themselves as "the more rational anti-choice force." (Ms.). In Colorado, Operation Rescue's activities have not endorsed by pro-life organizations at local, state, or national level, and Boulder Valley Right to Life declined to be involved in a rescue which took place in Boulder.25 On the Catholic side, though Cardinal John O'Connor addressed protesters before a block- ade in New York City, the Catholic church "has by and large remained mute about Operation Rescue."26

Despite the fact participants are unlikely to have been involved in or even sympathized with the civil rights movement and other movements of the Left, there is evidence that Operation Rescue considers itself part of the legacy of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. This is apparent in the following quote from Terry:

We're not extremists. We're following the nonviolent ethic of Dr. Martin Luther King, and if we're extremists, then Dr. King was an extremist and we're hypocrites to have a national holiday after his name.

Another participants said, It's a real civil rights issue and I'm fighting for the rights of the unborn. I feel like Rosa Parks.

However, despite Operation Rescue's self-proclaimed identification with the civil rights movement, the latter does not consider the former an ally: civil rights workers issued statement "denouncing Terry and his organization."27

Environmental Control Factors

As with any social movement organization, Operation Rescue has encountered forces in the social environment which have inhibited its growth and success. These can be classified as 1) opponents and 2) environmental events.


The prochoice movement: As might be expected, Operation Rescue has encountered much opposition from the organ- ized prochoice forces. Pro-choice groups usually counter- demonstrate at rescues. Various lawsuits have been brought against Operation Rescue by pro-choice groups to prevent it from continuing to block abortion clinics. On March 4, 1989, a federal court in New York upheld racketeering charges brought against Operation Rescue by the National Organization for Women, ruling that "the defendants embarked on a willful campaign to use fear, harassment, intimidation and force against the center."28 A New York City judge imposed an injunction against blocking clinics, which has led to fines of $50,000 against the organization.29 Initially such legal rulings did not appear to impact Operation Rescue's activities. However, as of March 1990 the national headquarters was forced due to financial difficulties incurred from fines owed.

The legal system: Both the police and the rest of the legal system have generally functioned to discourage participation in Operation Rescue in several ways. By arresting participants in rescues, prosecuting them, and imposing fines or jail sentences on them, the legal system imposes costs on participants which some are not willing to incur and others are willing to incur only a limited number of times. However, much like in the case of organizations of the Left, Operation Rescue is careful to make clear that its target is not the judicial system. A speaker at a rally the night before an Operation Rescue action reminded participants:

The police are middlemen. They are morally wrong to arrest us, but our beef is not with them. And we can't ask them to quit when so many Christians do nothing.

A piece of Operation Rescue literature reads:

We appeal to the police to join us and to uphold their oath to protect lives....We also appeal to the courts to stop protecting the slaughter of unborn children."30

Apparently the reaction of individuals in the legal system to Operation Rescue has been mixed. As one participant notes:

There's a lot of police that are on our side, and they'll tell us. They'll say, you know, "Jeez, I hate to do this, but I have to arrest you because you're breaking the law." They've been very nice to us. Then there's some that just want to kick our butts.

The organization reports that sympathetic police officers have refused to arrest participants, and that two police officers are known to have resigned and two others to have signed conscience clauses to prevent from being assigned to arrest Operation Rescue participants. An Operation Rescue Colorado newsletter stated that the judge who presided over the trials of participants arrested in Boulder, Colorado in April 1989 commended the defendants, from the bench, for their behavior during the rescue: "He then said it was the best job he ever saw done in a protest. And then he led the applause."31

However, more commonly Operation Rescue claims that it is treated unfairly by the police and by the courts. One participant claimed that the policenever told me I could post bond, they never told me what I was arrested for. It was a lot of harassment. I made a complaint to it, but you know, they don't really care about that.

At one Operation Rescue rally I attended, it was announced that there has been a nationwide increase in police brutality and in assaults by "pro-aborts" during rescues. After the blockade of a Denver abortion site, protesters and police each accused the other of using violence. According to the Denver Post, the protesters began "using force to deter patients" and in response, the police used "pain compliance."32 Individuals escorting women into the abor- tion site claimed they were bit, punched, shoved, hit in the face, chest, and side, and that one suffered a dislocated thumb.33 The violence may have been caused by a misunderstanding between Operation Rescue and the police officers. According to Father Paul Fischer, police liaison for Operation Rescue, the police violated an agreement to keep "pro- death people away from pro-life people." He said he had understood that the police would not assist patients in their efforts to enter the clinic, which the police did.34 Fischer claimed that the protesters were passive the entire time; however, a police captain said, "This never took on the appearance of a peaceful demonstration. It was certainly not nonviolent. It's not peaceful when you rush a police line."35

In response to the alleged use of excessive force against Operation Rescue participants, Senator Armstrong (R- Colo.), a supporter of Operation Rescue, sponsored an amend- ment to withhold HUD funds from cities in which police departments have been charged with use of excessive force. The organization claims that there exists a "pro-death" mentality in the courts, since defendants have not been allowed to use the necessity defense in their trials: judges have ruled that evidence concerning the reason behind the rescuers' action is inadmissible in court. At an Operation Rescue rally, a speaker claimed that judges have imposed excessive fines on defendants.

The press: Participants in Operation Rescue generally feel they are misrepresented in the press, which is viewed as having a history of being controlled by "liberals." Participants state:

There's a lot of people out there who feel the way I do about the liberal agenda being rammed down our throat by the liberal media for the past twenty years.

I think the press made a war between us and the police....I think they've divided the police and OR.

An Operation Rescue - Colorado newsletter reads:

Those of us who have been involved in the pro-life battle for any length of time have been aware of the pro-death slant in the media. Either pro-lifers are ignored or the truth is not told.36

Some participants claim that after the initial wave of media attention to Operation Rescue, there has been a national media blackout.


Several events have affected Operation Rescue's attempts to close down abortion clinics. Perhaps most seriously, the national office was, as explained above, shut down due to financial difficulties, the effects of which are not yet clear. Another recent event which is likely to affect the organization is the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services. This decision, in which the court declined to overturn a state law requiring parental notification for minor women seeking abortions, effectively redirected the abortion battle to the state courts.

Targets for Change

The primary group which Operation Rescue must reach in order to stop abortions are women who are considering having abortions. A secondary target is the medical personnel who perform abortions. What has been the impact of Operation Rescue on its targets, and how have target groups or the movement itself changed as a result?

"Mothers" as Victims of the Abortion Industry

Operation Rescue is careful to portray the women who seek abortions as "victims" rather than as primarily responsible for abortion. They are victims because they are lied to or exploited by the "abortion industry."

We must act upon our love for the mothers who are being exploited and hurt by the violence of abortion, and our love for the preborn children whose lives are being snuffed out in such a horrible and violent way.37

Of course, children aren't the only victims in this holocaust. Mothers are the second victims. They have been lied to and exploited in their hour of crisis.38

In the film "Operation Rescue" and at the pre-action rallies I attended, women came forward and gave personal testimonies about their experiences with abortion. The common theme was that these women were not given the whole truth about the abortion procedure, and that they suffered mental anguish for years afterwards as a consequence.

And I was a victim of abortion as a teenager, and I did not know the devastation and the heartache and the guilt that goes along with it. I would like to warn others about that, that you don't know what you're about to get into: you're about to murder a helpless child.I want to tell you, there's a lot more going on for the women who have been through it. I went through eight years of sheer hell because of it. It's not right and I'm telling you, they never showed me, never told me one time what was inside of me, they never showed me pictures like you wonderful people are showing these women. They lied. The just totally lied. They tell you it's a simple procedure. It'll be over in fifteen minutes, you'll feel a little nauseous when it's all over. That's not all there is to it. There's a baby inside of these women. There were two inside of me and they'll never be. And I may never be able to have another child because of that. But they don't tell you that.

I've been through the abortion, you know, myself, I saw where it put my wife in the hospital and the mental problems that followed. I can share that part.I was lied to 10 years, 12 years ago, when we had an abortion My wife was 10-12 weeks pregnant. We went to Planned Parenthood and we went to our family doctor, and they said it was just a blob, it's tissue, it's fungus, it's nothing. We just scrape it out and it'll be gone. It's not a baby, it's not life. And they're still telling people that.

The "Abortion Industry"

If the women are the victims, then the perpetrator is the "abortion industry." The word industry connotes a well run, widespread business that treats women and fetuses as objects to be passed on down the assembly line. Operation Rescue claims that the Mafia is involved in abortion business, making $750 million per year on the business, which is increasing.39

Impact of Operation Rescue

It is difficult to ascertain how successful Operation Rescue has been in its goal of preventing abortions. Any woman whom the protesters prevent from entering an abortion site can simply reschedule her appointment, and the staff of a blockaded clinic commonly reroutes scheduled patients to other abortion sites. Operation Rescue claims that 24 percent of women who cancel appointments for abortions do not reschedule them.40 At a rally in Colorado, the western regional director of Operation Rescue claimed that the organization has "rescued" 174 babies that they know of.41 Another Operation Rescue spokesperson claimed that 421 women in Canada and the United States have been known to change their minds and give life to their babies because of Operation Rescue. One participant stated:

But we have the letters. Operation Rescue's main headquarters has like 500 letters on file--and that's people that we know of. But how many we don't know of...I've talked to people from adoption agencies and housing that put up these girls and stuff, and they said that the last year their business has boomed.

Nevertheless, the actual effect of Operation Rescue on the number of abortions performed is not known. Typically, after a blockade both Operation Rescue and the targeted abortion site will claim success. Operation Rescue often announces after each rescue how many "babies were saved"--that is, how many women who were scheduled to have abortions change their minds during the blockade. However, just as often the staff of an abortion site will announce that it was business as usual despite the blockade. For example, after a blockade of the Boulder Valley Women's Health Clinic in Boulder, Colorado in April 1989, Operation Rescue claimed that it had "shut down the death camps": the group's scouts said no abortions were performed. However, clinic staff claimed five or six women who were in clinic before demonstrators arrived at 7:15 a.m. had abortions, and that escorts took most of the women scheduled for later abortions to other clinics.42 After a rescue in Denver, an Operation Rescue spokesperson said, "There were no children slaughtered here today."43 The director of the abortion site that was blockaded, however, stated that the blockade had no impact on scheduled abortions: six were performed, and five others were diverted to another clinic.

There is some evidence the Operation Rescue has been able to cause financial difficulties for abortion clinics and for doctors who perform abortions in their offices or in hospitals. The Boston Globe reported that Bill Baird, a "nationally known abortionist from Boston," shut down his clinic in August 1989 due to financial hardship, blaming prolifers. (He also complained that Planned Parenthood didn't adequately support his efforts.)44 In Atlanta, the Feminist Women's Health Center sent letter to supporters stating that "1989 has been the most difficult year" for abortion services since Roe v Wade: they have had to cancel their property insurance; a staff physician resigned because of picketing at his home, and the center is unable to find a replacement for him because so many doctors won't do abor- tions anymore; and women are being solicited by prolife groups to sue the clinic.45

Changes in the Target Group and in Operation Rescue

Assessing the impact of Operation Rescue's actions on the organization itself and on target groups would entail longitudinal data, which the present study does not provide. However, opponents of Operation Rescue claim that the group is on the decline: first of all, the individuals who are recruited to participate in Operation Rescue are not new converts to the pro-life cause, but tend to have already held a prolife position movement; "Terry is recruiting only those people who already had a position opposing abortion. He is not affecting consciences on a random basis."46 Second, they claim that the group is experiencing a fall-off in participation, as most participants are arrested once and then are not willing to be arrested again.

For its own part, the pro-choice movement claims that it has experienced an upsurge in pro-choice activism as a result of the widespread publicity surrounding Operation Rescue. A majority of Americans continue to support legal abortion under some circumstances.


It has been hypothesized that civil disobedience has a radicalizing effect on participants.47 That is, performing acts of civil disobedience tends to increase individuals' awareness of and willingness to act against unjust authority. The primary reason why this should be so involves the planning and execution of acts of civil disobedience. As civil disobedience has been used by groups on the Left, it is not simply a means to the end of changing a law, but an end in itself. If the fundamental source of our social ills is the concentration of power in the hands of an elite, then working for social change means redistributing power. As Sharp says, "Most people in our society do not participate to a significant degree in the decisions and actions which shape their lives and institutions."48 For groups on the Left, the redistribution of power is not only the goal of breaking a law, but is actively practiced by insuring the equal involvement of all participants in the planning and execution of the civil disobedience action itself. The process by which an action is planned and executed is fre- quently considered as important as its instrumental goal.49 Whether or not the action succeeds in changing a law, by definition it succeeds in empowering participants.

People 'armed' both with the ability to organize and work together to achieve positive goals in aspects of the constructive program and also with the ability to apply the technique of nonviolent action will not need to seek "someone" to save them--'the government,' 'the Party,' or the most recent political 'leader.'5 As a central goal of these civil disobedience actions is to "empower" participants, such process is, ideally, an egalitarian one. The act of choosing to participate in a civil disobedience campaign may "empower" individuals: as they demonstrate to themselves that they are capable of acting on their beliefs despite the high personal costs of defying authority, they may begin to take similar action in other arenas of their lives.

OR's Civil Disobedience

In order to ascertain whether the way that civil diso- bedience is planned and executted by Operation Rescue members has the ingredients of being empowering--i.e., whether it is egalitarian--it is necessary to first investigate the use of civil disobedience by the organization. It is informative to compare the organization's strategy and tactics with those traditionally used by protesters on the Left, where are found nearly all organizations that have used civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is a strategy that entails several steps: 1) the training of participants; 2) the planning of the action; 3) the execution of the action; and 4) the arrest and post-arrest judicial procedures, involving posting bond, prosecution, and possibly fines or jail. The emphasis in this comparison will be on differences in that are likely to bear on the empowerment of participants.

Training of Participants

An important step when civil disobedience is used by Left groups is the training of participants in preparation for the action. If the action is to be planned and conduct- ed in a decentralized manner, then it is important that all participants, rather than just a few, become "experts" in nonviolence. Such training includes educating participants about the history of the use of nonviolent action, the philosophy of nonviolence, and the dynamics of nonviolent action (how it "works"), as well as participating in simula- tion of situations likely to be encountered during the use of nonviolence. Nonviolence has been used throughout history as a strategy to resist unjust authority, and educating participants to this fact imparts both a confidence in using an established method of conflict resolution and of being part of a long tradition of civil disobedience.

It is useful for participants to understand the ideolo- gy of nonviolence, such as that it is not passive but rather is an active form of resistance that differs from violent resistance in the refusal to inflict violence and the will- ingness to incur it; and that its use can be either pragmat- ic of philosophically (usually religiously) based. It is important for participants to know how civil disobedience achieves desired ends: either the opponent is persuaded to change his or her views upon witnessing the willingness of the nonviolent activist to incur, but not in return inflict, suffering; or the opponent is physically prevented from carrying out his or her actions. Participants are sometimes asked to sign a pledge that they will remain nonviolent during the action.

Operation Rescue trains its participants only minimally and not in the ways described above. In the case of the Colorado group, though participants were required to sign a pledge of nonviolence, they were not required to have participated in nonviolence training. During the two rallies that I attended on nights before rescue actions, the philosophy, use, and history of nonviolence were not discussed. Nor is nonviolence explained in any Operation Rescue literature, except in reference to the Bible allowing it when man's laws conflict with God's laws.

Planning of the Action

Planning a civil disobedience action includes make such decisions as where and when the action will take place; what protesters will do at the site; and how protesters will respond to the arresting authorities and to the legal system.

One of the major differences between civil disobedience as conducted by Operation Rescue and Left organizations is that in Operation Rescue, only a few leaders know beforehand exactly when and where the rescue will take place. For groups on the Left, the principle of decentralization de- mands that all participants have access to such details about the action. Also, one of Gandhi's principles of the use of civil disobedience, which has been adopted by the Left, is that in order to foster an attitude of openness and respect, the opponent and the arresting authorities should be notified beforehand about the details of the action. Gandhi felt it important that, consistent with the principles of nonviolence, the opponent be dealt with honesty and respect.

For the first few rescues conducted by Operation Rescue in Colorado, the police and the staff of area abortion clinics knew when a rescue was to take place, because OR gave such information to its membership and held rallies the evenings preceding the actions, but did not know where, as OR kept secret from all but its top leadership which abortion clinic it would blockade. In February 1990, for the first time not only the site of the rescue, but its date and time too, were kept secret.51

The reason given by OR for its practice is that "it's a matter of safety. If we announce the location to the pro- death people, we find violence when they have gotten there ahead of us."52 Another probable reason is the organiza- tion's sense of urgency. Unlike civil disobedience actions on the Left, which are often largely symbolic in nature, Operation Rescue participants believe that they are directly and immediately saving a life when a woman is either prevented from having or persuaded not to have an abortion. In contrast, Left organizations are apt to use civil disobedience for more symbolic purposes--breaking a law is a means of demonstrating to the opponent the numbers of activists aligned on a particular issue and their resolve. In this way, the goal is to persuade the opponent, not to prevent him/her from taking a particular action. When Operation Rescue participants blockade the entrance to an abortion clinic, they are attempting to prevent imminent harm. One OR flyer reads:

Rescuing a child and offering support to a pregnant woman are not political acts. Rescue missions are not designed to challenge the law, to bring the issue into court....At the abortion clinics, we are asked (by God or by history) whether we are prepared to act in defense of rejected children.

Nevertheless, the tradition on the Left has been that, regardless of the urgency of the cause, the proper authorities are notified in advance of a civil disobedience action. Typically, Left organization use consensus decision making to make important decisions during the planning of the action. Such planning typically occurs at a pre-action meeting of all participants. Decisions to be made may include whether and what type of group statement to issue to the press and public, where and when the action will take place, how the law(s) will actually be broken (blocking an entrance way, entering a facility, etc.), whether or not the arrestees will collectively refuse to post bond, and the like. If the group is large, some of these decisions may be made in "affinity groups" of 5-10 people, into which protesters organize themselves. Besides facilitating decision making, affinity groups offer protesters more personal contact with one another and provide a means for providing each other with emotional and logistical support before, during, and after the action. Affinity groups enjoy a considerable degree of autonomy, the only rule being that all participants remain nonviolent.

In contrast, Operation Rescue is run hierarchically, with leaders making most of the important decisions during the planning of the action. At a rally I attended the night before an Operation Rescue action, no collective decision making took place. Instead, important decisions had been made beforehand by leaders who disseminated detailed in- structions to participants. The "musts" on the Rescuer's Basic Checklist included not to eat or drink before the action; to make a donation; and to bring an ID, a 3 X 5 card with the rescuer's name and address on it, and a psalter. The instructions read:

You must follow the rules; READ THEM.You must be prepared to do what the leadership tells you to do.You must not do anything that leadership has not told you to do. No one is allowed to talk, nor touch, nor shout at police, passer-by, clinic personnel or anyone else. Violators will be asked to leave!!53

Instructions from the leadership also included behavior during the action: the kind of demeanor to adopt (repentant); not to talk to counterdemonstrators; to "scooch" to fill spots vacated when rescuers are arrested. Participants were told to "go limp" when arrested, rather than voluntarily follow the police officer's instructions to leave, as the time it takes the police to carry a protester away is "priceless because it may save another baby."54 In demonstrations of the Left, the choice of whether or not to go limp is left to each individual. This is because going limp involves additional risks, as does the refusal to cooperate with the state's authorities in any other step of the civil disobedience action. A protester who goes limp may be dragged on the ground by the police or in other ways given rough treatment. Participants were told not to talk to the press; instead, official spokespeople were appointed for the group.

Execution of the Action

At the rescue itself, leaders with megaphones directed all of the participants' actions: they were told when to climb over the police barricades, where to sit to blockade the clinic door, and when to "scooch" to fill spaces created as people were arrested and led away. Several participants took turns standing and leading the entire group in song; in contrast, in Left demonstrations singing and chanting are begun by whoever feels inspired. The only major decisions made by individuals in the Operation Rescue actions were whether or not to risk arrest (and later, possibly how to plead in court); beyond that, decisions were made by the leadership.

Post-Arrest Procedures

Civil disobedience during the arrest: As stated, Operation Rescue participants are instructed to "go limp" when arrested--that is, to make their bodies limp so that the arresting authorities are forced to carry them. The rationale is that this causes the arrest to take longer, which means the abortion site is closed longer and more abortions are prevented. Again, in the case of the Left such decision is left to the individual, who decides the extent to which she or he will cooperate or not with the arresting authorities. While going limp is more civilly disobedience, participants may decide not to do so in order to cultivate good will with the arresting authorities, or to avoid possible physical danger from being dragged on the ground or dropped.

Jail: As in the case of civil disobedience actions executed by the Left, once arrested Operation Rescue participants make their own decisions about whether to post bond, or refuse to do so and spend time in jail. If convicted and ordered to pay a fine, they must also decide whether to pay it or serve a jail sentence. While the participants interviewed said that they felt no pressure from others to risk arrest or to go to jail, the organization's newsletter and flyers frequently expound the virtues of doing both these things. It is explained that by refusing to pay a fine, judge is "pushed closer to confronting the real ques- tions: what will he do when justice and the law diverge?...[T]he point here is that the judge has made a serious mistake, and you should rub his nose in it by going to jail."55

Much like the Left, Operation Rescue participants recognize the ideological benefits for the movement of spending time in jail. Suffering the consequences of breaking the law and refusing to pay a fine sets an example that recruits people into the movement. Each of the bishops who became active in the peace movement was galvanized by an individual whom they respected who went to jail for peace.56

According to Randall Terry:

We're at a place in this movement where we need some people in jail for a day or two. The reason being again, as St. Paul said in Phillipians chapter 1, "Do


The evidence from statements made by participants and from Operation Rescue literature suggests that participation in civil disobedience does not have a substantial radicalizing effect on participants. There are two important clues as to why this might be so: first, on the ideological level, obedience to God is substituted for obedience to the state; and second, on a mundane level, the authority of Operation Rescue leaders is substituted for the authority of the state. Hence while the authority of the state is disa- vowed in the act of committing civil disobedience, responsibility and power are not claimed by individual participants themselves, but rather are transferred to God or the Church and to the organization's leaders. One hierarchy of power is substituted for another. It is not that a law is unjust that justifies its being broken: it is that it conflicts with God's law. Hence the entire acceptance of law and obedience remain intact. The question of whether one's conscience can conflict with God's law doesn't arise.

God as the Ultimate Authority

One theme that emerges in conversation with Operation Rescue participants is their belief in the absolute authority of God, and in the Bible as the word of God. While participants are, by definition, questioning the authority of the state in their willingness to break what they consider unjust laws, they do not question the authority of God. Rather than becoming "empowered" by their participation, in the sense of claiming responsibility and power for themselves, they have substituted the authority of God for the authority of the state. This is manifested in several different ways: a literal reading of the Bible; the recur- rence of the theme of obedience to God; the assertion that God's law supersedes man's law when the two conflict; and the interpretation of God as problem solver.

The Bible as God's Word

Most of the participants in Operation Rescue are Fundamentalist Christians, who believe that the Bible is the literal world of God. The dilemma of whether to commit civil disobedience or not to prevent abortions is solved by deferring to God's word on the matter. Reference is fre- quently made to the Bible as justifying civil disobedience in the case of abortion.

I'm a Christian and I believe in the Bible, and it talks about abortion being murder, and I believe it is murder....And the Bible says, Thou shalt not kill. So that's a big reason....And it also says in Proverbs, Rescue those who are being led away to slaughter. And other parts of the Bible....I believe in the Bible literally; when God says rescue those being dragged away to slaughter, I don't think he's saying, If you have time, if you have a few minutes, by the way, next Saturday, maybe; but he's saying, rescue them, period, categorically.

Many view Rescue as a radical step in their Christian walk. Is it radical or is it normal, biblical Christianity? How do we know? Do we act only on our emotions? Do we wait for a voice inside to tell us what to do? I believe the basis for our actions must be scripture.57

Passages from the Bible are quoted as precedents for breaking unjust laws. Rev. Jerry Falwell:

Every so often a pastor will call me and say, "Surely you don't agree with that." I said, "I sure do." "Oh, but we're breaking the law." I said, "Have you looked in the New Testament?" Simon Peter and the disciples and all the rest, they were told to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. They said, We ought to obey God rather than men. They preached anyway, and they went to jail for it.58

Obedience to God

For individuals on the Left, civil disobedience is frequently justified with reference to one's conscience. For Operation Rescue participants, however, civil disobedience is seen not as an act of following one's conscience, but as an act of obedience to God. The word obedience recurs frequently.

[The Bible] tells us that we are to obey the law of man unless it interferes with God's law, which is a higher law to us.Christians who do rescue missions are simply obeying God's command to rescue the innocent who are scheduled to die that day, regardless of man's godless law that permits and protects murder. As people have finally realized that unless we defend out brothers and sisters in a very definite way, we are really denying God, we're not living up to our faith, we're not doing what he calls us to do and to be. I didn't know what the community would think, but I knew this: I can only obey God.But God has a way of erupting on the scene through his people in a way that no one could predict, and they respond to his voice to repent and to obey him and to defend the innocent and to rescue those who are unjustly sentenced to death.59 I would say this is normal Christian behavior. It's not radical. It's simple obedience.

A complicating factor is that several participants I spoke with used "God" and "conscience" interchangeably. The question remains: is it possible for one's conscience to conflict with God's will, or are they considered one in the same?Each person involved in rescues has to answer the dictates of their conscience. If their conscience, if God is calling them to obey a higher law, such as saving an unborn child from being dismembered, then I would fully support anyone who is answering that higher law and would commit civil disobedience. There are precedents for that all through the Bible.

[In deciding whether to "rescue" or not,] they just leave it up to each person, the dictates of their conscience as God calls them to do it.God's Law vs. Human Law. Operation Rescue participants are likely to be "average, law-abiding citizens" who have never before intentionally broken the law. Hence, careful attention is paid to explaining in theological terms why the illegal blockading of abortion clinics is justifiable. According to the Operation Rescue literature, there are two basic reasons to "defy civil authority": to save someone's life, or to remain faithful to God.60

Participants make repeated reference to the claim that they are obeying the laws of God. We are upholding the law of God over the unjust law of man. [The Bible] tells us that we are to obey the law of man unless it interferes with God's law, which is a higher law to us, and that is, you know, murder.

In the video "Operation Rescue," a minister gives a lesson on what the Bible says about human authority and "God's law":

Many people today are confused about the matter of the obedience to the laws of our country, in these times when the law permits so many things which are so contrary to God's law. What does the Bible say on these matters of authority and obedience? Basically it says this. First of all, that all authority comes from God and that all human authority, secondly, is delegated by God. And thirdly, it teaches that no human authority can countermand the authority of God. If any man tries to do that, it is our responsibility as Christians to obey God rather than men.61

Less often, saving a person's life is mentioned as a justification for breaking the law.

If you break down the door of a burning house to save someone trapped inside, should you be charged with breaking and entering?...If you were Corrie Ten Boom, and you were hiding Jews in your home during World War II, should you be charged with harboring a fugitive?Like every other human law, it is not binding when a human life can be saved.

God as Problem-Solver

One manifestation of the belief in God as the ultimate authority is Operation Rescue participants' conception of God as responsible for everything, and their frequent appeals to Him, whether to change the weather or get someone out of jail.

The way in which God's aid is evoked is through prayer. On the Rescuer's Basic Check List distributed by Operation Rescue - Colorado, the first item reads, "Pray before you come, for the babies and the mothers." It also reads, "If there are any loud noises or sudden dangers, lie flat and pray."62 A flyer lists "prayer requests" for women consid- ering abortions, the Denver police department, the safety of rescuers in future rescues, attorneys, people who were hurt in the last rescues, and wisdom for the leadership. Another piece of literature urges participants to continue to pray for those arrested....Be in prayer for the attorneys, the judges and the potential jurors that they might listen with open hearts and minds to the testimonies of those arrested.63

The "prayer coordinator" in the organization set up a "prayer ministry," a group of participants who would set aside a specific day each month to pray and fast. The organization talks of "praying against" an abortion clinic, and speak of rescuers as joining in a rescue "by participating in prayer from their work places and homes."

When the organization is successful, God is thanked; when it is not, God is asked for help. At one demonstration, rescuers cried, "Praise the Lord" after an Operation Rescue leader with a bullhorn announced a "confirmed turn away" (a woman who changed her mind and decided not to have an abortion), and they said, "God bless you" each time police removed someone from the clinic.64 While waiting for the start of a rescue, I commented to a fellow observer that the weather was favorable, and her reply was, "Praise God." When several defendants were acquitted of charges stemming from the blockade of an abortion clinic in Colorado, they stated to the organization's membership, "We know that the battle was fought in spiritual places. Thanks for your prayers."65 In reference to the speed with which Operation Rescue Colorado was formed and staged a rescue, a newsletter reads, "We have witnessed the Holy Spirit at work as God's hand has overcome one obstacle after another."66 Another one says:

The Lord is working in our midst and has chosen to bless us with a couple of recent rescues" which have been "successful."67

Even a most mundane matter such as raising funds for the organization is framed in terms of God's authority. A flyer passed out at a rally read, "The Lord has burdened me to help the innocent," and lists ways in which people might feel so burdened--by contributing money, video cameras, child care, volunteer time. A flyer reads:

God has taken care of our needs to this point....If additional funds are available, they will be used, prayerfully by the will of God, to....We will commit to spend only what God provides through His Holy Spirit working in our lives.68

When participants are in doubt about what choices to make, God may also make their decisions for them.

God is calling, we must follow. If He calls you to be a prayer supporter, then follow. If He calls you to risk arrest and then pay a fine if arrested, then follow. If He calls you to refuse to pay a fine and risk going to jail, then follow. In our obedience, our lives will be blessed.69

Operation Rescue Leaders as the Earthly Authority

As described extensively above, once the decision is made by an individual participant as to whether to risk arrest in an Operation Rescue action, they are told to follow the leadership's instructions, until the time when they must make legal decisions such as how to plead and whether to post bond. The authority of Operation Rescue leaders to tell participants how to act, when, and where is apparently not questioned. Though there is much discussion about defying man's [sic] law in order to obey God's law, the authority of Operation Rescue's "laws" concerning the conduct of civil disobedience is not questioned. If participants do disagree with instructions regarding how to behave during rescues, then presumably rather than exercising their own authority to participate in making decisions that affect them, they should leave it. No one is allowed to talk, nor touch, nor shout at police, passer-by, clinic personnel or anyone else. Violators will be asked to leave!!70


Operation Rescue civil disobedience actions are different in a fundamental way from such actions as staged by many groups in social movements of the Left, such as the peace movement and the feminist movement. In the latter cases, the process by which an action is planned and executed is frequently considered as important as its instrumental goal.71 As a central goal of these civil disobedience actions is to empower participants, such process is, ideally, an egalitarian one. By participating in the collective planning and execution of an action, participants learn to take power and responsibility in other arenas of their lives. In contrast, Operation Rescue is run more hierarchically, with leaders making most of the important decisions during both the planning and execution of the action.

In conclusion, the way in which Operation Rescue plans and executes civil disobedience actions lacks the elements that would cause it to have an empowering effect on participants --in the sense of precipitating an increase in participants' sense of personal efficaciousness in participating in making decisions in social, political, and economic arenas. This indicates that the act of committing civil disobeidence is not in itself empowering; rather, its effect on partici- pants depends to some extent on the process used in deci- sions are made during the planning and execution of the civil disobedience action.

It should be added that participation in Operation Rescue, though not empowering of participants in the sense stated above,does seem to affect them in a different, though profound, way. Many participants expressed the renewed conviction to God, the church, the Bible, or the anti-abor- tion cause that they felt while participating in Operation Rescue.

As I heard of Operation Rescue and the opportunity to prayerfully and peacefully and physically place myself between an abortionist and a preborn victim, a child, I felt the time was now for me and so I gave myself in this way. It was an honor. I was scared, I have to admit, but it was a very fulfilling experience, very rewarding as I realized I was helping to stem the tide of the extinguishing of human life in this land.I really felt my Christian faith, my priesthood really alive, in this incredible marketplace, in defending and trying to protect the lives of these unborn babies and to save the mothers from their own victimization. I had to take a stand some time and I stand for this. I'm just trying to save babies. At the first rally, I knew that I felt the presence of the Lord and I knew that these people in Rescue were doing what God was telling them to do.

It is possible to speculate as to why civil disobedience as planned and executed by Operation Rescue is different in fundamental ways from that of groups on the Left. Among groups on the Left, there is a frequent overlap of participants and joint activities, both of which have lead to a common model of civil disobedience. Consistent with the ideology that the means should be consistent with ends, this model is based on shared decision making. In contrast, Operation Rescue draws its leadership and participants from populations that have been traditionally conservative, hence unlikely to have participated in and learned the civil disobedience model of the Left. Furthermore, consistent with a belief in the authority of God and the church, Operation Rescue's process and structure emphasize not individual empowerment, but obedience to God and to earthly authorities that represent him, including the Operation Rescue leadership and other participants.

Another important difference, which has been mentioned, is that for the Left, civil disobedience is often largely symbolic: participants do not expect to be able to prevent any immediate violence, but rather commit civil disobedience to symbolically express their commitment. Because their civil disobedience is largely symbolic, groups on the Left can disregard, to some extent, the effectiveness of their actions in stopping violence and focus instead on the process by which they plan and execute civil disobedience. For participants in Operation Rescue, however, the point of doing civil disobedience is to prevent a real and immediate harm: abortions. The symbolic aspect of civil disobedience is much less important. Hence Operation Rescue is likely less concerned with the process by which civil disobedience is conducted and more concerned with the outcome of preventing abortions.


1Gene Sharp, "Popular Empowerment," ch. 12 in Social Power and Political Freedom (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1980), p. 123.

2Since abortion is presently legal in the United States, some might categorize Operation Rescue as a movement seeking to promote social change--i.e., to change abortion laws. However, from a broader, historical perspective, in light of the organization's broader ideology of preserving the nuclear family and traditional gender roles, the movement is better characterized as seeking to prevent social change, i.e. the increasing number of abortions performed each year.

3Nadine Brozan, "Effectiveness of Atlanta Protests is Debated," New York Times, May 8, 1988, p. 28.

4Eleanor J. Bader, "Operation Rescue: The Name's A Lie," New Directions for Women, Vol. 18, No. 2 (March/April 1989), pp. 1, 14.

5Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1973).

6Jim Downton and Paul Wehr (forthcoming).

7The terms "prolife" and "prochoice" are used in this paper to denote the movements against and for legal abortion, respectively, because these terms, though both value- laden, are the ones with which participants in the respective movements self-identify.

8Bader, "Operation Rescue."

9Rusty Pierce, "City braces for Operation Rescue," Daily Camera (Boulder, Colorado), April 23, 1990, p. 1D, 4D.

10"Operation Rescue Headquarters Closed," Christianity Today 34, no. 4 (March 5, 1990), pp. 32-33.

11Operation Rescue rally, Denver, Colorado, July 6, 1989.

12"Operation Rescue Headquarters Closed," Christianity Today 34, no. 4 (March 5, 1990), pp. 32-33.

13Randall A. Terry, "Higher Laws" (pamphlet, reprinted from The Rutherford Institute Magazine, March-June 1987).

14Randall Terry, in "Operation Rescue" (video).

16Randall Terry, quoted in Francis Wilkinson, "The Gospel According to Randall Terry," Rolling Stone, Oct. 5, 1989, p. 92.

17Operation Rescue rally, Denver, Colorado, July 6, 1989.

18Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action.

19Francis Wilkinson, "The Gospel According to Randall Terry," Rolling Stone, Oct. 5, 1989, pp. 85-86, 91-92.

20Bader, "Operation Rescue."

21Ronald Smothers, "Atlanta Protests Prove Magnet for Abortion Foes," New York Times, August 13, 1988.

22Suh, Mary and Lydia Denworth, "Operation Rescue: The Gathering Storm," Ms., April 1989, pp. 92-94.


24Wilkinson, "The Gospel According to Randall Terry."

25Julian Feldman, "Showdown on abortion looms in city," Colorado Daily, April 28-10, 1990, p. 1, 18, 19.

26Suh and Denworth, "Operation Rescue: The Gathering Storm."


28Tamar Lewin, "Abortion Foes Lose Appeal on Racketeer law," New York Times International, March 4, 1989, p.1, 9.

29Suh and Denworth, "Operation Rescue: The Gathering Storm."

30"Why Not Plead 'NotGuilty'?" (flyer distributed by Operation Rescue, Denver, Colorado, 1989).

31Operation Rescue Colorado, letter to members (no date).

32Kevin Simpson, "Volunteers tell of violence at protest," Denver Post, July 9, 1989, p.12A.

33Kevin Simpson, "Face-off turns violent in Denver," DP July 9, 1989, Denver Post, July 9, 1989, p.14A.

34Simpson, "Volunteers tell of violence at protest."

35Capt. Roger Kasperson, quoted in Denver Post, July 9, 1989.

36Operation Rescue Colorado, letter to members (no date).

37Colorado Rescue News, vol. 1, no. 4 (January 1990).

38"Operation Rescue" (video).

39Operation Rescue rally, Denver, Colorado, July 6, 1989.

40Father Paul Fischer, police liaison for Operation Rescue, quoted in Mike Sandrock, "Abortion protesters will face jury trial," Colorado Daily, May 23-25, 1990, p.

41Pierce, "City Braces for Operation Rescue."

42Michele Heller, "CU Students play key role in protest," Campus Press (University of Colorado at Boulder), May 1, 1989, p. 9.

43Bill Briggs and Kevin Simpson, "Abortion foes swarm clinic," Denver Post, April 30, 1990, p.1A

44Colorado Rescue News, vol. 1, no. 3 (October 1989).


46Bader, "Operation Rescue."

47Sharp, "Popular Empowerment."

48Sharp, "Popular Empowerment," p. 309.

49Abigail A. Fuller, "The Structure and Process of Peace Movement Organizations: Effects on Participation," Working Paper, Conflict Resolution Consortium, University of Colorado.

50Sharp, "Popular Empowerment," p. 375.

51J. Sebastian Sinisi, "30 arrested in abortion clinic protest," Denver Post, February 21, 1990, p. 1B.

52Jeff White, Operation Rescue (Colorado), Western Regional Director, quoted in Rusty Pierce, "Boulder police prepared for abortion protesters," Daily Camera, April 26, 1989, p.3A.

53"Rescuer's Basic Checklist" (flyer distributed by Operation Rescue, Denver, Colorado, 1989).

54"Legal Considerations" (flyer distributed by Operation Rescue, Denver, Colorado, 1989).

55"Rescuer's Basic Checklist."

56"Legal Considerations."


58"Operation Rescue" (video).

59Fuller, "The Structure and Process of Peace Movement Organizations."

59Randall Terry, in "Operation Rescue" (video).

60Terry, "Higher Laws."

61"Operation Rescue" (video).

63Colorado Rescue News, vol. 1, no. 3 (October 1989).

64Sinisi, "30 arrested in abortion clinic protest."

65Philip Faustin, Acting Coordinator, Operation Rescue Colorado, in a letter to the membership (no date).

66Barbara Watterson, "History of Operation Rescue-Colorado," Colorado Rescue News (August 1989).


67Colorado Rescue News, vol. 1, no. 4 (January 1990).

68Kirk Dameron, Acting Coordinator, Operation Rescue Colorado, in a letter to the Operation Rescue membership, October 17, 1989.

69"Why Plead 'Not Guilty'?"

70"Rescuer's Basic Checklist."

71Fuller, "The Structure and Process of Peace Movement Organizations."

Copyright (C) December 1990 by Abigail A. Fuller

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