President Reagan, Anti-Abortion Protestors' Best Friend
Ronald Regan laid a foundation for activism like no other US President. His encouragement of the Solidarity Movement, which led to the end of communist rule in Poland, was less controversial than his stand on abortion. Most acknowledge that Reagan's policies and words paved the way for activists to tear down the Berlin Wall. Most do not know that Reagan's policies and words also paved the way for activists to reintroduce abortion into American politics.
Prior to the Reagan years there were no crisis pregnancy centers, only a handful of homes for unwed mothers and very, very few organized anti-abortion groups. The fall of Tunisia's dictatorial government in January inspired Egyptians to seek their own freedom. As pro-lifers watched the Berlin Wall fall in 1989 -- they were inspired; if something as entrenched as communism could be defeated by peaceful activism -- why not abortion.
Under this last of the Reagan years, Operation Rescue was born. Operation Rescue is the group that took the idea of holding peaceful sit-ins to block access to abortion clinics. It became America's largest civil-disobedience movement with over 80,000 arrests in a time span of less than ten years. Yet Operation Rescue could have been aborted on Easter weekend of 1989, had it not been for actions of then retired President Reagan.
National interest first came in 1988 as a few hundred activists held Rescues (sit-ins) in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and in Atlanta. Then on Easter weekend of 1989, the chief of police of Los Angeles followed through on his televised threats and brutalized, then jailed hundreds of peaceful rescuers offering no resistance who were blocking the front and back doors of the abortion clinic on 6th and Westmorland.
Over the next three days, in response to the violence used on them, 760 pro-life activists refused to give their names to their jailers. An unlikely hero came to rescue these Rescuers, including myself; the word went from cell to cell on Monday morning and came with real results; Ronald Reagan had personally called and asked that the pro-lifers be released from custody.
The Operation Rescue movement grew exponentially. Within weeks of this miraculous release on Easter, as many as 50 Rescues occurred across the country on any given weekend. And though an abuse of anti-racketeering laws (RICO) were interpreted by the courts to make peaceful protests at abortion clinics into felonies, pro-life activism would not go back into the box. Money to fund every kind of pro-life mission increased a thousand-fold, and today there are three pro-life centers to help women facing a crisis pregnancy for every single center that kills unborn babies.
Reagan's role, along with the Pope, in returning communism to the back-alleys of society is a prominent part of his legacy. When abortion clinics finally close their doors it should be in-part credited to the words and policies of President Ronald Reagan.
In 1989 and the years that followed, Jeff White was the National Tactical Director for Operation Rescue. He is presently the Executive Director of Survivors, and spends his time training teens and young adults in pro-life activism.
Survivors is a Christian, pro-life activism organization dedicated to educating and activating high school and college age individuals.