Advocating for the Innocent in an Abnormal World
Abandoned: The Untold Story of the Abortion Wars
By Monica Migliorino Miller
Publisher: St. Benedict Press
Pages: 408 pages
Review Author: Mary McWay Seaman
Monica Migliorino Miller’s Abandoned: The Untold Story of the Abortion Wars resists singular classification: It is equal parts memoir, documentary, and a history of her pro-life work. Her exposé hails from the front lines of the war on babies; it is packed with heart-wrenching drama that follows pro-life battles on the ground and in the courtroom. Miller is founder of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society and is associate professor of religious studies at Madonna University in Michigan. She is also one of a small group of intrepid souls who dumpster-dived to recover the destroyed bodies of abandoned, aborted babies, and arranged burials and funeral Masses for thousands of them.
In 1976, during the anything-goes cultural upheaval, Miller was a theatre student at Southern Illinois University. With poignancy she recalls the wasted social landscape and the accelerating deterioration of higher education. “Drugs, drinking, casual sex, cohabitation, open homosexuality among students and faculty alike were pervasive in the cultural milieu of the Theatre Department. Abortion was also a part of college life.” Miller began her pro-life work after entering a graduate program at Loyola University in Chicago. She and her colleagues practiced “sidewalk counseling” outside abortion facilities, offering aid to expectant mothers. Her book presents clinical details of abortion procedures, profiles of some mothers, and descriptions of the demeaning condescension of abortionists. A sit-in at Concord Medical Center (a Chicago abortion milbpin 1978 upped the ante, as activists physically blocked access to the facility until police and media arrived. Miller was elated at having crossed legal, social, and cultural boundaries to set up an intervention that prevented the killings. The pro-lifers were arrested and received “a lenient six months court supervision.”
In the 1980s Miller and a friend painted over many abortion-clinic advertisements on bus-stop benches. While visiting relatives in Italy, she and her sister were shocked to see posters promoting abortion. Social and moral decline was accelerating in Europe; individual wrongdoing was increasingly seen as society’s fault. Miller realized that she was “not living in a normal world anymore.”
Multitudes of barbarians were inside American gates as well, some of whom called themselves Catholics. Miller includes a most mystifying development concerning Catholic nuns hell-bent on promoting abortion as a civil-rights issue. They viewed abortion through a feminist grievance-studies lens. The right to abortion supposedly trumped all, and babies were vilified as aggressive intruders seeking to ruin women, their wallets, and society at large. In a lengthy explanation of this outrageous notion, one nun declared that the “greatest human good is freedom of choice, and the greatest evil is the force that keeps someone from acting upon his or her choice.” The logical conclusion to this manifesto is the negation of all moral and legal criteria. Miller was shocked by the nun and others of her ilk who added “a whole new dimension to the abortion debate, born perhaps from a Nietzschean world — a world with no God of any kind and no moral standard. The prime value was human liberty and its exercise without restraint, and so, for Sister Mary abortion was a sacrament.” This chilling encounter underscores a culture in moral free fall.
Miller includes a 1984 news report revealing that twenty-five of the fetal children killed in the Bread and Roses Women’s Health Center in Milwaukee had been found in a garbage dumpster by youngsters. Police were called, and the kids told them that they were just playing with “little people.” The coroner’s office turned the babies’ bodies over to pro-lifers for burial at Holy Cross Cemetery beneath a headstone bearing the inscription “Holy Innocents — Little People.”
In 1985 Miller became executive director of the Illinois Right to Life Committee. She had a master’s degree in theology from Loyola University and was teaching religion at Madonna High School for girls in Chicago. Later she moved to Milwaukee to work on a doctorate at Marquette University and continue her pro-life work there.
In 1986 she and others launched a sit-in at the Bread and Roses facility, handcuffing themselves to equipment. Police arrived, arrests began, and a media frenzy ensued, but the “practice of abortion itself had been disrupted.” At their trial the group learned this lesson: “As far as the law is concerned, unborn children do not exist, and those who block the doors to an abortion clinic do not defend anyone.” The pro-lifers were convicted of criminal trespass and Miller received the harshest sentence: forty-five days in the Milwaukee House of Correction with sentence deferred pending appeal.
Miller began retrieving the shattered bodies of preborn children from the Michigan Avenue Medical Center’s dumpster in Chicago in 1987. Joe Scheidler, founder and executive director of Pro-Life Action League, and Dick O’Connor, Miller’s successor at the Illinois Right to Life Committee, among others, assisted. “Despite the small size of the remains, the tiny hands, feet, ribs, eyes floating free of their sockets, and sometimes even an intact face were plainly visible through the plastic windows of the specimen bags,” she says of their finds. A larger bag contained the remains of a little boy of at least six months’ gestational age. In two months Miller and associates recovered hundreds of tiny bodies and laid them out on a table in front of the abortion clinic. After the Archdiocese of Chicago’s chancery office denied their request for a cemetery plot, Miller, ever the persistent realist, promptly asked Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, archbishop of Chicago, for help. The babies of unknown kin and creed were buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Evergreen Park, Illinois, in a “nearly secret ceremony.” As for the gravestone’s inscription, the archdiocese forbade words such as “abortion, murder, slain, killed or ‘other terms of this nature.'” The parties compromised on “Holy Innocents, Preborn Children of God.” Miller reminds readers that burial of the dead is the last corporal work of mercy, “a sign that human beings are in relation to one another, tied together by more than just nominal relationships.” Moreover, “to leave a body unburied was the worst kind of ostracism: cut off from the living, the abandoned person, left unburied, was also denied a place among the dead.”
When Miller learned that three abortion clinics were shipping babies’ remains to a pet cemetery and crematory approved by the Milwaukee Health Department, she denounced the place on a Christian television program. Another transaction came to light: A pathology lab was receiving containers of aborted babies that were often left unattended on a loading dock before being shipped to waste incinerators. Miller and friends retrieved and arranged burials for thousands of them. Although frustrated by Cardinal Bernardin’s “lack of serious support in the anti-abortion struggle,” they did get him to officiate at some of the babies’ funeral Masses and burials.
In 1989 Miller organized a sit-in at Milwaukee’s Imperial Medical Services abortion clinic. Everyone was arrested, but she was singled out with the serious charges of obstructing a law officer, criminal disorderly conduct, and criminal unlawful assembly. She faced twenty-one months of incarceration and a $21,000 fine; the others merely received tickets.
Monica and Edmund Miller married in September 1989, and both were soon jailed for a clinic blockade that had taken place two years earlier. Their weeks in jail were spent among hardened criminals, most of whom were bellicose drug violators, and in the profane, roaring jail environment, tender mercies were unknown abstractions. After release, Miller was targeted by special prosecutor and pro-abortion zealot Jeffrey Kremers for special treatment in the Imperial Medical Services case. Even though she and the twenty other protestors acted similarly at the sit-in, Miller was singled out for more serious charges. Around this time she suffered a miscarriage, and the Millers’ child was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery. “This unseen child, now a neighbor to the unwanted unborn, bound us to them forever in a way not expected, in a sorrow never dreamt.” Her nine-month sentence for disorderly conduct, unlawful assembly, and obstructing an officer was stayed pending appeal.
Miller became a defendant in a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (R.I.C.O.) case, National Organization for Women v. Scheidler. The R.I.C.O. Act, passed by Congress in 1970, targeted organized crime. Miller and other defendants were accused of being part of an illegal enterprise that blocked abortion clinics and retrieved and buried legally aborted babies. The savage weeds of litigation spread across years before the charges against her were dismissed in 1996. A U.S. Supreme Court decision cleared the others in 2006.
Miller was almost six months pregnant with her daughter Bernadette when she and other pro-lifers blocked an infamous abortionist from entering the Bread and Roses Women’s Health Center. Subsequent rescues, blockades, rallies, and arrests followed in the early 1990s. The home of a well-known abortionist was picketed before police handcuffed the pro-lifers and loaded them onto a bus bound for jail. After the Millers’ son Joseph was born, she lost her appeal in the Imperial Medical Services case and was sentenced to nine months in prison from July 1993 to February 1994. Miller was granted work release for ten hours each day for child care and to teach theology classes twice a week at Marquette.
As murders of abortionists made the news, Miller asserted that “the tragedy of abortion can only ultimately be resolved through non-violence.” Others, however, “believed that the use of force against an abortionist was justified, assuming that the killer acted in the defense of life.” The situation led to the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (F.A.C.E.) Act, which became law under President Bill Clinton in 1994 and spelled out grievous punishments for pro-lifers who blocked abortion clinic entryways. In Miller’s words, “clinic blockades basically came to an end.”
Miller’s pro-life work and her dogged determination remain a light in a broken world. Her extraordinary personal courage and her splendid, straightforward prose rest on many truths: No medical misrepresentation, no religious revisionism, and no legislative decree can change the fact that human life begins at conception and that abortions kill babies. Miller’s Citizens for a Pro-Life Society and other groups continue their work within the limits of the law (although she and others were arrested in May 2009 while protesting Barack Obama’s commencement address at the University of Notre Dame). Monica Migliorino Miller’s work offers hope that the baby-killing will eventually end, and, as with other holocausts, that we will one day look back and wonder how it all could ever have been lawful.
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