Joan Andrews Bell was sitting in a jail cell when former president Donald Trump was interviewed on “Meet the Press.” He talked about how upon reelection he would do something that has never happened: He would negotiate peace among Democrats and Republicans on abortion. He talked about, without naming it, some magic number that could be reached that would settle things. Trump needs to meet Joan Bell.
As I write, Bell, in her 70s, is in prison because of the pro-life rescue work she does. She’ll go into abortion clinics and block access in the prayer that women with appointments might think again and turn around and accept help to be the mothers they already are. It’s a controversial approach, but it is in the noble tradition of civil disobedience in our country. People went to jail over civil rights. People have gone to jail over nuclear arms and war more broadly. And so it only makes sense that there are people who would commit themselves to spend time in jail for the cause of innocent human life. This particular federal incarceration is over a rescue at a late-term abortion clinic in Washington, D.C. The sentence could ultimately be as long as 11 years.
Joan and her husband, Chris, have dedicated their lives to helping women and saving children. Good Counsel is the maternity-home network in the New York metropolitan area Chris runs. And I’m ashamed to say it is just about the only game in town, so to speak. (Other than the Sisters of Life.)
Some of us New York-born chauvinists would call it the capital of the world. We know it is the capital of abortion in the United States — though states like California are certainly willingly in competition these days after Roe v. Wade. And yet, we are far from a leader in providing women resources so they can choose life. I was once at a meeting where someone with far more resources and political power said that all is well because he knew Chris Bell would always have a couch available for a pregnant woman. No doubt. But what about the rest of us? What about people with power and prestige and resources?
Removing Margaret Sanger’s name isn’t enough
Joan saw a connection between the Holocaust and Roe when the Supreme Court made abortion legal in all three trimesters of pregnancy out of thin air. She had been horrified learning in school about the hatred for Jewish lives. And it was such recent history. “Never again,” it was said. And yet, here we are again. It’s not directly the same. A government isn’t targeting a specific population. And yet, there are traces of that. Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was a eugenicist. If you were poor and of darker skin, she was convinced it was better that you not have children. I confess I get mad every time I’m outside the Bleecker Street Planned Parenthood in lower Manhattan. It used to be named after her, but they took her name off the building, and the city took her name off the street sign. But it was way more honest when her name was there. Their cancellation of her didn’t change anything about the reality of abortion in America.
And so Bell felt called to do something. She believes to this day that when she dies, she will have to answer for abortion. And so she does everything she can to stop it. What is she doing now, in a jail cell? Reparation. We’re a country all too often in denial about the evil that is going on in our midst. She prays that her sacrifices make up for some of that evil and contribute to lifesaving miracles. Many of the Bells’ children are adopted, with special needs. How bewildering it must be to see their tender warrior mother treated as a criminal and not a heroine.
Where our culture is, some of us work to make pro-life progress incrementally. Trump was wrong to be criticizing state laws that put in place restrictions that save some lives. They are saving lives! It’s a post-Roe start. I know the Bells to be beautifully impatient about the slowness of such approaches. But that’s because they are not about politics but eternity. Thanks be to God for such souls, calling us to more.