Pulling the bodies of aborted babies out of trash bins behind abortion clinics, taking pictures of those aborted babies, blocking the entrances to abortion clinics, getting arrested for doing so and spending time in jail for those “crimes” have made Monica Migliorino Miller a controversial figure in the pro-life movement. Abandoned: The Untold Story of the Abortion Wars (St. Benedict Press, $26.95) is her account of her involvement in the pro-life movement in Chicago and Milwaukee from 1976 to 1993.
Miller recently spoke with Our Sunday Visitor about her book and her thoughts on the future of the pro-life cause.
Our Sunday Visitor: You describe some activities in your book that many would consider extreme — taking the bodies of aborted babies from the trash bins behind abortion clinics so that they could receive proper burials, taking photographs of the aborted babies and blocking entrances to abortion clinics. Aren’t those activities pretty radical?
Monica Migliorino Miller: Once you have an awareness of the horrific injustice of abortion, it takes hold of you. You feel seized by it. You are called to make a radical response. You can’t live a normal life any more.
OSV: Why a radical response?
Miller: The big problem is that a lot of people have learned to live with abortion. We are dealing with more than 50 million victims, but where are they? They’re invisible. They’re very small. They don’t intrude on your life in anyway, and everything looks very normal and our life is not disturbed by it — unless we want it to be.
Abortion clinics look like any other doctor’s office. Some look raggedy and sordid, but there’s no barbed wire around them or tall fences or guard towers. There’s a clinic in Michigan right next to a coffee shop. You have people sipping lattes while an abortionist is killing babies, up to six months gestational age, on the other side of the wall.
Some of the people going into the coffee shop know this because people picket outside. Still they’re not bothered. They’re probably thinking it’s just a woman’s choice. It’s her right or her business.
OSV: Knowing that abortions are going on a few feet away, can people really be unbothered?
Miller: Abortion disconnects us from each other. It’s not just that abortion kills people and deprives them of their God-given right. It is also the human alienation. The real suffering is the loneliness.
A culture based on a radical disconnectedness from one human being to another is not a culture that is going to stand. That is the ultimate philosophy of Roe v. Wade. That’s what my book is trying to reveal.
OSV: Your pro-life activism has a distinctive dramatic quality to it. Was this intentional?
Miller: My theater background was enormously helpful in my pro-life work. It helped me to develop my organizational skills and prepared me to deal with the media. I was able to give extemporaneous interviews with reporters who showed up at our events.
It dawned on me that when I was planning these rescues at clinics that I was directing a play and that the front of the clinic was the stage and all of the characters had their roles to play. It wasn’t that I wrote their lines for them, but in a way I did. When the pro-abortion workers show up, you know exactly what they are going to say and how they’re going to react. When the policeman and the fireman show up, you know exactly what they are going to say and how they are going to react. They are making their entrances and exits on a stage that I devised for them in a real-life theater. It is a true life and death drama. Everyone was reacting to what I had set up for them.
OSV: What did your family say about your pro-life work?
Miller: I didn’t tell my parents or my brothers and sisters what I was up to. I don’t know why, but I haven’t. Now they can read the book and find out what Monica’s been up to for the last 20 years or so!
There was a certain level of isolation regarding my activism from my immediate family, and I don’t know what to make of that dynamic. It’s kind of too bad. But I didn’t live close to my parents or my brothers and sisters, so geography played a role. My parents didn’t know quite what to make of my work, and they were a little afraid because my work is controversial and in some ways confrontational. They probably thought, “That’s just what Monica does and we’re not going to go there.”
OSV: If you were fighting in some other cause such as civil rights or the protection of the environment, you would be a folk hero. There would be songs and movies about you.
Miller: I don’t even think about it. I haven’t thought about it until now. I know that I’m in a very unpopular cause. The Church is fighting for her life. I think we’ve lost the battle when it comes to abortion, contraception and the meaning of human sexuality. You can’t say we haven’t lost it when 50 million human beings have been wiped off the face of the earth in the last 40 years. It’s lost. What has to happen is that we have to regain that territory that has been lost.
I don’t expect to get accolades from secular society. I expect the exact opposite — mockery, vilification, and derogatory comments.
OSV: Do you really mean lost?
Miller: When I say lost, I don’t mean that it’s over and done with and that we shouldn’t fight to get it back or that there aren’t pockets of hope or signs of life that we could reverse this, but it’s like reversing the Titanic on its way to hitting the iceberg. It’s a gargantuan task ahead. You could say that we were losing the culture in the years prior to Roe v. Wade, but once that decision went into the can and opened up the floodgates of death and destruction of the innocent, the culture was lost that day.
We have been fighting that decision for 40 years. I don’t see the quick fix. You have to do whatever God wants. He could end this whole thing tomorrow if he wanted, but apparently he’s letting us suffer through this and be his voice crying in the wilderness.
We need to be very realistic about the evil that is with us right now, and it’s very grave. I don’t think as a Church or as a nation we have come to grips with it. I’m hoping my book will help.
OSV: What makes your book different from the other books on abortion that are out there?
Miller: My book is the first narrative history of the pro-life movement written by a pro-lifer.
I think those who were in the trenches need to chronicle our own history otherwise it will be left up to the so-called neutral scholars or our enemies, and they already have their books out about us, and it’s far from flattering or truthful.
We have a right to our own perspective on what legalized abortion means in the United States of America. We have something to say regarding our own experience and the 40 years of this struggle. Can you imagine the Civil War only being written by the slave owners?
OSV: You mentioned that your work was controversial. Inside the pro-life movement there are some who argue against deliberately breaking the law, such as blocking the entrance to an abortion clinic in a rescue. You spent time in jail for your rescue activities, but you don’t do rescues any more. Why is that?
Miller: Our goal was not to simply “break the law.” Our goal was to offer an act of defense for the unborn slated for abortion. If laws were broken — well, this was a side effect of the act of charity we were offering to the unborn.
I have three reasons why I stopped doing rescues: (my children) Bernadette, Joseph and Patrick. Before I got married and had children, I had no excuses. It got more complicated after I got married and the children started to come.
I see my pro-life work as a vocation. Not everyone is called to participate in rescues. People need to decide for themselves what God is asking of them.
Marriage is also a vocation. For me, my marriage vocation had to take priority over that aspect of my pro-life vocation. The two vocations are joined in my efforts to imitate Christ. I won’t be successful in either vocation if I’m not trying to imitate Christ on the cross. You have to lay down your life for the other. That is why violence in any pro-life work is always wrong.
Mark Sullivan writes from Pennsylvania.