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Letters to the Editor

From a mother;

Dear Catherine,

I went to your website and read your article on your conversion and "why you have so many children." Thank you for writing this article. It really moved me, really choked me up. I am 42, and if DH was willing I feel sure we would have more children. I do realize, though, that a part of me is still holding back from God, holding back from truly trusting that He is in charge. There are many things about the prospect of letting go of NFP and letting God be in charge of our fertility that frightens me.

So, DH's attitude is something of an excuse for me, I suppose (he reluctantly goes along with NFP, though he doesn't believe in the religious motivation for it, despite being a cradle Catholic himself). Or, perhaps it is God's way of controlling this for me--through Dh. I wonder. In any case,it was good to read your thoughts and experience about this. Thank you for sharing.

Thanks again for sharing so much of yourself at your website. You are performing a service the value of which you may never fully know.

Yours in Christ,
Carrie, mother of four, wife of 12 years


From a pro-life friend,

Thought you might be interested in this about Joan Andrews Bell. She is apparently now in psych lockup and needs letters sent to the warden.

1) The first part is an article written by Julia Duin (jcduin@aol.com) in the Washington Times which is the most complete and accurate description of the case (pre-sentencing) that I have seen. Much insight here.
2) The next part is Father Pat Reardon's (PHRII@aol.com) reportage (will be published in Touchstone magazine) of the sentencing itself.
3) The third part is an IMPORTANT appeal to send letters to the jail warden to try to obtain decent treatment for Joan and get her out of psych lockup.

For more info try: The Joan Andrews Website

Please forward to prolife friends. Hope we can get this around.
Juli Loesch Wiley


"Patron saint" of pro-life movement in battle of judicial will vs. conscience

By Julia Duin THE WASHINGTON TIMES 1/14/98

An abortion-related court case unfolding in Pittsburgh has evolved into a major legal standoff, with a former Catholic priest-turned-judge threatening to sentence a Catholic mother of two to months, maybe years, in jail. Allegheny County Judge Raymond Novak is set to sentence Joan Andrews Bell at a hearing tomorrow.

Mrs. Bell has been called the "patron saint" of the pro-life movement, a farm girl from Tennessee whose anti-war, pacifist beliefs have been channeled into years of efforts to shut down the nation's abortion clinics.

Judge Novak's office says it has been deluged with hundreds of letters about the 12-year-old criminal trespass case, stemming from a 1985 sit-in Mrs. Bell and 14 others conducted inside Women's Health Services Inc., one of the country's oldest and largest abortion clinics, in downtown Pittsburgh. The judge, who declined to be interviewed on a pending case, wants to sentence Mrs. Bell to three years of probation. This includes a promise that she will stop blockading abortion clinics.

But Mrs. Bell, 49, has steadfastly refused to cooperate on the grounds that she has a First Amendment right not to acknowledge America's "abortion culture."

"All the pro-lifers in Pennsylvania are getting behind this," said Marlene Wohleber, president of Pittsburgh-based People Concerned for the Unborn Child, who is also organizing a rally and prayer service tonight on Mrs. Bell's behalf. A crowd of pro-life protesters plans to greet Judge Novak tomorrow morning when he arrives at the courthouse.

The judge has told Mrs. Bell that if she refuses supervised probation, he will hold her in contempt of court, meaning she'll be jailed until she submits. Her attorney, Richard Traynor, said it has become a case of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.

"She will not acknowledge probation, nor accept it, and will not do anything affirmatively such as signing papers saying who she is," he said. "That is acknowledging the system that undergirds the abortion culture.

"She does not cooperate with an illegitimate system. The judge is equally adamant that she will cooperate. This is about conscience and the First Amendment. You do have a right not to speak."

Mary Ellen Tunney, executive director of Women's Health Services, also plans to attend the hearing. Demonstrators continue to protest outside her doors, she said, on the three days a week her clinic performs abortions.

"It's not only what she did here; it's what she's continued to do," Miss Tunney said. "She got jailed in Illinois this fall for doing the same thing."

All told, Mrs. Bell has been arrested more than 200 times in some 30 states for her pro-life activities.

Now living in Bayonne, N.J., Mrs. Bell's insistence on nonviolence and noncompliance a decade ago earned her two and a half years in South Florida's most formidable maximum-security prison for women.

The crime -- unplugging the cord on a suction abortion machine at a clinic in Pensacola, Fla. For that, she was sent in 1986 to the Broward Correctional Institute, a prison for ultraviolent women in the Florida Everglades. She was in solitary confinement much of that time, even as Gov. Robert Martinez received 20,000 letters asking for her release. He eventually commuted her sentence.

She was passively nonresistant during her imprisonment, refusing to cooperate with prison rules. She refused to walk anywhere in prison, meaning guards had to bring trays to her and carry her about. Sometimes she would not accept mail, extra clothes, even a floor mat to sleep on, because, she said, "I wanted no comfort so I could spiritually identify myself with those babies who had no comfort."

Such a stance has its hazards. While refusing to cooperate with a strip search in June 1988, she claims she was sexually abused by male and female prison guards.

What bothered her even more, she said, was the prison system's acceptance of abortion.

"People were regularly left sick in prison with diseases like cancer, but anyone who wanted an abortion was instantly treated," said Mrs. Bell, who had lost an eye to melanoma in 1980 and needed to see a cancer specialist twice yearly.

When she was released from the Florida jail, she was sentenced by Judge Novak on the Pittsburgh charge. Her attorney's appeal was rejected in April 1990. The Pittsburgh court sent her a notice to appear for a probation hearing, which she says she never got because she was in jail in Vermont.

Then in 1991, at age 43, she married Christopher Bell, 33, a coordinator for the Respect Life Office in the Archdiocese of New York. The pair met while he was bringing her Communion in a Delaware state prison.

She immediately became pregnant and had a daughter, Mary Louise, now 5. The girl was delivered by Dr. Bernard Nathanson, a founder of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, who became a pro-lifer in the 1970s.

In December 1993, the Bells adopted a handicapped Mexican boy, Emiliano, now 9, who has arthrograposis, also known as "frozen joint disease." After four operations and physical therapy, the boy now is able to walk.

When U.S. immigration officials told her she could not adopt Emiliano while she had an outstanding warrant, she contacted Judge Novak in September to turn herself in. The judge vacated the warrant, then set the sentencing for tomorrow.

If Mrs. Bell goes to jail, her husband, now the executive director of Good Counsel Inc., a maternity home in Hoboken, N.J., will have to quit his job to take care of their children, she said.

Still, "I cannot agree to obey unjust laws," she said. "I've never gotten a parking or even a speeding ticket. The only thing I've been arrested for is saving little babies.

"I am asking the judge not to violate my conscience. That is all I ask," she said. "What I am doing is in reparation for the sin of abortion, and for my own sins as well."

Walt Webber, an attorney for the American Center for Law and Justice who has advised Mr. Traynor, Mrs. Bell's attorney, on the case, calls it a "battle of judicial will vs. conscience."

But, he added, "there's a lot of good case law out there about the rights of conscience. The problem is refusal to accommodate her conscience on the matter of acknowledging the authority of the court.

"The judge can impose probation without her signing anything. Whether she signs it or not, if she violates the conditions, he can punish her for it. He doesn't have to make her bend the knee," Mr. Webber said.


= From: PHRII@aol.com
= Subject: Touchstone article

'Joan Andrews Bell Sentenced'
by Patrick Henry Reardon

(January 16, 1998) Yesterday here in Pittsburgh Judge Raymond Novak sentenced Joan Andrews Bell to incarceration from 3 to 23 months. One of her attorneys, challenging that sentence before the bar, pointed out to His Honor the irony that it was the birthday of Martin Luther King. The two cases were clearly parallel. In both instances it was the matter of citizens heading off to jail for choosing the superior claims of conscience over civil laws that they considered unjust. Both individuals very explicitly appealed to the principle that, should the two things come into conflict, it is better to obey God's law than man's.

Joan's case has nowhere near the notoriety of Dr. King's, of course. In fact, the today's final edition of the major daily here, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, evidently esteeming the event very little, reduced its coverage to a captioned photograph.

Such relative lack of interest is unfortunate, because Joan's history is truly remarkable, bordering on unique. She was in her early 20's when Roe v. Wade became national law a quarter of a century ago, and Joan took that judicial decree almost as a personal affront. It is no exaggeration to say that the whole of her life since that day has been spent (in the strict sense of consumed, eaten up) in aggressive, sustained opposition to it. She is a figure well known and easily recognized at abortion chambers all over the country. Likewise in courtrooms and jails. Arrested nearly 200 times, Joan has 57 times been convicted of felony trespass. In Florida she was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment, half of which was spent in solitary confinement.

In her early 40's Joan managed to stay out of prison long enough to get married, and she is now the mother of a 5 year old daughter. She and her husband likewise adopted a very small crippled son from Mexico, and both children, along with a host of nephews and nieces, were quite prominent in that Allegheny County courtroom yesterday, sitting on the floor in front of its jury section. Other family members and about 100 friends filled up every vacant space and much of the hallway outside, virtually all of them tolling their rosaries.

On the previous evening a special gathering had been organized at the hall adjacent to Pittsburgh's Roman Catholic cathedral. Billed as a rally, it more closely resembled a prayer meeting, even a revival. Indeed, it was one of the most incredible gatherings I have ever attended. There is hardly anything so humbling as spending the evening with the sorts of folks that cluster around Joan Andrews Bell, and I felt like a genuine slacker in the midst of so much zeal and selfless dedication. They were the Rescue America folks, in the main, whose intensity of commitment puts the rest of us pro-lifers to shame.

The majority of the 100+ people present had evidently been to jail--some of them numerous times. And they all seemed to know one another, even though they came from all over the country. In fact, I was apparently so conspicuous as a stranger that Joan came over and gave me an individual welcome.

The opening speaker that night was Peg Lesic, arguably the best known pro-lifer in Pennsylvania, who came surprisingly close to being elected governor four years ago and, as the polls show, stands a good chance to win it this next time. Her theme for the evening? Well, Holy Mary, the Mother of God, naturally. What else would one expect a gubernatorial candidate to talk about? Mrs. Lesic spoke on the 1st chapter of Luke and the 2nd chapter of John, and then gave a long, very moving meditation on Mary at the foot of the Cross. (I can hardly wait to hear her inaugural address over in Harrisburg after this year's election.)

In fact, just about all the speakers that night had something to say about the blessed Mother of our Lord, for the Rescue America folks seem to be on very tender and familiar terms with her. During the rally the only prayer recited by all of us together was the Hail Mary, though we did also sing more stanzas of Amazing Grace than I have sung in years.

The next speaker was a tall, bearded and bald, ascetic looking Capuchin friar in his grey habit, who preached on First John 3:13-17 -- "Marvel not if the world hate you..." He knew what he was talking about, having spent a year in prison for a chain-in at an abortion chamber in Allentown. He looked and sounded like something just arrived down from the summit of Mount Sinai, or Mount Athos, the sort of man that the powers of this world hardly know what to make of and are completely embarrassed by. Elijah and John the Baptist would think him their kind of guy.

These were all genuine pacifists -- deeply, deeply pacifists, and they were, like Joan, utterly fearless. I don't know the last time I so felt like I was among folks who had just heard the Sermon on the Mount and were heading for Calvary. There was not the faintest trace of rancor or animosity anywhere.

We were constantly being told: "The abortionist is not your enemy. There are hundreds of former abortionists in our ranks. The doctors we picket today will join us [on the picket] lines tomorrow. It is happening all the time." There were special prayers, but not the slightest syllable of criticism, for Judge Novak.

The ranks of Rescue America have apparently diminished in the past few years, at least in the sense that one more rarely sees TV news of their activities of late. Should the promoters of abortion seek comfort in that impression, however, they should probably think twice, because there is abundant evidence that abortion is on the wane all over this land. When Roe v. Wade came out 25 years ago, 57% of American hospitals taught abortion procedure. That figure is now down to 11%. In fact, one hears complaints from the pro-choice folks that the country is now suffering from a shortage of "reproductive services" (as they insist on calling the killing of babies), and fewer and fewer medical students are choosing it as a profession. At present 83% of American counties have no abortion facilities at all.

Meanwhile, certain new phenomena further point to pro-choice as a movement in decline. While 61% of Americans still favor the choice for abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy, that figure drops to only 15% for the second trimester. Exactly half of Americans believe abortion to be murder (including 10% of those who believe it should be legal!). In some counties, especially in the South and Southwest, it is simply impossible for pro-choice candidates to get elected to political office. Abortion is distinctly distasteful and increasingly unpopular these days, and the pro-choice advocates constantly feel the need to say that they "regret its necessity." Even as he sentenced Joan yesterday, Judge Novak spoke of "the abortion question that is tearing this country apart."

Moreover, a whole new genre of pro-life literature has made its appearance, including autobiographical accounts of women recovering from the spiritual and psychological ravages of their earlier abortions, as well as physicians who have publicly repented of having performed them. (Joan's own daughter was delivered by Dr. Bernard Nathanson, a former abortionist and well known for his films "The Silent Scream" and "The Eclipse of Reason.") Some of the latter have now formed their own organization for pro-life activism.

It was not surprising, then, that Judge Novak clearly felt "on the spot" yesterday, and I must say that I was genuinely sorry for him. He admitted receiving thousands of letters in Joan's support, including three Roman Catholic cardinals and several bishops who pleaded for mercy. There were similar telephone calls from all over the world. Expressing his admiration for Joan's appeal to the law of God over the law of man, the judge went on to say that he was sworn to uphold the law of man. Yet, he admitted, he himself would "someday have to answer for this decision at that higher court." When a local TV station interviewed me afterwards, I ventured to speak in the judge's defense, pointing out that Joan's sort of witness really wouldn't make much sense or have much impact unless she did, in fact, go to jail for her convictions. One suspects that the judge himself had to realize this.

That was only one of the several ironies of the day. Another was the simple fact of Joan's being treated as a criminal in a series with other criminals. Along with her many friends and supporters, I stood for hours in that courtroom and waited for her case to reach the top of the docket. Virtually all of us prayed the Rosary during the entire proceeding. (I picked the Sorrowful Mysteries as seeming most appropriate to the hour.)

We listened to the various cases decided through the afternoon. In the one just before Joan's, a 60-year-old man was given a prison sentence from 5 years to life for sexually molesting his granddaughter. Such were the sort of folk to whom American justice likened Joan Andrews Bell.

As they took her out, the courtroom broke into respectful applause for our heroine, and then we all started singing "Praise God, From Whom All Blessings Flow." I finally went down the stairs and out into the rain, my tired mind trying to take the measure of it all. Several blocks away, walking toward the Allegheny River, I passed a street preacher, of the sort you can see almost any day in downtown Pittsburgh, who was holding forth in stentorian voice: "God so loved the world..."


JOAN IN JAIL: WRITE TO THE WARDEN

As you probably know by now, Judge Novak sentenced Joan Andrews-Bell to prison for a period of three months to two years. In previous imprisonments, Joan has been strip-searched, sexually harrassed, and given punitive treatment because of her stance of passive non-cooperation with the system. She is particularly vulnerable to this type of abuse because she refuses to seek any privileges or to play the prison's carrot-and-stick game of making small compromises to gain small tokens of favor from the system. Joan's husband Chris Bell requests that we write to the warden of the jail expressing our amazement and shock at such a hard sentence, and request the warden to do what he can to see that Joan is treated with dignity and respect.

Father Tom Cusack


This just in:

Mrs. Bell spent day two of her captivity in the Allegheny County Jail in the psych ward. This has us worried about whether there will be more pressure on her--- or abuse.

I wrote the following letter:

January 22, 1998

Warden Calvin Lightfoot Allegheny County Jail 950 Second Avenue Pittsburg, Pennsylvania 15219

Dear Warden Lightfoot,

I am very concerned as it has been reported to me that Joan Andrews Bell was put in psychiatric lock-up in your jail facility. I can only assume that this is because she is fasting (as she often does, for religious reasons) and because of her non-cooperative stance towards prison procedures.

I can understand that such behavior might seem strange and even dangerous to you. Let me assure you that Mrs. Bell is in her right mind, and is no danger to herself or to anybody else. .

A review of Mrs. Bell's previous prison records will show that her fasting and noncooperation have been examined in the past by both religious and psychiatric authorities, who have found her motivations to be well-thought-out and reasonable. She has been in jail many times, and has never been found to be delusional, paranoid, or psychotic. She simply considers that abortion is an abominable crime (there are millions of people in this world who see it exactly the same way) and that the prison and legal systems which uphold mass abortion are therefore lacking in moral authority. This is why she withholds her cooperation.

Whether or not you or I agree with Mrs. Bell's uncompromising stance, we should respect her conscience. She should not be subjected to psychiatric surveillance, as this is unnecessary and demeaning. She should also not be made to suffer any punitive repercussions.

I can understand how you might feel frustrated by having custody of a very quiet but very determined 50-year-old woman who refuses to go along with routine prison procedures. In some ways, this makes things difficult for you.

However, I strongly suggest that you take the time to know Mrs. Bell, to comne to see her as a person and not as a "number" or a "case." You will see that she is sane. intelligent, and good in her heart. Such a "criminal" you many rarely or never encounter again in your lifetime.

I know you are a man of experience and insight. Please do what you can to protect Joan from unnecessary pressure, and convey to her the loving support of her many friends.

Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

With sincere respect and gratitude,

Mrs. Julianne Wiley


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