Casualties of War

When Angela Michael started fighting God's battle against abortion, truth took the first hit

At 6:45 a.m., the old pawnshops and motels of Granite City, Ill., look like a movie set for a ghost town. The Hope Clinic parking lot is deserted, too, the only sound the murmur of Hail Marys from a woman kneeling on the sidewalk, rosary beads twined in tense fingers. Her husband stands next to her, his back arrow-straight, holding a large painting of the Blessed Virgin. They pray without pausing, almost without breathing, and their litany continues unbroken a half-hour later, when a huge banana-colored RV pulls up to the curb behind them. A blond woman hops out and starts unpacking signboards of aborted fetuses, and three little girls scramble out behind her, propping up bloody signs taller than they are. "Keep putting them out, girls. Make sure they don't touch the grass," instructs Angela Michael, opening her Bible. The first cars are pulling into the lot, and when a young woman gets out of one and walks toward the clinic door, the air crackles with urgency. "Mom, could we please talk to you before you go in there?" calls Angela. "There's better choices, Mom."

Angela's husband, Dan Michael, who stands well over 6 feet and looks like the dream date on an old board game, parks the RV as close as he can and joins his wife. "Dad, that's your posterity she's carrying," he calls to an arriving couple. "That's your heritage."

The older couple with the painting keep their heads bent. Every week they come, setting down aqua rubber pads to cushion well-used knees. They've never screamed anything at the women entering, or photographed them, or taken down their license-plate numbers, or accessed their medical records, or called them at home. The Michaels have done all that and more; they claim 150 "saves" (women persuaded not to abort their pregnancies) since they started counting a year-and-a-half ago.

"That baby has a heartbeat and fingers and toes. That baby is alive!" calls Dan. "Dad, don't take her in there -- look how pregnant she is!" The young woman tugs at the T-shirt scrunched in folds over a still-flat tummy and keeps walking, past the Michaels' kids, past the big brown sign and oversized cardboard baby advertising adjacent crisis-pregnancy centers.

When she realized how sporadically those centers were open, Angela started offering pregnancy tests herself, sneaking women into the lobby of St. Elizabeth's Hospital so they could use the restroom. "I couldn't ask them to pee in a cup in my van!" she chuckles. Now she has a huge donated RV, complete with fetoscope to hear the baby's heartbeat, and a donated ultrasound machine. Angela calls it a "window to the womb" and says she can "show them a picture of their baby two weeks after their first missed period."

She usually brings a karaoke machine with her, too, carefully concealed because there are ordinances against amplified sound. Today she's just yelling, as softly and urgently as she can, trying to keep the decorum she knows is politic and still breach the distance between herself and the women she believes are murderesses. "That baby cries out, 'Please give me a chance, Mom, let me be what God wants me to be,'" she calls. Then she says she hates screaming and wishes there were a better way. She points toward the street that runs along the side of the clinic. "There's a crack house over there we were hoping to buy so we could sell our house and move here."

She raises her voice again: "Ladies, this is not a safe, simple health procedure here. They can slip up. They did that a month ago and the woman almost died." The incident, far less melodramatic than her recounting of it, occurred June 1. It was Dan who first saw the patient, bleeding from a uterine tear, being wheeled across the street to St. Elizabeth's Hospital. He raced over and took a picture of her, yelling to Angela, "They botched one!" Angela sent flowers to the woman and phoned her at the hospital, gleaning all sorts of information. Then she called the local newspapers and sent the photo and an accompanying report to the Missionaries to the Unborn Web site that publishes her frequent Granite City dispatches. She detailed the woman's sex, age, marital status, race, approximate height and weight, location and size of her hometown, number, age and sex of her children, specific outcome of each of her past pregnancies, all details of the abortion, the tear to her uterus and the corrective surgery.

The photo and report and scanned copies of the woman's medical records, name deleted, wound up posted on the Missionaries site.

And although Angela had encouraged the woman to sue Hope Clinic, the woman instead joined with Hope Clinic to sue Angela, and Dan, and St. Elizabeth's Hospital, and Web-site manager Stephen Wetzel of Omaha. The lawsuit notes that confidential medical records were acquired without permission and posted on the Internet, along with the woman's photograph (grainy and unrecognizable, but with her knees apart, bleeding, in a wheelchair) and intimate identifying information. The suit also charges assault, claiming that the Michaels attempted to grab at the white sheet covering the woman's lap so they could better photograph the bleeding.

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