Casualties of War

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

Angela talks readily about her painful past, saying it could be a script for a TV movie. Born Angel Anne Davis in Clarinda, Iowa, she says her own mother "had litters of kids and left them," turning them over to their father or an adoption agency or the church. Angela remembers holding her new baby sister and thinking how sweetly she'd take care of her. But the next day, nuns came and took the baby away to be adopted. "I was crying because I only got to hold her for a few hours and I thought this was my baby doll and I was going to take care of her and I never saw her again," she says in a rush. "My mom didn't even comfort me." She says her only mothering came from the matter-of-fact, briskly helpful nuns, who returned soon after and took her to their orphanage. From there she bounced among foster families and, after a handful of visits, lost touch with her mom completely.

Young, alone and adrift, she decided she'd make her own family. Coming to St. Louis as a teenager, she says she finished nursing school at St. Luke's and went to work there, helping deliver babies alongside Dr. Yogendra Shah.

Anti-abortion activist Angela Michael
Jennifer Silverberg
Anti-abortion activist Angela Michael

Years later, Shah took over as director of Hope Clinic and became her archenemy. Angela harangued him and kept the anti-abortion Web sites supplied with a steady stream of invective against him. But back at St. Luke's, she was happily immersed in the world of newborn babies and fiercely determined to give them every chance. She claims she was reprimanded for giving oxygen to a baby born at 20 weeks' gestation, despite the obstetrician's then-standard order not to resuscitate. "She lived five more hours," says Angela, her eyes glowing with triumph. "I just sat there and took my grilling, but I knew in my heart that if there was another baby like that, I'd try again."

According to Angela, she left St. Luke's soon after that and fell in love with Dan Michael. He courted her the old-fashioned way, bringing roses when she was in the hospital and treating her like she was spun of sugar, and marriage to him eased all the pain of her past. Dan loved children, always had, and they were pregnant nonstop. Angela now has 11 children but says she's had 10 stillbirths and miscarriages, so they never knew whether a baby was going to make it. But they kept trying. "God meant for people to have large families, I really believe that," says Dan now. "Look at how our country was founded -- they all had large families."

After her seventh child, Angela quit work, and somewhere around the ninth, she and Dan started going to right-to-life meetings. She'd begun reading the Bible by then, finding the certainties she'd sought for years. "Before you were formed, I knew you" -- she memorized the passage, deeply moved by this assurance that God had a plan for every baby, that every baby was wanted.

In 1993, a friend invited the Michaels to join the anti-abortion protest outside Hope Clinic. "I saw herds, herds of girls going in there, like a slaughterhouse," says Angela, "and young irresponsible men, and boys on skateboards with boom boxes running around like it was just another day at the park, and I thought, where are their parents?" It was her life's question -- but now she'd found a public context for it.

"Everybody was just standing back and praying rosaries," she continues. "I got up off my knees and said, 'You have to do more.'" On her second visit, she started calling out to the women: "'Can I help you? Why do you need to go in there? Why can't you have this baby? Is it telling your parents? Is it the shame? Could we help you with adoption?'"

She says she has sat down with parents herself, broken the news, prayed with them, showed them models of the invisible life inside their daughter, told them she'd help find tutors or financial help and babysit herself -- then looked them in the eye and demanded, "Why can't we have this baby?"

She and Dan keep "Small Victories," a basement office in Highland, Ill., stocked with pastel baby clothes, wicker bassinets, duckie mobiles, Desitin, Pampers, playpens, strollers and quilts. They have files of couples eager to adopt, and the hallway is papered with photos of "the babies we've saved from the clinic. People think we're a bunch of screaming radicals down there," says Dan. "But when you see these photos, the babies come to life."

Convinced she's fighting "God's war," Angela uses every verbal weapon she can find. She's written articles for anti-abortion Web sites saying that Hope Clinic aborted in the third trimester (they deny it); that clinic staff stood "knee-high in blood"; that young women left the clinic unassisted and fell vomiting in the grass. She says that police have witnessed assaults and refused to stop them; that a sheriff's deputy drove a police car intentionally into her leg; that two women from Missouri tried to run her down outside the clinic. She insisted for months that the new clinic building contained an incinerator, à la Auschwitz, to burn the fetuses. She calls the clinic "the devil's throne" and "the gates of hell" and holds up "REPENT!" signs that name clinic staffers. Her reports from the battlefield pit "death camp guards" and "deathscorts" against "sidewalk heroes" and "pro-life warriors." "It's so Star Wars-ish, it's almost funny," says "Charlie," one of the clinic guards. "She's hands down the most vocal protester and by far the brutalest."

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