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.

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.

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."

Angela would be shocked by this assessment; she insists she's learned to be gentle and treat the people at the clinic the way she wishes she'd been treated all her life. She admits that when she first started coming, she'd "jump out of the van, and as soon as my feet hit the pavement, I was trying to save babies, screaming, 'Oh, don't kill your baby.'" Now, she studies her approach: "I have about three minutes to watch them and figure out what it is. Is it money? Is it not wanting to tell their parents?"

"She knows the people to prey upon," agrees Charlie. "She'll have her kids yell, 'Mommy, Mommy, please don't kill me!' A lot of times she thinks she's 'saving' someone and really they just reschedule for the next day."

Angela says she and Dan were both 19 when they met, and they married a year later, which would have been 1976. She says they've had 11 kids and loved every minute and would have had 21 without the miscarriages and stillbirths.

But in 1976, Angela Michael was Angele Scott, newly married to a construction worker named Dan Scott. They had four children before filing for divorce in 1981, accusing each other of mental cruelty and unendurable misery. Dan Scott said she'd thrown boiling water at him and hurled a fire log through his truck window. He also told the court she'd lied about being pregnant to get him to marry her, then faked a miscarriage. He admitted their third baby was conceived "with hopes of increasing our family, which we blindly thought would patch things." He said they had the fourth child because she lied again in order to get pregnant.

She says the time was so painful she can't talk about it. But their separate truths clashed and jousted for more than a decade, as they battled over child support and custody. At one point Angele actually served two weeks for contempt, until a lawyer warned the court that she'd become "unstrung worrying about her children" and the matrons had had to sedate her.

When she married fresh-faced, worshipful Dan Michael, Angela tried desperately to erase her false start, even enrolling the four oldest kids in school and camp with the last name "Michael" until a judge ordered her to change all records back to their legal names.

All she'd ever wanted was a family.

She says her first involvement with babies came as a registered nurse, but there's no proof of that, either. The nursing school where she claims to have graduated is closed. She is not currently licensed in either Missouri or Illinois and has not been for at least 20 years. Asked to clarify, she stammers a bit and says the last time she was "active" was "back in '78 or '79, maybe. I'm not real sure." Yet when asked about her qualifications to perform ultrasounds, she notes that she was "a licensed nurse" and says a young radiology technologist, also licensed, was helping her. (The technologist says apologetically that she hasn't actually had time to work with Angela on her ultrasounds.)

Although in Missouri anyone performing ultrasounds is expected to be associated with a radiologist who interprets the results, Illinois has no specific rules regulating the procedure.

The recent lawsuit stunned the Michaels, who can't imagine themselves guilty in any way. Angela says that "somehow the medical records got released" and claims she and Dan simply "sent a picture to this guy who has a Web site -- you could not tell her face."

But other photos taken outside Hope Clinic have appeared on Web sites in recent months; one shows a young woman arriving, her license plate clearly visible. The Christian Gallery -- an offshoot of the infamous Nuremberg Files Web site, where doctors' names get crossed through as they're murdered -- shows several Hope escorts and clients, and one escort remembers the Michaels' taking her picture. In its introduction, the Christian Gallery insists that infanticides (women who have abortions) should be exposed and punished, and pleads for more photographs from "butchertoriums."

The Michaels say they bring their camera to the clinic as self-protection because they've been assaulted.

And the yellow RV keeps coming, early every Friday morning and again on Saturday. "God has a plan for that baby," Angela calls, then turns toward an older woman: "Mom, could we please talk to you and your daughter? Please, Mom, think about it -- that's your grandchild!"

The couple next to her holds the Blessed Virgin painting tighter and keeps praying.

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