42 years since landmark case set U.S. judicial precedent

by Peter Benyola
John Barros prays for a young women who chose life outside the abortion clinic in Orlando on Oct. 7, 2013.
John Barros prays for a young woman who chose life, outside the abortion clinic in Orlando on Oct. 7, 2013.


At the turn of the 20th century, abortion was essentially outlawed by almost every state in the Union. In 1971, a pregnant single woman brought a class-action lawsuit against the constitutionality of the Texas criminal-abortion laws, which prevented attempting an abortion except on medical advice for the purpose of saving the mother’s life. In summary, the case went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, and on Jan. 22, 1973 exactly 42 years ago the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, ruled in the favor of abortion-on-demand, “under the Fourteenth amendment to the Constitution.” That changed the legal precedent for all states in one fell swoop.

Since 1973 in the U.S., a recorded almost 57 million unborn lives have been surgically ended in the name of “the right to choose.” Some people, such as John Barros, think this problem is serious enough to work full-time to counsel women into alternatives to abortion.

John Barros preaches to young women waiting for abortion procedures outside the Orlando Women's Center on Oct. 7, 2013.
John Barros preaches to young women waiting for abortion procedures outside the Orlando Women’s Center on Oct. 7, 2013.

Barros is an evangelist who witnesses, prays and exhorts full-time at the Orlando Women’s Center, one of about six abortion clinics in Orlando. Barros, from California, became a Christian in 1975 and arrived at the Reformed tradition in 1980, and is now a member of St. Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida. He began his ministry in 2003 by visiting clinics on Saturdays, and in 2009 he started going to clinics every day. He persuades women who go there to instead seek help at local crisis pregnancy centers, and his life is threatened often. People have pulled guns and knives, but they always stop short of harming him. He said that he trusts God to provide for his family in case something happens to him.

Between eight and 15 early- to late-term abortions take place at this clinic almost every day, which in 2013, closed and reopened amid an injury lawsuit.

Barros often refers to a Bible passage, Proverbs 31:8-9, as the clarion mandate for his ministry: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

There are others who are involved with abortions on a daily basis but instead of preventing them, to facilitate them. “I’m glad those abortions were safe and legal,” said Diana, the center manager for a North Florida abortion clinic, regarding the almost 57 million abortions that have taken place since Roe v. Wade in January 1973. “I would consider them [abortions] no more or less safe than any other medical procedure. They are demonstrably safer than continuing pregnancy and giving birth. Making the patient aware of the risk of injury is part of getting their informed consent. Like with any other surgery, these things can and do happen.”

Diana agreed to comment on the matter, but requested her full name and her organization to not be disclosed for reasons of personal security and media relations compliance.

Barros, on the other hand, claims to see injured women on a regular basis at the Orlando Women’s Center. He knows several women who are now married but became infertile because of damage to the uterus during abortions. He also knows other women by name who have almost died from infections after their abortions. “Rhea bled for six months after her abortion,” Barros recounted. “Every time she came back, they told her that her problem didn’t have anything to do with her abortion. One day she was rushed to the hospital with a horrible infection. The hospital found that they [the abortion clinic] had left pieces of her baby inside and it almost killed her … the owner of Orlando Women’s Center [James Pendergraft] was found guilty of pretty much destroying a young lady and fined 36 million dollars. They are defending more lawsuits and just a few weeks ago they punctured another young lady’s uterus.”

“Then there’s the issue of depression and suicide after abortion,” Barros continued. “I run into ladies all the time that have been fighting deep depression for years ever since their abortion. [I] have heard as high as 75 percent consider suicide and 30 percent will attempt it … Family members of ladies that ended their lives beg me to never leave here [the sidewalk outside the abortion clinic] and warn others about what happened to their loved ones.”

“I don’t know how anyone can say abortion is ‘no more or less safe than any other medical procedure,'” Barros said. “I have never heard of anyone committing suicide over having their tonsils removed.”

Diana further commented on the 1973 Supreme Court ruling. “I think Roe v. Wade was an effective compromise between recognizing the rights of women and recognizing the rights of the developing pregnancies,” she said. “It is plain to see that following the implementation of Roe, injuries, infections and deaths from illegal or ‘back alley’ abortions stopped nearly overnight … And it’s probably been a boon for men, too, to not have to be tied for life to someone who may not be right for them, or having to become parents before they’re ready for that responsibility.”

When asked if unborn infants are human beings, Diana said, “It doesn’t become an infant until after birth. The pregnancies in question are, for the purposes of my activism, embryos or fetuses. That’s just science.”

“I don’t think that unborn human beings have the right to use another person’s body to live without that person’s consent … I don’t think they have any ‘intrinsic’ rights that should supersede the rights of the woman to her own life, health and self-determination.” Diana continued. “I don’t think, myself, that an embryo or fetus has the right to use another person’s body to sustain themselves without the consent of that person, in this case the pregnant woman.”

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, “viability” is defined as the point at which a fetus might survive ex utero, or outside the womb, approximately 24 weeks of gestational development. Diana said, “I do agree with Roe in that at-viability or post-viability fetuses have rights that should be considered by a doctor who would be performing the abortion. And the law gives them the space to do that.”

“My personal feelings about a person’s reasons for ending a pregnancy are irrelevant to the provisioning of their care. We all have our ethical discomforts somewhere along the spectrum,” Diana said. “I have personal ethical discomforts with late-term abortion. But working from my paradigm, which is scientific by virtue of necessity in this line of work, I don’t think it’s murder.”

Diana differentiates between “consent to sex” and “consent to pregnancy.” She said, “Sometimes getting an abortion is the responsible thing to do. I know that sex is how we make babies, but I think of the act of sex as separate from pregnancy. Pregnancy is just one possible outcome. Women shouldn’t be slaves to any sneaky sperm who might get past a contraceptive measure.”

“I don’t think it’s up to me to declare that they [unborn human beings] have any objective value or not, and I can’t speak subjectively on that matter as I have not ever been and am not pregnant,” said Diana. “The woman is my patient, not her embryo or fetus. If she thinks it has a given value, I understand that, and I respect that. But I do not assign objective value to the contents of other people’s wombs … For my purposes, it is not a ‘baby’ until it’s born or my patient calls it a baby. Then we can talk about it as a baby. An embryo or fetus is not a baby.”

Barros’ response is, “The very definition of an embryo and fetus is a little baby in the womb. The issue is, what does God think?” Barros gets his answer from Psalm 139:13-16:

John Barros sits on a concrete wall in the rain, patiently waiting for women to emerge from Orlando’s abortion clinic, Oct. 7, 2013.

“For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.”

“In this Scripture, King David praises God for creating him in his mother’s womb,” Barros explains. “The womb is God’s workshop where He creates masterpieces. Even science shows us that every person is different and unique. Each of us have our own DNA and there will never be another one alike.”

Barros points to another Old Testament passage, Exodus 21:22-23:

“When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life.”

Barros does not believe this command is one to be followed today, but nonetheless derives from the passage a clue to the value of unborn life. “[God] required the death penalty to someone that even by accident caused a miscarriage: two men fighting and accidentally hurting a woman that is pregnant,” Barros said. “It says ‘life for life’ God looks at that baby as a person with all the rights of a person. It doesn’t matter if someone thinks a baby doesn’t have the right to use a woman’s womb. That’s the way God designed it from the beginning.”

Barros points out that there are effective ways and ineffective ways to go about pro-life efforts.

“So many people that do what we do make a terrible mistake in that they come in the morning for an hour or two and start screaming at people, mostly, and then turn around and do this thing they call ‘kicking the dust off their feet’ which is totally out of context out of the Bible and leave, and then go sit at the coffee shop for three hours and talk about how persecuted they were,” Barros said. “But the thing they don’t understand is that God’s timetable is not ours. His Word takes a while, depending on the person.”

When asked why Barros does what he does, he said, not referring to himself, “He is able.”

Lyon Sipe, who assists John Barros part-time with his efforts, preaches outside Orlando's abortion mill on "late-term day," Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015.
Lydon Sipe, who part-time assists John Barros with his efforts, preaches outside Orlando’s abortion clinic on “late-term day,” Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015.


Further study

Roe v. Wade, Legal Information Institute

New Twist for a Landmark Case: Roe v. Wade becomes Roe v. Roe, The New York Times

Who Will Stand?, John Barros’ pro-life ministry

A Voice for the Voiceless: An Interview with John Barros, Renewing Your Mind

Manhattan Declaration

Abortion, A Teaching Series by R.C. Sproul

Operation Save America, Rusty Thomas’ pro-life ministry

180, documentary about pro-life efforts

The Apology, Heroic Media

Understanding Personhood, W. Robert Godfrey

Imago Dei, Mark E. Ross

The Ethics of Personhood, Justin Holcomb

Abortion, Randy Alcorn