ALL AROUND, people begin to stand, in ones and twos at first, then in clumps of four or five, spontaneously, mindlessly. Within seconds, there is a symphony of cups playing on saucers and an orchestra of sliding chairs as hundreds of people rise to the soprano's rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." No polite conformity. These people, their faces uplifted, really sing, some cry. The moment is even a bit miraculous, at least in a Hollywood sort of way -- folks stirred to their feet by something shared deep within them. But that's no surprise, because these people have paid $12 each to hear crusader Judie Brown tell them what they already know: Satan is alive, abroad and thriving on a modern triad of evils -- abortion, contraception and promiscuity.
They mean to stop him.
Flanked on the dais by Catholic priests in coats of black and collars of white, Judie Brown is a thin woman whose youthful appearance seems oddly fitting to her mission, which this night includes her address to Catholic pro-lifers in Oak Lawn, Ill., a middle-class suburb of Chicago. Brown could easily affect the style of a contemporary woman -- padded shoulders, classy tweeds, an unfettered, breezy hairdo. She opts instead for the look of her mother's generation -- simple shirtdresses, poly-blend outfits with thin cloth belts, her hair up and stiff and teased. In 1986, Judie Brown looks like every mother from 1956. And she proudly acts it.
One morning during her Oak Lawn trip, for instance, Brown got up about dawn to awaken her children in Stafford, Va., about 40 miles south of Washington. Her husband, Paul Brown, a founder of the powerful Life Amendment Political Action Committee, couldn't get the kids up, Judie explains, because he believes the night's best rest occurs between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. The last child out the door takes Dad his morning coffee in bed, just as Judie has done for 17 years. "I think it's neat," she says.
FROM ABORTION to motherhood to religion to sex, Judie Brown is a True Believer. Her organizations, American Life League and American Life Lobby, are the moral absolutists of the antiabortion movement: Abortion is murder -- murder to save the mother, murder after rape or incest, murder in the face of certain retardation. Opinion polls show that fewer than 10 percent of Americans share these views, but that, says Brown, is because they don't know the facts -- or, as she calls it, the truth.
"We need to educate people," she says again and again. "If they would just take the time to study, they would realize that there is no scientific conclusion other than that life begins at the instant of fertilition. If you cross a human egg and a human sperm, you will never get a duck."
Brown hasn't limited her efforts to education, though. Her organizations -- with 300,000 members and a 1986 budget of $2.9 million -- helped work successfully for a partial cutoff of U.S. dollars to worldwide family planning programs that include abortion. She backed New York Republican Rep. Jack Kemp's unsuccessful attempt to stop federal aid to U.S. family planning clinics that counsel for abortion. She also lobbied for legislation that would parents of minors before prescribing them birth control. Her local chapters have shut down abortion clinics, lobbied local PTAs to get a stronger dose of parental authority in sex education courses, and created hundreds of pro-life grassroots organizations. On any issue, Brown says proudly, her groups can generate 40,000 to 50,000 letters to Congress.
Within the antiabortion movement, Brown's views are extreme. The National Right to Life Committee takes no stand on birth cotrol, for instance, but Brown argues that widespread availability of birth control has undermined chastity and the character-building quality of self-denial, suffering and sacrifice. Her views turn on this belief: Sex outside of marriage is a sin.
Brown gives her arguments a certain social scientific patina: Health professionals, secular educators and feminists made a power-grab for the hearts, minds, bodies and pocketbooks of young people. In the guise of slowing teen pregnancy, they have actually promoted early teen sex. The result, she says, is epidemic venereal disease and abortion, divorce, teen promiscuity and pregnancy, eroded families and churches, and an abiding secular selfishness.
Yet Judie Brown's crusade is not really sociological, medical or scientific -- it is religious. Brown is Catholic. American Catholics today back legal abortion and practice artificial birth control in about the same percentages as Protestants. It's no longer people's denomination, but rather their devoutness -- how high they rank the importance of religion in their lives -- that predicts opposition to abortion, says Tom W. Smith, senior study director of the National Opinion Research Center in Chicago. At heart, pro-life is a movement of the devoutly religious. As Brown says, "We are going to win because God is going to perform a miracle."
So Judie Brown is a True Believer. She is not power hungry or greedy -- she pays herself $24,000 a year. She isn't a kook. The Judie Browns of our time are simply religious in a way that few people are religious today. To an outsider, this world can carry an aura of unreality, its dictums a tone of bigotry. To Brown and her followers that view is misguided, ignorant or evil, depending upon who is talking and how absolute is his God.
EVERYONE in the Oak Lawn banquet hall is white.
Judie Brown notices this right off, and she is disturbed. Picture it: Several hundred affluent white people listening to another affluent white person charge that a contraceptive health clinic at DuSable High School, in the heart of Chicago's black ghetto, is a racist, genocidal plot against poor blacks. Without victims, the message rings hollow.
"They were invited," an organizer tells Brown. "But they live pretty far away." It is the kind of naivet,e Judie Brown lost years ago: If this were her production -- if she had to drive into the slums to pick up local opponents herself -- they'd be here for the show.
Brown wasn't always so shrewd, of course, not when all this began in Seattle in 1969. Her oldest son, Hugh, was 1 month old then. Judie and her husband, both from blue-collar families and moving into the middle class as managers with K mart, had met and married in a matter of months. Because she outranked him at work, she decided to quit. A typical weekend for the Browns in those days meant waxing the car and then sitting with the baby and picking clover out of the lawn. Like other states, though, Washington was liberalizing its abortion laws, and after hearing a priest attack an upcoming referendum on the issue, Judie and Paul and Hugh began going door to door. She is still appalled at the reactions:
"Gee, that's not my business."
"Well, if some woman wants to have an abortion, she should be able to."
"It was horrifying . . . ," Brown says. "I didn't realize how widely diverse opinions were." Brown was raised Roman Catholic. Her mother had a Down's syndrome son when Judie was 9, and, as was the custom then, the doctors suggested warehousing the baby in a mental hospital. Outraged, her mother took the boy home.
"Through him we learned the value of individual lives," Brown says. "Here was this tiny, helpless little boy who never hurt anybody. Mother never complained. She was just his mother." The boy died at age 2.
Brown also recalls that her younger sister, during her rebellious years, once baited their mother with this question: "What would you think if I had an abortion?"
Mother didn't miss a beat: "You would no longer be my daughter."
"When I grew up, sin was sin," says Brown. Yet at 20, she began doubting whether
God existed -- after her mother, a perfectionist who demanded flawless braids in Judie's hair and straight As in school, became wracked with paralyzing arthritis.
"You're not going to mass?" her mother asked.
"Why is God doing this to you?" Judie blurted.
Her mother answered carefully: "Pain gives you the chance to suffer with Christ on the cross, to share in his pain and offer it up for your sins."
"It made me feel so ashamed . . . ," she says. "I always wanted to be like my mom . . . She had a bottomless pit of love and I want to be like her."
The Browns left Seattle and moved from town to town, as her husband rose through the K mart ranks. Along the way Judie volunteered in the nascent pro-life movement. When Paul Brown was transferred to Washington, Judie volunteered her time to work for National Right to Life's then- president Dr. Mildred F. Jefferson. Before long, Judie, the former K mart manager, was nearly running the Washington office -- lobbying on Capitol Hill, talking to reporters, attending the weekly Library Court conservative schmoozing sessions sponsored by New Right strategist Paul Weyrich. In 1978, Paul Brown's Life Amendment Political Action Committee helped unseat Sen. Dick Clark (D-Iowa), and the Browns became celebrities: Mr. and Mrs. Pro-Life. They made NBC's "Weekend" show and People magazine.
Jefferson was eventually ousted from National Right to Life and Brown resigned. With New Right fundraiser Richard A. Viguerie behind her, Brown launched her own group in 1979 aimed at pulling together pro-lifers with the strongest of religious convictions -- people whose faith is the lens that focuses their day-to-day lives.
Faith, after all, had by then become Judie Brown's lens. She believed that she worked at K mart because God knew she'd need management skills to help lead the movement. Her husband's transfer to Washington, her ouster at NRLC, meeting Viguerie -- these were not coincidences, but reflections through the lens of faith.
She tells this story: Her third pregnancy had been problem-free, but in labor the baby's heartbeat stopped. Her own doctor was out of the hospital and an emergency Cesarean section was performed by a pro-choice obstetrician Judie had debated at the local Catholic church. She had called him a "butcher."
As it turned out, the butcher saved the life of her daughter, Christie. Brown believes it was a miracle -- a miracle that sent a message to the doctor. "He saved a life instead of taking a life," says Brown. She hasn't talked to the doctor since, but she believes he may no longer do abortions.
The doctor still does abortions. He practices in the same town, recalls Brown's emergency birth and remembers with pride his delivery. But no, he still supports legal abortion. He is incredulous that Brown would think Christie's birth had anything to do with his feelings about abortion. "They are two different issues," he says.
But Judie Brown's lens is powerful: "It looks like I'll have to keep praying for him. At some point in the future he will stop doing abortions."
ABORTION is not the root of evil in Judie Brown's America, it is the outgrowth.
The roots are less obvious, she says, but equally insidious. The evil began when American intellectuals abandoned God and banished him from public classrooms, replacing the morality of religion with the morality of humanism. Then came the idea that sex outside of mar- riage is not morally wrong, the easing of divorce laws, the feminist notion that women should have ultimate control over their bodies even in pregnancy, the selfishness of the Me Generation, the idea that sex educatn should be value-free, and, perhaps most insidious, court decisions that allowed birth control clinics to treat teens without telling their parents.
"We have been replaced," Brown says. Her voice is metallic, her glasses large, her posture stiff, her gestures tight -- her message clear. "I think we have been replaced by the most Satanic move ment that has ever erupted anywhere in the world in the history of all humankind."
Brown's grassroots troops share this vision. A half- dozen of them have gathered in an Oak Lawn hotel room to discuss strategy for fighting Chicago's DuSable clinic, one of an increasing number of public high school health clinics that dispense birth control on school property. The DuSable clinic, which opened last fall, became embroiled in a local and then national controversy when pro-lifers made it a special target. "What are the forces you are really at war with?" I ask Brown's followers.
Alvira Colbert, a 44-year- old Baptist: "We're wrestling against principalities, against powers, against spiritual wickedness in high places."
Nancy Czerwiec, a middle- aged Catholic and the key organizer of Brown's visit: "It's materialism, it's selfism . . . recreational sex."
Alvira, again: "The God of humanism. That man is the answer to his problems." Nancy, again: "That there's no value that's beyond the human."
Joan Deck, a 61-year-old Baptist: "Evil. Secular humanism." Heads nod in agreement. "The communists always have said that they will get us from within, and they're coming in through the schools."
Alvira, warming to the idea, then uses the word that hangs heavy but unspoken: "It's like a conspiracy."
Judie Brown is quiet the whole time. This talk worries her because she knows how crazy it can seem. She will later say it's important to realize that pro-choice backers are "misguided," not Satanic: "Who am I to judge?"
Not surprisingly, Brown is more savvy at measuring her messages to her audiences. She may tell a reporter that pro-choice leaders are "misguided," but in a recent fund- raising letter she repeatedly called Eleanor Smeal, president of the National Organization for Women, a "baby killer." To the Oak Lawn Catholics, she gives, as she calls it, her "Catholic speech," heavy on primal good versus evil. But to a group of teens in Dallas recently, she recalled talking at great length and mentioning God only once. She says candidly, "It would turn them off." And in a meeting with Chicago Tribune columnist Stephen Chapman, a former New Republic editor who has opposed legal abortion in his Tribune column, she talks mostly sociology -- the power- grubbing attempt of health providers and birth control makers to weasel into the schools, promiscuity's contri- bution to the VD epidemic, the practicality of chastity. It is a war with many weapons.
The argument Brown uses with intellectuals like Chapman is that we've tried contraception and free sex for decades and it hasn't worked. "We have more abortions, more teen pregnancies, more VD and more broken families," she says. "Isn't it time to try something else? Maybe chastity wasn't so bad?"
Her reprise: If Americans only knew the truth . . .
SNIPPETS of conversation at the heart of Judie Brown's beliefs:
"Did you see 'Phil Donahue' . . . ?" Brown asks Nancy Czerwiec, an Oak Lawn woman who is not married, has no children and is a full-time volunteer in the anti-abortion movement. The Donahue show had recently featured DuSable clinic critics and supporters. "One of the moms came," Brown continues. "She has a 17-year-old son and she is just so happy . . . that her son can now get birth control for himself and his girlfriend." She shakes her head in disgust. Brown too has teen-aged children, a son who is a star football player, and a daughter so beautifuBrown jokes that she should be put "in a cage."
Nancy says, "It's just like I said before, all (they) are interested in is stopping teen- age pregnancy, not teen-age promiscuity. It just flies in the face of the other messages that we give to children . . . Schools have always underscored that marriage and family life was the norm in our country. As evidence, the Scott, Foresman primer, Sally, Dick and Jane."
"Yeah," says Judie.
"Sally, Dick and Jane had a mother, father, grandmother, grandfather," says Nancy.
"They sure did," says Judie.
"They lived in a neighborhood, they lived in a community. And it was -- you don't come out and say that they are married -- but everyone knew."
Judie says, "I remember my first- grade reader, Sally, Dick and Jane. I can remember that. The mother in the apron . . . "
"And the babies, and . . . "
"And the father in the suit coming in from work, and the dog."
"And that still is the norm in our country," says Nancy. "But these providers want to change that, because what they really are claiming is that the teen-agers should get recreational sex. All of us should have recreational sex . . . It's like having bowls of whipped cream . . . Aah, this is terrific . . . You have it three times the first day -- terrific, marvelous, I'm being satiated with that pleasure. Then it becomes more and more and more and more, where all of a sudden you don't want the whipped cream anymore. There is something about denial that makes us enjoy that particular pleasure again."
Nancy later says, "Language has a way of diffusing the truth. That's why they call it a 'fetus,' and fetus means little one. Now if they would say you want to destroy your little one, the impact would be much different than saying you want to destroy the fetus . . . The language there is to defuse the reality of the true meaning."
I ask, "Why are you so certain it's simply a matter of the way we talk about these things?" After all, 90 percent of Americans back legal abortion for reasons of rape and incest and to save the life of the mother.
Nancy says, "They haven't been given the truth about how rape and incest are really a red herring."
"It may be a red herring," I say, "but the point still is that women believe that this is an acceptable alternative."
Judie says, "They have already gone through one trauma, the trauma of rape, which is going to scar them probably for the rest of their lives . . . Are you going to put her through the other trauma of having the abortion? Do you think that's fair?" Nancy asks, "Do we kill the rapist?"
Judie asks, "So why do we kill the victim?"
Nancy says, "Because the woman is in a hostile situation, she probably won't conceive, and it's almost a nonissue. And when you make it the exception, it becomes the loophole from which women will claim they've been raped or they've had incest . . . The loophole to get rid of their child . . . Even if she consented she can say, 'I was raped.' See, again, it all goes back to the knowledge."
THE DuSABLE health clinic is run by Dr. Doris McCulley, a 38-year- old black woman who grew up in the south Chicago neighborhood and graduated from DuSable. Her father was a laborer, yet the six children in her family went to college. She is medical director of nearby Provident Medical Center, America's oldest existing black-operated hospital. She has been married to the same man for 16 years, and they have two children. She lives in the suburbs, but she will not say where for fear the antiabortionists will picket. She works 16- hour days, six days a week. She is large and gentle and reticent, a Baptist who has gone to the same church near DuSable for decades.
The issue of teen-age pregnancy among blacks rages not only at DuSable. Almost half the black females in America become pregnant as teens. The black teen pregnancy rate is about twice that of whites. Radical black cries that birth control is genocide are history: National black leaders have declared war on teen pregnancy.
"The only thing that I can say is that the statistics speak for themselves," says Dr. McCulley. "The problems were here and nobody, nobody was addressing them. There were 512 live births in this area for ages 11 to 19 last year . . . The critics are outside in never-never land."
The DuSable clinic policy is that staffers never discuss abortion, McCulley says, and she is relieved at that. She spent hours with her minister, talking about the morality of giv- ing children birth control, about her revulsion for abortion, before com-mitting herself to the DuSable clinic. "I believe in my Christianity that Christ called upon us to balance evils. The perpetuation of impoverishment is an evil . . . Is it right for us to keep contraception from kids so the pregnancy is proof that they have sinned?"
"So you support legal abortion?" I ask.
"That's a tough question. I was at Cook County Hospital for five years and I remember all the septic infections, when young women came in almost dead from botched abortions. I have come down on the side of the availability."
"What about the grisly photos of aborted fetuses?"
"They are inseparable: It's two evils . . . I believe that what I am doing here and now is right. And I hope that 10 years from now we don't have to think about it -- that we'll all be in never-never land. But right now, we have to deal with realities."
JUDIE BROWN is quiet when she hears what Doris McCulley has said. She is still upset that no parents from DuSable were at the Oak Lawn dinner, and she has told the foot soldiers they must go into the ghetto and knock on doors, get out their message. She hopes to be invited to speak in the DuSable neighborhood. She must educate.
"I am not going to say that Dr. McCulley is not intelligent enough to figure this out. But out of her obvious intelligence, she will come to the conclusion that there is no conclusion other than that this is life . . . There is no other conclusion to which you could ever come . . . There is no socially acceptable reason to kill a baby."
Making contraception freely available to teens, Brown says, tells them that sex is their choice, and creates a Catch-22: Making sex a choice instead of a wrong leads more children to have sex and simultaneously undermines the very religious and traditional family values that once discouraged it.
Of course, birth control proponents reject this, pointing out that the average teen who comes in for birth control has already been having sex for a year. Yet, there are hints that Brown's view holds a kernel of insight: Teens who decide not to have sex, for instance, tend to be from families with strong religious and traditional values, says Cheri Hayes, a social scientist working on a National Academy of Sciences review of teen-age pregnancy. But is there evidence that birth control encourages teen sex? "No," says Hayes, "absolutely not."
I ask Brown: "If this is a religious question, why not let people make a choice?"
She responds sharply: "Because God doesn't give us a choice."
MY LAST breakfast with Judie and Nancy -- more reflec faith.
I say, "I have a feeling that when you're there, where the rubber meets the road, that somehow a lot of this seems distant, like people arguing about how many angels dance on the head of a pin."
"What kind of knowledge do they need?" asks Nancy. "I think that's the problem."
I say, "Philosophy aside, I look at that one kid, and I think what's best for that one kid?"
Nancy says, "What's best for that one kid is to do the same thing we've done with drugs and alcohol and have a national program against it."
Judie says, "We are continually represented in the media as fanatical. We are not fanatical. We are reasonable."
"Is your belief that promiscuity is wrong and that all forms of birth control are wrong, really at the heart of this whole thing? I come to that conclusion."
"I think you'd be right," Judie says. "Promiscuity is wrong, definitely."
"Does the IUD serve as an abortifacient?" I ask.
"For certain," Judie says.
"And the pill does?"
"So if we make abortion illegal, would it then naturally follow that those things would be illegal?"
Judie says, "Under ideal circumstances, they'd have to be taken off the market." Later, she adds, "The answer is to let people lead their lives without government interference in such a personal matter as human sexuality."
"Except that you've already said . . . that the pill and the IUD would be illegal."
Nancy begins, "If people really knew the ramifications and the truth about the pill and the IUD . . . "
And Judie ends, "They wouldn't use it."
If people only knew . . .
Judie Brown's faith is undaunted, unshakable. Her belief that the truth will out is secure, her confidence that the moral minority will become the majority is complete.