In his 48 years, Martin Wishnatsky has been many things.
The son of conservative Jewish parents who owned a luncheonette in Asbury Park, N.J., Wishnatsky graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., in l962. In 1966 he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, where his classmates included William F. Weld, now governor of Massachusetts. He spent the following year on a fellowship at the London School of Economics, returned to Harvard and in the early 1970s taught for two years at the University of California at Los Angeles.
In 1975, he earned a doctorate from Harvard in political science; his dissertation on the U.S. Foreign Service was published as a book and received favorable reviews. He became a stockbroker and for much of the 1980s worked as a microcomputer expert for a consulting firm on Wall Street.
For the past 18 months, Wishnatsky has lived in Fargo, N.D., where he is a full-time abortion protester and a member of the Lambs of Christ, a tiny, nomadic band of antiabortion activists founded by a Roman Catholic priest who was a Green Beret colonel. Their goal in North Dakota is to close the abortion clinic in Fargo, the only one in the state, and make North Dakota an "abortion-free" state.
The Lambs specialize in clinic "rescues" and other activities designed to keep doctors, staff members and women out of abortion clinics. A prosecutor in Fargo described their tactics as "paramilitary."
"We've certainly never seen anything like it," said assistant Cass County prosecutor Constance Cleveland, who has handled most cases involving abortion protests in Fargo. On one occasion, the Lambs blocked the doors of the Fargo clinic by stalling a car in front of it, locking its doors and chaining themselves inside by the neck using kryptonite bicycle locks.
When arrested, the Lambs have refused to cooperate in the most basic ways with law enforcement officials. Wishnatsky, for example, carried no identification and refused to give his name or to be fingerprinted after he was arrested on two separate occasions for violating an injunction. In court, he acted as his own lawyer and was convicted on misdemeanor charges both times.
"He's very articulate, very intelligent and well-versed in the law and I respect that," said Cleveland, who prosecuted him. "I do think a lot of what he did was aimed at tying us up in court and wasting our resources."
Wishnatsky said in an interview that he has spent a total of 18 months behind bars since 1990 in connection with antiabortion protests in New York and North Dakota. He spent most of 1992 at the state prison farm near Bismarck after he was convicted, for the second time, of violating a judge's order that he stay more than 100 feet from the Fargo Women's Health Center.
Wishnatsky, who believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible, said that he is engaged not in terrorism but in a holy war against sin. He faulted the "unbridled lust" and pervasive sexual immorality spawned by rock and roll music that originated during a decade he labeled "the fornication fifties." The tragic consequence of America's moral decline, he said, is the legalization and widespread popular acceptance of abortion.
Until he was 33, Wishnatsky never thought about sin; Christianity was equally alien to him. He traced his spiritual awakening to an incident that occurred in 1977 during a troubled period in his life when he was visiting a friend in Hawaii. On a beach on Waikiki, he met a woman who "prayed to Jesus to take away my sins."
"I had never considered myself a sinner," Wishnatksy said, adding that at the time he was wrestling with what he described as a serious addiction to marijuana, which would plague him for several more years. "I was just a low-level druggie, but when I heard the word 'sinner' it was a key, so I went out and got a King James Bible at a used-book store and started reading it."
Wishnatsky spent the next decade engaged in a spiritual odyssey. "I could see why things hadn't worked out in my life, like relationships with women," he said. He returned to New Jersey and lived with his mother. He was unemployed for several years during which time he joined the Mormon Church. "It was very good for me. It put the drugs behind me."
In 1987, while waiting for a commuter train, Wishnatsky picked up an antiabortion pamphlet that was lying on the floor. "There were pictures of aborted babies on it," he said. "I'd never seen anything like it."
He began studying antiabortion literature, and "that persuaded me that abortion kills unborn babies," he recalled. In 1988 he attended a rally in New York sponsored by Operation Rescue, which had targeted several clinics there. "I really liked it -- the evangelical fervor," he said. "That was the springboard." For the next year he spent his weekends protesting at clinics with Operation Rescue.
By l990 he had joined the Lambs and spent several months in jail in New York after refusing to give his name when he was arrested during a clinic blockade. During that time, he lost his job at the consulting firm.
In 1991 when the Lambs descended on Fargo, "I turned out to be one of them," he said.
Wishnatsky, who has never married or had children, has no personal experience with abortion. He views the procedure in unequivocal terms. Abortion, he states in a 44-page booklet he wrote last year in prison, is "the perfect solution" for those who "would rather kill an infant than bother with contraception."
In the interview, he equated abortion with the Holocaust and said he believes, like members of the Resistance during World War II, that he must do everything in his power to stop it. "How many Jews were killed just for who they were?" he asked. "And how many babies have been killed for what they are?"