By Dave Andrusko
We’re returning, as promised last Saturday, to the passing of Dr. Jean Garton, a genuine pro-life heroine. I’ve known Jean for more than 30 years and 50 tributes wouldn’t suffice
Along with Jack and Barbara Willke’s “Handbook on Abortion,” Jean’s masterpiece, “Who Broke the Baby?” was required reading for pro-lifers of my generation. To younger people, who live in a world of Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat, it is close to impossible to understand the impact of the printed page (and the “Willke slides”) on that early pro-life Movement which was gradually coming together, first to contest abortion “reform,” later to battle abortion repeal.
I first learned of the murder of Dean, Jean’s and her husband Chic’s first son and second child, when she appeared many years ago on the “Focus on the Family” program when it was hosted by Dr. James Dobson. I mention that radio program because Jean wrote about Dean’s death in what I consider the finest piece she ever wrote, aside from her classic book: her essay, “A Celebration of Life,” which appeared in 2007 in the Lutheran Woman’s Quarterly.
Few people knew that Jean was a genuine pro-life convert, a Saul-on-the- road-to-Damascus conversion even if it took six months. Here is the background.
The 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy made Chic take another look at his career as a successful businessman. A year later, at age 40, he entered the seminary.
Jean and their three children followed with what seemed like a “healthy bank account” which was soon depleted by the many hospital stays and medicines needed to treat their oldest daughter’s severe rheumatoid arthritis. Some days they subsisted on oatmeal, some days on nothing. But thanks to God’s providence and the help of local churches, they made it through Chic’s four years in seminary.
No sooner were they ready to begin their “service as full-time church workers” in Pennsylvania than Jean found herself pregnant at 40. “This fourth child wasn’t wanted,” Jean wrote, “so the obvious solution was to abort the pregnancy. Our course, the human mind is never more clever or resourceful than when it is engaged in self-justification.”
(We talked last summer over coffee about how she had felt. As passionately and as honestly as she wrote about her inner turmoil in the Lutheran Woman’s Quarterly essay, it was not until we talked at great length that I fully grasped just how much she had not wanted to be pregnant.)
But this was prior to Roe v. Wade and she could not find a doctor to “terminate” her pregnancy. In her essay Jean went on to explain how she joined an activist group “seeking to promote abortion-on-demand.”
I spent six months studying the abortion issue from numerous perspectives in an attempt to find confirmation that abortion, as its advocates claimed, helps women, doesn’t take a human life, and is a choice God allows us to make. I came out the other end of that exhaustive research with a changed heart and mind and with a commitment to be a voice in defense of the unseen, unheard, unborn child.
In 1969 Donn was born, the same Donn who would be riding with them in 1979 when police tracked them down to tell them Dean had been murdered…in Dallas. Jean wrote
He had just completed four years in the Air Force during the Vietnam War and was beginning a management training program. Dean, our first son, our planned son, our wanted son, dead, while seated between us bringing great comfort was Donn, our second son, our unplanned son, our unwanted son, whom I had wanted dead.
Over the many decades that followed her pro-life transformation, Jean wrote and testified and spoke on behalf of that “unseen, unheard, unborn child.” Few were as articulate, fewer still who could write as well, fewer yet who could move an audience to “see” abortion in a new light.
We talked a few years back about co-authoring a book. It would have been like Shakespeare working with Mickey Spillane. But had we put that book together, the world would have been blessed with one last book from a master craftsman.
When Jean wrote “A Celebration of Life,” she was already joking about being a “Genuine Antique Lutheran–Been There, Done That, Still Prayin.’” But anyone who heard her speak at the Prayer Breakfast at the 2016 National Right to Life Convention knew that although she was in her 80s, Jean was as sharp as ever, as persuasive as ever, and as inspirational as ever.
In light of her death, I believe it is appropriate to close this tribute to my friend with the conclusion of her Lutheran Woman’s Quarterly essay. She had just finished telling us about her extended family: her children and her grandchildren and her great-great grandchildren.
“My cup truly runneth over?” she wrote. Then
I don’t know what is ahead in this journey, but I know that Jesus is ahead. I don’t know what chapter will follow this one, because it is the Lord’s story to write, not mine. All I have is today. He hasn’t given me tomorrow yet, and maybe He won’t, but I have His promise that even if He doesn’t, I will still be alive and in His presence but then face to face. That means the best is yet to come! As the children’s hymn says:
“Who so happy as I am,
even now the Shepherd’s lamb?
“And when my short life is ended,
by His angel host attended,
“He shall fold me to his breast,
there within his arms to rest.”