Jenny Morson was 13 when she first got arrested for protesting in front of a Baltimore abortion clinic.
In the three years since, the Crofton teen-ager has been arrested more than 20 times and spent several evenings in Maryland detention centers for her anti-abortion work.
"The first time I got arrested, I was pretty scared. They put thehandcuffs on and took us to the police station, and I didn't know what was going to happen," says Jenny. Now, as a veteran protester, shemakes rueful jokes about her police record.
Jenny volunteers withYouth for America, the youth organization of Operation Rescue, whichhas gained national attention by staging sit-ins at abortion clinicsaround the country.
Lively and attractive, with long dark hair and a sprinkling of freckles, the teen-ager doesn't look much like a warrior. But she is vehement about her opinions. "For me, opposing abortion isn't about a religious thing," she says. "It's about a basic right to liberty, a basic civil right I think should apply to the unborn."
People frequently tell Jenny she's too young to be so self-righteous, she says. She responds this way: "If I'm old enough to have an abortion, I'm old enough to say I think it's wrong.
"I'm not judging anybody. I just think these girls are being lied to."
Fervor runs in the family. Jenny's mother, Rosemary, works with Operation Rescue, as do her four sisters. When Jenny was 12, she attended her first protest and watched her 17-year-old sister get arrested.
Last summer the Anne Arundel County youngster was arrested in the much-publicized anti-abortion protests in Atlanta, and she returned this week from participating at a clinic protest in California.
At the protests, which she calls "rescues," Jenny joins others in blocking the entrances to abortion clinics and in accosting women entering the clinics.
Operation Rescue has been criticized for harassing women, but Jenny says she is always polite and only wants to make sure people have all sides of the story before making decisions.
The 16-year-oldopted for home schooling this year so she can graduate a year early,before going on to study music at Franciscan University in Ohio. Herother motivation was time to travel to protests.
"You know what you're doing is right, but it's scary," says Jenny, describing the protests. "People on the other side of the argument are there, and sometimes it gets violent. It's really tense and stressful."
Tiny scarsmar her wrists from the handcuffs put on during the arrests.
"Usually the police are not mean to young people under 18," she says. "But they'll use flexible cuffs that they can tighten until you start tolose circulation and your hands turn blue. It's a scare tactic."
Youth for America, begun two years ago, is organized similarly to Operation Rescue. A field director in Atlanta, where the operation is based, sends out a newsletter to leaders throughout the country, informing them about upcoming "rescues." The newsletters also contain suggestions about other ways to become involved, such as writing Congress or picketing.
Parents of minors must sign release forms for those under 18 to take part in any sit-in or illegal protest.
Says Rosemary Morson, Jenny's mother, "I support the (anti-abortion) position, and I think it's good she has a sense of conviction, but it's still very hard when it's your child."
Opponents of the organization criticize its use of teen-agers as a public relations ploy, and Jenny acknowledges her political contribution to the anti-abortion cause. But she also thinks other teen-agers are more likely to respond to her than to an older person.
"One girl I talked to at a protest came out(from the clinic) 10 minutes later and said she'd decided she just couldn't have an abortion," Jenny says. "We took her to a Crisis Pregnancy Center, and her baby is due in two months. Things like that giveyou assurance that you're helping people."
Still, spending the night in jail isn't a pleasant thing, admits Jenny. "When they put me in the holding cell (at Waxter Children's Center in Laurel), I cried and cried. But I was lucky. The person in the cell with me was a nice person. She'd been arrested for being an accomplice to a theft."
Growing up in a family with eight children -- three boys and five girls -- has given the teen-ager confidence to voice her opinions, she says. "My older sisters inspired me a lot," she says.
But what convinced her most were personal experiences with two high school friends who got pregnant, she says. One friend, she says, decided to have thechild and had a very rough time handling the embarrassment of the pregnancy. "But in the end she was happier, and her parents adopted thebaby so she could finish school," Jenny says.
Jenny says the other friend had an abortion because her parents decided she should. "Shethought everything would be OK, but it ripped her apart," Jenny says. "She tried to commit suicide, she felt so guilty over the fact thatshe had lost this child."