Grandma goes to the Supreme Court: Aims to end ban on pro-life sidewalk counseling


The Supreme Court will hear a case this session that challenges the Massachusetts law that established a 35ft buffer zone around abortion clinics in the state. The case McCullen v. Coakely is already stirring up controversy in the media.

Amanda Marcotte, writing for Slate said this case is about anti-choicers being allowed to “protest” i.e, single out providers and patients for harassment. Marcotte seeks to invoke fear of ‘anti-choicers’ by scaring her audience with the murders of abortion doctors that took place in the 90’s. The exception being the murder of former abortionist George Tiller which was done by a diagnosed schizophrenic who was not representative of any pro-life organization.  Tiller’s murder was rightly condemned by all the major pro-life organizations that seek non-violent activism.

Pro-life sidewalk counselor James Pouillon of Owosso, Michigan also became a victim when he was gunned down in front of a high school as he peacefully protested abortion against abortion. Tiller and Pouillon’s death should tell us the actions of a few twisted, violent people doesn’t represent a whole movement. Maybe Marcotte doesn’t see it that way. She seeks to add fuel to the fires of division by writing, “There’s every reason to fear that if anti-choicers can start getting closer to the doctors and patients they hate so passionately, violence could return”.

Every reason to fear? Really? I have to wonder if Marcotte’s ever been to a sidewalk outside of an abortion clinic. The only thing scary about the counselors might be their pointed canes. In all seriousness, most of the people on the sidewalks are elderly Catholic men and women. Some who’ve been faithfully standing in the same place for 30 years or longer. Shout out to Dora and Betty in Connecticut. Of course there are other groups that will come out, especially during 40 Days for Life events. But from my years of experience I’ve mostly seen elderly white grandmas and grandpops in front of abortion clinics in D.C, GA, CT, NC, CA and more.

It just so happens that the McCullen behind McCullen v. Coakely isn’t the raving violent harasser Marcotte  paints a picture of. Eleanor McCullen and her husband Joe from Newton, Mass. are grandparents in their mid-70’s. The McCullens have been married for 41 years, raised three children and now have grandkids. Are you scared yet? Most of us picture grandparents spending their days playing golf, knitting adorable sweaters or playing bingo. Eleanor McCullen is not your typical grandma. Though she’s not violent, she is tough.  Her husband Joe calls her a “front-line solider” and he’s absolutely right. This quiet but strong woman is courageously fighting to save lives on the battlefield of abortion. 

In 2000 at a mass service Eleanor had a personal encounter with God that changed her dramatically. When she talked with her priest about it he told her she was supposed to go out of her comfort zone to build up the kingdom of God. He told her she’d have to stretch herself.

At 64 Eleanor wasn’t sure how much stretching she was capable of doing. When her priest suggested she work with mothers seeking abortions she told him she was too old. “Are you 103” he asked? When she said ‘No” he said, “ Then you’re not too old”.

Eleanor took her priests advice and began praying with sidewalk counselors outside of a local Planned Parenthood abortion clinic. When a counselor was sick one day, Eleanor stepped in and began talking to women.

CitizenLink interviewed Elenaor who shared her approach with them:

“My main thing is just, ‘Good morning,’ ” she says. “ ‘What can I do to help you? I’m available if you have any questions.’ I give them a brochure and my telephone number. I just say I’m there to help them, I can take them to a safe center right then if they want to go find out about their options, not to rush into anything. If they don’t feel there’s help available for them there, they can always come back to the abortion clinic tomorrow.”

Eleanor’s work doesn’t stop on the sidewalk. When a woman she talks with decides to get an ultrasound, she is there. She is there through nine months of pregnancy. When the call comes to go to the hospital, she responds. She’s at the Christening to share the joy. Eleanor loves to hold baby showers for moms. She and her husband Joe go beyond buying diapers and baby bottles. Together they’ve helped furnish apartments, pay for rent, buy groceries, get fridges fixed and they’ve even opened their home in MA and second home in Maine to women in need.

Eleanor told Citizen Link, “Everybody has a different story, “I don’t pay for cable or things they don’t need. I find out what they need, not what they want. So financial assistance is always wonderful, but I call on people for moral and spiritual support too — encouraging the young mother and father.”

Her husband Joe mentors Fathers, helps them with resumes and encourages them.  He says:

“For the most part, probably 90 percent of the cases, these people have turned their lives around. Sometimes these are young men who are struggling to find themselves and be good fathers, live a lifestyle that they aren’t accustomed to. It’s not necessarily the way they were brought up, but they take the responsibility of being a father seriously. They have difficulties, especially in this economy, but they’re good solid people who are doing their best under difficult circumstances, so we continue to support them.“They call me on my birthday. To be called ‘Dad’ is really a neat thing.”

I’m proud of Eleanor, Joe and all the sidewalk counselors behind this court case. Sidewalk counselors get a bad rap as do Pregnancy Resource Centers. The reality is many women need someone to talk to, even at the 11th hour. Some are brought in by a boyfriend or parents who are pressuring them. Others are conflicted and want to hear about abortion alternatives. Some are aborting because they  lack resources that can be attained. My own dear Mother needed more than a lady on a sidewalk outside of a clinic. My mom needed to hear words of hope spoken to her from a janitor inside the clinic.The janitor simply asked her if she wanted to have her baby and my mom said Yes. There are many other ladies waiting to be asked the same question.

I hope Eleanor McCullen wins her case so she can ask them face to face. With a smile, a hug and some fresh baked cookies.

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