Where the fight is, and where it should be.
Recently I was on the sidewalk in front of a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic. Temperatures regularly reach 100˚ F during the hot and steamy month of July in southeast Texas, and this Monday was no different. “Dear God, PLEASE let it rain today,” I prayed. As my roommate Kelsi and I approached the clinic, our eyes scanned the packed parking lot. Today was an abortion day. At this particular clinic, an out-of-town abortionist only comes in every other Saturday and Monday to perform ultrasounds and surgical abortions up to 14 weeks LMP (Last Menstrual Period), so the parking lot is usually lined with vehicles and chaos as clients come and go.
Being on the sidewalk never gets any easier. Every time I am about to speak, my hands are shaking, my heart is pounding, my thoughts are spinning, and I’m lucky to get out a complete sentence without fifty “umms” or sounding like a dying cat. I pulled out my rosary and began to pray. I had made it about halfway through the first decade of my rosary as a car pulled into the driveway. I didn’t have time to collect my thoughts; it was go-time. I walked up to the menacing seven-foot-high black fence barring us on the sidewalk from the parking lot and attempted my usual introduction: “Hello ladies! My name is Veronika, I’m not sure what you’re here for today but if you’re interested, I’d be more than happy to share some information with you about your local healthcare alternatives. Planned Parenthood is not the safest place for your health care needs, and I’m out here because I feel you deserve better than what Planned Parenthood has to offer you.”
As I walked along the fence, the young girl and her mother were escorted by a Planned Parenthood volunteer, who told them not to listen to what I was saying or distracted them so they couldn’t hear me. It happens all the time. I understand that they think they are doing the right thing. I know there have been some radical individuals mislabeled as “pro-life” who have done some atrocious things to make the escorts feel vindicated in what they’re doing to “protect” women from those “crazy, anti-choice, misogynistic extremists.” I’m not here to condone or defend the actions committed by an angry, violent, and insane person who injures or kills another human being. Not a single person who is truly pro-life would. But come on, what is so threatening about a 21 year- old, string-bean looking girl sheepishly offering a pamphlet from across the fence?
Maybe it’s because that’s the same fence that Abby Johnson crossed just a few years earlier after she witnessed an ultrasound guided abortion, is now a huge pro-life advocate, and has created a ministry for abortion clinic workers who want out. Maybe it’s because prayer works, and they feel threatened by that. Or maybe it’s because there really is no “choice” behind Planned Parenthood’s abortion agenda, given the fact that it is the one of the most lucrative parts of their multi-million dollar business and one life saved from abortion means an anywhere from $300-$950 lost that they could have made had those radical “anti-choicers” praying on the sidewalk not sabotaged their self-proclaimed “pro-woman, pro-family” organization; but I digress.
A few minutes later, I saw a man exit the clinic. As he walked to his car, I approached the fence and said “Hello sir! My name is Veronika; I’m not quite sure why you’re here today, but if you’re interested I’d love to offer you some information about other places in the area for your healthcare needs.” He walked up to the fence and asked me what type of information I had. I got closer to the fence to hear him because the cars were driving by on the busy road behind me, and told him that there were other places in the area to go to besides Planned Parenthood, and would love to assist him further but wasn’t quite sure what he was there for. He told me that the woman with him was inside getting an ultrasound.
My heart pounded. Knowing it was an abortion day, I had absolutely no idea if they were specifically there for a pre-abortion ultrasound or just a routine appointment. This was more than my usual encounter on non-abortion days at Planned Parenthood- I was face to face with a man who was interested in what I had to say, and could potentially contribute to a decision of whether or not to protect or deny an unborn child’s right to life. As I opened my mouth to speak, one of the veteran Planned Parenthood escorts approached the man and told him he was not allowed to speak to me. “This is private property. You are not allowed to speak to the protesters. If you want to talk to her, you can walk around the fence, but you can’t do it from the parking lot.” He looked at her in disbelief, and said that he could talk to me if he wanted to. She began to get irritated and curtly reiterated that it was “against the law” and he would have to leave. He looked at me and said “just hand me the information over the fence,” and opened the door to his vehicle. I chimed in “You know, she is here representing ‘choice’ for women, but if she truly believed in choice, she would let you speak to me so you can be fully informed of your options. I can meet you at the driveway with more information if you would like to talk further.” So he closed the door, backed out, and pulled into the driveway where I met him with another pamphlet for crisis pregnancy resources. He rolled down the window.
“I know you said at the fence that the woman inside was receiving an ultrasound. Did you know that right next door the CTOMA building offers completely free ultrasounds?” He said he was unaware. I responded, “OK! Well if you’re interested it might not hurt to get a second opinion on the ultrasound; I’m not sure if you or the woman are abortion-minded or how you feel about the issue, but did you know that Planned Parenthood is actually performing abortions right now in that clinic?” He looked somewhat surprised and told me that she wasn’t there to get an abortion today, but was just looking into their options.
“She’s older- in her forties,” he said, “and has had some health complications in the past. You see- she doesn’t have medical insurance; we didn’t know what to do, so we just Googled places and this was the first one that came up, and made an appointment here.” I nodded my head and pointed across the street to the Coalition for Life, and asked him if he would be interested in going over there, where they offer free pregnancy tests and other resources on local healthcare alternatives as well as referrals for financial and material support for people in unplanned pregnancy situations. “I can meet you there if you’d like!” He smiled and said yes, so he pulled out of the driveway and headed towards the Coalition.
I met him there and informed Emily, a staff member at the Coalition, about the man I was bringing in. As we sat in the office, he told me that he was really upset with how Planned Parenthood had treated him. “They wouldn’t even let me inside with her.” Unfortunately, this is nothing new for an organization that prides itself on being “pro-family.” Countless times I have seen young mothers denied entrance for attempting to bring a baby or a child inside instead of leaving them unattended in a hot vehicle, even if it was only to run in and pick up birth control pills.
Then again, that is what choice is to Planned Parenthood: Choice is not allowing a woman’s partner inside the clinic to support her. Choice is taking away a man’s freedom of speech, making it “illegal” for him to speak to someone offering free information about alternatives for their situation. Choice means denying women fully informed consent by manipulating and distorting facts about fetal development. Choice means forever silencing the innocent victims lost to abortion. This “choice”, ladies and gentlemen, is what Planned Parenthood prides itself on, but in all reality, they are anything but “freedom” or “choice.” I told him how crummy that was, and also apologized on behalf of the escort who told him he wasn’t allowed to speak to me. He said he’s seen us on the sidewalk before as he was driving by, but never knew what we did, and asked if I had dealt with that particular escort before. I smiled and said, “Oh yeah, that’s not the first time she’s done that. Most of us are just out there to pray, but some, like myself, attempt to speak to people going inside the clinic, which she doesn’t like very much.” We both chuckled and Emily brought in some paperwork for the man. I informed him that this particular Planned Parenthood doesn’t even have a doctor at the clinic full time- the only time one comes is on ultrasound/abortion days, but regular business days the nurses or other clinic workers administered pregnancy tests, STD screenings, etc. He was perturbed, and told me he was texting the woman he was with to ask her to come to the Coalition. “I’m tired of that place. I’m asking her to come over here. They made her turn off her cell phone when she went in so I don’t know if she’ll get my text or not, but could you do me a favor and go over there to meet her? That way she can walk over here with you.” I gladly consented and told him to tell her my name and what I was wearing.
I was waiting for about ten minutes when I saw his car pull back into the Planned Parenthood parking lot. We waved to each other before he entered the clinic. A few minutes later they both came out as the woman shot us a huge grin and showed Kelsi and me a picture of the ultrasound. I asked them if there was anything else I could do for them, and they smiled, saying “No, thanks!” and drove off. Soon after however I saw them turn back into the Coalition’s parking lot, so I walked back over to make sure everything was ok. The man got a call from work so he stayed outside, but I introduced myself to the woman and invited her inside. We sat down and she told us about her situation. She was over forty and didn’t have the best medical history. She’s had complications with blood clots in the past and her mother had a stroke close to her age, which made her very nervous about being pregnant at her age and with her genes. She also doesn’t have medical insurance, which obviously makes paying for a high-risk pregnancy incredibly difficult.
My heart sank. It is hard enough to find yourself in an unplanned pregnancy even if you’re in a totally secure relationship with financial stability, but to have all of these other medical complications on top of it? I was confronted with the reality of the risk of “mother’s health” that commonly makes up an exception to the abortion rule for many pro-lifers. This was a real woman sitting in front of me, in a real crisis, and I was there attempting to help. We chatted a bit to lighten the mood and talked about the business she and her partner ran together. She told us he was very supportive of her and was an amazing person, but they were still freaking out and didn’t know what to do.
According to her ultrasound, the doctor at Planned Parenthood said she was about six weeks pregnant, but told her there was no heartbeat yet. I immediately knew something was fishy, because science has long since proven that the heart begins to beat a mere 22 days after conception. At six weeks after conception, her baby would already have detectable brainwaves. Then again, this is an ideal situation Planned Parenthood likes to prey on; a single, unwed woman in a high-risk, low-financial means, unplanned, crisis pregnancy situation. “Of course he said there isn’t a heartbeat,” I thought to myself. “Why would he? According to Planned Parenthood’s fetal development information, life doesn’t begin at conception, brainwaves aren’t detectable until at least 12 weeks, and their crude sketch of a fetus actually does make it look like a squirrel. What a joke.”
We chatted a little more before her partner came back from his call and the Coalition for Life provided them with information about other doctors in the area who specifically deal with high-risk pregnancies, and also gave them contact info about how to get financial and material assistance from the Gabriel Project and Hope Pregnancy Center, where they offer free parenting classes and have a “point-system” where parents can earn points and “buy” baby items from the baby store that are donated locally. They looked relieved, and she began to talk about how she thought it was a boy and was very excited. The couple left in good spirits a few minutes later, but the woman soon returned and asked where she could go to receive the free-ultrasound for a second opinion. Emily directed her to CTOMA or Hope Pregnancy.
As the woman was leaving again, she brought up the heartbeat question a second time, saying, “I mean it obviously doesn’t have a heartbeat yet, since it’s just a clump of cells, right?” Emily looked at me and said to her, “Well, it really is more than just that. There is some pretty amazing stuff that has been going on.” I told her to check out the Endowment for Human Development website to see some awesome videos of fetal development that show the life inside the womb and how you could even see the heart beginning to beat just three weeks and one day after conception. She smiled and said she was already looking at a website that tracks your baby’s growth and development by sending you daily updates and information. After thanking us again, she returned to their vehicle and drove off.
As I returned to the sidewalk, a thunderstorm rolled in. Huge raindrops pelted our umbrellas and lightning clapped above our heads as a cool breeze blew past, relieving us from the scorching heat of the day. “Thank you God- for the rain, and for letting me get to know that couple,” I prayed. That was the first time anyone had ever talked to me on an abortion day in my two and a half years as a sidewalk counselor. Although it never gets easier, and often times it feels like your prayers are left unanswered, it is moments like those that make it all worth it.
If you are interested in becoming a sidewalk counselor, check out your local 40 Days for Life campaign or a nearby pregnancy resource center to get trained on how you can help people in need. You never know how God might use you for His glory. Being a sidewalk counselor can make you a real-life hero. You can literally help save some one’s life simply by offering a loving hand and kind words. If sidewalk counseling isn’t exactly what’s right for you, look to collect donations of baby items for centers like the Gabriel Project, because having those resources just might be enough to allow someone to choose life for their baby. Everything little thing you do matters.