It’s 7:00 a.m. on the most frigid day on record in the last 20 years at the local abortion center. I park my car and wondering to myself, “Why am I here again?” As a sidewalk counselor for almost 30 years, my call began when my wife and I were presented with the ultrasound picture of our first child. God used that ultrasound picture to show me that life was a gift from God and that as a new father, I would be a defender and protector of this beautiful life. Over the coming months, I felt the ongoing call to do something to help protect other children in that same stage of life that are not protected because of our current unjust laws that allow abortion through all nine months of pregnancy. This call eventually led me to take action by trying to help mothers change their minds about abortion as they enter the local abortion center. However, there are days, especially cold days like this, when I feel uninspired and I ask myself again “Is it worth it?”
We are now in January 2014, and the struggle against legalized abortion has lasted 41 years. Over 50 million unborn children are not with us because of an egregious court decision that has not only cost these precious children their lives, but has caused countless mothers, fathers, and family members a lifetime of heartache and regret.
Reluctantly, I open the car door to a blast of icy damp air that jolts me out of my self-pity. I gather myself and greet another “prayer warrior,” Dave, with a warm hug that begins to lift my spirits as we head toward the dark and deteriorating building where mothers enter the abortion facility. I see my fellow volunteers on the sidewalk. They hail from a variety of denominations but are united in Christ.
Some volunteers are praying the Rosary, some reading Scripture, some positioning themselves to approach the imminent throng of families that will soon enter. I am comforted by their presence, and reminded that “where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). Smiles and conversation begin, but there is an eerie uneasiness in the air as we anxiously prepare ourselves spiritually to approach total strangers in a highly charged emotional state. Our hope is to let them know about the life-saving alternatives offered by the providentially located Crisis Pregnancy Center next door. A Woman’s Choice Resource Center helps mothers in so many ways – through counseling, including post-abortion counseling, financial assistance, job placement, day-care, and mother-infant support and training. A Woman’s Choice and other centers like it have helped hundreds of mothers each year change their hearts and choose life for their unborn children.
I then see the “escorts,” as they call themselves, with their easily identifiable orange vests. They oppose our pro-life views and make it very difficult for us to hand out literature to the families entering the center. Some are more civil than others, but there are many who curse us, mock us, and sometimes push us aside as they bulldoze their way toward the entrance. For me, this may be the biggest challenge: to remain at peace in the middle of conflict, but with God’s grace, I am prodded and reminded to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
This bring to mind Father Reilly, who founded a sidewalk counseling ministry called “Helpers of God’s Precious Infants,” focused on prayer, fasting, Holy Mass, and Eucharistic Adoration as a way of changing hearts and helping mothers choose life for their children. Father Reilly compares abortion centers to Golgotha. He says, “They have to see Christ. The only thing that will move people to leave the culture of death is to meet real Christians, to meet Christ.”
I try to remain focused on those that I am called to serve: the mothers and the fathers and their children. I am moved with pity when I see the easy-to-identify abortion-minded mothers because they always look apprehensive, scared, and on edge. Many of them have tears in their eyes, and most look down to avoid eye contact at all costs. As we approach and try to hand them literature, and encourage them to seek help at the Crisis Pregnancy Center, there is a moment of hope. As the saying goes, “the eyes are the gateway to the soul,” and it is absolutely true with these mothers.
Immediately, some make eye contact and respond. The eyes reveal their angst but also their inner cry for help, even when their words counter that. So against all odds, just like the one sheep in ninety-nine, a young mother will occasionally connect with our message and begin a conversation that leads to a “save.” These moments when God pours His grace upon these uncertain mothers make it all worthwhile as lives are truly saved, both physically and spiritually! God is bringing His light to this place of darkness! In fact, this morning, I received a text from Angela Minter, a sidewalk counselor, and founder of “Sisters for Life,” an organization that promotes chastity and Christian values. The text reads “Saved baby today! To God be all the glory!!! Please pray for this young college student! The Lord is so faithful to allow Sisters for Life to be part of a saved baby and mom! Angela.”
I now recall my dispiritedness from earlier today, and I am renewed again in the Lord. Especially this month when we observe the infamous anniversary of the legalization of abortion, Roe v. Wade, let us take heart and know that the ultimate battle is already won. “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31). Happy New Year!
Ed Harpring is the Coordinator for Pro-Life Ministries for the Archdiocese of Louisville