We are winning. This may seem an odd statement, particularly in light of the recent elections in my state of Virginia in which pro-abortion Democrats swept the boards. My counterintuitive judgment comes from street experience in front of an abortion clinic.
Here is how I came to it. Last spring, my youngest daughter, 14 years old, asked me to take her to the movie Unplanned, which dramatically exposes Planned Parenthood’s abortion practices. After seeing it, she wanted to start demonstrating in front of the local abortion clinic. So that is what we began to do. I held a sign saying, “Pray for an End to Abortion.” She held one saying, “Abortion Harms Women.” (One day, out of my ear-shot, an older man stopped and challenged her, asking “how?” After she answered him, he simply said, “okay,” and moved on.) Sometimes we would stand close enough to say the rosary together; other times we would station ourselves far enough apart to be sure that people had time to read both signs as the cars went by.
The reactions have been instructive. Not surprisingly, most traffic goes by without a blink. However, the responses we have gotten have been overwhelmingly positive – honks, thumbs up, big smiles, sometimes shout-outs. A few have been dramatic. A woman drove by in an SUV shaking her arm vigorously and calling out something indecipherable. I could not tell if it was in approval or disapproval. Then she turned at the corner, came up the inner drive in front of the building, stopped her car at the door, and jumped out, shouting, “What you are doing is wonderful. Can I give you a hug?” She then came over and hugged my daughter and then me. She had a baby in the backseat. When I was there alone one afternoon, another woman pulled over in her car to express her support. She had once been pro-abortion and is now a pro-life activist.
On a hot summer day, a man, who had parked his car in front of the building (which houses more than the abortion clinic), came up to offer us water. We thanked him, and he said, “I’m a believer.” One fall afternoon, a man was making repairs to the front of building. When an abortion worker was coming down the front steps, he turned and said to her, “What you are doing is evil.”
This brings me to the sociology of the positive responses. At least half of them come from men. They are usually driving panel trucks or pickups. Signs on their vehicles announce plumbing services, landscaping, lawn-mowing, trash removal, home moving, and so on. They are workers, the blue collar crowd, the ones whose hands get in the dirt. I wondered at this. Then it dawned on me that these guys are not insulated from reality by wealth. Their experience of it is direct – too much so to buy the nonsense that an unborn child is not a human being. They know better and, unlike so many who go to college, have not been educated beyond the level of their intelligence into accepting unreality.
This also led me to reflect on why the most impassive drivers are behind the wheels of BMWs, Mercedes, and other luxury vehicles. The reason, I think, is the obverse – their wealth insulates them from reality. They can afford to ignore it or even to embrace unreality by supporting abortion. In either case they would not be so vulgar as to make a public demonstration of their position. For sure, there are no bumper stickers on their cars. They simply stare ahead and, if the traffic is stopped near us, pretend we’re not there. I try to smile just to irritate them.
The negative reactions are distinguished by their anger. They are expressed with hand gestures, violently shaking heads, and screaming vulgarities. Most of the negative responses come from men, and they are almost always obscene. What could be more harmless than a sign saying, “Pray for an End to Abortion”? Why the rage? I would guess that most of these men have either participated in an abortion or need abortion as a backup measure to allow them to live in the way in which they do. If you sexually exploit women, you need abortion. It’s that simple. Recall the chilling statement from the Supreme Court’s Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992) decision, which pointed out that abortion “could not be repudiated without serious inequity to people who… have organized intimate relationships and made choices… in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail.” After all, you can’t let a baby stand in your way should one of your “intimate relationships” produce one.
That’s why even praying for an end to abortion makes them furious – so angry that their obscenities are not withheld even when my young daughter is present. I began to think that her innocence offends them.
Of course, all the negative responses are not from men. On a spring afternoon, I saw a car drive up to the front of the clinic. The woman pulled into the handicapped parking near the door. I went there with my poster to be sure she would see it. She was late middle-aged. She told me that what I was doing was “disgusting.” I told her that the only thing that disgusted me was the taking of innocent human life. “How many babies do you want women to have?” she asked. I responded that my wife and I have four children. On the women’s issue angle, I said I was very glad my mother did not abort me. I then told her my wife comes from a family of nine children and I was very glad her mother had not aborted her. She then angrily shouted, “Shut up!” and stormed into the building. I assumed she was probably a clinic worker, but subsequently learned that she is the founder and director of the abortion clinic.
Of course, it’s not fun being screamed at or given the hand gesture. But one quickly becomes inured to it. In fact, one older man demonstrating in front of the clinic told me he felt it was a privilege to receive the abuse as he was “sharing in the sufferings of Christ.” The leader of the Arlington diocese’s “40 Days for Life” program was standing on the sidewalk directly across the entrance to the building when a passing car threw water on her. Unfazed, she looked up and observed, “That was a first.” On another day, I met a man who had come some distance to pick up his elderly mother in Arlington to help him keep watch. Smiling beatifically under her sun hat, she was in a wheelchair holding her sign. He stood further up the street with his. They were both beaming, two of the happiest people I’ve ever met.
This activity has not only been a learning experience for me, but for my children. After demonstrating in front of the clinic, my oldest daughter penned this poem:
A light in the dark!
But the candle was snuffed before the wax had time to melt.
It was put out so quickly that the fingers were never burnt.
They stayed cold.
The room stayed dark.
No one saw.
There was only a shadow of a flicker left on the inside of an eyelid.
And a tear fell silently onto the red bathroom floor.
But the fact is that more people are seeing. The reason for optimism is that the abortion clinic is in a northern Virginia suburb of Washington, D. C., a very politically liberal area. This makes the positive responses all the more impressive. Every experience in front of the clinic has left me convinced that we’re winning. You can’t fight the street. If you don’t believe me, try it and you’ll take heart.
(Editor’s note: This essay was first posted at CWR on December 2, 2019.)
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