How I Learned About the Power of Pro-Life Witness
Participating in public pro-life prayer has given me deeper insights about just how important is this outreach to a community. Here are some of the lessons I have learned.
For years, I have prayed outside Planned Parenthood centers, mainly in small groups, which included men and women of all ages and walks of life. For the most part, these groups were organized at the local parish level, sometimes coordinating with a larger organization like 40 Days for Life. On one or two occasions, I prayed alone outside the facility.
The stated intention of our group was to establish a prayerful presence outside Planned Parenthood. We prayed: for the lives of the unborn babies to be spared from abortion, for the mothers and fathers to choose against abortion, for conversion of heart for those working in these abortion centers.
Together we stood in a single-file line on the sidewalk in front. Most often, I prayed the rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet in unison with the others. Each of us took turns leading the prayers. After the rosary, we sang hymns like “Immaculate Mary.” Usually, I stayed for up to an hour, or, if short on time, about 30 minutes.
A Clear (but Loving) Message
As the weeks went by, our prayer watch expanded to include some brief sidewalk conversations or information distribution. From the short conversations and questions asked by young women going into Planned Parenthood, it was clear that many had no real information on normal pregnancy, prenatal life, or abortion itself. My rosary accompanied me there for prayer, but I also carried brochures with information on the baby's normal prenatal development, as well as contact information for nearby pro-life pregnancy help centers.
Later, I added this information to my cell phone, as I learned that some women would more readily accept a text message than a brochure. My phone also came in handy as it enabled me to share a 4-D ultrasound video of a baby in utero. Eventually, I made a poster that any passers-by could see: a copy of the beautiful Life Magazine cover photo from 1965, which depicted an 18-week baby in utero taken by Swedish photojournalist Lennart Nilsson. I captioned the photo “Choose Life.”
The reactions on the part of various clients heading into Planned Parenthood ran the gamut. Some clients asked us for prayers, while others called us crude names and made rude gestures. Some left after we gave them a handout describing abortion alternatives. Others took the handouts and still went into PP, but later came out thanking us and waving. Some avoided looking at us as they drove past.
Reactions to the prayer group were not limited to Planned Parenthood clients or employees. More often than not, passers-by in cars and pedestrians with whom we shared the sidewalk as well as those on the opposite sidewalk reacted to our presence. We saw thumbs-up and thumbs-down. We heard screaming and saw shaking fists.
Glimpses of Hope
One day a man riding his bicycle stopped and told us that he had seen us again and again and it had “got [him] to thinking.” He "believed what we were doing was right." This clearly distraught man told us how he could have been a father, but his wife, whom he had long since divorced, had had two abortions so she could continue to run competitively. We asked his name and promised to pray for him and his ex-wife. We talked briefly about Project Rachel [healing ministry]. We gave the local life center’s phone numbers. As he departed, he told us he wanted to "make people aware of adoption."
Another man pulled over to the side of the road to tell us his story – that he was going to be a grandfather. He told us that a short while ago, his daughter had come there to get an abortion but was moved to change her mind because of the presence of people praying outside the clinic. He had stopped this day because he wanted to thank all present and the others in front of Planned Parenthood who prayed for the safety of his unborn grandchild, his pregnant daughter, and his family.
A man dropped off his teen daughter at Planned Parenthood. Driving past us, he rolled his window down, rosary beads hanging off his rearview mirror, and called over to us. He confidently told us he was "Catholic and for abortion." I told him we were there to help both the baby and the mom. He responded that he "didn’t give a –––– about the baby." I asked him why he was there, and he told me his daughter was getting her Depo Provera shot. I mentioned some of the dangers of these contraceptive injectables and gave him a pamphlet on the adverse effects of different contraceptives. He drove away.
Once, I was the only one who showed up to pray. I almost left but decided to pray one rosary. As I stood alone with my Nilsson baby poster, a luxury car with a young man at the wheel pulled up curbside. I was somewhat anxious as he rolled down his window. He asked me why groups of people were here so frequently. I said that abortions were performed here and explained why the groups prayed in front of the center. The young man looked incredulous. He pointed to my poster and asked me, "How old is that baby?" I told him, "18 weeks in the womb." Shocked, he said he "couldn't believe that my photo was of a baby in the womb!" He then asked me up to what age Planned Parenthood could abort babies. I answered him, "Up to birth." He shook his head from side to side, horrified. He told me he had never heard about any of it, and that he was engaged to be married. He thanked me and drove off. I finished my rosary and departed.
Some weeks later, a community-wide pro-life walk took place, ending in front of Planned Parenthood. Many in the larger-than-normal crowd held pro-life signs. Standing in the crowd, I noticed a familiar luxury car, its driver giving enthusiastic thumbs-up signs while blowing the horn. It was the same young man that I had spoken to only weeks ago. Only this time, he knew why the people were there. And because he now knew, he was with them.
I have always been pro-life and always prayed for an end to abortion. My experiences praying in front of Planned Parenthood were fruitful in ways I had not anticipated. The most important lesson I learned was that a prayerful presence should never be underestimated: It yields an “abundance of good fruits”—some immediately observable, some not readily seen.
While the prayer efforts are directly intended for those associated with abortion and the abortion centers, they positively affect the surrounding community. Prayerful presence reverberates.
A Prayer for Respect for Life
Father, You gave us the gift of life and You called it “very good”. We thank You for the gift of life, help us to always welcome it with joy and reverence. Please give us the grace to value and the courage to defend the dignity of all human persons from conception to natural death.
We ask for healing and reconciliation for all affected by abortion, suicide, euthanasia, and all abuses to the sanctity of human life. Help them to know Your unending mercy and be filled with Your peace.
We pray for all those struggling with difficult or overwhelming decisions. Place in their lives supportive men and women to lead them to You and provide for their needs. Fill them with hope and strength.
We pray for all in leadership roles that they would defend the value of all human life at all stages. Give them the courage and charity to defend the right to life.
We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.