Last Wednesday, the usual small crowd gathered outside Planned Parenthood. It is abortion day; every week about twelve unborn children die here, as far as I can tell. While some plan only to pray, I am armed with materials about abortion procedures, resources, adoption, things a woman might need to make an informed decision.
As cars drive in, I step forward offering information about the local pregnancy center.
Some drivers do not stop, either because they do not notice or because they do not want to notice. Some do and listen to me, “Good morning! My name is Joan and I wanted to offer you some other options.”
One car pulled in and, even though the window was open, the woman did not want to accept the pamphlet. She was talking on the phone, but the man waved as he pulled into the parking lot. He waved again, dismissively I thought, when the woman refused to talk to me while walking toward the clinic building.
I continued to offer pamphlets and call out options to the couples who come in. The parking lot was more crowded than normal. A few couples stopped, listened for a minute to my offers of help, and took a pamphlet.
As usual, the Knights of Columbus left after an hour and a half and a few women and children came to pray the rosary in their place. The woman with the walker stayed for three rosaries, praying on her knees and sometimes crying out, “Praised be Jesus Christ; praised be Jesus Christ,” and “When will this end, Lord?” She has been coming here for years and has seen other clinics close.
A car drove in and, though the lady driving seemed willing to talk, I stepped forward a second too late and missed the chance as she drove past. Seeing the parking lot full, she backed out again and beckoned. “I don’t feel like having an abortion,” she said, “I have a bad feeling about this.” At a bit of loss, I stumbled in my eagerness to help her and her baby.
“Is there anything you need? Do you need support in raising this child?” The woman seemed dazed. “Do you know of the Oxnard Life Center? They can support you through this.”
“Yes, I’ve been there, I’ll go there right now.”
She drove off, leaving me as dazed as she had looked. No woman had ever told me before that she has just decided not to abort her baby. I ran over to tell the praying mothers the good news. Still incredulous that this had actually happened, I went back to my routine: call out to a woman, offer help, silently ask for help from the baby’s guardian angel.
The woman who refused the pamphlet earlier came out again to talk to her husband. After saying goodbye, she went back towards the clinic for what looked like the last time. I called out to the man this time and they looked at each other. Then, even though she had already reached the door, they both came up to the sidewalk to talk.
“This is a really emotional time,” the man said, wiping a tear out of his eye.
“I know,” I said, “We’re just here offering help to women who think this is their only choice.”
“Well, I’m worried, because I might be having twins,” the woman explained. “I had an abortion before, and then I had twins.”
I listened to what she wanted to tell me, agreeing with them that it was hard to have children when going through school, but not impossible.
The more experienced counselor, Maria, came over and showed the woman the health risks that come with abortion. She uses the list that Planned Parenthood itself uses but probably does not draw attention to.
“Oh, what should we do?” the woman asked, knowing the answer when she looked at her husband.
“He doesn’t want to do it,” she explained to us. Maria continued to assure her that she was right to feel anxious and should have all the facts and see an ultrasound before she decides. In the end, she decided not to have the scheduled aspiration abortion until she had an ultrasound. As they drove out, they looked very happy.
Two mothers turning around in one day is not usual at this clinic. But no day sidewalk counseling really is usual. Every week, different women come in with their own problems. Every week, different people drive by yelling taunts. Every week, different people thank us for what we are doing.
But the best thanks came from the man whose wife would not go through with it that day. As his wife thanked us for telling her about the Life Center, he said, “You might have saved a life today. Maybe two, if it’s twins.”