Several years ago, I used to spend a couple of hours on Friday afternoons praying outside the main Planned Parenthood facility in Madison, Wisconsin. There were usually just two or three of us on the sidewalk: myself, and one or two counselors trained to approach at-risk women as they entered the parking lot, letting them know about the free ultrasounds available at the pro-life women’s clinic right across the street and generally standing ready to listen with compassion to those whom most of the world saw as a problem to be solved.
Sometimes people from church groups or student organizations came to join us, and, to be honest, I was grateful for the extra numbers. It was rough out there. The hostility toward us was palpable. Rude gestures and even ruder insults from passing drivers were the norm. Occasionally someone would stop and yell out the window at us. It often happened that young children sat in the passenger seats in frozen horror as their mother or father screamed obscenities. Sometimes a driver would park and get out in order to tell us why she (usually she) supported abortion. There was one teenager who used to pass by at least once a day and swerve violently as if he were going to run us over. (We had to get the police to put a stop to that stunt. Before my time, someone had pulled a gun on the sidewalk counselors and threatened to shoot. The police had to intervene then, too.)
After just an hour or two each week, I was exhausted. The Wisconsin weather was often brutal, but the mental strain was much worse. Who would show up next? Who would see one of us as a stand-in for the bad things in his or her life and decide to get even, one way or another?
I was a gung-ho prolifer before I started going to the Planned Parenthood. I wasn’t at that boot camp for ten minutes before I realized I had a lot of work to do.
But there were, and are, prolifers who go to Planned Parenthood facilities every day. They stand outside in storms and they don’t cave in to death threats. They are sustained by the hope of having even one mother turn around and choose to let her baby live.
I have met prolifers like these. I have prayed with them on the sidewalks. One of them, Will Goodman, now prays inside of a jail cell. On June 1st of this year, Goodman, along with fellow prolifer Monica Migliorino Miller, was arrested outside of an abortuary in West Bloomfield, Michigan. Goodman’s crime? He had violated his probation—which required him to remain 500 feet away from abortion facilities—by walking on the sidewalk at the West Bloomfield location and holding a sign reading, “Peace Begins in the Womb.” Goodman will be held in the Oakland County jail until July 14th, and Miller until July 29th.
Because of Goodman and Miller’s peaceful witness, at least one mother turned away from the West Bloomfield abortion mill. At least one baby was spared. The cost was several weeks in prison for two prolifers. This may sound like a good trade, and indeed I have no doubt that Goodman and Miller made it joyfully, and would have traded much, much more. But I am brought back to my own experiences on the sidewalk with Will, now some five or six years ago. Would I have traded my freedom for the mere possibility of a rescue?
If I am honest, I am forced to answer that I would not. I am not ready.
Will used to speak often of Mary Wagner, the Canadian prolifer who has spent years in prison, across several separate incarcerations, for entering abortion facilities and giving the mothers they meet inside roses with cards reminding them that God loves them and their babies. Through Will, I learned of Mary’s address and wrote to her at the Vanier correctional facility several years ago. To my surprise, she wrote back. Mary gently asked if I might be called to the kind of witness that leads one to lay down his or her life for a stranger. Ashamed, I answered that I did not know. I really meant that I was afraid to find out.
In his prison cell, innocent of any crime, Will Goodman surely thinks about the loneliness of the women who come to abortuaries, seemingly out of options and friends. Accused by the judge in his case of being an “anarchist,” Goodman wrote a thoughtful open letter arguing that the wanton destruction of babies constitutes the true anarchy. Mary Wagner, too, has written to me of the lives of misery and chaos she has encountered while incarcerated—all of that human brokenness that gets churned up and composted by means of the so-called legal process. Wagner counts it a blessing to be able to meet such women where they are, ministering to those who, like the unborn, have been truly forgotten by the rest of the world.
As North American society coarsens and darkens, it is no longer enough to stand on the sidewalk. Will Goodman, Monica Miller, Mary Wagner—these prolifers, and others, have volunteered to go into the sickened heart of the West in order to bring the light of Christ to the suffering. Implicit in every sacrifice is always a question: Will you go, too?