Boston, Mass. — “Be careful. This is a dangerous corner.”
It’s not until you visit the Boston Planned Parenthood clinic that was the subject of a recent Supreme Court case that you realize the unnecessary danger zone it created. And I’m not even inside the clinic. I’m referring to the fact that the old 35-foot buffer zone keeping pro-life protesters, counselors, and people in prayer away from the entrance to the clinic extended right into the street. It was an accident waiting to happen and an unnecessary temptation in an emotional situation.
On this particular weekday morning, before the decision has taken effect, Mary O’Donnell gives me the heads up, as she does anyone walking by. Along with her practical of-the-moment advice, she will offer a pamphlet, a rosary, or, if she has one, a simple rose. She’s there as a witness — sometimes simply by her presence — that something is happening inside as well as in celebration of all the life outside, as children pass by with their parents, and life goes on.
Eleanor McCullen stands in sensible white and black this summer day as the sun blazes down, gently encouraging the youth group that has come this morning to simply pray — and also, later on, hand out roses. (She is also concerned for their well-being, making sure that they — and I — drink water while out in the sun.) One young man’s Spanish came in handy as a distraught Spanish-speaking father needed a prayer and a friend as he accompanied the mother of his child for the choice she had made. What’s striking about the group this morning is the long-term view. They are here to save lives, absolutely, through prayer and counsel and willingness to walk with scared mothers and fathers — to be a sign that it is not too late, even as they walk into the clinic for an appointment they’ve made. But McCullen stands outside, just a few feet away from the door of the clinic, facing the door, with her sign that offers “Hope, Help, and Love.” She will be the first sight for many a woman who has left the clinic, presumably after having gone through with an abortion. That sign — and McCullen’s card with her phone number — may just be a great help during the dark moments to come when the implications of that choice tears at the woman’s heart and life.
Judging from the commentary from critics of the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in the buffer-zone case that bears her name, it has become quite the convention to believe that somehow McCullen “snowed” the justices into their unanimous ruling. Sure, she’s a warm grandmother, they say, but in her kindness and non-judgmental attitude she’s an exception.
Anyone who believes that should come here to Boston, stand on Commonwealth Avenue for a few hours, and watch and see.
Just hours before, after the close of business, a “Supreme Rally” had been organized at city hall here. It was a coalition of left-wing groups protesting the buffer-zone decision and the recent Hobby Lobby religious-liberty case. The argument was that women’s freedom was being infringed on. The attorney general who lost her case in defense of the buffer zone vowed to undo the damage. The governor promised to protect women outside this Boston clinic.
In July of 1974, WFB wrote a column titled “How to Argue about Abortion.” It quoted from a pamphlet written by John Noonan, a law professor, who, a year after Roe v. Wade, worried that the abortion debate was becoming shrill and impenetrable.
“The main difficulty,” Noonan wrote, “is everyone’s reluctance to accept the extra burdens of care imposed by an expansion of the numbers in whom humanity is recognized. It is generally more convenient to have to consider only one’s own kin, one’s peers, one’s country, one’s race. Seeing requires personal attention and personal response. The emotion generated by identification with a human form is necessary to overcome the inertia which is protected by a vision restricted to a convenient group.”
McCullen and her friends here this morning see not only that unborn child who has been masked by the rhetoric of choice and freedom but also the mothers and fathers who go in and out the clinic doors.
“Death, once invited in, leaves his muddy boot prints everywhere,” Noonan quoted from a John Updike novel about the impact of abortion on a fictional marriage. The woman comments: “You know what the great thing about being pregnant I found out was? It’s something I couldn’t have imagined. You’re never alone. When you have a baby inside you, you are not alone. It’s a person.”
Even with the buffer zone eliminated now, some of the praying still happens a bit away from the doors of the clinic. But you see the difference a few feet make when a post-abortion pamphlet and Eleanor’s phone number are gratefully taken as that first sign of life when a woman exits the clinic without the child within her that she had entered with. Something has happened here, and you see it in the eyes and the very bodies of couples and friends who walk out together.
Even if you didn’t know it was an abortion clinic, you would see on their faces the trauma that such an intimate violence has inflicted.
One woman reaches for her iPod as if to drown everything else out.
What the rally at city hall and so many others protesting the Supreme Court decision seem to be missing is the humanity. It’s convenient to do so, to call it freedom and choice. But as lives end, those who go on are so often left alone, left to think they’re crazy for mourning, for knowing they were mothers with child.
People like McCullen — and groups like Project Rachel, Rachel’s Vineyard, Lumina, and so many other post-abortion healing ministries, and the work and testimonies of women like Anne Lastman, author of Redeeming Grief — exist to let women and men know they are not alone. Not as they are going into a clinic, often thinking they have no other choice, and not after they leave, either, having made that most grave decision. That’s the stuff not merely of political protests but of humanity.
The danger isn’t McCullen and the crowd outside the clinic. The danger is in ignoring their witness. It’s in ignoring the people both going in and coming out.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online, and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.