This week in Massachusetts, legislators have been hard at work on legislation to protect you from this rose — a way to restrict the freedom of women and men who gather outside abortion clinics to offer prayers and a sign of help and hope.
As I write this, there are folks standing outside the Planned Parenthood clinic on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. When I stood with them last Wednesday morning, my takeaway was a rose.
This particular rose was one of the few left over from a few dozen that had been distributed on Commonwealth Avenue outside the Planned Parenthood clinic at a rally by City Hall that Duval Patrick had vowed to keep safe the night before. Standing outside the clinic you can see that the only violence is inside – which, as I have written elsewhere, you can see in the eyes and in the very bodies of those coming out, women and men, who lose someone in an abortion.
This particular morning those who gathered — under a dozen — to pray and offer help to anyone who wanted it — ended the morning hours there handing out roses. To anyone. Women or men going in, coming out, passing by. Some are grateful for the surprise. Others politely declined. Others communicate thanksgiving that there is this sign of life outside the clinic.
They were as peaceful as you can get. Praying. Offering help. Smiling. Even in the blazing sun.
The main difference the Supreme Court decision made is obvious: Eleanor McCullen or anyone else can now walk up to the door, continue a conversation until a woman chooses to walk in. That conversation can save lives. As I was standing there, there were no women who clearly turned around and decided not to have an abortion, but there were conversations and there was a father who kept coming out for fellowship — a brother to talk with — and prayer.
The placement of the clinic at the corner of the block had made standing outside the buffer zone dangerous at certain points—right in the way of traffic could be the closest you could get. That’s no longer a problem.
But perhaps most noticeable — and perhaps surprising to many — is that Eleanor is free to stand here:
Take a look at that. That’s prime placement. The photo was taken later in the morning, and do you see what she’s doing? Many of the women who come out of that clinic may have already had an abortion. She is there for them. She doesn’t stop loving a mother when she goes through with the abortion of her child. She aims to safe lives, but her love is not conditional on a woman making the decision to choose life. She knows that mother will suffer for her decision, and women do take her card.
McCullen stands on Commonwealth Avenue two days a week usually, in the morning. She moves around — as people approach the clinic by car or foot they might see her and her sign.
When I asked McCullen what had changed since the Supreme Court decision — besides the obvious fact that she is free to walk with women as far as the door if they invite her to (she never forces herself on anyone) — and she pointed out the two Planned Parenthood escorts. Two young women stood as if to protect the public from the grandmother.
But despite the peaceful presence outside, Boston police would be called to the scene while I was there. A man had stopped earlier, agitated. He complained to one of the escorts about the supposed harassment happening outside the clinic, pointing to the mere presence of people — which does call attention to the fact that this isn’t just any building. He disappeared into a store on the next bock. When he resurfaced he was angrier, and accused one of the young men – one of the gentlest souls, I had spoken with earlier about life and hope — on the scene of threatening him with the rose he offered him.
To believe Jesus — the accused’s name, as it happens — or Eleanor or any of these gathered were a threat would be to suspend reality. But that was one of the lead rallying cries at a “Supreme Rally” — a coalition of left advocacy groups and a little Democratic politicking — the night before at Boston’s City Hall. To stand outside the clinic is to see how impoverished so much of that rhetoric is, as those proud to call it “pro-choice Massachusetts” scramble to create a new way to restrict the peaceful community-organizing work of pro-lifers outside clinics like the one on Commonwealth Avenue.
Those who gathered to provide some sign of hope outside a building where death happens began and closed their time in prayer. Our prayer might be that people take the time to look and quit believing the rhetoric. Whatever was up with the man who called the police, he reminded me of our conversations and politics on the issue of abortion: Blind to what is happening beyond the grave euphemism of “choice.”