The spring campaign of 40 Days for Life Atlanta took a bit of a different appraoch this year than last fall’s campaign. They started and ended the campaign with a Jericho walk around the Feminist Women’s Health Center. They were believing God to not only end abortion, but also to grant them the city just like He granted Joshua.
A week after 40 Days for Life ended a young woman scheduled an appointment at the Feminist Women’s Health Center. A friend of her’s who was going to go with her to encourage her not to have an abortion asked participants from 40 Days for Life to pray. Well after an hour of discussion this young woman decided that she did not want to go through with the abortion and would consider her options. Three days later she annouced to her family and friends that she was keeping the baby. This young woman was a visible representation of the fruit that came out of those hours of prayer.
However, this campaign did not just impact the women they were praying for. This campaign also impacted one college student who came to pray with her boyfriend and his mom. As you read the story, we hope you will see that everyone has the ability to influence someone else the question is what are we doing with our influence?
Now at the Hour of our Death
Kimberly Marsh, woman who participated in 40 Days for Life Atlanta
I am standing across the street from a cube-shaped brick building. There is nothing special about the place; it is actually kind of plain. It looks like it could be the office of an insurance salesman, or maybe a practice of lawyers. But that’s not what this is. This is where babies die.
Michael woke me up at almost 8 A.M today. Way too early for a Saturday, but this was important to him. His mom wanted him to be there, and he reminded me that last weekend we had picked my mom up from the tire place at about the same time.
I thought we were going to a benefit at his church. That we would sit in a circle, watch a video on the miracle of life, talk about how much we love babies. Michael would play his guitar. We would sing loudly enough to hide that he doesn’t know “Amazing Grace.” Maybe there would be food. I didn’t expect this.
I have never been to a protest, and I can barely hear what anyone is saying. In my hand is a sign that says, “Pray to end abortion.” I feel uncomfortable holding the sign. It doesn’t fit me, telling people to pray. What if they don’t pray? And if they do, who am I to tell them what to pray for? But then, It’s not like the sign could just say “End abortion.” That’s too commanding. I’m not one who commands. I didn’t know this was what I would be doing.
It’s windy, and the sign keeps flapping around, and it’s hard to hold it up so that people can see it. I am also holding a sort of cheat sheet, a script of the call and answer Catholic prayers that I have been mumbling through. I can’t read them because if I hold the paper high enough to read the lines, the sign will be in front of my face. So I do my best to follow along, even though I don’t know any of it.
“Sorry,” I say, embarrassed that I’m butchering sacred prayers. “I’m not Catholic.”
The guy beside me is wearing a beanie and flip-flops, though it’s cold and rainy. “It’s starting to sho-ow,” he says in a sing-song voice, and I don’t know what he means by that. Should I not be here, because I’m not Catholic? Is it disgraceful to say these prayers when I don’t know them? When I haven’t been to church in years?
Everyone else knows what to say, Even Michael who hasn’t been to church in a long time either, and then it was only because he was playing guitar for the choir. But maybe these prayers are something you never forget.
Several people down the line, the priest is talking. He is the first priest I have ever met and he speaks quietly, every word heavy with importance. I have to lean in to hear him, but his voice is so captivating and powerful that I think if he spoke any louder, the harsh tone would overpower the vitality of his words.
“Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”
And everyone around me, even the seven-ish year old twin girls answer with: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
I have never heard this before. With so many people saying it, the “and” is lost so that all I hear is “Pray for us sinners, now at the hour of our death, amen.”
We say this so many times that I start to catch on, though I never can remember not to say the priest’s part. Every time I do, Michael gives my hand a little squeeze, and I stop talking. I have stopped counting how many times we repeat this, but apparently we “do the whole Rosary,” whatever that means. Google searches are inconclusive on how many times that would be.
“Look over there,” someone says, pointing to the parking lot of the Feminist Women’s Health Center. Someone, somewhere down the line has taken over the priest’s job of talking, and it’s even harder to hear this person, so I decide that as long as I jump back in during the part we all say that I’ll be okay. I look where she’s pointing, and I see a standard black sedan – with a car seat in the back.
“Well that’s backwards,” another person says.
“I guess she decided to keep one,” I suggest, in a horrible attempt at a joke.
“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for sinners, now at the hour of our death. Amen.” I miss the beginning of this one, but manage to chime in toward the end.
The lady who owns the car comes outside for a smoke, and someone from our group shouts, “It’s not too late for your friend!” Apparently she’s not the one receiving the procedure. She was just transporting a friend.
“What?” She calls, in the voice of someone who has been smoking since she was thirteen. She crosses the street, as the domineering security guard watches her.
One of our guys hands her a little pro-life goodie bag. I didn’t know we had goodie bags. She takes the bag over to her car, but the security guard stops her. They have a conversation that we can’t hear, and she crosses the street again, saying in the same smokey voice, “I can’t have this. I’m not allowed.” Then she goes back to the center, and we don’t see her again.
“What?” Michael says, outraged. “She can’t have that?”
“Nope,” his mom answers. “Apparently not. How can they say they’re pro choice? That’s not a choice at all, if she can’t be informed.”
Michael sighs. “They just want their money. They don’t want her giving that to her friend and changing her mind.”
“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now at the hour of our death. Amen.” I say this one almost completely in time with everyone else, despite the firey conversation going on around me.
Behind us is a day care center, directly across from the clinic.
“That is just cruel,” I say in disbelief.
“Yeah,” Michael’s mom adds. “It’s like ‘Hey babies, look at what you could be.’”
Every now and then the sun comes out and the wet ground beneath our feet starts to dry. But right now, the sky is full of clouds and it has somehow gotten colder.
“What do they do with the… you know… after?” I ask, keeping my eyes on the building. It looks so non-threatening, it is hard to think about what goes on behind those doors.
“They throw them away,” Michael says bitterly. “They’re considered ‘medical waste’ at that point.”
I don’t know how he knows this, but I don’t ask any more questions. There were people who wanted Michael to be thrown away. People like his grandmother. His mom was seventeen when she was pregnant with him, and several people tried to convince her that it would be so much easier if she just ended it. Her third pregnancy made her so sick that even the doctors begged her to terminate. That child, now eleven, was too tired to come to the protest this morning, though yesterday he had been planning to. I know he will wish he had been here later.
“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now at the hour of our death. Amen.” I don’t see this one coming, because whoever is talking now has veered from the standard beginning of the Hail Mary. At least, I imagine that it is standard, because this is what is written on my little script.
I take a mental note of all the people who drive past us, and of the people who drive into the Center’s parking lot. I imagine what it would be like to sit here all day, across the street, and just watch the people. A woman pulls into the parking lot slowly, carefully, holding the steering wheel with one hand and a notecard with the other. I think she has written directions on the card, so this must be first time here. I wonder if she’s here for a consultation. I wonder what decision she will make.
A cab drives into the parking lot and our little group falls silent.
“If I drove a cab,” Michael whispers, “I would refuse to drive someone here.”
“I guess that’s what you take if you want to keep the whole thing secret,” I say back to him.
There are people who drive by the Center as we stand here, people who must pass it every day on their way to or from work. What does a person think, knowing what kind of building they are passing? Some of them wave at us as they drive by, some flash a friendly peace sign or a thumbs up. Some of them honk. One person’s horn is so loud that is sounds like they are putting all their weight on it as they speed past us. I’m not sure how to interpret this, if it means “Yes! YES! I agree with you and your sign! We must pray to end abortion!” or if it’s more like “Go home you conservative nut jobs, and let me do what I want with my body!” I am not a conservative nut job. I’m not even much of a conservative, and I don’t think we are being nut jobs by standing here asking them to please not kill the babies growing inside women.
“Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now at the hour of our death, amen.”
I look down the line of protestors, all people I don’t know except for Michael and his mom. There are more people now than when we got here, and a man at the end is holding a sign that is an enlargement of a baby at twelve weeks old. Apparently this is the latest they can legally perform the procedure, because then it is still considered a bunch of cells. But this looks like a baby. It doesn’t look like cells; it already has a face, and hands, and feet. It’s smaller than a newborn, but that’s it.
This is the first time I have ever seen pictures like this. I try to stay away from political issues, because there is no point in starting a conversation that nobody can agree on. But I don’t regret coming here. I don’t regret seeing these images, even if I will never be able to forget them.
One of the ladies has a basket with small rubber babies in it. It looks like a basket of spring flowers, but instead it’s filled with life-size representations of a baby at twelve weeks. Its arms are crossed over its chest and its eyes are closed. “Would you like a baby?” she asks me, extending her basket.
“Um… Sure,” I say, not wanting to be rude. I had really just wanted to look at the baby. Study it, commit it to memory, but not take it. What was I going to do with a little rubber baby? I couldn’t put it in my room, I would be able to see it then. All the time. Before bed, when I wake up, when I’m running late to class – there it would be. A baby. At twelve weeks old, the size that professionals still deem “medical waste.”
So I take the baby, knowing that I will “forget” it. That it will end up in Michael’s room, because I can’t take it home with me. Behind me the twins are cooing over their babies like they are dolls. “I’m naming mine Francis,” One of the girls declares, though they eventually decide to give their own names to their babies, Sarah and Clara.
We’ve moved on to saying something else. The script is simple; The priest has a long list of people for us to pray for, and after each one we answer, “Lord, hear us!”
It doesn’t require any concentration on our part. We don’t even have to look at the paper to know what to say, or when to say it, so as we trade off parts, we can stand here and stare straight ahead.
I think about the people inside this building. Women who are scared, women who are confused, patient men holding their hands, mothers stroking their daughters’ backs, pushing the hair out of their faces and telling them that it will be okay. What are thinking right now? What would I be thinking, if I were sitting there in the waiting room?
The priest continues his list of people to pray for, and we continue answering him. “For the fathers of aborted babies…For the clergy, that they may speak up for life… For those who promote adoption… For legal professionals…” And between them, we say, “Lord hear us!” Then he goes off-book. He speeds up his lines, and now we are praying for whatever comes into his head. His voice is shaky, but he carries on, saying the first things he can think of. We answer back as though this were all a part of the script, as though he is not pushing his words out through his tears.
“In thanksgiving for the babies saved!”
“Lord hear us!”
What am I doing here? What would I do if it were me? How would I feel if I had just finished my procedure, and I walked out to find a group of people holding signs, one of which a six-foot-tall enlargement of a fetus at twelve weeks old. Am I helping them by being here, holding my sign commanding them to pray? Am I self-glorifying, thinking I’m doing something good here, feeling like we are doing some good? But I can’t feel good about this. Not here. Maybe later, when I’m siting at the table with Michael’s family, filling his brother in on what we did today. Maybe then I will feel good about this, because right now I can’t feel anything.