Robert Sherron, Contributing Writer
I believe that Crusaders for Life in general, and Prayerful Presence in particular, should only have one goal: to save as many babies as possible. This may seem obvious, but the pro-life movement has many other correlated goals that on the sidewalk must be subjugated to it: the elimination of unjust laws, the changing of minds and, more importantly, the changing of hearts.
These have no place on the sidewalk. We all know the typical story of the presently pro-life woman who regrets her abortion: “I thought I had no choice.” Not a politician, not an ethicist, but a scared woman who feels she has no options is the sort of person who most often enters abortion centers every day. The goal of the pro-life presence in front of those centers is to show her that she in fact does have options – that she need not choose between her life and that of another (in even the loosest sense of the phrase “her life”) – and thus help her to choose to have her baby.
The way that the pro-life presence is handled creates obstacles to that.
The narrative that has arisen in our culture today is that on the pro-life side of this issue stand the legions of sexist, backwater Jesus-freaks who want to oppress women, and on the pro-choice side stand the great free-thinking liberators of womankind.
When our hypothetical woman sees our presence, she does not see a way out. She most likely sees a large group of people praying the rosary. She sees Jesus-freaks – anti-science, anti-medicine moralists who condemn her.
When I first volunteered for Prayerful Presence, we were taken to a local, pro-life crisis pregnancy center and given the rundown on how it operated. Once the sidewalk counselor gets her through the door, the workers give the woman a sonogram and a pitch about how they can help with her medical, emotional, physical and economic needs.
There’s a chapel in the back of that center, but it’s only mentioned after the above has been a-religiously presented. “We’re not here as a religious movement, but if you have spiritual or religious needs as well, we can take care of those, too,” is the message.
Right now, however, before they get through that door, the religious message and the message of choice are conflated.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
As Catholics we believe not only in the power of prayer, but also in the power of the Eucharist. We can boost the power of our presence by only allowing sidewalk counselors to maintain a physical presence outside the clinic, thus creating a more personal, approachable, a-religious atmosphere, while maintaining a prayerful presence of adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
We just have to accept that traditional protest is not what Prayerful Presence is for, that no matter the very few anecdotes to the contrary, protest-Hail Marys will not endear us to the typical scared and secular or nominally Christian woman walking into that clinic, but that we can indeed help that woman if we humbly restructure the movement so that those Aves are in a less visible but (if you are a practicing Catholic, at least) much more powerful space.