This post is the first in a three-part series in which Insider Louisville looks at the ongoing pro-life vs. pro-choice confrontation outside Kentucky’s only full-time abortion clinic.
It’s just another Friday morning in front of the EMW Women’s Surgical Center on West Market Street. It is approximately 6:50 a.m. In the relative darkness of an overcast dawn, anti-abortion protestors wait, pacing.
A drizzling rain dots posters bearing messages like “Abortion Kills Children.” Another one reads, “The Killing Place.” One poster bears a huge color photograph of an aborted fetus.
“That baby was found in a garbage can,” says Donna, a regular protestor at EMW, one of only two clinics in Kentucky (there is a part-time clinic in Lexington) where a woman can get a legal abortion.
Not far away are a handful of volunteer, pro-choice escorts — not hired by the clinic, just there on their own time to shield patients from the protestors — wearing bright orange vests. They show up daily around 6:45 a.m., and their mission is to make sure any patients, or clients as they are called, can make it from their car to the front door of the clinic relatively unmolested.
Meanwhile, Donna’s job is to get in the ear of the client and the client’s companion(s) to try and talk them out of what they are presumably there to do.
“Mall Walker” is another regular. As Donna talks on, Mall Walker circles the block. Around and around and around, never ending. He is a tall man, perhaps in his 50s, and wears a plaid shirt. And he walks until a couple shows up, at which point he gives them his anti-abortion spiel. Once they are inside, he walks again.
But when Beverly shows up, things begin to get interesting.
Beverly, who appears to be in her 60s, tells me she had an abortion long ago, but that God spoke to her afterward, letting her know she had made the wrong choice.
“Back then they were called doctors,” she says. “Now they’re just baby-killers.”
Beverly paces back and forth in front of the clinic, sometimes praying, sometimes singing hymns. She wears a black skirt with black high-heels, a black-and-white-patterned shirt and long, shiny earrings. She cradles a large Bible and tells anyone who will listen her beliefs on abortion and God.
Donna, probably in her late 60s or early 70s with short red hair, is usually much quieter as she clutches her stack of literature. She has a gentle, grandmotherly demeanor and looks you in the eye when she speaks. But she also doesn’t back down from voicing her opinions, at times loudly. She wears a striped dress and glasses; a blue umbrella with red Scottie dogs on it protects her from the misting rain. Her white Mercedes is just a few feet from the poster of the dead fetus.
“We’re here to save babies,” she tells me, “but it’s more than that. We’re here to help mothers. If you save a mother, you save a baby.”
As she speaks, a car goes by and someone in it shouts, “Get a life! Leave them alone!”
Unfazed, Donna chuckles and says, “We get that all the time.” She smiles sweetly.
Mall Walker goes by again. I hear him humming softly to himself. One of the escorts, Conrad, talks to me about politics and the Tea Party, when he looks toward the front door of the clinic.
“Is it open?” he says in the direction of the entrance. Another escort, Jessica, waves her arms in the air like a football referee signaling a dead ball, and without another word, Conrad is off to his post. The clinic is open, and the first two couples of the morning are being escorted toward the entrance. It is likely the escorts have advised them to wait in their cars until the clinic opens around 7:30 a.m.
Donna is first to meet them, but she doesn’t go past the designated property line.
“You don’t have to do this,” she pleads. “You’re walking into death and darkness!”
One of the women is wearing a dark hoodie over her head; the other is a red-haired young woman with a quilt skirt and dark hat. Donna keeps talking to them, telling them the “deathscorts” don’t care about them, pleading with them to go to A Woman’s Choice Resource Center next door for more information about their decision.
That the resource center she mentions is just next door is not a coincidence.
Now the couples are inside preparing to check in, and an employee closes the blinds.
“You’re blocking the truth!” Donna exclaims. “They’ll suck your baby out of you and throw your child in the garbage!”
She then begins pleading with the men, the young women’s partners, to stop them from having abortions. Occasionally, one of the men casts an annoyed glance over his shoulder. He puts his arm around his partner. Meanwhile, Beverly is pacing back and forth, praying loudly.
Donna turns to me and says, matter-of-factly, “They can still hear us in there.” She then yells at the door that the women will be taken into a windowless basement for the abortion. She reminds them that if there is a fire, they will burn to death.
Moments later, Beverly catches me shooting video of the scene and turns on me. “Why are you videotaping me? Why?” She then recites the first part of John 3:16, tells me Jesus died for me and “these pre-born babies,” and punctuates her mini-tirade with, “You can put that on the Internet!” (She later apologizes for the confrontation.)
The escorts are standing just a few feet away from the “antis” (pronounced AN-tees by some escorts, an-TIES by others). The two opposing groups mostly ignore each other but occasionally exchange words. Beverly is singing, and Donna keeps directing messages at the front door. Mall Walker makes another pass, and now five other people have appeared out front, holding crucifixes in one hand, Starbucks coffees in the other, and praying out loud together.
Soon, Beverly is talking to a large window, shielded inside by blinds, which she identifies as the abortion clinic’s waiting room.
“Listen, young lady,” she says to the window, “your baby is a human being! You think you’re fixing something, but you’re not. We know you can hear us out here. Your baby had a heartbeat 21 days after conception. This is totally against God!”
A car stops maybe 50 feet down Market Street from the entrance. A woman in a dark green jacket and walking with crutches exits the car. In an instant, the protestors are on her, spinning stories, spouting questionable statistics. Not long after escorts get the woman and a female partner to the entrance, a couple that had gone in moments earlier emerges from the door. Beverly follows them to the curb, jabbering in the woman’s ear, clutching her Bible tightly.
The couple runs across Market toward a Subway restaurant and disappears down the street, with Beverly yelling after them, calling abortion “heinous.”
Soon, she walks back, and she’s again yelling at the window. Donna, who has been talking to the door but not as loudly, tells me that sometimes when couples leave, they are just going to an ATM for money or to retrieve their phone. But some leave because they have changed their minds, and the protestors try to keep track of how many are “saved.”
“We’ve had three saved for the week,” Donna says. She briefly discusses the legality of abortion and says, “Slavery used to be legal, but it wasn’t right. They (the clients) don’t remember a time when (abortion) wasn’t legal, so they think it’s OK.”
Donna deeply believes in what she is saying — she feels strongly she is saving lives. Someone peeks out the window at Beverly, which only revs her up more.
It is 8 a.m. now, and Donna is yelling at the window: “This is not the answer! This is not going to fix anything.” In the strangely subdued chaos of the morning, an hour has passed like a minute.
The woman on crutches emerges and is surprised to be accosted by Beverly. It’s smoke-break time, and as Beverly quotes Bible verses, the woman lights a Camel menthol with her partner.
“They made $4 million last year killing babies,” Beverly exclaims, referring to the clinic. “They killed 4 million babies!”
The woman begins to quietly argue with Beverly, and I hear her say something about making one’s own choices. Beverly gets louder, and a couple of the escorts intervene, asking her to stop.
“I’m not going to stop!” she says. “I’m not here to argue with you all. God loves you. God does not want you killing pre-born babies!”
She then calls Maggie, one of the escorts who has intervened, an atheist. Maggie says she is not an atheist, and Beverly says, “Do you read this Bible?” She shakes the Bible at Maggie. “If not, then you’re an atheist!”
Maggie rolls her eyes, and Beverly resumes prayer before once again calling the escorts “deathscorts,” drawing a shrug from Jessica. They are accustomed to the epithet, and the confrontation.
It is pushing toward 8:30 now, and Maggie tells me all the clients have been checked in for the day. Jessica pulls her orange vest over her head, signaling the end of their shift. The other escorts follow suit. It’s time to take a deep breath and go to their various jobs and other responsibilities.
“They’re taking their orange vests off,” Beverly says. “Their duty is done. There are babies to be killed today.”
The escorts disperse, but four or five of the protestors, led by Beverly, remain. I walk east on Market with Jessica, chatting quietly, and we hear Beverly behind us, yelling at the window that the “deathscorts” are “not going home to pray” for them.
As we turn the corner onto Second Street toward the parking garage, Beverly’s voice fades into the drizzly morning air, swallowed up by the sounds of downtown Louisville waking to another busy Friday.
It was just another Friday in front of the EMW Women’s Surgical Center. On Saturday, it starts all over again. And Saturdays are the worst day of the week.
Tomorrow: Part 2, “Every Saturday Morning.”