In Washington DC on frigid morning one day before the pro-life march, a national coalition of leaders including Fr. Frank Pavone, Lila Rose, Rev. Patrick Mahoney, and many others gathered to protest in front of the Planned Parenthood “mega-center” that is being built in northeast Washington. The site is not far from my own parish and mere blocks from the EWTN studios.

We have been praying in front of the Planned Parenthood for some time now, prayer vigils, candlelight services, Rosaries and silent pleas, Scripture and litanies. We are a confederation of individual Catholics and Evangelicals, and some from other faith traditions and no religion at all who share a common horror at what is emerging in a neighborhood most of us call home. We were delighted to have national leaders join us and stand in the frigid cold and recent snow to pray and offer us encouragement. 

Of particular shock and irony is that this Planned Parenthood “Mega Center” is located right next door to and across the street from two charter school campuses. The Two Rivers Charter School has both an elementary school and a middle school. The atrocity, insensitivity (and lack of simple common sense) in locating a Planned Parenthood abortion facility in such a location defies description.  Despite its claims to be a women’s “health center,” the major work performed here will be abortions. These abortions will be taking place mere feet from the front door of an elementary school; and directly across the street from the middle school building of the same campus.

Even many of those who call themselves “pro-choice” are puzzled and bewildered by the decision to build an abortion center so close to a school.

How this got through zoning and the other necessary public hearings is not clear; different explanations have been offered. The most commonly given explanation from the District is that hearings were not required since the property was already zoned as commercial. However in the case of other “controversial” projects (such as the building of a Walmart) hearings were and are still done.

Those who do not want to see this center open are now requesting a community hearing. Building an abortion facility is certainly more controversial than the building of a Walmart and is bound to cause a great deal of turmoil in our neighborhood for years to come. Even beyond the presence of regular protesters and those of us who will continue to pray, abortion centers have frequent ambulance visits due to the “complications” related to abortions.

The children in the school, their parents, and the local residents whose homes are near the site have a right to be informed of the nature of this building, what will take place within its walls, and the probably frequent presence outside of those of us who conscientiously object to what will be taking place at the center.

In yet another twist, a formal complaint has been lodged against two protestors (not of our group) who displayed signs with pictures of aborted babies. The complaint holds that such pictures disturb the school children nearby. Indeed they do. For this reason I, and others of our core group described above who protest at the construction site, have requested that members of our group not carry such pictures.

But two things need to be said in response to the complaint.

First, if the pictures are disturbing to the school children, how much more disturbing will be the looming physical presence of the abortion center itself and the reality of what is going on inside! Inside the facility, children are not just being disturbed; they are losing their lives! If pictures of what happens inside the building upset the children, then all the more reason that the building should not be near the school in the first place. Briefly put, we who justly protest are not the problem; Planned Parenthood is the problem.

Second, although many will agree that the use of such pictures is imprudent in this setting, not all pro-life demonstrators concur, and they have certain constitutional protections that allow them to protest in this way. This is yet another honest truth that must be conveyed to the school, its administration, the parents, and the local community. Abortion centers attract protestors and not all of them consent to the quiet, prayerful protests of many of us in the Church. Legally, there may not be much that can be done to stop them. This is one reason why even many who do not consider themselves pro-life agree it is a bad idea to put an abortion center near a school.

Prayer for a Culture of Life (Pope St. John Paul II)

O Mary, bright dawn of the new world, Mother of the living,
To you do we entrust the cause of life
Look down, O Mother, upon the vast numbers of babies not allowed to be born,
Of the poor whose lives are made difficult
Of men and women who are victims of brutal violence
Of the elderly and the sick killed by indifference or out of misguided mercy.
Grant that all who believe in your Son may proclaim the Gospel of life
With honesty and love to the people of our time.
Obtain for them the grace to accept that Gospel as a gift ever new,
The joy of celebrating it with gratitude throughout their lives
And the courage to bear witness to it resolutely, in order to build,
Together with all people of good will, the civilization of truth and love,
To the praise and glory of God, the Creator and lover of life. Amen.