Patty Knap calls herself a “born again” Catholic. She planned to be a wife and mother of four or five kids with several girls, but as life played out, she’s a single mom with two young adult boys. She counsels at a crisis pregnancy center, teaches CCD, takes online classes with the Avila Institute, and loves the beach, dalmatians, and America’s national parks. She also saves recipes in a pile until it gets big and then throws them out.
It was a couple of years ago on a Saturday morning. I'd just started helping out at a local crisis pregnancy center, a block from Planned Parenthood. Between talking to clients, answering phone calls, and taking donations of maternity and baby clothes, it was pretty busy.
Two big guys walked in wearing jeans and leather jackets. A pregnancy center isn't the kind of place you generally see two men together. Lots of single young women, sometimes with a boyfriend or another friend, sometimes with a family member. But not two guys.
"Hi. Can I help you?" I asked somewhat hesitantly.
"Yes, thank you. We're praying up the street at Planned Parenthood and we're wondering if you can give us some of your brochures to hand out to the young women going in there."
Wow. I wasn't expecting that. Guys in leather jackets standing alongside their motorcycles, praying and counseling in front of an abortion center? Now that's countercultural. These unlikely prayer warriors had rosary beads dangling from their jeans pockets and "Bikers for Life" emblazoned on their leather jackets. Needless to say I was curious.
Tom Upshur, co-founder (with Mike Dresdick) of the group Pro Bikers for Life and his biker buddies routinely pray and witness in front of Planned Parenthood in Manhattan or on Long Island. They're a bunch of motorcycle guys who show up on their bikes and quietly recite the Rosary. Standing at the entrance to the abortion center, they get all kinds of surprised and curious looks. They try to reach out to the women and men heading into the clinic. Having bikers peacefully standing outside abortion facilities “makes a big difference” in counselors' ability “to talk to the men,” whether in a sidewalk counseling situation or otherwise. Boyfriends or husbands who might never speak to a woman or an elderly man might find a pro-life biker more approachable.
“We tell them to step up to the plate and protect their child,” Upshur said. “And many guys will go into the clinic,” and walk back out after convincing their girlfriends not to go through with the abortion – often a procedure the men talked the women into in the first place. "We tell them we're there praying for them, that there's real help available, that we want to help them. We tell them we'll do anything possible to help them and that it's all completely free. We tell them 'See your baby first! We'll get you an ultrasound today.'"
One man Tom met revealed that he'd been part of an abortion over 30 years ago. He said, “I've been in pain every day since then.” “I said, 'Your child in Heaven knows your pain, and your pain is love.' After talking and praying, the two hugged, and the post abortive man said, "I'm free!" He thanked Upshur and gave him a biker tip: “You've gotta keep the shiny side up and the rubber to the road.'
The bikers also pray for the people who work at the abortion center and participate in the abortions.
The Bikers for Life have prayed and worked alongside the Sisters of Life, an order of nuns whose charism is pro-life. Tom and some friends had gotten to know the Sisters:
A few of us would pray with them now and then in front of an abortion place. And we discovered that one or two of their maternity homes needed some work done. So we started helping them out on a Saturday occasionally. Sometimes the Sisters would call us if one of the pregnant moms moving into their maternity home needed help moving her things, or if another one was leaving with her baby and needed help getting an apartment set up, moving furniture, setting up a crib, things like that.
It was one of these Sisters who gave Tom the idea of a pro-life biker group:
I was on the bus for the March for Life in 2009 and Sister Loretta said, 'Why don't you and your biker friends start a pro-life motorcycle group and try to reach out to the guys taking their girlfriends into Planned Parenthood. It got me thinking. Reaching out to the guys is so important. A lot of them grew up without their own father around, and now they're at Planned Parenthood with their girlfriend about to abort their own child. We have to reach them and offer them something better.
Based in New York City, the Sisters of Life offer immediate care and assistance to any women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy. Oftentimes the Bikers will encounter a hesitant young women heading into Planned Parenthood, and in talking to her are able to encourage her to let the Sisters help her. They'll walk with the anxious mother over to the Sisters of Life center where she's met with love, warmth, and kindness. The Sisters are able to get her medical care, housing if needed, and guidance based on the truth of the humanity of the unborn child, all supported by by the sister's incessant prayer.
The Bikers and Sisters are an unlikely alliance seen praying together. Once a month the bikers in denim and leather and the nuns in full habit participate in Mass at Old St. Patrick's Cathedral, NYC, along with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, and then proceed from the church praying the Rosary aloud, over to Planned Parenthood. A group of 50-75 is standard, sometimes including young children and college kids. After two hours or so of witnessing and counseling in front of Planned Parenthood, they process back to the church for Adoration. "Always before we witness at PP, I gotta go to Mass, gotta put on the armor of God. Your faith has to be strong in this," says Tom.
The young men heading into Planned Parenthood or just walking past often do a double take when the see the bikers with their logo praying and asking if they can chat with them. "They're a little surprised to see motorcycle guys that are this dedicated. It's usually the ones who respond negatively, the ones who get angry that we're there that need to hear the message the most. They're the ones that are struggling with aborting versus keeping the baby and they just need some hope. If we can talk to them they're almost always grateful."
Tom chatted with a man just walking through the neighborhood recently. The man noticed the motorcycles and the two started talking. "I offered him a brochure and said, in case you know anyone who's pregnant and needs help. And this guy goes, 'This is unbelievable! My wife is pregnant and just this morning we were trying to decide about aborting or not and I asked God for some kind of sign! And this is the sign, I know it!' and just hugged me. He was so grateful we were there praying and talking to people."
Among the growing numbers of Bikers for Life are several post-abortive men. "It can be really powerful when I'm talking to a guy who's about to abort his child and I tell him about my experience and the years of regret. I can tell them there is a better way. I know how it affects you every day for your entire life. No matter what the situation is, keeping that child or placing that child for adoption is a thousand times better in every aspect," says Biker member Lou Fielack.
The men's pro-life biker group is now in Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maine. Each year they participate in the March for Life in DC, and last year in Krakow spread the pro-life message with several videos created for young adults shown from stages around the city, including a powerful video called, “Gonna Keep Our Baby.” The bikers' European tour included the Gig Festival in Germany, and praying in front of a Slovakian hospital where abortions are performed.