TOLEDO, Ohio — Father Matthew Rader has been praying outside of abortion centers since he was a seminarian, but only recently has he witnessed a new level of anger and aggression from opponents of the pro-life message.

During a vigil on Oct. 6 at Capital Care, the sole remaining surgical abortion clinic in Toledo, Father Rader said counterprotesters blared suggestive music through a loudspeaker as a group led by Toledo’s Bishop Daniel Thomas prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet before a monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament. When the group returned in procession to a nearby church, several protesters followed them, shouting, “You guys don’t care about women!” and pro-abortion slogans such as “Keep your rosaries off our ovaries!”

At another vigil in August, protesters carried banners and signs, some graphic, calling attention to the Church’s sex-abuse scandal. In addition, a protester stood next to Father Rader, who was kneeling in prayer, and held up a sign that said, “Kneel if you love abortion.”

Peter Range, director of the Office for Life and Justice for Catholic Charities in the Toledo Diocese, said protesters have held the same sign over him as he knelt in prayer near the clinic. He also has been told by abortion supporters passing by in cars to stand closer to the street so they could run over him.

 

Midwestern Challenges

Pro-life advocates in other places report similar incidents. When groups from the Pro-Life Action League sang Christmas carols at abortion facilities in Chicago’s suburbs last year, a woman showed up wearing a vulgar Christmas sweater with a sexual depiction of Christ and a nun, said Eric Scheidler, the league’s executive director. The woman rang a bell as the carolers sang and refused to stop, even when she was asked to do so after an elderly woman collapsed.

Sue Thayer, a former Planned Parenthood center director in Iowa who is now part of the pro-life movement, said she recently witnessed two younger men harassing an older man who was praying on a sidewalk outside an abortion center during a 40 Days for Life campaign. “They were trying to pass him on the sidewalk, and they swore and yelled at him,” Thayer said. When the man said there was enough room to pass, he was upbraided and told, “You have no place here, old man.”

Although Thayer herself has experienced jeering and heckling ever since she began speaking out for the pro-life cause about seven years ago, she said she believes pro-abortion activists have become more hostile since the election of Donald Trump as president. “Bold is one thing, but they’re actually aggressive and obnoxious. … Their signs will literally say ‘f--- you,’ and they have no sense of how to disagree without being unkind.”

Thayer also has seen pro-abortion protesters use bullhorns, even blowing a saxophone into one. “And they chant things that are filled with profanity. Their goal is to just disrupt and ruin and do the worst things they can do. ... They’re just so angry. It’s an anger I’ve never seen before. It’s a whole new level and almost a mob mentality, where you just can’t talk to them or reason with them. They’ll say they know where you live, and they’re very vocal and have no shame.”

 

Capital Aggression

Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, said she has noticed more anger in the general spirit and tenor of public conversation and less treatment of other viewpoints with respect since the 2016 presidential election. Crews taking down equipment after last year’s march got a sample of that anger when, Mancini said, participants in the Women’s March, which was held the next day, spit on them, tried to put graffiti on their signs and attempted to destroy their equipment.

As a result, the March for Life is planning on increased security for the 2019 march, but Mancini said, “You can’t not do what’s right because people are being angry, vicious or vitriolic. We’ve been marching for 46 years. We’ve marched in blizzards. We march because of the human-rights abuse of abortion.”

Although they believe the election of a president whose policies have advanced the pro-life cause has contributed to the greater displays of anger among many in the pro-abortion camp, Mancini and others agree the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh as U.S. Supreme Court justice took things to a further level. Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life said the Kavanaugh confirmation was especially unsettling to pro-abortion forces because they rely on the courts, and particularly on the Supreme Court, more than on legislative action to advance their agenda.

The video of protesters beating on the doors of the Supreme Court after the Kavanaugh confirmation, Father Pavone said, was a vivid illustration of a desperate mindset that the Supreme Court’s preponderance of pro-abortion judges could be stymied. “The door is literally closing on them, the door to their progress, their agenda. That’s the only passageway they have.”

 

Desperate Times

Father Rader likens the behavior of the protesters to that of a wounded and cornered animal who is more dangerous than a healthy one because it is scared and fighting for its existence. He said the October vigil he cited was held on the morning of the day Justice Kavanaugh was confirmed. “I think the pro-abortion movement recognized that we’re at a time right now where things are not going well in their direction. … There’s a realization that things are changing, and there’s a fear for survival and existence.”

Eva Muntean, founder, organizer and co-chair of the March for Life West Coast, agreed. “They see they’re starting to lose, especially with the young people realizing in droves that abortion is the killing of a child and hurts society, women and particularly the babies.” Muntean said the San Francisco-based march always has drawn a large group of protesters and that they tend to be more vulgar than those in other parts of the country. “I know it’s a lot worse here than anywhere else, basically because we’re in San Francisco. Last year, they had signs that we cringed at. We try to hide them from the kids.”  

The pro-abortion movement also is showing increased boldness in other ways, such as the “Shout Your Abortion” campaign, which is endorsed by media executive Oprah Winfrey and seeks to normalize abortion by getting women to talk about their experiences of it.

“You can shout your abortion all you want,” said the March for Life’s Mancini, “but it doesn’t change the fact that a life was taken and a life was wounded. There’s always hope and healing, but you can’t change reality by calling it something different.”

The pro-life Silent No More campaign, which was launched in 2003, also encourages women to talk about their abortions, Father Pavone said, but not in a celebratory way. Rather, through Silent No More, women tell how they were hurt by their abortions and how they found healing by breaking their silence and helping others avoid the pain they experienced.

 

Change in Tactics

Even as the pro-abortion movement is becoming more bold and brazen, however, proponents are engaging in more subtle tactics. For example, Father Pavone said, politicians, despite their pro-abortion voting records, are being trained to present themselves as pro-life because of economic policies they claim will help women feel less pressured to seek abortions. The pro-abortion side also is seeking to hijack the pro-life language of rights, life, justice and equality because they realize it resonates with people, Father Pavone said.

This more subtle approach is reflected in an ad supporting Planned Parenthood that features a cooing baby girl and a lullaby playing in the background while the visual statements, “She deserves to be loved, she deserves to be wanted,” and “she deserves to be a choice” are shown successively before “#StandWithPP” appears on the screen.

Apart from its wording, the ad has the look and feel of a pro-life message. Mancini said she saw it that way because it shows life in its inherent beauty.

Father Pavone said the ad’s statement — “she deserves to be wanted” — sounds reasonable, but it is really saying the child’s value depends on someone else wanting her, not on her inherent dignity as a human being. “In someone else wanting you,” he said, “there you find protection, the right to life, your life itself. If someone stops wanting you, then you can be killed.”

He said he was glad to see the ad, however, because it reinforces what the pro-abortion movement has been saying all along. “They’re showing their hand,” he said, “their whole ideology.”

Pro-Life Action League’s Scheidler concurred. He said he thinks the average person will look at the ad and think, “Choice would have killed this baby.

Judy Roberts writes from Graytown, Ohio.