A couple of weeks ago I posted a brief entry here about an experience I had in Germantown, Maryland on Monday June 24, 2013. That day was a very powerful and life-changing time for me. I had planned to be in Bethesda, Maryland to visit a good friend and his wife as well as a cousin of mine who lives nearby. On this particular visit I felt a strong conviction to go to the Germantown, Maryland office park which is home to one of only a few known abortion clinics in the United States to perform late-term abortion procedures through all nine months of pregnancy. I first became aware of this clinic in February when a local Westchester County, New York woman died following a late-term abortion at this same facility. After hearing details of what happened there I continued to say to myself, “this can’t be true, this can’t be happening!” This event coincided with the murder trial in Philadelphia of abortionist Dr. Kermit Gosnell who was convicted of delivering babies alive and then killing them. Over the last few months I decided to take some time to do a little research and educate myself about this unfortunate reality in our midst. I came across the website www.PrayforGermantown.org. I was encouraged to see the positive work being done by so many good people in Germantown on behalf of and in defense of human life.
The Pregnancy Choices Office (operated by a large group of dedicated pro-life individuals) is located just across the small parking lot from Dr. LeRoy Carhart’s late-term abortion clinic. This office offers alternatives to abortion and support for mothers and families who want to keep their children.
This photo was taken from the front door of the Pregnancy Choices Office looking across to Dr. LeRoy Carhart’s late-term abortion clinic in Germantown, Maryland. The clinic is in the lower level area on the far left of the building.
After a considerable amount of prayer and thought I decided to go to that location to pray and, quite simply, to be a visible presence on June 24th. I also wanted to meet the good men and women who courageously gather there every Monday morning without fail to pray. People assemble for prayer on Monday morning because it is then that the late-term procedures usually begin and the babies in the womb die. The day turned out to be much more than I could have ever expected! I was delighted to be able to visit the “Pregnancy Choices” office located directly across the small parking lot from where Dr. Carhart’s abortion clinic is located. This office has been established by a large group of dedicated pro-life individuals in order to offer alternatives to abortion for any woman or family who would like to keep their baby and is in need of support before, during and after the birth of the baby. The office is warm, bright and welcoming and the highly qualified staff members are filled with genuine care, concern and love for the women and families they serve.
I was fortunate that another priest whom I know, who serves in the Archdiocese of Washington offered to join me for the morning. He is a fine and gifted pastor and his presence was a great blessing since he had been there before and knew some of the faithful people who are often there to pray. I had intended only to stay for a short time – maybe only an hour. In fact, we did stay about an hour but had to leave because the priest I was with had an appointment at his parish. But I returned a short time later and actually stayed another 5 hours – until 3pm. I joined the men and women on the sidewalk praying and I was shocked as women began to arrive for their appointments shortly after 10am. Again, I looked and said, “this can’t be happening.” One by one, women, who were very visibly pregnant (some as late as 6, 7, 8 or even 9 months) filed into Dr. LeRoy Carhart’s abortion clinic. The reason for their visit was clear. Many of the automobiles they arrived in had license plates from other states. They were there for a late-term abortion procedure. Monday is the day these procedures generally begin and they usually take 2 to 3 days to complete. The details of these procedures are disturbing and gruesome. I will not provide all of that information here. However, I encourage you to educate yourself about these late-term abortions and I am sure you will also find yourself saying, “this cannot be.” Yet it IS!
The chart above descibes how developed many of the unborn babies are when the women come for their late-term abortion procedures at Dr. LeRoy Carhart’s clinic in Germantown, Maryland. Most are past the 5th month of pregnancy. Most are fully formed and could easily survive on their own or with little help if they were to be delivered alive at that time.
As each woman arrived many people stood praying and several spoke with the women as they went into the abortion clinic. I joined them attempting to assure each woman that there were other options and that abortion was not the only “solution.” Suprisingly, many listened and even stopped to take the pamphlets and information which were offered to them. Sadly, almost no one changed their mind. There was one, however. Only one that Monday but there was ONE. Forty-five minutes after she entered the clinic, one woman (7 months pregnant) exited saying she had decided not to go through with it. Of all of the stories of that day this is the most powerful and it is a story I want to share with all of you. “Mary” (I have changed her name) had driven alone from another part of the State of Maryland. She had been referred to Dr. LeRoy Carhart because he is one of only a handful of doctors who perform late-term abortions in the United States and Maryland permits abortion at any stage of pregnancy and for any reason. I was able to spend some time speaking with Mary for a little while at the Pregnancy Choices office. She told me she was a Catholic. The conversation was absolutely amazing. She spoke of the difficult circumstances she was facing but then said the people outside praying and the presence of a priest there that morning had a “huge” influence on her decision not to go through with the abortion. I continue to thank God that He led me and the others there that morning using us as instruments in His hand for this grace. She then told me “something is strange.” I asked, “what was strange?” Mary said she had a son who died in an accident 4 years ago. He was 4 1/2 years old when he died. “What’s strange”, she said, “is that the due date of the baby I am carrying now is the exact same date as the date of my other son’s death.” Almost in disbelief, I said, “Mary, can’t you see, God is communicating something to you? He is giving you the gift of another life. Cherish it, take care of it, love it!”
I then asked Mary if she would do me a favor. She said she would. I took the Rosary out of my pocket which I had used that morning and I gave it to her. I asked her to keep it in a safe place. “In a few years”, I said, “please give it to your child and tell him or her that it is a gift from a priest who is praying for us.” She assured me she would do it. I have prayed for Mary and her unborn child every day since and I will continue to do so. She left with referrals for genuinely concerned and helpful doctors and agencies who will assist her through the rest of her pregnancy and afterwards. She and her unborn baby truly left that morning with a new lease on life.
If I had to summarize my feelings of that day I would use the words of Charles Dickens from “A Tale of Two Cities”: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” It was the worst of times because of the upsetment, sadness and helplessness I felt seeing so many women and families in despair and so many innocent lives lost. It was hard for me to believe that a high school aged girl would have to get the permission of her parents to be allowed aspirin at school for a headache but that she could walk to the abortion clinic after school without anyone, including her parents, knowing about it and end the life of the child in her womb. Knowing that this happens every day all across our nation and in so many other parts of the world only adds to those feelings of great sadness. But it was the best of times because in a strange and mysterious way God was present there. His Grace and Love were powerfully at work helping, slowly but surely, to change minds and hearts. Mary was the evidence I needed to assure me of that reality.
I have deliberately waited a couple of weeks to post this entry because I wanted it to be a prayerful reflection and not simply an emotional reaction. On that Monday night, I had dinner with a cousin of mine who lives not far from where I was staying. When I began to describe where I had been and what I had done earlier that day he immediately raised his hand in a dismissive posture and told me, “please, I don’t want to hear it.” That is the reaction of so many people isn’t it? We simply don’t want to hear it and we would rather leave it in the dirty, dark shadows where it has been for so long. But we must hear it and we must know about it if we are going to do something about it. And all of us must do something to protect innocent human life.
No one has any master plan and no one has all the answers but all of us can and must do something to help bring greater awareness to these modern threats to human life and the ways we can counter them. Cardinal Terence Cooke reminded the people of the Archdiocese of New York and the world of this in his Letter for Respect Life Sunday in October, 1983. He dictated this, his last pastoral letter, only 2 days before his own death of cancer on October 6, 1983. This fact adds even deeper meaning to his already profound words: ”From the depths of my being, I urge you to reject this anti-life, anti-child, anti-human view of life and to oppose with all your strength the deadly technologies of life-destruction which daily result in the planned deaths of the innocent and the helpless. Together we must search for ways to demonstrate this conviction in our daily lives and in our public institutions. In doing so, we must never be discouraged or give up. Too much is at stake – the gift of life itself. The “gift of life,” God’s special gift, is no less beautiful when it is accompanied by illness or weakness, hunger or poverty, mental or physical handicaps, loneliness or old age. Indeed, at these times, human life gains extra splendor as it requires our special care, concern and reverence. It is in and through the weakest of human vessels that the Lord continues to reveal the power of His love.”
Prayer is surely the indispensable ingredient in this process. Please continue to pray for all of the good people who are working so hard for the protection of life in Germantown and across our nation. Pray for the women (and men) who choose this unfortunate option and who suffer very much because of it. And, pray for the conversion of the consciences, hearts and minds of those who are in any way involved in the destruction of human life through abortion.
The instruction of Pope John Paul II to the people and Bishops of Germany in January, 1989 can be enlightenting for us as well. I hope his words might inspire a more faithful and dedicated public witness for the protection of human life on the part of all of us in our nation today: “I thank you for your courageous witness and I support you with all my heart. Do everything you can to awaken consciences and to save the lives of the unborn. The credibility of our hope for everything, especially in your country, which offers so many possibilities for life, stands or falls on the witness of the Right to Life.”
I invite you to listen to two very important presentations which you will find at the link below. One is by Cardinal John O’Connor, the former Archbishop of New York (1984-2000). Cardinal O’Connor was speaking to a Pro-Life convention in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1985. The other is an excellent presentation by Monsignor William B. Smith originally delivered in 1989 to a Pro-Life group in Westchester County, New York. I encourage you to listen to the talk by Monsignor Smith first since this will lay the foundation for the speech by Cardinal O’Connor. The title of Monsignor Smith’s talk is: “What Abortion has done to a Generation.” This is one of the finest presentations I have ever heard on the subject. It is for this reason I have asked to have it made available here. I believe we all need to hear the truthful message Monsignor Smith delivers so clearly and so eloquently. Monsignor Smith was a Professor of Moral Theology at Saint Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York from 1971 until his death in 2009. He was one of the foremost moral theologians and medical ethicists in the world. He was an advisor on issues of morality and ethics to Cardinals Cooke, O’Connor and Egan in New York as well as to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican in Rome until the time of his election as Pope Benedict XVI in April, 2005. Both presentations are about 45 minutes in length and you may wish to download them to your iPod or MP3 player. Please take the time to listen to them and learn from them. Pass them on to others if you wish. Each presentation begins with 10 or 12 minutes of introductory comments by others before Cardinal O’Connor and Monsignor Smith actually speak. Please be aware of this in case you wish to fast forward to the actual presentation itself. Also, be aware that these were transferred from their original cassette format to CD and therefore there are a couple of places where there are 5 to 6 second pauses. While some of the examples used during each speech are dated, the information contained therein is timeless and invaluable. I hope you find them helpful. I am sure you will.