Wednesdays have been teaching me a lot; more than I ever imagined when I agreed to take up a prayer post on the sidewalk of our state’s only abortuary back in February.
Along with praying, I have been doing a lot of observing. It’s the writer, the reporter, in me. I don’t want to just do this blindly, without any thought or engagement. I want to make a small difference, and sometimes, I think, the biggest difference I can make is in simply sharing what I am seeing.
The sidewalk is a rather predictable place in many ways, give or take certain details and individuals who might come and go on any given Wednesday, abortion day.
Here are the main characters in this unfortunate drama that plays out every Wednesday downtown Fargo:
– Usually, a small group of prayer warriors gathers right in front of the building where abortions are performed, in between the nearby alley and the front door of the facility. That’s where our Mothers Loving Mothers group generally lands. We are the last faces the women see before they go in, generally.
– Near us, usually very near the front door, the escorts for the abortuary hover in their bright-yellow vests. They have the very important job of standing between us and the clients to make sure we don’t influence women to turn back. If they did, after all, there would be no profit. The doctors coming in from other states to perform this procedure would have flown in for nothing. This can’t happen. So the escorts take their jobs very seriously and often wear very serious faces.
Well, we do too, for that matter. The sidewalk on Wednesdays isn’t a lighthearted place by any means. There are times when the weight of it becomes unbearable, however, and chatter of a less somber nature pierces this solemnity, both on the prayer folk end and the escort end. One can hold in something so heavy for only so long.
– Directly across from the prayer circle, on the edge of the sidewalk closest to the street, two men stand most days with tall signs constructed of wood and poster board bearing hopeful messages with photographs of mothers and their babies. Their presence never fails to comfort me. I have spoken often to these men and they are kind and loving. They are not there to harass but warn and protect.
– To the east, at the end of the sidewalk near the street intersection, another man paces back and forth with a red-painted sign flanked across his front and back. The words he’s drilled into the wooden sign are meant also to lovingly deter women from going through with what they have come to do. He is the first line of defense, and often attracts passersby who want to get into it with him about the topic of abortion. Often, the rest of us just watch these conversations from a distance, not able to make out the words but seeing, from body language, what is going on.
– In between the prayer circle and men with signs and the man at the end of the block, a woman who drives into Fargo every Wednesday from Valley City, 90 miles round trip, roams the space from the end of the block to the alley. This is an area where the women seeking abortions are most likely to appear first. She grips a pack of brochures from our local pregnancy help center, hoping she can give a few out, and maybe save a life. That’s why she drives all this way after all. She does her work with astuteness, but quietly, in whispers, hoping to show someone who has come in desperation that there is a better way; one she won’t live to regret.
There are times women approach the facility and we stand ready with our words of hope, but then they bypass us, and instead, head into the taco shop next door. We all sigh with relief that it was tacos they were after and not the death of their children. This is always a happy moment for us, and we exhale together.
The placement of the men and women who have come to help, while it might seem haphazard, has a natural order about it; the prayer maidens and the floater woman more in the interior, and the men taking up their posts more on the exterior. It’s an interesting construction of women harboring and hoping on the inside, men peacefully protecting on the outside.
What’s especially interesting to me is that more often than not, when an individual drives by and shouts obscenities, or walks by and curses angrily at our presence there, or engages in a heated discussion with us, that individual tends to be male. Part of what makes that so interesting to me is that so many contend this is a woman’s issue alone. If so, then why do men care so much?
I think part of the answer lies in the fact that men are natural protectors. And on some level, they must believe they are protecting women by their gestures and angry words. It’s also possible they are expressing something deeper from their own lives that has been buried in some way. Without a doubt, there is a lot of emotion there, which tells me that the mantra that this is a woman’s issue is simply a bold-faced lie.
Remember that a man took equal part in creating the situations that bring these women here, and an equal 50 percent of the child’s DNA belongs to him. By making it a women’s issue only, we encourage the common scenario of men sidestepping their responsibility. So many men don’t “man up” and support their women in other ways than offering to pay for the procedure to make the problem go away. I find this a weak response. And in some way, we are all responsible for the failure to empower men to better protect the children and women in their lives. I also have to vouch for the fact that some men do try. I’ve talked to them as well.
Returning to the configuration on the sidewalk, I think again of the man at the end of the block, and those closer to the entry point with their large, hopeful signs and kind words, and the women praying Hail Marys on Rosary beads, and the other woman who floats back and forth with her brochures, and something occurs to me light a lightning bolt.
This is why both women and men can’t have babies. If both men and women could have babies, we would lose out on this perfect arrangement of one to harbor and one to protect. Because just as the woman harbors the child in her womb within, the man protects from without. And if not for this arrangement, we would not thrive.
We need the guys for this, just as they need us. The men who realize this role of true protector and take it on and teach it to other, younger men earn my respect. And the women who see this as a good and empower men toward it also earn my respect.
Men and women each have distinct and invaluable roles to play in keeping this world flowing. If more men realized this role of protecting, this abortuary would be history. If more women realized this role of harboring, this abortuary would cease to exist.
And yet it remains, for now, because we are too scared to be brave, too scared to do what’s right, and too scared to love and support one another in doing the thing that is hard now but will save us all later.
So how will we abolish abortion in our city? How will we help make it unnecessary? How will we bring enough love together to diminish its grasp, its hold on every one of our hearts? By each of us coming together, male and female. For it takes a woman and man to bring life into the world, and a woman and man to bring that life to fruition. One to harbor, one to protect.
Men, this is every bit your issue, too. To believe otherwise is to believe a lie. We need your protective arms, just as you need our harboring. Let’s work together. This is the answer, to this and many other problems. We are distinct for a reason, and the reason brings life and goodness to the world.