Closure of Planned Parenthood clinic seen as prayer model
BRYAN, Texas (BP) -- Christians throughout the Brazos Valley in Texas credit the power of prayer and God's grace for the closure of the Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Bryan, believing it could be a breakthrough moment in the fight against abortion.
The clinic cited "budget cuts and persistent attacks on women's health" when it shut its doors in early August.
Some of the Christians confessed they never believed the clinic at 4112 29th St. would close. Still others were certain it would happen -- in God's time. For 15 years the coalition of Christians prayed for and counseled countless women -- and saved and lost the lives of unborn babies.
Yet while they mourned the loss of 6,400 babies at the Bryan Health Center-Family Planning, they praised God for the birth of an international movement, 40 Days for Life, which they consider the final nail in the coffin for this facility and others across the nation.
"God used you, and abortion is now ended in the Brazos Valley," Shawn Carney, campaign director for 40 Days for Life, said at a celebration Sept. 7 across the street from the former clinic.
Bobby Reynoso, director of Coalition for Life in Bryan-College Station, said local pro-life leaders are praying that it will be the "tipping point for the pro-life cause in helping end abortion across the nation." The coalition is exploring ways to replicate the success in other cities.
Speakers at the celebration included former abortion clinic employees, pastors and priests, prayer volunteers, crisis pregnancy center volunteers, health care ministry volunteers and the mayor of Bryan.
Jason Bienski said as mayor he usually is glad to see new business startups. "Today we celebrate the closing of a business. Planned Parenthood was never welcome in Bryan-College Station," he said.
Speakers recounted stories of spiritual interventions and the renewing of their faith in a seemingly endless fight.
Karen Hall, director of Central Texas Orphan Missions Alliance and a member of Central Baptist Church in Bryan-College Station, said the driveway to her offices sometimes was mistaken for the driveway to the neighboring abortion clinic.
Once inside the CTOMA facility, some women, thinking they were at Planned Parenthood, said they had arrived for their ultrasounds.
CTOMA has a state-of-the-art ultrasound machine as part of its pro-life ministry. While the women completed forms, an ultrasound nurse was hurriedly making her way to the clinic.
"There was joy in heaven every time a woman missed that Planned Parenthood drive and came into our office," Hall said.
David Bereit, 40 Days for Life national director, told the crowd, "I believed the end of abortion would begin in this community. For 15 years you prayed. You never gave up. Today we understand why this community is shaping the abortion debate."
According to Planned Parenthood's website, a lack of state funding led to the closure, leaving low-income women to suffer for loss of their services. The statement did not mention that such services included abortions.
In 2011, the Texas legislature ended state funding of Planned Parenthood, an act many believe led to the closing of clinics across the state. Women from this region of Texas seeking abortions now must drive nearly two hours to Houston, home of the largest abortion clinic in North America.
In 1998, when Planned Parenthood announced it would open an abortion clinic in Bryan, Lauren Gulde, a member St. Joseph's Catholic Church, was appalled. She rallied likeminded pro-life advocates to stand in opposition to the clinic. To her amazement, representatives from 60 churches attended the first strategy meeting, and the Bryan-College Station Coalition for Life was born.
The coalition illustrates the unity of the local body of Christ, drawing volunteers and donors from different churches. Well-established pregnancy centers welcomed a new partner in the fight.
For Tracy Frank, director of the Hope Pregnancy Center, "the Marines had landed."
The faith-based Hope Pregnancy Center has operated behind the scenes in Bryan-College Station for 28 years, never drawing attention to itself through protests but effectively and quietly working behind the scenes leading women to Christ and away from Planned Parenthood. So Frank, a member of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Bryan, was elated when the Coalition for Life stepped into the fray.
The Coalition for Life, as a fledgling organization, sought counsel from similar organizations. A trip to Los Angeles taught the volunteers the increasingly popular and peaceful tactic of sidewalk praying and counseling.
With training and faith, volunteers showed up regularly to pray and counsel with women entering the clinic. Local police told Carney the sidewalk in front of the Bryan Planned Parenthood clinic was the most protested piece of Planned Parenthood property in the country.
And Planned Parenthood noticed. Jim Sedlak, an early volunteer, recalled a fundraising visit from Gloria Feldt, then-president of Planned Parenthood. When Sedlak told the coalition volunteers that Feldt declared Bryan-College Station "the most anti-choice place in the nation," they cheered.
Clinic directors did not like the quiet protests, so fences were erected. But the metal bars did not block views or voices, and volunteers passed pro-life tracts through the gaps.
So another director put up a screen across the fence.
That director was Abby Johnson, who in 2009 after viewing an ultrasound during an abortion, walked out of the clinic and around the corner to the Coalition for Life offices. When she returned to the Planned Parenthood clinic weeks later, it was as a prayer volunteer on the sidewalk.
Choking back tears, Johnson addressed the crowd on Sept. 7. "I never thought I would call some of you friends," she said.
The 40 Days for Life volunteers persistently prayed outside Johnson's office, and Carney developed a cordial relationship with her. But she remained committed to what she believed was a woman's right to choose -- until that important day.
Bereit said Johnson is one of 83 confirmed abortion clinic workers across the nation who have left their jobs since the beginning of the 40 Days for Life initiative. The movement calls on volunteers to pray around the clock for 40 days. Each volunteer takes a shift praying at the clinic so someone is always there, praying, 24 hours a day.
The 40 Days for Life movement grew from a desperate time in the coalition. In 2004, Bereit said, the Coalition for Life leadership believed they were at an impasse. They were tired and the way forward was unclear. In search of answers, the leadership team committed to pray together for one hour.
"That prayer gave life to 40 Days for Life," Bereit said.
When Bereit recounted the prayer meeting to his friend Jim Olson, he responded, "Planned Parenthood doesn't know what a bad day they just had."
That was 2004. By 2007, the movement spread throughout the United States and 19 other countries. By 2009, Johnson walked out her clinic door. And by 2013, the Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan closed.
"Never again will a single baby be lost at 4112 29th St,.," Gulde said. "Never again will a young college woman walk briskly to her car with tears in her eyes."
Bereit said, "You've shown the world that with God all things are possible."
But Johnson, who has put her faith in Christ, said, "I want to leave you with this: It's not done. It's far from over."
She believes abortion will end with the help of former abortion workers like Drs. Haywood Robinson and Noreen Johnson. The husband and wife were abortion doctors in Los Angeles before leaving the industry and promoting the pro-life cause. They now practice medicine in College Station and attend Aldersgate Church.
Pointing to the barred and locked clinic gates, Robinson told the crowd, "Those gates across the street represent the gates of hell, and it shall not stand! That building stands as an Ebenezer as to how God and His people triumph over evil."
Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.