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‘A spiritual battle’: Webster Groves churches take part in 40 Days for Life campaign
Accompanied by her two young daughters, Jen Pagano carried anti-abortion signs in front of St. Louis city’s last abortion clinic. Pagano and her family are members of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, located a short distance from the reproductive health center, Planned Parenthood, on Forest Park Avenue. Pagano has prayed outside the clinic since she was a young girl. She helped start the first campaign at the Planned Parenthood. Pagano remembers making many phone calls to churches in the St. Louis area.
“I’m glad to see it grow and become part of the 40 days campaign,” Pagano said.
Members of the Catholic parishes Annunciation and Holy Redeemer in Webster Groves joined Pagano and Chesterfield-based Incarnate Word Parish and other anti-abortion organizations. The group took part in the nationwide anti-abortion campaign called 40 Days For Life campaign on Wednesday, Oct. 9. As part of the campaign, parish members prayed and held signs at the clinic.
Pagano said she loves the gentle approach of the 40 days campaign.
“My heart goes out to all the women hurting,” Pagano said, “And as a mom, I can’t fathom carrying a life in you and just cutting it off.”
Planned Parenthood’s website states that protestors are allowed to carry signs and approach people walking into the health center. Protestors are not allowed to touch or block people from entering.
Planned Parenthood on Forest Park Avenue offers abortion services, screening of cervical and breast cancer, HIV testing and counseling, testing and treatment for STDs, vasectomies and several other health services for men and women. Planned Parenthood’s website states that not all guests of the clinic are there for abortions.
The Journal reached out to Planned Parenthood for comment, but they did not respond by the time of publication
The Thrive Mobile Medical Center is an option which helps women make a decision about life for the unborn, said June Walsh, Thrive client advocate. The center is an RV converted into a mobile medical center offering women free pregnancy tests and ultra sounds.
Thrive is separate from the 40 days campaign and parish members on the sidewalk, but it shares the same goal of ending abortion in the St. Louis area. The mobile medical center parks across the street from the Planned Parenthood and is staffed with trained nurses and registered sonographers.
Debi Schueler, RN, BSN, nurse manager at Thrive for the past year, said they help women understand their options: parenting, adoption and abortion. Thrive counsels them so they fully understand what physical and emotional risks there are with abortion.
“Even if they (the girls) are more abortion minded we absolutely bring them in with love and compassion,” Schueler said.
Incarnate Word Parish member Scott Paxton was among the people praying outside the clinic. Paxton said he was not always agaisnt abortion. It was not until he had to process abortion specimens at his practice in Wichita, Kan., that he had a change of heart. Paxton graduated from Washington University Medical School specializing in pathology, the study of disease through examination of tissue. At his practice, he received aborted fetuses from volunteer abortions to process. He said after the experience, it did not take him long to decide he was against dissecting aborted fetuses. He said the situation was “heartbreaking.”
“If I could show you some fetuses intact, they’re just beautiful little humans,” Paxton said.
Paxton was a senior in college when Roe v. Wade became law. Roe v. Wade was the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1973 that prevented the federal government from outlawing abortion. At the time, he believed the fetus was just a biological specimen, and didn’t consider it a person until birth. For Paxton abortion was just the logical answer when someone got into trouble. This was Paxton’s first year participating in the 40 Days For Life campaign.
The campaign has two sessions in the fall and spring, lasting a total of 80 days per year. This fall, the campaign is taking place from Sept. 25 through Nov. 3. The campaign calls on parishes to pray for an end to abortion.
Sue Hendrix, from the St. Ferdinand Parish in Florissant, believes prayer is a non-confrontational way to get the anti-abortion message across, calling it “a very spiritual battle.”
Sue Blaes was the anti-abortion chairperson at Incarnate Word and a graduate of Nerinx Hall High School in Webster Groves. She has two twin grandsons attending Webster University. Blaes said she prays young women will have a change of heart when they see her holding her sign.
Blaes lost a baby prematurely, two and half months into her pregnancy. She said the child would have been her and her husband’s first daughter to add to their three boys.
“Carrying a baby was the most treasured time of my life,” Blaes said.
Different anti-abortion organizations and groups pray outside the clinic year round, but more people are on the street in front of the clinic praying during the 40 Days for Life Campaign, said Rita Sparrow, a parish member at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Sparrow has been praying outside the clinic for 13 years. She prays not just during the 40 days, but every Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. She considers herself a “prayer warrior.”
“It’s not called a protest. We don’t picket. We pray,” Sparrow said.
Planned Parenthood’s website states visitors of health centers do not have to talk to or accept pamphlets from protesters. It also states protestors cannot block the entrance to the clinic’s parking area.
Coalition for Life member Brad Baumgarten said a representative of Planned Parenthood told him to not block the clinic’s parking entrance after he stepped in front of its gate.
Holy Redeemer member Anne Herr has been coming to pray outside the clinic because of the “turnarounds” she has experienced. Herr said “Turnarounds” refer to women who go into the clinic for abortions, but physically turn around and change their minds, choosing not to abort their fetuses.
Herr has been praying outside the clinic for five years, coming even when the 40-day campaign is not in process. She said she feels praying outside the clinic really makes a difference.
Herr recalled a day she changed the minds of two women. She said it was 17 degrees outside when she convinced a pregnant girl in her twenties, who already had one little girl, to go to Thrive. When Herr arrived at Thrive, she recognized another girl she had turned-around earlier. The girl had a big smile and waved.
“That day, there were two really significant turnarounds, and it was such a freezing cold day, so it was really rewarding,” Herr said.
Like Pagano, Incarnate Word parish member Betsy Masalskis used to bring her children to hold signs and pray in front of the clinic.
Masalskis said participants in 40 Days for Life do not demonize people who walk into Planned Parenthood. She said they pray for the women and show them the love of Christ.
“Even if they (the women) are lost and struggling at this moment, they need to know that people love them, and care about them and are willing to help them,” Masalskis said with tears in her eyes.