COLUMBIA — For years people have come to pray outside South Carolina clinics where abortions are performed. They come in the hopes that they can save a child and spare a mother the tragic aftermath of an abortion. They also pray for the closing of these clinics and the conversion of those who participate in the victimization of mothers in crisis.
Although there are distractions — other people on the sidewalks who are angry, hurt and confused — these prayer groups resist any arguments but try to make their prayers cover all those in need that day.
Fourteen clinics have operated in the state since the legalization of abortion in 1973. At one time there were five in Columbia alone.
Today, the state has only three: Greenville Women’s Clinic, Charleston Women’s Medical Center, and Planned Parenthood of South Carolina, located in Columbia.
Holly Gatling is executive director of South Carolina Citizens for Life. SCCL is an organization devoted to the protection of innocent human life by working to eliminate abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia.
“The decline in the number of abortions in South Carolina and the closing of most of its abortion clinics are the result of moral leadership, political leadership and care available for women in crisis pregnancy,” Gatling said. “The moral leadership consisted of pastors, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and people with a wide sphere of influence being willing to speak, preach, and teach to the sanctity of human life. Political influence came from elected pro-life politicians who passed life-protecting legislation that has resulted in a 53 percent decrease in abortions in our state.”
For 15 years or more, Greenville and Charleston have had a steady flow of Catholics and ecumenical groups who have devoted their Saturday mornings, rain or shine, to praying outside the clinics in their cities. When Mary Hanson from Our Lady of the Hills Church discovered that no one was organizing prayer vigils at the clinic in Columbia, she decided to organize a group to pray the first Saturday of every month. They prayed together for the first time from 9:45-10:45 a.m. Oct. 7.
Hanson has been praying at clinics for about 20 years. She witnessed the closing of a Planned Parenthood in New York on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary and believes the same thing can happen in Columbia.
Since 2003, Stephen Boyle, the Respect Life coordinator at St. Joseph Church, has helped organize the monthly gatherings at the Charleston facility. That includes scheduling a priest, deacon or seminarian for each month.
“Our numbers have been growing and we have been getting about 50 people coming each month to pray,” Boyle said.
Father Edward Fitzgerald, pastor of Divine Redeemer Church, has been a participant at the Saturday morning prayer vigils at the clinic for about three years.
He was the priest on duty Oct. 21, accompanied by 70 laymen, women, youth and children.
“So many people have come to the conclusion that they are all alone and that God is not listening to them,” Father Fitzgerald said. “We are offering prayers to give them courage in a loving and compassionate way.”
He believes that women are often overwhelmed and that the prayers and presence can give them the strength to choose life.
“We love the mother as well as the child and we hope our witness can give them an opportunity to change their minds,” said Annette Greibsch, the Respect Life coordinator for Immaculate Conception Church.
Greibsch, who frequently attends the monthly vigil at the Charleston clinic, said she is most heartbroken when she sees a mother take her daughter to the clinic to abort her own grandchild.
“The enemy is huge so we have to be huge in our response, huge in our love,” Greibsch said.
Denise Korninger, a Lutheran, has stood side by side at the clinic with Charleston Catholics and members of other denominations for 12 years.
“I have a conviction to do this work by the Holy Spirit,” she said. “I do my part and God takes it from there.”
Leslie McDermott of Church of the Nativity on James Island also believes God is calling her to this difficult but necessary prayer ministry.
“I am called to be there for the little ones and their moms,” she said. “We are unsuccessful so much of the time but God does not call us to be successful, just faithful. Yet it only takes one life saved to keep you motivated to go on.”
Members of Catholic churches in the Aiken and North Augusta areas cross the state line to pray at two clinics in Augusta, Ga. Almost every day of the week a different group is praying.
In Greenville, Valerie Baronkin, Respect Life coordinator for the Upstate, has seen an increase in the number of participants who pray at the Greenville clinic. A special candlelight vigil will be held there from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Nov. 10.
For more information, or to participate in the pro-life prayer efforts, contact Stephen Boyle in Charleston, (843) 763-0681; Mary Hanson in Columbia, (803) 732-3047; or Vern Simon in Augusta, Ga., (706) 860-1119. In Green-ville, contact Valerie Baronkin, (864) 297-8838; Dora Norton, (706) 772-7987; or Gary Garner, (706) 793-8090.
Kathy Schmugge is the coordinator for the Office of Family Life for the Diocese of Charleston.