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Just about everyone knows someone who has been bullied, in ways big and small. Understandably, though, many victims are reluctant to speak about their experiences. We found some who aren't.
BY HEATHER FINSTER, St. Petersburg Catholic High
It was hot that Saturday afternoon, too hot to be outside, too hot to be standing on a steamy sidewalk, too hot to be doing much of anything but staying indoors. But standing under the sparkling, searing sun were 25 people, ranging in age from 3 to 73, though most of them were teenagers. It was not too hot for them to gather outside an abortion clinic, hold signs and pray. As the warm minutes turned to hours, the group smiled and hoisted their signs:
“Life is beautiful.”
“Women need support, not abortions.”
“Children are a blessing: Choose life.”
In a long line along Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, they waved to passing cars and received an occasional friendly honk. The sound of little children playing, the soft beat from a portable radio and the rhythm of familiar prayers weaved a blanket of peaceful background noise, until it was suddenly ripped by an earsplitting horn. A semitrailer truck thundered by, the man in the driver’s seat thrusting his middle finger at the group.
Standing up for what you believe in is not always easy.
This demonstration of prayer on the sidewalk in front of All Women’s Health Center was part of this year’s efforts of the international movement Forty Days for Life (40daysforlife.com). During the designated 40 days (this year, Sept. 26-Nov. 4), participants show their support for the movement, which opposes abortion and promotes adoption, through prayer and fasting, vigil and community outreach. The organization, which started in Texas in protest of a Planned Parenthood clinic being built in College Station in 1998, calls the event the “largest coordinated pro-life mobilization in history.”
The St. Raphael’s Catholic Church youth group was just one of dozens of groups from different faiths and walks of life who have come to make their witness at All Women’s Health Center since the beginning of the local initiative five years ago.
That Saturday, some of the youth group members at the St. Petersburg clinic admitted to being outside their comfort zone.
St. Petersburg Catholic High freshman Karter Matta was at a friend’s house when he was told his brother would be picking him up to go to the clinic. At first, he didn’t want to go. “I wasn’t planning on it,” he said, “but I’m glad I came.”
LeeAnna Avila, a young adult accompanying the group, said she had a friend in college whose abortion complications may prevent her from having children in the future. Still, Avila, too, was nervous at first about participating in 40 Days for life.
As they prayed, listened to music, chatted, and waved to passers-by, a few women went in and out of the clinic. Many were young, and one had children with her. One woman took a pamphlet. Most, however, looked away.
Maggie Moren, who has been coordinating and participating in the local movement since its beginning, stressed the healing that those involved in abortions require.
“As a society, we don’t really understand abortion. We debate it, pass laws about it, argue about it, we argue whether it’s a moral or political issue, but we don’t understand it as a life-changing experience.
“The greatest national tragedy is the grief after an abortion ... something that is neither expected, nor permitted, in our society. Women are basically expected to stuff their grief, loss and depression.”
Moren said she has had to comfort grieving fathers as well, who felt deep remorse after the loss of their babies.
She added sadly: Some people “believe that pro-life doesn’t care for human beings.”
Northeast High sophomore Katie Taylor stood on the side of the road, holding a sign and praying. She has been active in other ways, too. Last year, she began an initiative she calls Pro-life for Life. Using the money from homemade cookie sales, she made gift baskets full of practical items and fun goodies to give to the women at Alpha House, a local crisis pregnancy center.
Eventually the teens put away their signs, their camaraderie apparent as they made plans for lunch. Their time at the clinic had come to a close, but they knew that its impact would continue to influence them.
Participating in 40 Days for Life “made me want to do more for the moms who did choose life,” said Taylor. Others discussed ways they will continue to reach out to the community in service projects, because, Avila said, “every life is precious.”