The old Sterling Bank building on the Gulf Freeway in Houston has been given a facelift. The white stucco exterior on the unusually designed building has been covered with a more twenty-first century style pattern of blues, greens and black. The interior is being readied for service as an operations center for Planned Parenthood, and billed by them as a state of the art facility providing “health care options” to the unfortunate and less affluent. Opponents have called it the nation’s largest abortion clinic. It is still a few months from opening for business.
The location of the facility is a propaganda coup for Planned Parenthood. It is highly visible from the Gulf Freeway, just a few blocks off the campus of the University of Houston, easily accessible via the Elgin-Cullen exit, and yet, situated in such a way that entrances and access are limited and private, providing a high level of security and protection from prying eyes, and potential protesters. It lies along the social “boundary” between a historic, predominantly African American district and the Barrio, in the heart of the two largest, most prominent minority communities in the city of Houston. Abortion, says its supporters, is just a small part of the health care services that will be offered there to the less fortunate, the poor, those who cannot affort health insurance or basic health care.
Yesterday, deliberately chosen because of the values represented by the late Dr. Martin Luther King, a large number of pro-life supporters joined in a peaceful, almost silent “stand and pray” event which surrounded the new center with people praying, reading their Bibles, and showing their support for the unborn. At a nearby church, there was a rally. I joined in with those standing at the building, spent some time in prayer, and some time just standing, listening and observing. Those who gathered there to do the same are obviously quite passionate about their conviction that the lives of the conceived but not yet born have the same civil rights as any other human being. There was quite a crowd, not only gathered in a circle that wound completely around the building, but also outside at the church nearby.
There is probably not any other issue of life that has gathered the consistent, continual support, and channeled the resources and energy into changing the law than the movement to end abortion on demand in America. There is no doubt that it is a defining issue with regard to people’s religious beliefs. Obviously, most of those present yesterday were from various Christian traditions, from observation many of them were Catholic, but I also noticed Muslims and Jews present as well. It has also become a clearly defining political issue as well. And that may be the Achilles heel of the movement.
The fact that Planned Parenthood has, with relative ease, been able to plan and construct the country’s largest abortion clinic in the heart of the largest city in Texas may be a testimony to the fact that success for the pro-life movement in achieving its goal is probably not going to come through politics, and certainly not through partisan politics. Texas is one of the most conservative, and most Republican states in the nation. The state legislature, executive office, and state supreme court have been firmly in the hands of the GOP for more than a decade, going back to at least 1996. In spite of that, Texas remains one of the easiest places in the country for a pregnant woman to enter a clinic and come out just a few hours later no longer pregnant. The relatively few obstacles Planned Parenthood faced in securing funding, purchasing and renovating its new Houston facility indicates that there was at least some enabling, and little if any opposition, from the state’s political establishment, either legislative or judicial.
Part of the problem is that those who have supported the politicians who claim allegiance to the pro-life cause have done little, if anything, to hold them accountable. The political agenda has focused largely on economic issues, very little on social issues, and almost completely ignored the pro-life cause, dismissing it as a federal judiciary issue that can’t be solved until the Supreme Court has a pro-life majority on it, and overturns the Roe decision. Ironically, the Supreme Court’s current pro-choice majority is a direct result of appointments made by a former Texas congressman, and a former governor, both named Bush, who kept the pro-choice majority alive by their appointments.
The mentality that holding those who give lip service to the pro-life cause accountable might mean electing politicians who are worse doesn’t hold water. Supporting hands-off economic policies that have led to exhorbatant credit card interest rates, the bank failures due to corruption and excesses, the over taxation of the middle class and small business to cut corporate taxes, and the erosion of employer provided benefits, all of which are marks of Republican leadership in Washington, isn’t any better than the government involvement in the economy advocated by the Democrats. One of the taunts from Planned Parenthood supporters directed at the pro-life supporters yesterday was the quoting of a scripture verse from James 3:11, “Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?” a reference to the perceived support of pro-lifers for the “preemtive” war in Iraq, and the death penalty. Another taunt pointed out that the opposition to Planned Parenthood was opposition to health care that bypassed insurance providers and expensive, private health care corporations.
Accountability begins with the demand for delivery on promises made by politicians to get the pro-life vote. Assuming that those who showed up yesterday are the most passionate advocates of the pro-life cause, they represented an awful lot of votes. In these days of narrow elections and political polarization, they represent the votes that may make a difference between a candidate being elected or not. Electing and expecting results in the first term is not unreasonable. If there are no results on this particular issue, then the candidates need to know they will not get the votes next time around. I was handed a list yesterday of the names of politicians which were found on boards of directors of companies and businesses which contributed to the Planned Parenthood renovation. If it was accurate, then there are a lot of Republicans who either don’t know what their company is up to, or feel that they can do something like that and not get caught at it.
“For as it is written, the name of God is blasphemed among the gentiles because of you.” Romans 2:24, ESV
I was particularly pleased to notice yesterday that those who came to support the pro-life cause, and express their faith as well, were respectful, courteous and orderly for the most part. There were those there who showed up to taunt them, to holler obscenities, and I observed at one point a man in a pickup truck roll down his window and curse at some of the marchers crossing the street at the Gulf Freeway and Cullen Blvd. No one hollered back.
I believe that the effectiveness of attempting to get this done through the political system is limited. It is time to put resources and effort into ministering directly to the people involved. The church has the means to make a major dent in the abortion numbers in several ways. One, offering young women considering abortion a “way of escape” by providing pre-natal care, medical treatment and perhaps even housing and food during the pregnancy is a ministry that is long overdue and far too rare in the Christian community. Two, advocacy to take the “profit motivation” out of the adoption process, so that a middle class family can afford to adopt, lowering legal fees, and removing some of the more draconian, onerous regulations like age limitations, to make adoption much easier to accomplish. Three, extend ministry into the very communities where Planned Parenthood plans to work, which might involve setting up alternative counseling and ministry centers in the vicinity of their facilities, including their new Houston headquarters, to compete with the other health care services they provide so that people looking for something else will not have to walk into an abortion facility to get it.
Four, and most important, keep praying.