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.

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About LS

I'm 56, happily married for 25 years, B.A., M.A., career educator with experience in education as a teacher and administrator, native Arizonan living in Pennsylvania, working on a PhD and a big fan of the Arizona Wildcats, mainly in football and basketball.

8 responses

  1. K Gray says:

    The ministries you describe sound like the pregnancy help centers which have been around for a long time. Not many have extensive medical services though, for a variety of practical reasons (e.g. money, malpractice insurance, finding ob/gyns who are in short supply anyway). And only a few churches openly support them, Catholic churches excepted.

  2. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the Supreme Court nominations by President George W. Bush (2001-2009) were solidly Pro-Life.
    David R. Brumbelow

    • Jack Matthews says:

      Alito was, though his record was not well established. Roberts declared that the Roe v. Wade decision was “the settled law of the land.” In essence, he voiced the same opinion held previously by Sandra Day O’Connor, effectively being the 5th justice to block a revisiting of the decision. His ruling record can be interpreted as “neutral” on the issue, though he more frequently leans to the pro-choice side. Harriet Miers, whose nomination failed to pass through the Republican majority at the time, was clearly pro-choice.

      Bush made excuses through both terms for why he put the pro-life issue on the back burner. Planned Parenthood’s expansion in Texas began during his term in office, and neither he nor his successor have followed moves made by conservative politicians in other states, Tennessee being a good example, to restrict and regulate their activities. Hence, they feel quite safe in investing a large sum of money in a state-of-the-art headquarters building in Houston.

  3. K Gray says:

    Interesting question, what can be done politically — especially in the federal executive branch — about abortion.

    Executives can try to set policy. Bush rolled back U.S. taxpayer funding of abortions abroad (Mexico City policy, State Dept., UNFPA), and enforced the Hyde amendment on domestic policy. They can sign or veto legislation: Bush signed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, the Born Alive Infants’ Protection Act, and the partial birth abortion ban (a campaign promise by Bush; he had signed the Texas Parental Notification Act while governor, but could not achieve that as president). Finally, the president appoints justices, as noted.

    Bush took the “common ground” approach (quoted below, from 2000) that is popular now, so in some quarters he was deemed to have done little or nothing. But most pro-life folks were with him b/c he stayed consistent.

    Q: “What is your attitude towards abortion?”:

    BUSH: “Surely we can find common ground to reduce the number of abortions in America. This is a very important topic, and it’s a very sensitive topic because a lot of good people disagree on the issue….I think a noble goal for this country is that every child, born and unborn, ought to be protected in law and welcomed into life. What I do believe is, we can find good common ground on issues like parental notification or parental consent….I believe banning partial-birth abortion would be a positive step toward reducing the number of abortions in America.”

    Your on-the-ground ministry and prayer approach works better b/c, for one thing, it has a more powerful Executive Branch. 🙂

  4. Lee says:

    It’s really a judicial issue, and has been since Roe. Most of the legislation Bush signed was safe, had relatively little effect and was, IMHO, just a bone to throw out in order to be able to satisfy his pro-life constituency, which would have voted for him anyway because economic policy always outweighs moral issues.

    Interestingly, the Texas Parental Consent law was essentially “set aside” by the 9 Republican justices of the Texas Supreme Court in a ruling in 2000. Most of them campaigned for election to office as “George Bush Republicans.” They were very careful in their ruling to avoid calling it precedent, but in setting it aside, enforcement of it in Texas is virtually non-existent.

    Considering Bush’s public profile and his photo ops, I have serious doubts about the sincerity of his anti-abortion position beyond the expediency of it to help him get votes from conservatives and evangelicals. He did far less than he could have done, even with the Roe restrictions.

    • K Gray says:

      Agreed, the Texas parental notification act Bush signed was incremental, and the judicial bypass language was ruled vague (6-3 decision).

      So, the Texas legislature passed a strengthened law, the Parental Consent Act (now requires consent, not just notification; revises the judicial bypass in some way), which Gov. Perry signed in 2005. That law also limits third trimester abortions.

      My two cents is, it’s primarily a legislative issue, with a judicial check on it.

  5. K Gray says:

    Note – I don’t know the current status of that law, whether it has been judicially challenged or what.

  6. Jack Matthews says:

    As a lawyer, I am always fascinated by the intricacies of judicial rulings and legislative posturing, especially when it comes to this issue. Most politicians who do not want to take a decisive stand on an issue have figured out how to fool some of their constituents some of the time, at least, those who are already biased toward their political perspective.

    “Parental consent” laws related to abortion are relatively easy to trump in most cases because the minor can claim abuse either has or will occur as a result of a parent finding out about the pregnancy. Confidentiality trumps consent in such cases and in most states, simply having a record of the minor’s statement, in their handwriting, is all that is necessary.

    Generally, what you hear on the subject these days is that the “Republican legislators” in the state have a pro-life bill ready to be introduced and passed the moment the Supreme Court overturns the Roe decision. And while in some states, there probably are some Republican legislators who have a pro-life, abortion restrictive bill “ready” to be introduced, getting those bills passed would be another matter. If the material that pro-life groups put out about the voting records of state legislators is accurate, there are only two or three states where the “Republican majority” in the state house also reflects a “pro-life majority.” I don’t believe Texas could get it done, Tennessee certainly couldn’t.

    It’s pretty much a moot point, though. There are six Republicans on the US Supreme Court now, but only four who can be identified as having pro-life sympathies, and a lot of uncertainty as to how even they would rule when it involved overturning a previous precedent. I’m of the opinion that, from a judicial standpoint, Roe v. Wade will never be overturned, and the best way to deal with abortion is through taking action to reach the young women who are pressed into thinking they need to have one. Partisan politics will not resolve the problem.