The first Pro-Life Freedom Ride was a resounding success, despite the fact that more than 150 Freedom Riders were turned away Saturday from the King Center in Atlanta, where they had planned a prayer vigil at the Tomb of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, Dr. Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King and director of African-American Outreach for the New York-based pro-life ministry, and pro-life and civil rights leaders who had accompanied them from Birmingham, stood on a cramped bit of sidewalk across the street from Ebenezer Baptist church and prayed for the unborn.
Outside the church, about two dozen counter-protesters taunted the Freedom Riders with shouts of “Trust black women” and “civil rights are women’s rights.” Some of them spoke out personally against Dr. Alveda King.
Unbowed, she took her turn at the bullhorn and proclaimed, “We must be bold. This is a time for boldness.”
Priests for Life’s Freedom Bus, with 25 pro-life leaders on board, was followed from Birmingham by a caravan of some 50 cars and vans, with people coming from New Jersey, Texas, even California to be part of the historic event.
Saturday’s three-hour ride to Atlanta was preceded by a protest outside an abortion mill in Birmingham.
“We are at the gates of hell,” Priest for Life’s Jim Pinto said as more than 300 Pro-Life Freedom Riders arrived, on foot, outside Planned Parenthood.
“One day that place will be closed,” vowed Pinto, a Birmingham resident who was one of the main organizers of the event. “They are on the ropes and they know it.”
Father Pavone and Dr. King chose Birmingham as the inaugural city for the Freedom Rides because of its significance in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. But the city also has made news recently in the pro-life movement.
Earlier this year, Planned Parenthood was placed on probation by the Alabama Department of Public Health following an undercover sting operation by the pro-life group Live Action that recorded facility employees violating several laws.
And just this week, LifeNews reported that the city of Birmingham dismissed all charges against nine members of the group Survivors, who were arrested and jailed overnight in February 2009 for handing out pro-life literature on a public sidewalk outside a high school. Members of that group attended the Planned Parenthood protest Saturday, carrying signs that bore a gruesome truth: “1/3 of our generation has been killed before birth.”
Outside Planned Parenthood, which is located in an upscale Southside neighborhood – directly across the street from a nicely kept apartment building – Father Pavone took the bullhorn and declared, “Here innocent blood is shed under the guise of law. We come here today to the place where the shedding of blood is doubly wrong.”
But Father Pavone said the Freedom Riders had not come to condemn women who have abortions, or even abortionists. They came, he said, for “reparation, repentance and resolution … We are here to call on the abortion industry in America to take account of their lives. We are here to call the abortion industry to repentance.”
As Father Pavone read the names of 242 women who died from “safe and legal abortions,” protesters prayed for each one. “Let us never forget their lives, their deaths. Let their deaths not be in vain.”
Janet Morana, executive director of Priests for Life and co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, introduced Leslie Davis and Jacquie Stalnaker, two Birmingham residents who bought the lie that abortion “terminated a pregnancy” and suffered regret and alienation afterward. In an interview on the bus later, Ms. Stalnaker said that only by going through a healing program with Rachel’s Vineyard has she been able to name, grieve and honor the child she aborted.
“I have only come to grips in the past year,” she said. Her abortion was 22 years ago.
After the protest, which went unchallenged except for three pro-abort bike riders who peddled by, the Priests for Life team and the pro-life and civil rights leaders boarded the Freedom Bus and headed to Atlanta, followed by a caravan of some 50 cars and vans. When it became clear en route that they would not be able to assemble at the King, Father Pavone told a King Center employee, “There’s a lot of people here from all over the country and we’re on our way there, so get ready for us.”
Priests for Life was joined for this historic event by a who’s who in the pro-life and civil rights movement, including: Catherine Davis of Georgia Right to Life; Rev. Clennard Childress of Life and Education Resources Network; Day Gardner of the National Black Pro-Life Union; Rev. Stephen Broden, senior pastor of Fair Park Bible Fellowship and a candidate for Congress in Dallas; Bishop Demetrics Roscoe, founder of Living Church Ministries; Will Ford of Hilkiah Ministries; Dr. Timothy Johnson, founder of the Frederick Douglass Foundation, Ryan Bomberger of the Radiance Foundation and Peggy Hartshorn of Heartbeat International.
Also participating from Priests for Life were associate directors Father Denis Wilde, OSA, and Father Peter West; Father Scott Daniels, OP; Father Victor Salomon; Dr. Theresa Burke and Kevin Burke of Rachel’s Vineyard; Jerry Horn, senior vice president; Frank Norris, director of development; Margaret Sciarrino, executive assistant, and Curt Ciumei, videographer.
The next Pro-Life Freedom Ride begin in Knoxville, Tenn., in October, Father Pavone announced. One possible stop will be Chattanooga, one of the largest cities in the nation without a Planned Parenthood facility.