I wrote "First Save" in 2007, and did not publish it at first just in case there were privacy issues. This far removed from the actual date, I am confident that the details are sufficiently ambiguous. After several months of sidewalk counselling almost every Saturday, at last I was privileged to witness God saving the life of a tiny human being:
He was a big man, but not scary. He wore a pink bag over his shoulder, obviously too small and not his style. His face was friendly, and he seemed to really listen, even as he tied his shoes: first one with his foot up on the ladder, then the other. For some reason he had stepped into them, smashing the heel down to make a slip on, but now he was going to wear them like real tennis shoes. They were blue. And every once in a while he would look up, and say something – his tone varying between defensive and desperately helpless.
This strong black man was following a woman into an abortion clinic. Actually he drove by, turned around, and ended up parking outside the screened-in parking lot, so that she walked about a block to get inside. Between his Suburban and the door were a crowd of pro-life demonstrators with literature and earnest desire to help her and her baby. Perhaps he wanted her to walk alone; maybe he was ashamed or maybe he hoped the pro-life voices would turn her back. Or perhaps the day just went like that. Maybe he was throwing his shoes on and reaching into the back seat for her pink bag and said he’d catch up.
When she came by she said she wasn’t pregnant, that she was just looking for someone. Her clothes matched the description of a woman planning on an abortion: in her twenties, loose gym pants and a sheepskin coat. She paused for a moment to listen, and then hurried on in, still insisting she was looking for someone. Once inside the parking lot, she even looked around first to keep up the charade. And then she entered the facility, with people outside begging her all the way not to go in there where they kill babies.
Then he followed. “You can get her out of there. Do you want to kill your baby?” the man was asked. One of the protestors shared the story how many years ago he took his girlfriend to this very clinic, paid the money, and then she left him a month later, discovering after she was married and ready for kids that she was unable to ever have children. He had been an accomplice. The man listened, but gave the impression he didn’t have a choice. So he didn’t want to hear anymore. After much persuasion, one of the men managed to hand him a flyer with pro-life free clinics and resources described on it. And he went in.
The parking lot filled up – all except for the row of spaces facing the fence; after over thirty years of business, Planned Parenthood has only recently learned to keep the customers far away from the fence. About twenty women went inside. Another woman walked by, quiet and burdened, but telling us that she was going in for other gynecological care. She took literature about life, and was walked to the parking lot by a pro-life man asking her to give her business to a place that didn’t kill babies. She went in and hours later still hadn’t returned.
And then the man came back. He lit his cigarette and left the parking lot, back to talk to the pro-life people. I want to say us. I didn’t say anything to him, but how I prayed! He said he’d tried to talk his girlfriend out of the abortion, and now she was screaming at him and crying. Don’t give up, we told him. Try again. When he finished his cigarette, he went back in.
The next time he came out, another forty-five minutes later or so, he had another cigarette and still carried the pink bag. She was back in the exam room now, he told us. He had been up for 36 hours trying to talk her out of it. Her mom told her it was wrong, and he begged her not to do it. He’d asked again, and she still wouldn’t change her mind. “Bull-headed,” he said. “They should make a law.” It was his baby. Didn’t he have any say in whether it lived or died? He couldn’t drag her out of there. Almost when he repeated that, he wanted someone else to, or someone outside to tell him he could do that. But Planned Parenthood had threatened to have him arrested if he did such a thing. So he was back, dealing with the stress through tobacco and venting, and casting a last line for help. A couple women and a couple men on the pro-life side stood faithfully behind their boundary conversing with him, encouraging him not to give up, telling him they didn’t think the abortionist had arrived yet, that the girlfriend was only being prepped by staff. I eyed the freedom with which he entered and exited the forbidden zone of the parking lot.
Sadly, abortion is almost always a selfish act. Too many women enter the clinic with hearts hardened against the fragile life God has set inside them. Pictures of blood and accusations of murder do nothing. Pleas to spare their babies are unheard. So pro-life intercessors will attempt an appeal to the selfishness and self-preservation on which the women are acting. They warn of complications, of extortion, of the risks of emotional and physical post-abortion effects. And one of the scariest things they can tell women is the fact that the shock caused to a woman’s body by artificially terminating a pregnancy greatly increases the risk of breast cancer.
Just before the man reentered Planned Parenthood, a pro-life advocate handed him a brochure about the link between abortion and breast cancer, featuring a pink ribbon on the front. “Fold it up and hide it, or they’ll take it from you at the door,” he was warned. Stuffing it in his pocket, he disappeared. “We’ll pray for you,” a mother of four called from outside the fence.
Minutes later, after the crowd of staff and protestors alike had dwindled, the woman came over, and with the pro-lifer who had offered the final brochure, we claimed God’s sovereign provision for the little baby, begging that the man would be given the words to get his girlfriend safely out without inciting intervention by the staff. “There is one light inside that clinic today,” she said. Afterward we talked about theology and politics and the way abortion clinics function. “You want to go to breakfast?” A pro-life man offered to continue our debate on theology with a couple of his friends. Torn and hesitant, I said quietly, “I want to stay until he comes out.”
I don’t know. I’d been praying for that man since he walked in early in the morning. Though I hadn’t spoken, I felt connected. He was my charge somehow, and I had considered even offering to pray with him, or sharing the gospel with him. Maybe I failed by my silence. But I still felt so strongly that I wanted him to come out, and I wanted to be there… Even if he came out hours later the father of a murdered baby, it didn’t seem fair for us to abandon him. I couldn’t stay that long, but I wanted to.
“How long? Fifteen minutes?” my friend asked. I sort of shrugged and avoided answering. We continued to talk of other things, and finally knew we had to go. Breakfast at this late stage was out of the question. We helped pack his many signs. Everything was in his van except two ladders (used for talking and displaying signs above the tarps strung around the parking lot) when the man came out with his girlfriend, her head down so all I could see was her short brown hair streaked with bold strawberry blonde highlights. I caught up with them – I don’t know why, hoping he’d volunteer information, forgetting that since I had never vocalized my concern he owed me no news.
She raised her head, and meeting my eyes, we exchanged a smile. I don’t even know her name, but I pray she was encouraged by that. The remaining pro-life friends hurried to ask whether she changed her mind. The man waved his hand protectively, as though asking us not to say anything. It was him she trusted, he who had persuaded her to leave. If we spoke we might undo her fragile resolve. “Do you want some literature on where you can get free care, free baby clothes?” Still the man didn’t answer. Everyone but me watched him from the corner of the block, across the street from his SUV. I couldn’t go forward, dreading to learn for certain that it was too late.
So many mothers had gone into Planned Parenthood today; surely the odds were higher that at least one would change her mind. God was sovereign. This poor father had no other options but God’s help in changing his girlfriend’s heart. Could God stay out of this? Could God say no? If the mother had been crying at one point over the decision, wasn’t she weak? Couldn’t she have chosen to keep the baby?
But this was a big, life-changing deal. Keeping a baby is a commitment and a responsibility, an anchor to the relationship and many other things beside. Walking out of the clinic, her face could have represented either choice – but for the smile. So the report my friends brought back was that she had decided to go through with the pregnancy. The man drove away with her in the passenger seat already reading, possibly reading again, the flyers of resources we’d given him hours before.
We gathered to pray. I smiled. I marveled. God had answered. Only God could have effected it. If we hadn’t waited, we wouldn’t have known. The mother of four who had led us in prayer confessed to calling a friend to ask her to pray for the man’s attempt, too. And God had heard our prayers.
I left the clinic soon afterward, already hours later than I usually go on with my Saturday. And as soon as I was alone, the tears came. With all the deaths witnessed each weekend, it’s hard to be concerned and passionate about each of them. So this is what it feels like. This is how the faithful witnesses outside the fence do it week after week for years upon end. Sometimes it works. Sometimes you cry with gratitude that God let you see Him intervene for a life. And then you realize that all this investment only kept the baby alive; there’s still a lifetime of needs spiritual and physical that the parents and baby will experience. You see that the harvest is great, but the laborers are few. So you pray again…
To God be all glory.