When the circus of protesters outside of an abortion clinic gets rowdy, the lines on the sidewalk get blurred and the roles of the players change. This is precisely what happened to a woman named "Elizabeth" last weekend.
Elizabeth was approaching a certain Planned Parenthood clinic, telling a friend Christine to meet her there. Confused, a little scared and very tired from lack of sleep the night before, she was caught off guard when greeted by a woman serving as a pro-choice escort and a man opposite her serving as a pro-life sidewalk counselor.
Both stood peacefully on the sidewalk, on the lookout for customers preparing to enter the Planned Parenthood that morning.
"What do you believe?" she asked both of them at once.
The man spoke up first. "We are here to tell women about alternatives to abortion…" His voice trailed off as Elizabeth turned to the woman.
"We believe a woman has choice," she said. "Are you going into the clinic?"
Still musing over her decision, she turned toward the man and repeated the question. "I don't know; am I going into the clinic?"
"Yes, you are going in," he said quietly.
"Come with me," said the woman quickly, shuttling her away from the sidewalk counselor.
Just inside the front door, Elizabeth was met by a security guard who asked her to sign in on a clipboard. She scribbled her name obediently, but was surprised when she was then asked to search her purse.
Defensive and feeling her privacy was being violated, she demanded an explanation.
"Just a routine check for any illegal items," was the answer. This clinic must be scared of certain anti-abortion activists who engage in illegal and harmful activities to deter women from entering the abortion clinic.
Because she did not have an appointment, the security guard directed Elizabeth toward the desk to get further information about services provided and how to make an appointment.
Elizabeth said a prayer and sat down in the large waiting room next to a young black man with his head against the wall and no partner near him. There must have been 30-40 people waiting in the room, yet it was silent, eerily silent.
Curious, she casually began to ask the young man next to her some questions about why he was there and whether his girlfriend was pregnant. Yes, she was 4 weeks pregnant and receiving a pre-procedure examination.
The young father responded to Elizabeth's inquiries with questions of his own. He asked why she was so inquisitive and why she was there. Elizabeth told him how she did not have an appointment, but was only there getting some information.
They continued to chat quietly about their circumstances.
A beautiful, thin black woman emerged a few minutes later, her face washed out, appearing as if wiped out by a truck. After she seated herself next to Elizabeth's new friend, Elizabeth turned to her and asked, "You got an ultrasound of your baby?"
The woman responded with an apprehensive, shocked look, noticing that no one else had referred to her pregnancy as a baby. She said nothing, as her boyfriend tried to warn her in a whisper about Elizabeth's curious nature.
A few moments later, the two approached the desk to pay for their child to be destroyed, and then returned to their seats. This time, they left a seat in between themselves and the curious Elizabeth.
Feeling helpless, Elizabeth sat there praying, deciding what to do next, and could feel the burn of the stare of the abortion-bound mother sitting beside her. She glanced around at the other women in the clinic, feeling the "eerie's" creep into her.
Across the room sat a Hispanic woman who was obviously showing, and Elizabeth's heart wrenched, and she began to feel ill. In her mind, she saw her sister who had given birth only a few weeks earlier.
Across from her, a white woman sat full of anger and all alone. The gruff look on her face told the world that she considered all of humanity to be an enemy to herself. She did not even look up when Elizabeth asked how she was. Hate and anger radiated from her.
Everyone in the clinic found it so out of the ordinary that anyone would talk to them in the waiting room. It was dead silent, as if in line at a funeral procession.
It was easy to see that each woman had come to the Planned Parenthood that day for a different reason. No one was "gung ho" about being there. They all looked like this was just a necessary evil of life.
Elizabeth continued to pray. "Hail Mary, full of grace…"
She breathed a sign of relief when her cell phone vibrated in her purse; Christine had arrived. Before exiting the building, she approached the boyfriend one last time. "If you are feeling uncomfortable, that is your conscience telling you that there is something wrong."
He was quite uneasy and appeared as if he couldn't even think straight, but insisted that he was fine.
"You may be fine," Elizabeth said softly, "but your girlfriend isn't. I've been with many women after abortion and it is not pretty. Women suffer much after abortion, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Your girlfriend is beautiful, and your baby will be beautiful too. And, I think you would be a wonderful father."
With that, she wished him well and exited the clinic.
The pro-choice escort greeted Elizabeth as she left the clinic and asked how she was doing. She had a pleasant personality and seemed genuinely interested in how Elizabeth felt.
"It is so sad in there," Elizabeth responded. "It is so sad that women have to do that."
Trying not to argue, Elizabeth tried to explain the "eerie's" she felt being in the clinic and the concern she had that the women may not have been told about alternatives to abortion.
The escort desperately tried to stress the fact that each women "has a choice."
Before leaving to find Christine, Elizabeth looked at her and said "God bless you."
Elizabeth felt a sense of relief from the pro-choice escort, who thanked her and walked away to find more women to exert her misguided compassion upon.
The next morning the "eerie's" that Elizabeth felt when inside the clinic had not yet left her. At Mass, after receiving the Lord in the Holy Eucharist, Elizabeth confessed to God in the silence of her heart for any way she may have sinned because of entering the clinic. Finally, she felt peace in her heart.