Eric Helps Protest “Abortion Opening Day” in Naples, Florida

Pro-lifers pray outside Planned Parenthood in Naples, Floida

Pro-lifers pray outside Planned Parenthood in Naples, Floida [Photo by Eric Scheidler]

On September 11, 2009, the Pro-Life Action League received an urgent call from Joe Hennessy of the Naples Pro-Life Council (NPLC) in Naples, Florida. Joe called to request that I fly down to help the group protest the beginning of abortions at the Planned Parenthood center in their city. I immediately booked a flight.

I had been consulting with the Naples pro-lifers ever since Planned Parenthood announced on August 21 that they would begin doing abortions there on September 14. Abortions hadn’t been performed in Naples in more than a decade, after pro-life activists got the last abortionist to quit by picketing his home. But when Planned Parenthood moved to a new building three years ago, it was clear they planned to do abortions there one day.

I had offered advice on dealing with police and the press, responding to Planned Parenthood’s overtures to the public and organizing the protest effort. But then things began heating up, with the media growing more interested in the story and police growing concerned about the protest plans. Most alarmingly, the pro-lifers learned that the Obama administration was sending an attorney from the Justice Department at Planned Parenthood’s request. With “abortion opening day” on the horizon, the pro-life leaders in Naples felt the need for my activist expertise in person.

“God Has Chosen You”

By 4 p.m. on Sunday, September 13, I was on the ground at Southwest Florida International Airport, where I was picked up by Joe and Eileen Hennessy. They drove straight to St. William Catholic Church in Naples for a meeting with the core pro-life group, including Project Reality founder Kathleen Sullivan, Fred and Barbara Goduti and Patricia Bucalo.

I gave a talk during which I told the pro-life group that God had chosen them for a special purpose. “God allowed Planned Parenthood to open an abortion center in Naples because He knows you have the faith and courage to fight them and save mothers and babies from abortion,” I explained.

After my talk, I gave out copies of the League’s Sharing the Pro-Life Message handbook and answered questions on dealing with police, talking to the press, sidewalk counseling and coordinating the protest planned for the next day.

After the meeting, the Hennessys drove me past the Planned Parenthood center and discussed the logistics for the protest and press conference.

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Hundreds Protest “Abortion Opening Day”

Media covers Planned Parenthood's opening in Naples, Florida

Media covers Planned Parenthood’s opening in Naples, Florida [Photo by Eric Scheidler]

During the night, students from nearby Ave Maria University had held a candlelight vigil, so when the Hennessys and I arrived that morning at 7 a.m., a prayerful presence at Planned Parenthood was already well established.

Several media outlets were already present, too, and I was soon conducting interviews, as scores of pro-lifers began to arrive to pray and protest—including a new corps of sidewalk counselors, whose training had included the League’s video, “No Greater Joy”. The pro-lifers maintained a strong presence of 60-80 faithful over the course of more than nine hours.

Officers from both the Collier County Sheriff’s Department and the Naples Police were out in large numbers. Except for some temporary parking bans, there were no problems with law enforcement, and the protest was completely peaceful. Expected counter-protestors—who are often hostile or even violent during the Naples March for Life every January—did not appear. Only two or three individuals stopped for a short time to demonstrate in support of Planned Parenthood.

Throughout the day, I posted updates on the prayer protest to Facebook, so League supporters across the country could follow events and offer their prayers.

Press Conference Highlights Abortion Alternatives

At 1:00 p.m., the Naples pro-life leaders and I held a press conference across the street from Planned Parenthood. Fred Goduti of the Collier County Pro-Life Association—whose wife Barbara was one of the new counselors—spoke first and introduced each of the speakers, representing a wide cross-section of the pro-life movement.

Comments to the press were offered by Joe Hennessy of the Naples Pro-Life Council, Patricia Bucalo of the Collier County Pro-Life Association, Mike Ryon of Collier Pregnancy Center, Fr. Bob Kantor of the Diocese of Venice, Linda Hale of Sunlight Maternity Home, Loretta Judy of Silent No More Awareness, John Scharfenberger of Ave Maria Students for Life and me. All of us emphasized that no woman needs to choose abortion—compassionate help is available to enable mothers to choose life for their babies.

In my remarks I noted that despite the abortion rate going down throughout the country, Planned Parenthood’s abortion numbers are going up and up, hitting over 305,000 abortions in 2007-08, belying their claim that they want to reduce abortion. “Planned Parenthood is Abortion, Incorporated,” I said—a remark picked up in several press reports.

Both at the press conference and throughout the day, many media outlets covered the pro-life protests, including Naples Daily News, WINK News, The News Press, Panama City News Herald, Michigan Live, OneNewsNow, WBBH NBC Channel 2 and WFTX Fox Channel 4.

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League Help Continues from Chicago

At 3:15, I was driven to the airport for my flight back to Chicago by Lorie Csotty, a former missionary who had adopted two special needs children, now adults. The next morning, I had another opportunity to share my Naples experience with the media when my father and I were interviewed by Paul Butler of Moody Broadcasting for a special report on Prime Time America.

On September 17, my parents and I joined a group of Naples activists for a conference call on how to move forward. We discussed picketing the home of abortionist Philip Waterman, recruiting prayer warriors and sidewalk counselors, liaisons with area churches, media relations and more—all the areas in which the League brings decades of expertise to the abortion battle. I have continued to stay in touch with the Naples activists in the months since.

I am honored to have been a part of the historic protest in Naples, and eager to continue working with the pro-life community there to save babies from abortion, help mothers choose life and finally shut down Planned Parenthood once and for all.

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