Patricia Bucalo of the Collier County Pro-Life Association speaks during a press conference outside Planned Parenthood, September 14 [Photo by EJS]
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 the League’s Eric Scheidler fly down to help the group protest the beginning of abortions at the Planned Parenthood center in their city. Eric immediately booked a flight.
Eric had been consulting with the Naples pro-lifers for weeks, ever since Planned Parenthood’s August 21 announcement 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.
Eric 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 Eric’s expertise in person.
Eric Tells Naples Activists, “God Has Chosen You“
By 4 p.m. on Sunday, September 13, Eric was on the ground at Southwest Florida International Airport, where he 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.
League Executive Director Eric Scheidler checks out the Planned Parenthood site the evening before the big protest
Eric gave a talk during which he 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,” Eric declared.
After his talk, Eric gave out copies of the Pro-Life Action League’s new handbook, Sharing the Pro-Life Message, 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 Eric past the Planned Parenthood center and discussed the logistics for the protest and press conference.
Hundreds Protest Planned Parenthood’s “Abortion Opening Day”
During the night, students from nearby Ave Maria University had held a candlelight vigil, so when Eric and the Hennessys arrived that morning at 7 a.m., a prayerful presence at Planned Parenthood was already well established.
Pro-lifers pray and protest outside Planned Parenthood Naples Center, September 14 [Photo by EJS]
Several media outlets were already present, and Eric soon was 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 the blocking of some streets from parking by the police, 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, Eric 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., Eric and the Naples pro-life leaders 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. The speakers presented a wide cross-section of the pro-life movement:
- Eric Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League
- 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
From several different perspectives within the pro-life movement, all of the speakers emphasized that no woman needs to choose abortion—compassionate help is available to enable mothers to choose life for her baby.
Naples pro-lifers pray the Rosary outside Planned Parenthood [Photo by EJS]
In his comments, the League’s Eric Scheidler 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. “Planned Parenthood likes to claim that they want to bring abortion down,” Eric said, but their actions belie that claim. “Planned Parenthood is Abortion, Incorporated.” Several press reports picked up Eric’s “Abortion, Incorporated” remark.
Back in Chicago, League Help for the Naples Activists Continues
At 3:15, Eric was driven to the airport for his flight back to Chicago by Lorie Csotty, a former missionary who had adopted two special needs children, now adults. The next morning, he had another opportunity to share his Naples experience with the media when he and Joe Scheidler were interviewed by Paul Butler of Moody Broadcasting for a special report on Prime Time America.
Eric Scheidler (at the back) with the pro-life core team at St. William Church, Sep 13
On Thursday, September 17, Eric and Joe, along with Ann Scheidler, joined a group of Naples activists for a conference call on Monday’s events and how to move forward. They 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 Pro-Life Action League brings decades of expertise to the abortion battle.
The Pro-Life Action League is honored to have been a part of the historic protest in Naples and eager to continue working closely 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.
News Coverage of the Naples Abortion Opening Day
Both at the press conference and throughout the day, South Florida media outlets covered the pro-life protests, including:
- Protesters remain peaceful on first day of abortions at Planned Parenthood—Naples Daily News
- Planned Parenthood Protests—WINK News
- Protester speaceful at new Naples abortion clinic—The News Press
- Protesters peaceful, schedule full at new Fla. abortion clinic—Panama City News Herald
- Protesters peaceful at new Fla. abortion clinic—Michigan Live
- Naples pro-lifers rally against abortion clinic—OneNewsNow
- Protestors gather outside Planned Parenthood—WBBH NBC Channel 2
- Abortions in Collier County—WFTX Fox Channel 4