Eric praying at Klinik Stapf abortuary in Munich, Sept. 21 [Photo by Bryan Kemper]
On the warm, sunny afternoon of September 21, I stood alone on the sidewalk outside Klinik Stapf, the oldest abortuary in Munich, Germany, praying a Rosary. But why alone? Where was Bryan Kemper, my partner in this pro-life mission to Germany and Austria?
Bryan was across the street—banished there by a law enacted in Munich earlier this year that allows only one person to stand outside an abortion facility at a time. But far worse, the law actually bans sidewalk counseling.
“Bubble Zone on Steroids”
For those of us who have been fighting unfair restrictions on sidewalk counseling like Chicago’s Bubble zone, the Munich law is incomprehensible. Indeed, it has been a terrible blow to pro-life activists in Munich, who estimate that 50-80 babies will be killed as a direct result of this law, babies whose mothers would have been reached by sidewalk counselors.
Of course, the law is a great boon to notorious Bavarian abortionist Friedrich Stapf, who operates the Klinik Stapf where I was praying that day. Stapf aborts some 1,000 babies every year, and was instrumental in forcing the largely Catholic state of Bavaria, of which Munich is the capital, to loosen its restrictive abortion laws in 1998.
Stapf and other abortion advocates secured the sidewalk counseling ban with help from the leftist media. Reporters from the TV program Kontraste duped pro-life activists into giving interviews, claiming to be working on an objective documentary.
But the show that aired this past Spring ruthlessly demonized the humble pro-lifers who had been saving babies at Klinik Stapf—and taking business away from Stapf. This propaganda was instrumental in creating the restrictive new law.
Bavarian Activists Soldier On
However, Bavarian pro-life activists have not given up the fight, as Bryan and I learned during our visit to the Lebenzentrum (Life Center), just around the corner from Klinik Stapf.
The center was founded by Wolfgang Hering, and is run by Ursula Metsch, the mother of Annika Hoch, a member of German Youth for Life who had arranged our stay at Haus Wartenburg in Salzburg, where we met with Austrian Youth for Life. Annika also arranged for our visit to the Life Center on our final day in Germany.
We visited the Life Center shortly after arriving in Munich by train from Salzburg—a train packed with men and women in traditional lederhosen and dirndln on their way to Oktoberfest in Munich’s Theresienwiese park.
Window at the Munich Life Center damaged by pro-abortion vandals [Photo by EJS]
I felt right at home at the Life Center, the German equivalent of the many pregnancy help centers and pro-life offices I’ve visited around the United States—complete with images of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament and a photo on the fridge of the “patron saint” of sidewalk counseling, Monsignor Philip Reilly. Their main piece of sidewalk counseling literature was almost identical to that used by the League.
All too familiar, too, was the shattered glass where someone—no doubt an abortion supporter—tried to smash in the front window of the Life Center.
As Bryan and I waited for our turn to go and pray at the abortion clinic—with only one person allowed out there at a time, they have to go in shifts—Ursula told us that they are fighting the sidewalk counseling ban in court. This is just as painfully slow a process in Germany as in the United States. Meanwhile, they continue to maintain a pro-life presence at Munich’s abortion centers within the limits of the ban.
Inspiring Bavarian Activists
At the Munich Life Center (clockwise from left): Bryan Kemper, Eric Scheidler, Ursula Metsch, Baby Kevin and Reinhilde Zitzler
I had learned about the sidewalk counseling ban before my trip to Germany, but it was quite another thing to actually experience it. It’s hard to put into words how it felt to be legally banned from praying side-by-side with my friend Bryan. It was all the more troubling in a country still living down its ugly history of persecuting minority groups.
We’re accustomed in the United States to drawing parallels between the Nazi holocaust and the killing of unborn children through abortion, but the comparison is typically drawn between the Jews and other Nazi victims in the past and unborn children today. But in this case, the more apt comparison is with pro-life activists, whose religious and civil rights are being curtailed in Germany.
But as distressing as these developments in Munich are, they only serve to make the sacrifices of the Bavarian pro-lifers that much more praiseworthy and inspiring. Ursula Metsch and the other activists at Munich’s Lebenzentrum are models for all of us.
Don’t Take Freedom for Granted
I returned to the United States the next day with a far deeper sense of appreciation for the freedoms we enjoy here.
As we zealously fight attacks on our civil rights like the Bubble Zones cropping up in Chicago and other cities, let us remember the trials of those around the world who can only dream of having battles like these on their hands.
We owe it to them to win.