On a cold, damp autumn morning in Chicago, a small group of women stands in protest outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic on the near North Side.
Members of the Pro-Life Action League pray in low tones while clutching rosaries and offering fliers to the people who pass through the clinic’s doors. They make no effort to approach the women.
Corrina Gura, projects coordinator for the organization, has protested outside the near North Side clinic almost every Saturday morning for a year.
“[Women are] not warned going into it that [abortion] is a procedure that could really harm them,” said Gura.
Gura disbursed religious pamphlets aimed at dissuading women from getting an abortion. The leaflets outlined abortion malpractice lawsuits and the side effects of birth control.
The tactics used by Gura — which she calls educating the public — are considered by others to be insulting and invasive.
Max Rowser, a 27-year-old father of two, sat in the foyer of a family planning clinic near the intersection of West Washington and North Desplaines streets and recounted his experience with abortion protesters later that morning. As he and his girlfriend approached the clinic, he said, they were met with members of the Pro-Life Action League. They were much more combative than the North Side group, Rowser said.
“They said, ‘Oh you’re not going to be a stand-up guy, you don’t want to stand up for what you believe in?’ as if they knew what I was believing,” said Rowser. “I feel if a person made it this far, it’s not going to be too much you can do to stop them when they’re already at the door.”
According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, an agency that tracks abortions and other women’s health procedures, about 1.3 million abortions are performed in the United States each year, making it one of the most commonly performed surgeries in the country. Some volunteers would like to see those number decreased.
Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, said the goal of the organization’s “sidewalk counseling” is to offer help to women who seek an abortion. Scheidler said members of his organization are instructed to reach out to women with compassion and not to intimidate. However, others say methods used by the Pro-Life Action League resemble coercion rather than education or assistance.
“What if she was on the seesaw, saying maybe I should or maybe I shouldn’t? That’s all she needed to hear was the stuff that they were saying. We’d have been gone,” said Rowser about his girlfriend.
According to Scheidler, the main organization the Pro-Life Action League rallies against is Planned Parenthood. He referred to Planned Parenthood as “an outrageous force of evil in the world” and made the generalization that the decision to have an abortion is one “that almost no woman wants to make.”
Despite statements by its members that the Pro-Life Action League does not have religious affiliation, the website outlines the organization’s connection to the Catholic Church.
“The case I would make against abortion is based strictly on science and reason. Religion may have inspired me, but that may not be the case I’m going to make to people,” said Scheidler. He referred to abortion as an easy way out for doctors who find it difficult to care for a mother and fetus.
Lara Philipps, communications and marketing manager for Planned Parenthood, said the clinic requires and provides counseling for women considering abortion. During the counseling session, women are provided with non-biased medically accurate information to allow them to make the best decision for themselves, Philipps said.
“I think their actions are intimidating and do interfere with women’s access to critical health care services,” said Philipps about the protesters.