Abortion Wars Continue
Saturday confrontations at a Lower East Side church. Plus this week's (NYC-centric!) recommendations
Basilica of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral is a beautiful church just north of Little Italy in downtown Manhattan. Built between 1809 and 1815, it originally served the heavily Catholic neighborhood of Italian and Irish immigrants. My dad grew up not far away in the West Village (where he attended grammar school and was an alter boy at Our Lady of Pompeii, where both my daughter and I were baptized), and I currently live less than a mile south in Chinatown. Old St. Pat’s is where one of the most dynamic women I have known was memorialized, and where my friend Liz Wolfe, her husband and baby son now attend church. I met them there by chance on a Sunday in June. I rarely go to church but always appreciate when I do, as I did this day, getting to hold baby Zev, hearing other babies fussing and laughing, shaking hands good morning with the smiley guy in the pew behind us, who had his dog with him. I love the casualness of most Catholic churches, and the sermon was great too, how to be like the candles in church and do our best to provide light for others and for ourselves.
Walking out of mass that day, Liz was confronted - and I mean this word literally - by a woman at a pro-choice take just outside the church gates. There were several people manning the table, but the woman was the one who got in Liz’s face, no preamble, no good morning, just shouting that Liz and the rest of the St. Pat’s parishioners were pulling women out of abortion clinics. Liz, who is rarely at a loss for words, was momentarily stunned. That wasn’t true; she said; the church specifically did not protest in front of clinics and she herself never did. This did not satisfy the woman, who I might characterize as spitting mad. We decided to walk on, meeting up with smiley dog man and a British guy, who said such a thing would never happen in England; that they discourage this kind of confrontation by disallowing antagonistic groups from setting up on each other’s doorsteps.
We are never, ever going to agree on abortion, but as I found out, when I went to Kansas for The Free Press after the overturning of Roe v. Wade (“Does Kansas Prove the Roe Voter Is Here?”), we can find ways to talk about it. I was very moved, and again just now, at what Jeff Bennett, the pastor at Riverlawn Christian Church in Witchita, told me last August.
“Our belief is that life is life, and that God has created life. That's what we share with our folks. But we understand that everybody has a different life experience, so how we express these things too, we're careful. And we are mindful. I read that one in four women have actually had an abortion. And so we understand that that's in our church and so we want to be careful how we communicate. We want to make sure that they know love and caring, that we will walk with them through whatever life experience they've been through. We don't throw people out. We love on them.”
This seems to me the very opposite of screeching at people in the streets. Alas, some version of it was happening again yesterday near St. Patrick’s, albeit now with pretty serious police presence. What was going on?
“Pie eating contest,” one of the young cops standing by a barricade set up in front of the cathedral told me, before saying that it was an every Saturday occurrence, the pro-choice and pro-life groups mixing it up. I didn’t see either group on the street, only about 200 cops, lined up all the way to Houston Street.
Walking back about an hour later, there was a pro-choice rally in action several blocks north, people dancing and chanting a pro-abortion ditty. There were more cops here, and a very agitated young woman in an ACLU vest demanding to know whether it was illegal for someone to impersonate a doctor, apparently referring to a woman in blue scrubs (whose shoulder you can see below, on the far right), though it was unclear why this person was agitating her. A cop told ACLU it might be illegal but that the doctor, real or fake, didn’t appear to be doing much more than standing there. This did not appease ACLU, who looked super-pissed and not in the mood to speak with me or anyone else.
The young women standing in front of Planned Parenthood were friendlier, the one on the right even gave me a happy little curtsey.
I walked south, toward the church. On the corner of Houston were two young people handing out flyers. Did I want one, asked the guy, dressed in what I might characterize as arty bike messanger Sure.