Brazos Valley Planned Parenthood is closed
By Mary P. Walker
Saturday, Sept. 7 was a sweltering day in the Brazos Valley, but the weather could not keep hundreds from celebrating the closing of the Planned Parenthood abortion facility in Bryan. In a tent across the street, the mood was happy and prayerful, occasionally punctuated by tears of joy.
"We are standing across the street from where abortion began in the Brazos Valley. But, more importantly, we are standing across the street from where abortion ended in the Brazos Valley!" said Jim Olson, master of ceremonies and board member of the Brazos Valley Coalition for Life.
In July, Planned Parenthood announced that the Bryan clinic was closing, citing legislative cuts in funding.
The program for the event included speakers who told the story of the power of God working through peaceful, prayerful persistence, under the sponsorship of the Coalition.
This grassroots movement has international influence, and serves as a blueprint for other communities to end abortion in their midst. The movement also formed a new generation of pro-life leaders, who took their experience from what Planned Parenthood termed "the most anti-choice place in the nation" to other communities.
In 1998, Planned Parenthood’s announcement that it would build an abortion facility in Bryan alarmed a group of Christian pro-life supporters. Forming the ecumenical Coalition for Life, they were determined to stop abortions and remove the abortion provider from the community.
Speaking to the attendees, Lauren Gulde, the Coalition’s founder, expressed appreciation for the training she received from other pro-life individuals and organizations. Through their mentorship, they learned how to counsel women on the sidewalk, before they entered the facility for an abortion. Even after Planned Parenthood constructed a barrier fence and then added netting on the fence to prevent pro-life brochures from being passed to the women, the coalition continued their efforts.
In 2001, David Bereit became the second executive director of the Coalition. His friend, David Arabie, talked to him about how his dying father insisted on praying with his son to end abortion. Arabie’s experiences during that time convinced him that standing outside the facility and praying continuously would end abortion there.
By then, Bereit admitted that he was discouraged. Together, he and some other coalition members desperately prayed for wisdom and help. They believed that God’s answer was for them to pray continuously outside the facility for 40 days and 40 nights.
The local pro-life advocates wanted to launch an abortion awareness activity in the fall of 2004. They recognized that Planned Parenthood’s business increased with the returning college students. Under the leadership of Bereit, they took Arabie’s kernel of an idea, refined it, and marketed it to the community through education and door-to-door outreach.
The 40 Days for Life campaign was born. Churches and parishes promoted 40 days of fasting, and peacefully standing and praying, around the clock, outside the facility. Participants stood and prayed in spite of heat, insects and rain. Members of the Knights of Columbus, particularly the Aggie Knights, took on the "Knight Shift."
During those 40 days, abortions dropped and the local pro-life community was energized. Afterwards, the campaign was held twice a year, in the fall and during Lent.
The coalition also sponsored "Stand and Pray" throughout the year when the facility scheduled abortions. Many also prayed outside at other times. Drivers passing by often saw one, two or many standing and praying on the sidewalk.
Word of the campaign’s success spread, and hundreds of cities implemented their own 40 Days campaigns. Bereit and Shawn Carney, who along with his wife, Marilisa, were instrumental in organizing the first 40 Days campaign, now head the national 40 Days for Life organization. This organization advises pro-life advocates in the U.S. and other countries on how to implement the same peaceful, prayerful strategy within their communities.
To date, at least 40 abortion facilities have closed after 40 Days campaigns. The Planned Parenthood facility in Bryan was the 38th, and the local pro-life community could finally celebrate in their own backyard.
One of the more powerful events in this story was the conversion of the director of the Bryan facility, Abby Johnson. Over the years, those praying on the sidewalk often saw and interacted with Johnson. They also prayed for her. After assisting in an abortion in 2009, Johnson had a change of heart.
Not knowing where else to go, she went to the coalition’s office, right down the street. There she found acceptance, support, friendship and a path to God’s forgiveness. She subsequently became Catholic, and founded And Then There Were None, an organization that provides financial, emotional, spiritual and legal support to those wishing to leave the abortion industry.
As speakers recounted the events leading up to the closing, a sense of awe permeated the gathering. The idea that God used their simple grassroots efforts to create a movement that has saved thousands of lives, impacted pro-life advocacy strategies across the nation and internationally, and formed the next generation of pro-life leaders evoked gratitude and wonder.
Now that the coalition has reached the goal for which it had been founded, they are exploring ways to apply what was learned in the Brazos Valley to other pro-life endeavors.
"While our mission has always been a local one, we’ve come to realize that America is now watching what is happening in Aggieland," said Bobby Reynoso, the current executive director of the coalition.
Those gathered also acknowledged the somber reality that although the facility is closed, the community bears the scars of the evil perpetrated there. Father David Konderla reminded the crowd that the 6,400 babies killed in the Bryan facility have mothers and fathers. Years may pass before they acknowledge their loss, and the pro-life community must be ready to offer help and healing.
To commemorate the loss of these 6,400 children, the coalition organized a 24-hour prayer vigil in front of the closed facility on Sept. 24.