Sidewalk standoff in South LA over abortion

By Jerome Campbell

Listen to an audio story from Annenberg Radio News

imageAnti-abortion protesters outside the Her Medical Clinic at Figueroa and West Adams.

Thirty-six inches. This is the distance between pro-life and pro-choice on Figueroa Street.

On one side, a group of people kneel on a broken sidewalk, sliding rosary beads through their fingers as they call for divine action. And across the sidewalk, another group stands silently; dressed in bright orange vests and black sunglasses. They escort patients into the clinic. Both sides stay on their sides without budging an inch, unless someone tests the boundaries.

“On the good days it’s really boring and we just get to hang out and some of us have become friends. On the not so good days, protesters can become aggressive and on those days we have to call the police,” said Mary-Beth Blakey. She says the anti-abortion group members can be even more aggressive with patients. Following patients out of the clinic and even trying to get into their cars.

“I have seen patients become visibly upset. I have seen patients become so upset that they have rescheduled their appointment,” she said.

And their tactics become more aggressive during Christmas.

imageEscorts for patients at the clinic.

“They try to enter the doors and rush the clinic, singing Christmas carols and delivering gifts to patients; but the gifts are filled with very shaming and misleading anti-abortion literature and baby gifts like booties and baby bottles,” she said.

But according to Dennis Rudmin who prays on the sidewalk, this tension is a two-way street. He says that the group has to come in large numbers to stand any chance on the sidewalk.

“They just try to harass us. They come over and stand in front of you or take your place to lead the rosary, or they follow after you and say things like ‘I’m stalking you,’” Rudmin said.

The close quarters of the sidewalk definitely makes the experience unpleasant. Yet, they continue to deal with the same people every week, sometimes more than their own friends.

“I think I’ve seen mark more than I’ve seen my best friend in the past three years. More than my family,” said Blakey.

And over time, both sides have grown to understand each other.

image“I think some of them are very well intentioned and have their very own personal, spiritual reasons for thinking that for them praying here will have some positive impact. I have no problem with that,” said Blakey.

“We’re not there to get into any type of confrontation. We’re there to pray for these children. And pray for the clinic people too, the pro-abortion people. The people who are harassing us,” Rudmin said.

One woman, who would have walked into the clinic years ago has crossed the sidewalk to pray on the curb. Maria Garanza has had not just one abortion, and then, several more after.

“I’ve had five abortions.” And she regrets her choice every day. “I feel like I killed my babies, I killed five babies. I killed my babies and I think Maria killed her own babies,” said Garanza.

Garanza had her last abortion in 2001 and the distress almost led her to take her life.

“I screamed very loud to myself and I said to Jesus forgive and I know that I killed my baby but I want to save babies. I promise if you forgive. I’ll promise that I’ll go everywhere to save babies,” Garanza said.

A promise that has led her to praying in front of this clinic. Garanza says she has already saved three babies but she wants to save more.

“I’m happy I’m here because I’m doing something,” Garanza said. “I want to see five babies because I killed five babies.”

And so Garanza and her group continue to kneel on the sidewalk and the clinic group waits for the next patient. Neither side knows if they are changing any minds, but they know they will be out next weekend.

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