Wednesdsay is the 41st anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, which is to be observed by tens of thousands of demonstrators in Washington, D.C., calling for an end to abortion in the U.S.
Sunday night, about 50 people participated in Bascom Life's 13th annual Rally for Life, a candlelight walk to remember victims of abortion and to pray for those suffering with emotional and physical scars related to the procedure. The walk is a small-scale version of the march in the Capitol.
Denice Daniel, president of Bascom Life, said participation was lower than some prior years, but the cold, windy weather may have kept some marchers away.
After a prayer by the Rev. Chris Mileski of St. Wendelin Catholic Church, the participants stepped off at Sts. Patrick and Andrew Church in Bascom and walked to Bascom United Methodist Church for a service that included prayer, music by Cal Cook and Bill Daunhauer, and remarks by two speakers.
Daniel introduced Fonda Luersman of Fostoria to describe her work as the sidewalk counselor coordinator for the Diocese of Toledo. She assigns volunteers to talk with clients outside of abortion centers in the diocese and works with Project Rachel, a counseling program for people suffering from guilt and loss after their own abortions or those of loved ones.
Luersman began with some statistics.
"We remember the more than 56 million aborted babies whose lives were taken through abortion. This is the equivalent of roughly one in six living Americans. This is hard to fathom," she said.
Before coming to Ohio, Luersman did sidewalk counseling in Dallas, where multiple clinics were operating at that time. As a college student in the late 1980s at Franciscan University in Steubenville, she traveled with other students to Pittsburgh to minister to clients there. When abortion supporters tell her women have a right to choose abortion to improve their lives, she disagrees.
"I've seen the devastation of abortion. I've seen the pain in the eyes of women who have had abortions. I've seen their tears. No one can tell me that abortion is good for women. Abortion hurts women," Luersman said.
She spoke about Christ's bodily sacrifice for humankind and told the gathering Christians also must make sacrifices to bring an end to abortion in this country. The people who marched in the cold before praying at Sunday's service and the volunteers who stand outside of abortion clinics in all kinds of weather are examples of that sacrifice, Luersman said.
Although sidewalk counseling does not deter every woman contemplating abortion, Luersman's experiences include numerous women who have decided against terminating their pregnancies.
The speaker said a single person standing on the sidewalk and urging them to reconsider can make a difference.
"Many women change their minds and choose life for their babies. This is because someone was there to offer them help in another way, a better way. Many women are praying for a sign. ... Women have said, 'You were my sign,'" Luersman said.
She told the story of a July day at Capital Care in Toledo. It was a "consultation day" when 13 women were coming for appointments to meet with clinic staff for sonograms and information prior to scheduling abortions.
Luersman said she and another counselor were there with a few people praying. A young woman and an older woman coming to the clinic accepted some literature from the counselors.
"It turned out that the friend was the grandmother of the baby, and I was able to speak with her. She told me she was trying to talk 'J' out of the abortion. I was able to get the grandmother's phone number, and I told her I would call her," Luersman said.
In the follow-up call that evening, Luersman told the grandmother about the risks of abortion and the precious human life "J" was carrying. The younger woman was there and agreed to hear what Luersman had to say. The counselor said the voice seemed open to her message, but she had not yet made a decision. The procedure was scheduled later that week.
Luersman said she continued to pray after the call and alerted the counselor on duty on the girl's abortion day. The young woman appeared alone and remained in the clinic for a long time; however, she emerged without ending the pregnancy.
When Luersman heard the news, she contacted the grandmother again and coordinated a visit for "J" to Heartbeat in Toledo, an organization that assists pregnant women with education and baby items. "J" had another sonogram at Heartbeat, and one of the volunteers told Luersman the baby was "dancing" on the screen.
"We do see fruit from being out there. ... I also want to say often to remember and pray for those who were told the lie that abortion would solve their problems, that abortion would allow them to go on with their lives and continue as they were before," Luersman said. "In working with them, I've seen the havoc that abortion causes. I've seen that abortion leaves a hole in one's heart."
The speaker said if anyone present knew of someone needing counseling after abortion, they could direct the "walking wounded" to www.hopeafterabortion.org, the website for Project Rachel. The site lists support groups within the Toledo Diocese.
Luersman said she assisted with Project Rachel retreats in Texas and saw the healing that took place for participants. Some had been struggling for years to cope with what they had chosen to do.
Luersman quoted a Catholic bishop who challenged Christians gather their courage, tell the truth about abortion and take other steps to get the laws changed.
She added some progress has been made. Pregnancy help centers have sprung up all over the country, staffed by volunteers who can assist women in crisis. Donors have come forward to support these centers and their programs. Groups of concerned citizens are working to educate youth about alternatives to abortion, lobby for legislative changes, pray and reach out "at the final hour" to advocate for the unborn.
"All of these are making a positive difference," Luersman said.
Having checked recent figures, she said 87 abortion clinics in the U.S. had closed in 2013, including one in Toledo and one in Lima. The 582 still operating is a drop from 2,176 centers in 1991.
Luersman's source cited a reduced demand for abortions, actions by the pro-life movement, retirement of some physicians and a resistance among young doctors to perform abortions.
"Capital Care Abortion Center of Lima closed last year, as did Center For Choice in Toledo. Capital Care (Toledo) is going to court Feb. 18 because they don't have a transfer agreement with a hospital," Luersman said. "We really need your prayers. Ask God to shut this last abortion center down."
In spite of progress, Luersman urged the group not to slow down. She encouraged everyone to pray about what he or she can do for the pro-life cause. Those interested in praying at Toledo Capital Care or being trained as sidewalk counselors were asked to sign up.
"It is prayer and sacrifice that will have such an influence on ending the pain of abortion," Luersman said. "If we are not there, who will be that sign?"
Following Luersman's talk, Deacon John Walter offered an inspirational anecdote. Then, Toni Brubaker of Heartbeat/Hope Medical in Fremont offered brief remarks.
Donations collected at the service Sunday were to be turned over to Heartbeat/Hope's pregnancy center in Fremont. Brubaker said the center has operated for 40 years. Heartbeat recently opened a Tiffin office, which is open every Wednesday in the Laird building downtown. Heartbeat offers programs for school children and parents. Women who come to the center receive a free pregnancy test and ultrasound and support from volunteers.
"We have a chance to speak with them and love them and show them that there is hope. We will walk with them through whatever their fear is," Brubaker said.
For women who choose to become parents, meetings are scheduled so they can receive information and socialize with other moms. Whenever a client attends a program or meeting, he or she can receive "mommy dollars" or "daddy dollars" to redeem for baby items from Heartbeat's Giving Room.
Those who have a negative pregnancy test receive counseling about sexual integrity and making better choices. Brubaker said one-on-one mentoring is available. Clients often have experienced sexual or physical abuse.
"Their life is kind of spiraling. They want to get back on track, but they just don't know how," Brubaker said.
Heartbeat also has a post-abortive program called "Hearts." Brubaker said women of all ages and occupations have come through the program. One participant had an abortion in 1973, and carrying that baggage had dramatically affected her life.
"As long as we stay silent and pretend it doesn't have an effect, it will stay there. But when we start talking about it, these women are healed and
they come forward," Brubaker said.
More information about the 2014 March for Life can be found at www.marchforlife.org.