Ms. magazine had a piece this week that mentioned LMPD’s investigation of one of its officers, accused of participating in an anti-abortion protest at the E.M.W. clinic downtown while in uniform and driving an LMPD vehicle. And last month the C-J’s Emma Austin did a story about Metro Councilman Jecorey Arthur’s effort to “bring back a proposal for legislation allowing the downtown clinic to create a ‘buffer zone’ extending from the facility’s front entrance to the sidewalk, where protesters wouldn’t be allowed.” Austin’s C-J colleague Darcy Costello, in a separate piece, quoted the director of the National Clinic Access Project: “When you allow a city block in the heart of Louisville to become the Wild West…several times a week for hours on end, you are creating an atmosphere that is conducive to violence.”
For this Louisville Magazine story I wrote in 2014, the clinic’s director told me how, in 2008, she wrote to then-Mayor Jerry Abramson, requesting a buffer zone. In his response, Abramson wrote that he had forwarded a copy of her letter to the police chief. “As you noted in your correspondence, individuals participating in this type of protest have a constitutional right…,” Abramson wrote. — Josh (March 5, 2021)
The only abortion clinic in Louisville opens at 7:30 in the morning, and that’s when each woman, 20 or more on a busy day, is scheduled to arrive for her appointment. Five days a week for the past 17 years, Donna Durning has shown up about an hour before that. “Maybe one of the girls will come early, and I’ll have a chance to talk to her before everybody else gets here,” she says. “It’s the last chance.”
On this February Saturday, she parks her white Mercedes Benz on the street in front of E.M.W. Women’s Surgical Center, a one-story brownish-brick building on the south side of Market, between Second and First, across from a Subway and a business called Action Loan. She’d like to get a bumper sticker made for her car that asks, “Have you hugged your choice today?”
Durning wears tights, knee socks and leg warmers beneath her conservative black slacks, plus “a wonderful shirt that’s like long underwear,” a turtleneck, a sweater and a down coat. Her shoes are insulated. Some of those tiny packets that generate heat warm her pockets. A single-digit temperature transforms mouths into smokestacks of billowing breath. “People do make fun of me because I don’t wear a hat,” she says. “I just have to explain that red hair is hot hair.” Her schedule as a realtor allows her never to miss a morning, unless she’s out of town for an anti-abortion conference or the March for Life in Washington, D.C. “I just feel like somebody needs to be here every day,” she says. Durning, who doesn’t want to reveal how old she is in print, looks at least 15 years younger than her age. She’s proud to say her medicine cabinet has nothing in it but aspirin and Pepto-Bismol. “I’ve been blessed with good health,” she says. “As long as I’m able to get myself down here, I will do this.”
She holds a black velvet box that looks like it would contain jewelry but instead holds four to-scale plastic models, fetuses at seven, eight, nine and 10 weeks old. “When I have the opportunity to show these to the girls, they’re really affected by it,” Durning says. One of her friends gave her a palm-sized mechanical counter that she uses to tally the women entering, in her words, “the abortuary,” “the abortion mill,” “the killing place.” She carries a spare because a counter once stopped working on her. “Saved that one for parts,” she says. In a spiral notebook, she tracks the number of women who go into the clinic, by her count 22 on Feb. 4, nine on the 5th, 10 on the 6th. Each Tuesday through Saturday, which is when the clinic’s doctors perform abortions, she calls her total into WLCR-AM, the local Catholic station that broadcasts the number before the rosary at 8 a.m. and noon. In her notebook, Durning also writes down the first names of the “deathscorts” and the “prayer warriors” who come to the sidewalk each day.
Chuck Jones, a 70-year-old retired sheet-metal worker from Lanesville, Ind., arrives not long after Durning, driving the 62 round-trip miles to E.M.W. for more than a decade. “I just love babies,” he says. He explains how, years ago, he and his late wife almost adopted, until the birth mother found out it was a boy. “Then it became, ‘This is our bloodline,’” Jones says, adding that the child — first name David, middle name Shane — turned 12 on Jan. 15 at 4:36 in the morning. “He was almost ours. But he’s alive, so what the heck,” Jones says. Mike Sliter, who is 52 and lives in Pleasure Ridge Park, says one of the reasons he comes to the clinic is because his 19-year-old daughter weighed one pound, 15 ounces, when she was born. “It really stuck with me that there are aborted babies bigger than that,” he says. For eight years, Philip Calvert, a 56-year-old sawmill worker from Fordsville, Ky., has traveled nearly 200 miles round trip. Fordsville is southwest of Louisville, and Calvert wakes at 2:30 a.m. — 3:30 our time — so he can make it to the sidewalk before E.M.W. opens. “We’re just trying to save babies,” he says. “Is that so bad?”
Marking the property boundary is a line in the sidewalk, at the end of a column-supported overhang above E.M.W.’s glass-door entrance. Beneath this overhang sits a black backpack filled with thin mesh vests the color of an orange traffic cone, the words “Clinic Escort” stenciled on the back. Ampelio Isetti, 76, has decorated his with buttons: pink with “God” in black, red with “Satan” in black. One says, “This is what a feminist looks like.” He almost always wears his Obama ball cap. Isetti is originally from Italy, which is why he says some of the prayer warriors call him “Mussolini.” “I come here because they’re the Christian Taliban, here to impose their beliefs,” Isetti says.
Saturdays are busiest. If the weather is nice, and sometimes when it’s not, 20 escorts and 100 or more who oppose abortion will come to the sidewalk. The clients are diverse; the prayer warriors and escorts tend to be white. The Saturday before Mothers’ Day, those numbers quadruple. On that particular holiday, the escorts hold a “pledge-a-picketer” fund-raiser, with their supporters donating, say, 10 cents for each person who’s not wearing an orange vest. To figure out the total, one of the escorts uses a counter like Durning’s.
The escorts man several zones: the corners where Market meets Second and First; across the street; the alley behind the clinic; the entrance and exit to the parking lot behind A Woman’s Choice, which is an anti-abortion facility that shares an interior wall with E.M.W. The escorts watch for slow-moving cars, the passengers — one of whom will always be a woman — turning their heads left and right, a little lost. Although the escorts don’t work for E.M.W. (they’re not even volunteers for the clinic), staff tell clients to look for orange vests.
“We have three kinds of protestors: pray-ers, chasers and preachers,” says Fausta Luchini, a therapist in her 50s who has been escorting since her daughter got her into it several years ago. The escorts have nicknamed one man “Screaming Preacher.” “One of the escorts, who’s actually deaf, says she can hear him,” Luchini says, laughing. When he really gets going, Clara Harris, an escort in her 30s, says her yoga experience allows her to drown him out. Some of the other escorts have nicknamed 57-year-old Dan Rudyk “Zen Master Dan.” He works as the vice president of production at a small cabinet shop and escorted for the first time in 1999, then got back into it about six years ago when his college-age daughter was home from school and wanted to see what it was all about. “This is not about protecting the client,” he says. “We give them space to be empowered in what they’re about to do.”
Walter is a large and jolly escort who wears a bucket hat over what’s left of his slicked-back white hair. He says hello to everybody on the sidewalk. “Good morning, Donna!” he’ll shout, genuinely greeting her. Besides Walter, though, escorts generally don’t talk to the prayer warriors, besides yelling, “Don’t block the sidewalk, please!” Meg, a 32-year-old escort who’s been doing it since 18, says some escorts used to sing “The Song That Never Ends” to try to drown out the prayers. “But that just escalated things and didn’t serve the client,” Meg says. The escorts have a blog titled Every Saturday Morning and a private Facebook page with about 200 members, with an estimated 50 or so escorting with some regularity. The core group is probably closer to 20. “Escorts don’t want people to have abortions they don’t want to have,” Luchini says. “I never approach women at Babies ‘R’ Us and say, ‘Excuse me, have you thought about abortion?’ It is each person’s decision.”
Walter and several others don’t want their last name or age in print. “We’ve all heard too many horror stories about people stalking you,” he says. Jenn, a programmer at a “major company” in town, adds, “You don’t know who the pro-lifers or pro-birthers are who can put the kibosh on your career.” Sara, 44, never takes the car she typically drives because she’s only seen one other like it in town and is afraid it would make her too easy to identify. Ken, who is 50 and escorts on Tuesdays, takes photos of every new face he sees outside the clinic. “We don’t know when the next bombing is coming,” he says. Meg says, “I have to hand it to the protestors on a very small level. They show up for something they believe in. I think they’re brainwashed and full of shit, but they’re showing up.”
By a little after 7 a.m., several men and women holding rosaries have formed a gauntlet on the sidewalk to the left side of the entrance. One woman, in an ankle-length jean skirt, holds her bundled-up infant. Calvert wears a laminated Virgin Mary picture around his neck. “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee,” Calvert says, leading the others this February morning. “Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” They sing “Ave Maria.” Some kneel.
To the right of the entrance is a large waiting-room window, blinds always pulled shut. During the four months spent reporting this piece, only once did a woman poke her head through. “Gonna kill your baby today?” a man on the sidewalk asked. Trying to rile him up, she nodded and, with a thumb, acted as if she were slitting her throat. Those behind the window tend to become each preacher’s involuntary congregation. Andrew King, originally from Bradenton, Fla., and now a doctoral student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in town, seems to lead the group from Immanuel Baptist, located on South Clay Street. They wear neon-yellow vests, and he insists this is not an attempt to confuse clients. Some prayer warriors once wore orange vests that said “Life Escort” on the back. “We have the vests so we can stand out. We don’t wear the pro-life badge. We wear the Jesus-has-been-raised-from-the-dead badge,” King says. While preaching, he likes to mention how he and his wife have an eight-week-old and are in the process of adopting another.
A barricade of orange vests forms on the clinic side of the line in the sidewalk. The prayer warriors are on the other side. Shoe tips to shoe tips, no space between them.
“Guerra,” says a Spanish-speaking man from Ecuador who comes to the sidewalk to pray.
The gold-colored Saturn parks at a meter on Market, near First, which means the young man and woman, who looks to be in her late teens, must take what the escorts call “the long walk” to the clinic, which is closer to Second Street. The sidewalk is an ice rink, which is why 64-year-old Pat Canon, an escort who comes every Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday morning, has brought a plastic sack of cleats for her fellow volunteers to attach to the soles of their shoes. The young woman wears boots and sweatpants, keeps her hands in the pouch of her hoodie.
“Would you like me to walk with you?” the escort named Jenn asks. The young woman nods yes.
Nate Robertson, who’s 31 and a supervisor at a call center, approaches and asks the young woman, “Are you going to E.M.W. today?” A year ago, he and his wife Kristin, who are volunteer children’s pastors at the Kingdom Center Church in J-Town, were having dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory and walked past the clinic. He did some Googling and has come to the sidewalk most Saturdays since. “It’s tough because they’ve already made up their mind to have an abortion,” Robertson says. He talks to a lot of rolled-up car windows.
“The sidewalk is really icy today,” Jenn says to the client, ignoring Robertson.
“Please,” Robertson says. “You don’t have to do this. There are other options.” He asks if the client would consider a free ultrasound next door at A Woman’s Choice instead.
“The protestors will try to talk to you,” Jenn says to the client. “You do not have to say anything back.”
“Please,” Robertson says.
The young woman and her companion do not say a word.
The gauntlet begins a couple hundred feet from the entrance. One man has a GoPro camera strapped to his chest, the footage from which he says he shows at his church, Auburndale Baptist. (It sounds like his voice on the video of the E.M.W. sidewalk scene that’s on the website for the Abolitionist Society of Louisville, whose objective is to “shut down Kentucky’s last remaining full-time Child Sacrifice Center.”) Twenty students have made the trip from Kentucky Mountain Bible College, about 150 miles to the southeast of Louisville in Jackson, Ky. Many hold graphic posters, the mutilated arms and legs of fetuses next to quarters and nickels to show scale. One of the students cries as she sings “Amazing Grace.” Once a month, parishioners from the Cathedral of the Assumption make the walk to Market from their church on South Fifth Street, where they stand across the street from E.M.W. and pray.
The wall parts, lets through the client walking with Jenn. Isetti, who is whistling, opens the door.
“Adoption would be a loving choice,” Durning says. “Babies are to be cared for, not thrown away like garbage.”
“We care about you!” King shouts. “No children have to die here today!”
Tammy Gutman, 46, stands before the waiting-room window, head down. “I just pray these women will open their eyes,” she says. Gutman was a single mother when she had an abortion in 1991. She says she kept that secret buried for 17 years, until she finally brought herself to talk about it at church. “I thought it was a blob of tissue,” she says. “I didn’t know it had a heartbeat.” She says she forgave herself after getting counseling at A Woman’s Choice, where she now volunteers. She named the child she never had Shawn Alexander because she’s confident it was a boy.
Walter, in his orange vest, walks with a mother and her daughter. A woman named Mary approaches with a plastic fetus in her hand. “Don’t do this,” Mary says. The mother, who is crying, replies, “She’s a baby.” Mary thrusts the plastic fetus toward their faces. “She’s just a baby,” the mother repeats. The prayer warriors call the mother “grandma” and her daughter “mom.”
“Don’t kill your daughter,” somebody shouts. “Don’t let them kill your grandbaby.”
“I’m sorry about all this,” Walter says.
It’s still dark out, but one client beelining to the front door has on sunglasses and keeps her hood up, as if she’s trying to hide from paparazzi. Several wear headphones. One shouts, “Get the fuck out of my way!” Another, to Durning: “Hush! You’re getting ready to get slapped.” A lineman-sized man in an Oakland Raiders pullover practically sprints with his wife. Her eyes stare at the pavement; his eyes bulge. (By the time the sun has risen, the escorts’ work is done, usually at about 8:30 a.m. The prayer warriors hang around until 9 or so, hoping to get through to a woman on the other side of the waiting-room window or to change a straggler’s mind. When the scene is mostly clear, the man in the Raiders jacket steps into the cold for a cigarette. “That was crazier than I expected,” is all he’ll say.)
Rudyk is with a woman in her 30s or 40s, who holds the hand of a young child walking next to her who is sucking on a pacifier. “Pretty chilly morning, huh?” Rudyk says. From Second, they turn right onto Market. Clients and their companions have packed the entryway through E.M.W.’s doors.
“The baby in your womb is as precious as the one walking with you!”
“They make slime out of those babies!”
“You men need to step up and take care of your children.”
“Steve Jobs was adopted. What if his mother would have had an abortion?”
“Their only concern is receiving the blood money for killing your baby.”
Kirk Powell, a 28-year-old student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, carries a metal basket of granola bars, bottled water and smiley-face buttons for the escorts, an attempt, he says, to “bridge the gulf” between the two sides. Besides Walter, who has coffee with Powell every Saturday at the White Castle down the street, everybody — escorts and prayer warriors — ignores him.
E.M.W. keeps thefluorescent lights in the entryway turned off, to make it a little more difficult to see in from the sidewalk in the early-morning darkness. An employee stands behind a window of thick glass, checks client IDs, hands them a form on a clipboard and buzzes them through the waiting room’s locked door. Taped to the bricks on the employee’s side of the glass: black-and-white printouts of faces that have made threats at abortion clinics across the country, like the images you’d see on a wanted poster. When asked if the receptionist window is bulletproof, the clinic’s 59-year-old director, Anne Ahola, says, “It might be.” She says the prayer warriors are “exorcising their demons out there.”
The carpeted waiting room has 33 uncomfortable chairs, a few small plastic pots of fake flowers, ceiling tiles, unmemorable pictures on beige walls. In other words, a doctor’s office. The music from the speaker overhead would be at home in an elevator. On the other side of the main wall is A Woman’s Choice, the Christian nonprofit that offers free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds and can put a woman in touch with adoption agencies or maternity homes. “Terminating a pregnancy is killing,” says Monica Henderson, A.W.C.’s 45-year-old director. “That’s a fundamental difference.” A.W.C. already had a facility on the other end of the block — plus one on East Chestnut where mothers can work toward a GED — but a few years ago opened a second location, next door to E.M.W. “Visibility and availability is the main thing,” Henderson says. “We want to make sure these women have all the information.” (“They jumped on the building like that when it opened up,” Ahola says.) Henderson says, “I think a lot of people believe that a child disrupts everything. But most things that are worthwhile require work. It’s not easy, but it’s possible.”
A locked door leads to the rest of E.M.W., where there are rooms for ultrasounds and pelvic examinations. Pregnancies fewer than eight weeks along cost $650, cash or credit, for two sets of pills — one set swallowed at the office, the other at home two days later — that, Ahola says, “basically cause a very early miscarriage.” After eight weeks and up to 22 weeks, the surgical procedure starts at $700 and goes up from there, depending on how far along the woman is in her pregnancy. The pill patients and surgical patients split up to watch a 20-minute video, a way for E.M.W. to deal with the volume. Dona Wells, the director who preceded Ahola, explains the surgery on the video. “All abortions in the first two trimesters are safer than carrying the pregnancy to the end,” it says on the screen. The latter group’s video includes pictures of the metal instruments used to scrape the uterine lining and of a plastic suction tube. “I’ve heard them yell on the sidewalk that the suction is 40 times stronger than a vacuum cleaner,” Ahola says. “If that was true, your brain would get sucked out.”
An elevator leads to the basement, which has faux-wood floors and walls painted in pastel blues, greens and peach, with waist-high wallpaper borders in seashell themes. “What the protestors call ‘the dungeon,’” Ahola says. “I want people to understand we’re not a crazy place where we drag people in by the ankle just so we can make a buck.” Two rows of metal lockers, 22 total, stand near doorless dressing rooms like you’d see at a department store, with curtains for privacy while changing into a hospital gown. Six gurneys line a wall in the room next to the OR. Among the clinic’s employees are three nurses, a nurse anesthetist, a surgical technician. The clients enter the OR one at a time. The procedure takes less than five minutes, followed by an hour of recovery in a maroon leather recliner in the basement. Because of the general anesthesia, the surgical patients cannot drive themselves home. “Those graphic signs they bring to the sidewalk? No surgery is pretty,” Ahola says. “If you get your leg amputated — if you have any surgery — you’re not going to want to see it.
“Yes, at 20 weeks some have been born. And at six weeks a fetus has a heartbeat. But a heartbeat isn’t the only thing that makes us human. It’s the beginning of something, and if things go good it’s going to become something. Until then, the heart is just a pump,” she says. “A baby is something you can hold in your arms. It can breathe on its own. It can look at you. God put his breath into Adam, and that’s what gave him life. Fetuses don’t have lungs. I like to think the soul isn’t there yet, that it comes when we take that first breath.”
Anna Collins, 29, is a massage therapist who lives in Germantown. “You can use my full name,” she says. “I’m not ashamed at all.” She had her first abortion a week after she and her boyfriend had broken up. She was 20. “I had no stability and was really poor at the time,” she says. Two years later she was pregnant again. “I was actively trying not to get pregnant,” she says. She had the first one in Lexington, the second in Louisville, where she had worn an orange vest before. Collins doesn’t recall the exact date of either procedure. After watching the 20-minute video in Louisville, she does remember the television being tuned to Court TV. She was a little lightheaded in the recovery room in Louisville. “It’s like donating blood,” she says.
“Why are we having more kids when we aren’t even taking care of the ones who are already here? I see my friends with kids struggling to get by. I look back and I’m like, ‘I’m so happy I don’t have two kids,’” she says. “I have two dogs and two cats that are plenty of work.”
In 2008, Ahola wrote to then-Mayor Jerry Abramson, requesting a buffer zone around the clinic that would require picketers to remain a certain distance from E.M.W.’s doors. In his response to Ahola, Abramson wrote that he had forwarded a copy of her letter to the police chief. “As you noted in your correspondence, individuals participating in this type of protest have a constitutional right…,” Abramson wrote.
Ahola has a spacious office on the main floor, blinds shut on the window facing Market. A computer monitor displays six blocks of security-camera footage. There are pictures of her eight cats, three of which she found behind the clinic. A small picture of Jesus stands on the sill. “I want people to know we’re not against this man. The thing that gets to me the most is when the protestors tell me I’m worshipping Satan,” she says. When Ahola was promoted from counselor to director in 2006, she asked one of the doctors to pray with her. “I just asked God to watch over us,” she says. “It’s almost like this calm, nice haven in here from all the chaos outside.” She says the staff recently threw a baby shower for one of the employees.
Ahola spends most of her time in the smaller of her two offices, where she meets with clients. She makes sure nobody is pressuring the woman to have an abortion, asks why the client wants to terminate the pregnancy. “Many times they’re in the wrong relationship. Or finances, that’s a big one. Health reasons. They might be in school, or planning to go to school. Some just never wanted to have kids.” What about adoption? “Some people just don’t give their children away,” she says.
Her desk is tidy, and she prefers lamplight to the fluorescents. A painted gourd from Ecuador contains a collection of four-leaf clovers Ahola has picked from a small patch of grass near the parking lot behind E.M.W. “Some people don’t look at them as anything more than a weed. But to find them here? I think of them as a good thing,” she says. She parks near the spot where she finds them, in the lot encircled by a barbed-wire-topped chain-link fence. She and her co-workers enter the clinic in the back, through a heavy and windowless door.
Ahola was born in Finland, the second oldest of four sisters, and she emigrated to South Florida with her family when she was in her early 20s. She was a mother by 27. “My son’s father asked if I’d consider abortion,” she says. “I said, ‘Don’t ask me again.’” She moved to Louisville because some friends lived here, and she was soon working at Home of the Innocents, a refuge for neglected children. “I have seen the other side, children who come into this world to people who, for whatever reason, do not take care of them,” Ahola says. “The most serious job you have in your life is to be in charge of another life. If you aren’t ready for that, then don’t have them.” When she interviewed to become a counselor at E.M.W., she didn’t even know the clinic did abortions. “Very few people who work here are here to work at an abortion clinic. They looked to work in healthcare. And that’s just what we happen to do here. We don’t do dialysis. We don’t do cosmetic surgery. We do abortions,” she says. “You have to be comfortable with what we do to work here. If you’re not, this is not the place for you.” At parties, Ahola will tell strangers she’s the director of a medical office. If they press her, gynecology. “Not because I’m ashamed of it, by any stretch. I just don’t want them to have to deal with it,” she says.
Neither of the clinic’s two doctors would talk for this story. “One of them, she has two children and doesn’t want anything to happen to them,” Ahola says. One of the founders, Dr. Samuel G. Eubanks Jr., died on Dec. 11, 2013, at age 72. He was born in Memphis, Tenn., the oldest of 10 children. He and his wife Hazel had two kids, a son and a daughter. He played the trumpet, loved tennis and read mystery novels. During a Dec. 17 service celebrating Eubanks’ life, at St. Stephen Church on South 15th Street, several of his friends spoke about the many babies he delivered as an OB/GYN. His colleague Ernest Marshall, the “M” in E.M.W., stood on the stage and wept because his friend was gone.
Kentucky had eight abortion providers in 1996, according to the book Standing Up for Reproductive Rights: The Struggle for Legal Abortion in Kentucky. Now, E.M.W. operates the only one in the state (the Lexington office was shut down in 2016.) The state doesn’t break the total down by clinic, but the Louisville location did the majority of the 3,810 abortions in Kentucky in 2012, compared with 4,272 in 2008. The majority of those clients were from Kentucky. In 2012, 963 women had abortions while six weeks pregnant, 803 at seven weeks, 588 at eight weeks, and so on, with 42 at about 21 weeks. The number of abortions is in inverse relationship with the number of weeks pregnant.
According to Standing Up, which was commissioned by the ACLU of Kentucky, the first clinic in the state opened in Covington, in Northern Kentucky, in the spring of 1973, after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that January. By September, Louisville’s first clinic, called RELSCO, was in business.
Eubanks, Wells and two other doctors from the Surgical Arts Center, Ernest Marshall and Walter Wolfe, opened E.M.W. in August 1981, according to the book. It has been the only clinic in Louisville since 1999. Standing Up quotes Eubanks as saying, “I just always felt that it was a woman’s right for some reason. I felt it was nobody’s business except the woman and her doctor, really. But I also thought that if it’s to be done, it ought to be a safe procedure.” Marshall is quoted as saying, “Part of my nature is that every child should have a mother or father that wants them. My mother has had 13 pregnancies…I call it pseudo-slavery through reproduction.”
Cynthia McCarty had her first abortion, at the Surgical Arts Center, when she was 21. It cost $300. The 56-year-old is telling the story in her house in St. Matthews, where the joke is that her husband bought her the limestone peace sign in the front yard so she could enjoy her tombstone while still living. McCarty watches young children during the week. Right now, she’s sitting on the floor with two infants. Sesame Street is on. “Having babysat basically my whole life, I just knew how much work goes into it and was no way ready for that type of commitment,” she says. By 27, she was pregnant again. She had a daughter. “Saved my life,” she says. “I was a typical party girl and gave all of that up to become a mom.” Two years later, another pregnancy. “Now how ridiculous is that? At that point, you should figure out what causes it and not let it happen. But I knew I wasn’t ready to support two children,” she says. She had a second abortion and started clinic escorting not long after. In a journal she kept, she mentions protestors like “Mean Jean,” “Green Giant” and “Bo Peep.” “It’s so ridiculous how they treat women, like you wake up and go, ‘Well, the laundry’s finished, so I guess I’ll go have an abortion.’” In the early ’90s, she writes, E.M.W. had a security guard. One time at a gas station, she says, a man recognized her as an escort and thanked her for helping his girlfriend and him into the clinic. He gave her an eagle feather.
“If you believe these little masses in your belly have a soul, then wouldn’t you assume — now, I’m not very religious, but I might be spiritual — but wouldn’t you believe that those souls, if they have souls as a mass, go back to wherever it is that they go and then come back? In reality, if that’s what it is, then I believe my first abortion became my daughter I had six years later and my second abortion, perhaps, became another daughter. Now, I don’t know if I believe that. It’s just one of those theories that floats around in your head.”
McCarty has three daughters, all in their 20s. “I have been blessed that nobody’s turned up pregnant,” she says. In the medicine cabinet she keeps the morning-after pill, one pill per box. “All of my daughters and their friends know it’s there,” she says. “My deal is: No questions asked, you don’t have to tell me you’re using it, but please make sure you leave the box on the counter so that I know it’s gone.” She says she’s bought four or five boxes.
Donna Durning’s parish, Holy Spirit, is only a mile from McCarty’s house. While drinking coffee at nearby Lotsa Pasta, Durning shares her story. She spent her childhood in Crescent Hill as the oldest of nine children. Her father was in the weather-stripping business. She has two grown kids. Her husband, a retinal surgeon, lost a battle with cancer at age 40. Almost two decades ago, she went to E.M.W. for the first time. Her sister wanted Durning to see what went on there.
When talking about her black velvet box that contains four plastic fetuses, she says, “One of the deathscorts made fun of my models and said, ‘It’s not a baby; it’s a lima bean.’ Every once in a while, when I get the chance, I’ll say, ‘Has your lima bean turned into a baby yet?’” Durning brings signs to the sidewalk — including one of an aborted 10-week-old fetus with the word choice in quotation marks — because “people need to see what abortion is.” She says that she helped one woman change her mind from the sidewalk at the clinic, adding that the mother named the child Donisha. “My namesake,” Durning says. She keeps a picture of Donisha with her while at the clinic. When asked her stance on abortion in cases of rape or incest, she says, “It’s still a baby. It’s still an innocent child. That baby did nothing wrong.” The only exception, she says, is if the mother’s life is at risk. “Which is an exception in the Catholic Church,” she says. To the women who’ve had abortions, she says, “The Catholic Church hopes they will seek forgiveness. And, of course, we believe those babies go to heaven. No doubt about it.”
On a Saturday in early November, a 40-something named Chad Johnson is wearing a headset microphone, standing on a stepstool. He spreads the gospel in Louisville, outside the Yum! Center or Churchill Downs or, like this morning, on the sidewalk in front of E.M.W. “This baby is in the way of your drinking and getting high and going to gangster-rap concerts,” he says. “They herd you in here like cattle. What’s happening in that building is a Holocaust.” There are 92 prayer warriors out here today, 30 or so escorts. Students from a local high school volunteering as escorts are bricks in the orange barricade.
Johnson wraps up after about 45 minutes, and Angela Minter, who runs the Christian nonprofit Sisters for Life, starts sharing her story, as she does every Saturday. The 48-year-old had two abortions before she was 20. She was going to have a third until her father found out. “That’s now Ryan, my only daughter,” she says. Years later, at an anti-abortion rally with her church in Frankfort, Minter says she became hysterical in a rotunda bathroom. Soon after, she and her pastor started Sisters for Life, which does abstinence education and serves as a liaison between women and adoption agencies, maternity homes, etc. She and her husband, her high school sweetheart, now have three children. They’ve named the two they never knew Justice and Judah. Plaques at the Kentucky Memorial for the Unborn in Frankfort bear their names. “Some people say, ‘It’s already a difficult day for these women, and my being here just makes it harder.’ Well, it should be hard,” she says. Minter says sometimes a car will pull up with a child in a car seat, and the driver will say, “This is a child saved because you talked to me on the sidewalk.”
On this Saturday, escorts and their supporters — with car windows that say things like “Women R Not Broodmares” — caravan to Frankfort for a rally on the steps of the Capitol. Maybe 60 people have shown up to hear the speakers, including a Unitarian minister who says, “Why would you cut access to abortion but then cut other services like food stamps?”; the ACLU’s “reproductive freedom project director” or, in his words, “the most hated lobbyist at the Capitol”; a woman who wants better sexual-education classes in schools because some middle-schoolers think they can use a sandwich bag if they don’t have a condom; and the keynote, whose name on Twitter is ClinicEscort.
The following evening, a crowd has gathered outside E.M.W. to wrap up 40 Days for Life, a national campaign that has folks pray outside abortion clinics for 40 days, with a goal in Louisville of at least two people on the sidewalk from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Several of the cars parked on the street have the ubiquitous “Abortion Stops a Beating Heart” bumper sticker, the one with a flat-lined EKG.
“I’m emotional,” says Jena Quesada, the 33-year-old organizer. “It’s probably because I’m pregnant.” Durning is here, and according to her count, E.M.W. performed 347 abortions over the 40-day period. “That’s how many people we see go in and don’t come out,” Quesada says. She mentions her kindergartener son. “In two days, you wipe out his entire class,” she says. Over that same time period, Quesada says, 17 women walked out of the clinic without having an abortion. That’s a victory, she says, even if the reason why the woman couldn’t go through with it remains unknown. Ahola, E.M.W.’s director, says sometimes it turns out that the woman wasn’t even pregnant.
Nate Robertson, the volunteer children’s pastor at the Kingdom Center, hands each person 12 copper BBs, which Quesada says represent the average number of abortions the clinic performed each of the 40 days. Those in attendance drop the BBs — some one at time, others all at once — into a stockpot on the pavement. Ping. Ping. Ping. PingPingPing.
Once the members of the group have blown out their candles, they gather for a photo. One woman wonders how many of them are here tonight.
A man counts. “Forty-one,” he says.
The woman looks at the man, then at Quesada.
“Did you count the one in her belly?” she asks.