Beware the old woman offering you love.
That summed up some of the reaction to the Supreme Court's unanimous ruling that struck down Massachusetts' buffer-zone law which kept women and men seeking to offer help, counsel, and prayer to women entering abortion clinics 35 feet away from the facilities.
"Every news story I've seen about Eleanor McCullen, the 77-year-old lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, refers to her as a grandmotherly type, cheery and sweet," one Boston Globe columnist wrote in reaction to the Court's decision. But, the writer concluded: "If your grandmother stands -- literally -- in the way of your right to get health care, your grandmother still needs to be stopped."
McCullen, who has spent almost 14 years devoted to helping women know they have alternatives to abortion, is, indeed, a grandmother with a wonderful smile. McCullen doesn't stand in the way of anyone's health care. She offers a choice that a woman may not have known that she had.
But that's not the way everyone sees it. "They make something that is already an emotional and horrific thing that is hard to choose to do, even harder," one woman who lives near the Boston clinic told a reporter.
This assertion underscores a point that Justice Antonin Scalia made in his concurring opinion: "Protecting people from speech they do not want to hear is not a function that the First Amendment allows the government to undertake in the public streets and sidewalks."
It's naive to believe that women walk into abortion clinics knowing all their options or that they can choose to protect the life of their unborn children in an environment of support and love. Such women need to hear the message that McCullen brings.
Counter to the accusation that pro-lifers don't care about children after they are born, Eleanor becomes a real, supportive presence in these women's lives. Her husband, Joe, says that she's on call as if she were an emergency-room doctor. An entire room in the couple's house is full of baby clothes and toys, all donated. She'll provide rent and support, help mothers and fathers get jobs and the skills they need.
"We help people and that's all I'm trying to do -- help someone that's desperate and abandoned," McCullen has said.
Asked to describe her work, McCullen said: "I see myself as a compassionate counselor, helping women. I don't know these women, but I know they're upset. They're abandoned. They're alone." Her method is to say: "Don't rush in. You can't reverse this. Just wait."
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