I approached a small group of abortion protestors yesterday as they stood outside the regional headquarters of Planned Parenthood.
I tried to play it straight. Don't smile too much, I thought. Don't frown too much either.
I looked at one women, made eye contact and asked her a simple question: "How you doing?"
"We're standing at the gates of Hell," she fired back at me. "How do you think we're doing?"
In the St. Louis area, there are protestors who yell at patients, their families and clinic staff. But during my visits to demonstrations over the years most pro-lifers seem to be less confrontational, and actually disagree with the more "direct" approach.
In our story we visited a "boot camp" sponsored by Churches for Life. Rev. Douglas Merkey, the President and founder of the group, urged the two dozen people enrolled in the boot camp to treat people with respect, kindness, to not use pictures of aborted fetuses during public demonstrations, and to not confront patients, their families or clinic staff.
I met many protestors who take a similar approach. They represented different races, genders, ages and religious denominations. There was an African-American pastor from Cape Girardeau, his family and friends, and there were about a half dozen white Catholics from St. Louis, all peacefully demonstrating without contacting anyone visiting the clinic. However, it's clear that some demonstrators confront people driving into the Planned Parenthood parking, even if they have no idea why the visitors are there.
Daniel and Angela Michael, probably the most well-known abortion protestors in the metro-east, use tactics that are particularly offensive to Planned Parenthood, Hope Clinic in Granite City, and other abortion providers. The Michaels use pictures of aborted fetuses and direct confrontation with patients to help "save babies" from being aborted. Their children are often at the demonstrations with them. The Michaels have also been involved in lawsuits over their right to protest in public places, including parade routes. The Michaels believe this is their calling and they've been doing it for years.
Our story about the Sidewalk Supporter Boot Camp does give more air time to people who are against abortion. However, the story is about the camp, and the focus on non-confrontational demonstrations. We thought it was critical to get Planned Parenthood's reaction to the camp, non-confrontational protests, and the demonstrators in general. We also believed it was important to the story to get the view of protestors who believe they should confront patients and staff directly.
Stories about abortion always prompt strong reaction from viewers, those involved in providing the services and those opposed to it, but I believe our story is fair, and gives everyone we talked with the opportunity to have their views heard on one of the most important and divisive issues of our time.