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.”
“I talk about adoption. ... We help with medical. We help with housing. ... We have some resources. We take them to the Archdiocese of Boston and we have resources,” McCullen says.
Currently, I’m writing from the National Right to Life Convention in Louisville, Ky. Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., is here on her life’s work of marching for the civil rights of the unborn. But as is evident throughout the exhibit halls and speeches, this is about human life and dignity, period.
“I used to talk about how we were treating our old people. Now I’m 64 and I’m really worried,” King says. The question remains: Are we a people who respect life? We do have the right to choose. And perhaps some sidewalk counseling — whether outside a Boston abortion clinic or on the steps of the Supreme Court — might help us see a better way. The walk McCullen is now free to take with women is a step in the direction of building a culture of life, resting on the pillars of charity and sacrifice, away from the rotting foundation of convenience and indifference we’ve become all too accustomed to.