Washington City Paper blog The Sexist profiled two anti-abortion protesters yesterday, inspiring us to dig a little deeper into their histories. We found that abortion clinics are far from the only outposts of modern life subject to their protests.
Protester Carolyn Zolbe tells The Sexist's Andrew Beaujon, "I don't say I protest. I say I pray at Planned Parenthood." She takes a mom-centric approach, carrying a sign that says, "SMILE YOUR MOM CHOSE LIFE" and asking Beaujon for his mother's name. A previous Sexist interview with Zolbe proceeded along similar lines; Zolbe asked blogger Amanda Hess for her mother's name, "so that she could pray for my mother, 'because she chose life.'" At that time, Zolbe was taking part in a protest march with her daughter, who pirouetted for Hess to show off her necklace of bloody doll parts.
Dick Retta also says he's not protesting. He tells Beaujon, "I'm not picketing or protesting. I'm offering women alternatives." He says the Planned Parenthood at 16th Street NW in Washington DC is "really teaching women how to murder their children." He also claims the abortion industry is so lucrative that there's no political motivation to regulate clinics, some of which, he says, are "horrible, dirty, roach-infested places." You can see Retta at work as a "sidewalk counselor" in the video above, in which he calls a man with a medical waste container "the baby body parts man" and alleges that he is taking a cooler full of "baby body parts" to a lab in Virginia.
But for more about Retta's job, we turned to a long, strange, and weirdly fascinating essay on Catholic website The Defender. Anti-abortion advocate Jim Fritz writes of his days protesting at an "abortuary" in Hagerstown, Maryland, with Retta, a man named Charlie Heise, and three women he calls "Charlie's Angels." Fritz describes Retta as "an 'old pro' who teaches a sidewalk counseling class and had over 250 saves to his credit" — throughout the piece, he uses the eerily sporty term "save" to refer to convincing a woman not to have an abortion. Fritz describes his day's work thus:
Of course the purpose of Charlie's Angels is to convince women at the abortuary not to abort their babies. In this they have achieved a great deal of success. There has been an average of eight verified "saves" a month since we commenced our efforts at the Hagerstown abortuary in October 2006. We were so successful, the abortuary called in the escorts (we call them deathscorts), attempting to prevent us from talking to the women on their way into the abortuary. When only Charlie and I were present we did fairly well – we have had as many as three saves in one day. Now with Charlie's Angels, the saves have increased to as many as four in one day. Our top counselor is Geri. She spots an abortion-minded woman or couple even before they have parked their car. She is often there kneeling at the driver's side, talking to the couple and showing them flyers before they are out of the car. She is at work saving lives before the rest of us are aware of what is occurring. Once I spoke to a woman who sat in her car as she struggled with her decision, and I was getting nowhere. I sent Geri over to the car, and the woman changed her mind within ten minutes. The rest of us watch her work and are amazed at her persistence and results. Geri is very aggressive towards the deathscorts, keeping them occupied and nonproductive. She also works at converting the deathscorts to the pro-life side.
The saves, the stats, the adversarial relationship with the "deathscorts" (whom the video accuses of being financially motivated) — all of it makes "sidewalk counseling" sound almost like a game. But the counselors are serious. And at least the ones Fritz knows don't stop at abortion clinics. Fritz describes what happens when one of the "Charlie's Angels" passes a head shop:
As they were walking, they passed a water pipe tobacco store. Suddenly, Geri asked, "Where's Angela?" Well, Angela could not pass that store without stopping to talk to them about the tobacco they sell for the water pipes or something like that. She really went in to talk to and pray for them.
Soon after, Angela encounters more people in need of prayer:
Angela came out, and they all started toward the library when Geri asked, "Now where's Angela?" They had just passed the door to the "Mystical Keep," so they knew where she must have disappeared. At least 20 young people were sitting around tables playing Magic Cards; possibly also playing Dungeon and Dragon games, and various odd, probably demonic and satanic-leaning games. Geri needed to leave, so they looked inside and saw Angela weaving in and out through the tables. Her lips were moving, and Gail said, "Angela's praying in there." Geri didn't want to bother her so Christina went inside and spilled some holy salt.
It's tempting to make fun of these people, with their horror at the "water pipe tobacco store" and the satanic D&D players (leave the poor geeks alone!). At the same time, The Defender offers a glimpse into the lives of people who are far from single-issue protesters, who see so many aspects of contemporary American culture as assaults on their beliefs. In a way, the lives of Retta and his colleagues offer a critique of the notion that the pro-life movement is all about misogyny. For these people, it seems to be more about modernity, about a forward-marching American society that they try to control through a combination of misinformation and prayer.
Meet A Pro-Life Protester: Carolyn Zolbe [The Sexist]
Meet A Pro-Life Protester: Dick Retta [The Sexist]
Carolyn Zolbe Is Praying For My Mom [The Sexist]
VIDEO: Dick Retta Sidewalk Counselor - 6 People Saved Today! [Big Blue Wave]
Modern Day Saints [The Defender]