By MATT SEDENSKY
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The first of them arrived outside the clinic past 4 a.m., before a steady rain fell and a scalding sun rose, and all along, they had prayed for a moment like this.
It’s abortion day at Planned Parenthood and, try as they might, those who lined the street hadn’t had much luck changing any minds.
Now, a patient pushes out of the center’s doors, limply drags her feet across the parking lot, and heads straight into the arms of an anti-abortion counselor who, a short while earlier, asked her not to do what she came here for.
One of the clinic’s rainbow-vested workers, Allison Terracio, sees what’s unfolding and cries, “They got one!”
A majority of Americansbacks abortion rights, and Terracio believes the anti-abortion group’s sidewalk coterie uses trickery, empty promises and manipulation in the guise of kindness to sway women from something they’ve already carefully thought through.
She is as alarmed as her opponents are hopeful.
As the patient walks away with the counselor, it feels as if every eye on the block has followed. The circle of praying Catholics, the smattering of evangelicals at every clinic driveway, even the lone protester here, Steven Lefemine, who stands by himself with a sign with a graphic photo of an aborted fetus, all seem riveted by the apparent change of heart.
“This is a glorious thing that’s happening here!” 66-year-old Lefemine exclaims.
For tens of millions of Americans who see abortion as wrong, it’s gone this way for a half-century: One woman swayed to reconsider as dozens of others follow through. One clinic’s doors closed only to see desperate patients go elsewhere. One law passed, another overturned.
A movement built of tiny steps and endless setbacks, though, now seems poised for a massive leap.
The possibility of looming success, perhaps undoing the constitutional right to abortion found in Roe v. Wade, isn’t talked about much here, though. That’s left to others entrenched in this fight. Those here on the front lines of the battle are focused on the task at hand: To change a single mind and, in their eyes, save a single life.
When that happens, Valerie Berry, the 27-year-old program manager for the biggest of the groups here, A Moment of Hope, says she’ll feel the tingle of goosebumps or the well of tears. Sometimes, she has burst into a joyous dance.
On this day, she’s not there yet with the patient who exited the clinic. But the woman is here beside her, sharing her story and openly discussing if there’s some way she can have another baby.
“It’s a miracle every time it happens,” Berry says. “In some ways, even a conversation is a miracle.”
Berry and a colleague lead the woman across the street from the clinic to their group’s idling RV, where she says she’s about seven weeks pregnant. She tells of a tough upbringing in foster care, an abusive partner who’s now out of the picture, the struggles of raising a 3-year-old, the problems with money, the hope of finding a new home and starting a career in music, all the things that seemed impossible even before her period failed to arrive and morning sickness started sapping her will.
Yet for all the reasons the woman lists to end her pregnancy, Berry feels encouraged that she’s reaching her. When she suggests the woman come see a doctor allied with her group who can prescribe something for the nausea while she weighs her decision, she is receptive. And when a colleague floats considering adoption, the flat rejection of the idea assures them.
“No,” they say the woman told them. “My child will be with me and we’ll just tough it out.”
The goosebumps return. Berry is tingling. Something miraculous is happening.