Blankets, Booties, and Jesus: Spiritual War on the Uterus in Rick Perry’s Texas

As guest of honor at a 2010 fundraiser for the Beltway 8 Crisis Pregnancy Center in Houston, Texas Governor Rick Perry told the pastors and anti-choice activists that, “I feel like I am in the garrison of an army that has devoted itself to the defense of the unborn, here in this state and across the country and am proud to be counted in the ranks.”

For those attending the fundraiser, which took place at Grace Community Church, Perry sketched the battle lines of a struggle “bigger than any law or policy.” Citing Paul, he described a struggle, not against “flesh and blood,” but “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

“Because we know how the Bible ends,” Perry continued, “we can rely on His strength to persevere and never, ever give up, in doing good.”

Perry’s speech was drawn from religious anti-choice rhetoric that has fanned out from courtrooms and legislatures into a spiritual war zone in the nation’s churches and streets. Yet, even as these activists have framed their efforts to end abortion as spiritual warfare, they’ve simultaneously shifted from calling abortion “murder” to claiming civil rights for fetuses and celebrating the “compassion” of those who would “protect” the “unborn.”

Similarly, although the protest imagery for many activists has evolved from photographs of bloody fetuses to maudlin images of tiny hands clutching a maternal finger, the scorched-earth approach remains the same, as was evident in a recent visit to Texas.


It’s a battle fought on more than one front, these Texas activists say, a window into the machinations of the anti-choice movement nationwide. The legislature is one front, and Texas has a robust constellation of anti-choice groups that, in conjunction with an increasingly powerful Republican caucus, have chalked up a series of impressive victories. These successes have led the national anti-choice group Americans United for Life to rank Texas fourth in the country for its “aggressive legislative action over the past several years.”

Another front is in the streets, where Catholic activists have led the way, praying and proselytizing in front of clinics that provide abortions, aiming to persuade patients that not only is abortion contrary to God’s will, but that it will cause them untold harm, from mental health problems to breast cancer, infertility, and even death. While medical evidence says otherwise, such falsehoods have been codified into law in Texas. Its 2003 “right to know” law, never challenged in court, requires doctors to “inform” women seeking abortions of a supposed link between abortion and a higher risk of breast cancer and future infertility, in addition to: “serious psychological effects… including depression, grief, anxiety, lowered self-esteem, regret, suicidal thoughts and behavior, sexual dysfunction, avoidance of emotional attachment, flashbacks, and substance abuse.”

While abortion hasn’t played a central role in the presidential campaign, that, too, is a product of the shift in strategy: anti-choice activists are focused not on overturning Roe v. Wade (although that remains a crucial goal). Instead, they are now fixated on portraying abortion as harmful to women, tying it to an “industry” (i.e., Planned Parenthood) they have targeted with an unrelenting campaign in an effort to malign not just abortion, but birth control—and to restrict access to both. On these matters, Perry’s record as governor speaks for itself. Director of Texas Right to Life Elizabeth Graham told the conservative tabloid Newsmax of Perry, a “staunch advocate”: “we have access to both him and his staff and he has been very hands-on.”

A 2011 bill (designated as “emergency” legislation by Perry in order to fast-track it through the legislature) amended the “right-to-know” law by requiring doctors to perform a sonogram on women seeking abortions, and to describe embryonic development in detail. The statute mandates that a woman wait 24 hours after the sonogram before obtaining an abortion. Although for women who live over 100 miles from the nearest abortion facility the waiting period is shortened from 24 to two hours, the requirement remains onerous given that abortions are available in only 7% of the state’s 254 counties. Following a court challenge by the Center for Reproductive Rights, a federal judge held the bill unconstitutional, because it “compels physicians to advance an ideological agenda with which they may not agree, regardless of any medical necessity and irrespective of whether the pregnant women wish to listen.” The case is on appeal.

The purpose of the sonogram bill, Perry told a Pastors Policy Conference in Houston this past March, “is that, when presented with all the information, every person can make the right choice, the only choice, life.”

Perry has signaled his desire not just to ban abortion, but to restrict access to contraceptives as well. This year he signed a law effectively cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood’s family planning services, and another that may prevent family planning funding through the Texas Women’s Health Program from being disbursed to any organizations that either provide abortions or are affiliated with organizations that provide abortions.

“Perry has really made this a personal issue for himself throughout his tenure as governor,” said Sara Cleveland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. “Where Bush would sit around and sign something because anti-choice was where his base was, Perry actively instigates.”

On many of these issues, Texas has “certainly led the way,” said Yvonne Gutierrez, Vice President for Public Affairs of Planned Parenthood Trust of South Texas. “Texas is definitely one of the places where they’ve moved the fastest,” she said, adding that Perry has been “extremely vocal,” including signing a 2005 law that required parental consent for abortions for minors in a widely publicized ceremony at a church school.


Anti-choice activists contend that Texas hasn’t done enough. Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastors Council, told me that although Perry has been “a consistent and clear advocate” for the cause, “it should be an embarrassment to Texans that states like South Dakota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, other states, are ahead of Texas largely on pro-life legislation.”

Welch was referring specifically to the “personhood” ballot measure which subsequently went down to defeat in Mississippi, and a South Dakota law which would require a woman to be subjected to counseling at a crisis pregnancy center before obtaining an abortion. A federal judge blocked the South Dakota law from taking effect in June, finding that the “woman will feel degraded by the compulsive nature of the Pregnancy Help Center requirements,” and because the law would force women “into a hostile environment.”

“Frankly,” Welch added, referring to a hypothetical “personhood” bill, “there’s no reason for those kind of aggressive bill not to be proposed by the Texas Republican majority six, eight years ago.” Welch is undeterred by legal obstacles to achieving his goals; he’s on a mission to implement “biblical” law.

Sonny Foraker, pastor of First Baptist Church of Pearland, an executive board member of HPAC, and an advisory board member of Beltway 8, has called for “the church militant” to mobilize “to combat the most vicious evil of our time… There is no greater mission than the crusade to protect and defend every single child in the womb.” (Foraker did not respond to an interview request, while Jean Killough, executive director of Beltway 8, declined to be interviewed.)

Pro-choice advocates worry that activists like Welch may get their wish. Speaking about a “personhood” proposal, Lillian Ortiz, board chair of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas who has worked as a staffer in the state legislature, said, “I wouldn’t be surprised” if a bill defining life at fertilization is introduced in the next legislative session.

Welch not only praised a “personhood” possibility, but raised other legislative aspirations as well, noting in particular his admiration for a bill that would permit a “post-abortive” woman, supposedly traumatized by the procedure, to sue the clinic that performed it.

“The reality is that we should be using every possible vehicle at every possible level to restrict and hopefully eliminate abortion,” he said.

Those vehicles include prayer, conversion, and promotion of crisis pregnancy centers whose central mission is to bring pregnant women to Christ.

Houston: Ground Zero for the Battle Against Abortion—and Contraception

In Houston last year, nationally known religious right figures protested a new Planned Parenthood facility on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Drawing on the conspiracy theories prevalent in the anti-choice movement that Planned Parenthood intentionally places facilities in minority neighborhoods because it is bent on “black genocide,” the protesters claimed that the new Planned Parenthood facility was an “abortion super-center” targeting Latina and black women in the south Houston neighborhood.

In reality, Planned Parenthood chose the site because “we could no longer serve the existing and growing family planning client base” in its former location, according to Rochelle Tafolla, Vice President, Communications and Marketing for Planned Parenthood. The building serves as the local affiliate’s administrative headquarters, and its largest family planning health center. Yet for Suzanne Miral, programs coordinator for the Houston Coalition for Life, it is “the largest freestanding abortion facility in the world.”

Welch, who claims his organization is dedicated to bringing together pastors from different denominations, races, and ethnic groups, lobbied state legislators to defund Planned Parenthood. Citing the conspiracy “black genocide” film Maafa 21, Welch contended that Planned Parenthood “was birthed in the dark cloud of Darwinian-based eugenics targeted at exterminating the black population.”

About public funding of Planned Parenthood, which only subsidizes family planning, not abortion services, Welch told me, “We are firmly believing that as we continue to tighten the noose on funding and continue to work toward addressing the insidious focus of this center in the minority community and ultimately to apply greater levels of regulation to it that we will ultimately see it closed in the near future… We are considering this something that there are no options left off the table.”

On the ground at the Planned Parenthood, many of the anti-choice activists are Catholic, a fact that doesn’t go unnoticed by evangelicals. “Protestant churches have to bow and respect to our Catholic brethren for their work on this issue,” Welch told me.

“God Loves You Both”

On a hot, sunny morning in November, I step into the mobile “pregnancy care” unit parked outside that Planned Parenthood facility. I’m there to meet with Christine Melchor, the executive director of the Houston Coalition for Life, but the nurse staffing the bus, Cheryl Park, tells me Melchor is home sick and offers to show me around the retrofitted bus herself.

Park begins where she is sitting in the counseling room, pointing to a clear plastic bin of knitted booties and blankets. “The Lutherans make the blankets and the Catholics make the booties,” she tells me, ushering me into the ultrasound room, with a machine donated by the Knights of Columbus. Park is Catholic, as are many of the Houston Coalition for Life activists, but she says the Lutheran Missouri Synod has been on board with the cause.

Park can’t hide her contempt for Planned Parenthood, and she’s barely able to even utter the words, referring instead to “over there” and “they.” Her opposition isn’t due solely to the fact that Planned Parenthood performs abortions; she is adamantly against the use of birth control, and hopes to stop women, not just from entering the building for abortion services, but for any reason.

In the waiting area, Park offers me pamphlets, ranging from those promoting chastity, offering misinformation about the ineffectiveness and dangers of birth control, to those offering services for “post-abortion trauma,” which is cured by faith in Jesus.

A dour middle-aged woman dressed in scrubs, Park seems incredulous as she lists the services that Planned Parenthood provides: AIDS testing, research, vasectomies, and tubal ligations. “They treat lesbians and gays,” she adds scornfully, “you might see two guys go in there together. They just run the whole gamut.”

I ask Park about contraceptives preventing unintended pregnancies and hence abortions. “It’s a failure,” she shoots back, claiming that she had a woman visit the unit whose husband had had a vasectomy, while the woman had used an IUD and then the Pill, but became pregnant nonetheless. “So, it doesn’t really work,” she said. “And why would you want to do something so drastic to your body?” Park called vasectomy and tubal ligation “mutilation of the body” that is “against natural law.”

Across from the bus, a handful of activists mill around the entrance to the Planned Parenthood parking lot. In multi-colored sidewalk chalk, lettering emblazoned with hearts and curlicues, someone has written, “God loves you both.” As cars drive over it, the activists attempt to stop them and offer the women inside a coupon for a free pregnancy test at the HCFL mobile unit. Most of the cars just drive on by, but the activists don’t give up.

One of the activists is Karen Perez, a gregarious blonde dressed casually in cargo shorts and a white T-shirt. (Park cautions me not to talk to Perez outside because the Planned Parenthood escorts will try to listen, she claims; she summons Perez into the bus to speak with me.) Perez tells me she had an abortion 37 years ago, when she was 21 and just married. Years later, she says, through Care Net’s Forgiven and Set Free program, a Bible study recommended by her priest, she realized that if God “could forgive King David [for murdering Uriah], he could forgive me.”

“Jesus was from the line of David,” she adds, as if to suggest the ultimate forgiveness, but neglecting to mention that David had committed adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. Perez also seemed to overlook the part of the biblical story in which the prophet Nathan rebukes David, and Bathsheba’s baby dies—God’s punishment for the sins of murder and adultery.

Perez now serves on the board of the Houston Coalition for Life, and is a regional coordinator for the Silent No More campaign, a project of Priests for Life and Anglicans for Life. Through it, according to its website, “Christians make the public aware of the devastation abortion brings to women and men.”

Miral, the HCFL programs coordinator, a single mother of two, was adamantly against birth control as well, claiming “half the time it fails.” Perez insists that condoms distributed by Planned Parenthood are the “least effective.”

“It’s kind of like they have a business going,” she charges.

Miral offers a graphic dissertation on why condoms don’t protect from sexually-transmitted diseases, which she asserts are transmitted from “skin-to-skin” contact. She insists that condoms don’t protect “all this extra area at the base of the penis and the scrotum” and “all the woman’s area.”

All of this, of course, is a lecture for abstinence. “Nobody ever died from not having sex,” says Miral.

Transforming Cities for Christ

Welch says his pastors’ councils—replicated in a handful of other cities in Texas, as well as Sacramento, California—offer a distinctly new kind of organizing. In contrast to the Christian Coalition, which used churches to identify and mobilize voters and reach them with its vaunted voters’ guides, the pastors’ councils are focused on turning pastors into figures who scoff at the idea that politics shouldn’t be conducted from the pulpit, and who will encourage their flock to get active—particularly at crisis pregnancy centers.

Welch is one of the original signers, along with other religious right activists, of a “24-Year Plan” to “rebuild American civilization upon the Foundation Principles of the Bible.” The document, a theocratic organizational chart of sorts, calls for a “spiritual-political army” in cities, comprised of seven committees, one of which is the “pro-family” committee to fight “abortion and homosexual battles.” Welch told me his council is “very much supportive” of the document, which he describes as “strategic” and necessary “to meet the goal to legally and practically eliminate abortion in this country.”

Welch, a former national field director for the Christian Coalition, is the face of the religious right in the 21st century: no more Pat Robertsons or Jerry Falwells who speak for the movement on a national scale. Instead, activists like Welch fan out across the country, organizing local religious leaders, regardless of theological differences, and in deliberate efforts to bring in more black and Latino activists and voters. This has led to a cross-pollination among varied religious doctrines, from Pentecostals to non-denominational evangelicals to Southern Baptists.

For these religious activists in the trenches, the battle is not over until abortion is made illegal, and, even after that, completely eliminated; the battle is not over until Planned Parenthood is put out of business. But beyond that, the battle is not over until communities themselves are “transformed.”

The conversion of communities is an imperative even when abortion isn’t on the table. Grace Community Church pastor Steve Riggle, a board member of the Houston Area Pastors Council and prominent endorser of The Response, recently invited Ugandan evangelist Jackson Senyonga to preach at the mid-week prayer service at his church. During the service, which ended with a frenetic faith-healing—during which Senyonga laid hands on congregants, many of whom fell to the floor, quivering and speaking in tongues—Senyonga described, in great detail, how he converted a Ugandan witch doctor to Christianity. He went on to provide instruction on how to prevent the nearby Houston suburb, The Woodlands, from “going to hell.”

“In the name of Jesus Christ, we’re going to go out there and tell the enemy, we know you’re in there… in The Woodlands,” he shouted. “You are trying to take them to hell. But in the name of Jesus, we’re going to storm the gates!” The audience murmured its assent. “We’re going to go in there,” Senyonga screamed, “and grab as many as we can!”

In Austin, networks of pastors pray for the city’s revival as well, and part of that prayer takes place at crisis pregnancy centers. Trey Kent, pastor of the Northwest Fellowship in Austin, is part of a network of 40 pastors who have formed the Unceasing Prayer Initiative to ensure that the city is prayed for around the clock. At the Texas Alliance for Life’s Rally for Life in January, where Gov. Perry was the keynote speaker, it was Kent who gave the benediction at the request of the group’s executive director Joe Pojman (who did not respond to interview requests).

Had an Abortion? You’re Not a Second-Class Follower of Jesus

I recently met Kent and his wife, Mary Anne, at their church north of downtown, in a corrugated metal warehouse building next door to a Family Dollar store. The Kents’ foray into the anti-abortion wars started three years ago, when he and Mary Anne discovered there was an abortion clinic half a mile from their church. They started praying there, and later “started a ministry for women traumatized” by abortion.

Kent, like many anti-choice activists, cites Psalm 139 as scriptural support for his position. “If God knit us together, it takes the choice away from the man or woman. This is God’s doing. God is knitting this baby together in the womb.” But he added another, even less conventional view, contending that John the Baptist was “filled with the holy spirit in his mother’s womb. Which means that God poured out himself into a little baby before it was born, inside the mother… that’s a person, that God would even say the baby was filled with the holy spirit.”

“There’s healing,” said Kent of women who have had abortions. “You can be forgiven. You are not a second-class follower of Jesus.” The role of crisis pregnancy centers, he says, “is to help [clients] know Jesus Christ.” Evangelicals see these centers “almost as an extension of the church.” He’s opposed to distribution or discussion of contraceptives at CPCs, adding, “most conservative churches would say no. They’d say, let’s disciple them and help them toward purity.”

In addition to praying at the nearby abortion clinic, Trey and Mary Anne said, they frequently will evangelize on Austin’s 6th Street, considered to be the world’s live music capital. “Sixth Street is an example of some of the darker areas of our city,” said Trey. “The whole vibe there is pretty dark.”

“We do see some very dark spiritual stuff,” added Mary Anne. “Witchcraft kind of stuff.”

But where you see the “dark areas,” the Kents said, is where you can have what other self-styled spiritual warriors call “transformation.” It’s not a word they would use, but they like it. They would use a more familiar word, revival, and it’s why they try to pray away abortion, too. That sort of transformation, they contended, would make a “dark” place like Austin’s 6th Street the “live worship capital of the world.” 

Alternative to Abortion: Jesus

Most crisis pregnancy centers in Texas, including Beltway 8 and the Houston Coalition for Life bus, are privately funded. Under Perry’s watch, however, the state has launched a program to subsidize crisis pregnancy centers in an effort to provide “Alternatives to Abortion.”

In 2008, 1,462,400 women in Texas between the ages of 15 and 44 needed publicly supported contraception, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Thirty-five percent of Texas women between the ages of 15 and 44 are uninsured, 13% higher than the national rate. Texas also has a higher rate of teen pregnancy than the national average, 88 pregnancies per 1,000 teen women, compared with 70 per 1,000 nationally.

Yet in the face of this, the Texas legislature slashed family planning funding by two-thirds in 2011. The Republican-led legislature allocated another $8.4 million over two years to the Alternatives to Abortion program, which not only prohibits funding for abortion or abortion counseling, but whose contractors do not offer birth control, or even counseling or referrals for contraceptives. In other words, an uninsured woman entering a crisis pregnancy center for its free services will be dissuaded from having an abortion, given blankets, booties, and Jesus, and won’t be informed about how to prevent another unintended pregnancy in the future.

The Alternatives to Abortion program is modeled on a Pennsylvania program launched at the urging of former Governor Bob Casey, a Catholic anti-choice Democrat whose son, Bob Casey Jr., since being elected to the US Senate in 2006, has pressed for federal legislation funding “alternatives” to abortion.* The Texas program uses federal funds under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which are disbursed in block grants to the states. The program in Texas is outsourced to the Texas Pregnancy Care Network, a nonprofit formed in 2005 for the purpose of administering the contract. Vincent Friedewald III, a lawyer who joined TPCN as executive director in 2006, declined a request for an interview. However, he says on the TPCN website that he joined the group after conducting research that convinced him that “countless women were suffering through a decision they never really wanted to make—nor wouldn’t have to—if just one other person were available to listen, support, protect, and educate.”

According to a 2011 report by NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, the money spent on Alternatives to Abortion could have provided more than 16,500 Texans with health services. The Alternatives to Abortion program, the NARAL report contends, “was designed to siphon funding from established family-planning providers—who provide actual medical and reproductive health services for low-income and uninsured women—and funnel it largely into controversial, non-medical counseling services.”

What’s more, says Brigitte Amiri, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, “we do not believe that that most of what CPCs do—counsel to women to convince them to carry to term rather than have an abortion—is in line with what is required by TANF,” which includes, among other things, preventing and reducing the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies. 

The TPCN website claims to subject its subcontractors to a rigorous selection process. But when I sought documents related to that selection process from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the agency that administers the contract, through the Texas Public Records law, I was told that those documents were in TPCN’s possession. When I sought them from Friedewald, he told me in an email that those materials are “proprietary to each applicant organization, and are not ours to share.”

Among the criteria the potential providers must meet are “maintain[ing] a pro-life mission and agree[ing] not to promote, refer, or counsel in favor of abortion or abortifacients as an option to a crisis or unplanned pregnancy” and “agree[ing] not to promote the teaching or philosophy of any religion while providing services to the client.” Yet most, if not all, of the centers maintain that Christian faith is central to their mission. Many are affiliated with Care Net, which describes itself as a “Christ-centered ministry whose mission is to promote a culture of life within our society in order to serve people facing unplanned pregnancies and related sexual issues.” Others are affiliated with Heartbeat International, which says it “does not promote birth control” because its “policies and materials are consistent with biblical principles and with orthodox Christian (Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox) ethical principles and teaching on the dignity of the human person and sanctity of human life.”

In an online video that featured montages with crosses in them, Cynthia Wenz, executive director of The Source for Women of Houston, explained her pregnancy center’s mission. “Our prayer, our calling is to reach every woman considering abortion,” said Wenz, who declined a request for an interview. “It’s obvious. God is calling us to expand our vision and stretch our faith. Our heart’s desire is to honor God with an abortion-free city. This is God’s charge to us.”

In the period from September 2010 through August 2011, The Source was reimbursed almost $85,000 by the Alternatives to Abortion program: they were one of 41 providers who collectively received over $3 million in reimbursements during that time period for counseling and referrals; childbirth, pregnancy, parenting, and family classes; and clothing, food, and furniture pantries.

Because the TANF funds for the Alternatives to Abortion program are disbursed by the federal government, recipients must comply with Charitable Choice regulations requiring a separation of religious and secular services. Friedewald boasts that not only do his providers keep religious and secular pamphlets separate as required by Charitable Choice, but that they are required to obtain written consent from clients that they want “spiritual counseling”—a step not required by the federal regulations.

Pam Cobern, executive director of Austin LifeCare, another TCPN provider, declined an interview request but did answer some questions via email. Cobern said her organization offers to the spiritual counseling if the client chooses it. “Spiritual conversations differ with different clients,” said Cobern. “Some simply want prayer, some have questions about local churches, some are curious about Christianity.”

Cobern noted, highlighting the recurring theme in many of my discussions with Texas activists, that abortion causes women trauma, and that she, like some of her staff and volunteers, has had an abortion. “We serve here because we have a heart for people faced with this difficult, lifelong decision and want to be here for them,” she added.

The pregnancy centers are inspected periodically by Friedewald’s staff, but not overseen in any way by the state or federal government. The TPCN submits quarterly reports to the Health and Human Services Commission, outlining the results of the inspections. Providers cannot seek state reimbursement, for example, if they fail to obtain the written consent for spiritual counseling for a client. But there is no oversight of how such consent is obtained, nor of what is involved in the “non-spiritual” counseling.

Anti-choice activists and Republican politicians argue that Planned Parenthood should be denied taxpayer funding for family planning services because it also performs abortions—even if the funding streams are kept segregated. Yet they refuse to apply the same argument to taxpayer funding of crisis pregnancy centers, which are driven by a theological agenda.

Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said crisis pregnancy centers are “100% religious 100% of the time.” Still, though, proving a legal cause that the funding in a particular instance is unconstitutional (as opposed to a political argument that it’s an undesirable mingling of taxpayer dollars with religious messaging) would be difficult, in part because of the intimate nature of the services the centers provide.

“Just gathering the evidence to know what case to bring would be difficult,” said Lynn. “This is a long haul to get from knowing that this is going on instinctively or in conversations and being able to prove that a specific entity used its federal money that was enmeshed with its theological message. That’s a big hurdle. Could it happen? Yes. But it’s an incredibly intensive effort to achieve that.”

The funding through TANF, though, raises questions about the efficacy of the Charitable Choice regulations to assure taxpayers that such commingling isn’t taking place. TPCN’s claim that it goes beyond the regulations remains unverified as there’s no mechanism for the state or federal government to ensure that taxpayer money isn’t being used to promote a sectarian religious agenda. Dena Sher, legislative counsel at the ACLU, also said the Charitable Choice regulations are inadequate when it comes to the rights of beneficiaries to be free of sectarian religious messages. “The conditions that [clients] are put in afford an opportunity for these organizations to engage in prayer, or worship, or proselytizing, and beneficiaries probably really don’t feel they have an option to step away,” she said. 

Bearing Fruit

Karen Perez describes her protests outside the Houston Planned Parenthood as “spiritual warfare.”

“Whenever you get out,” she says, “these ladies are standing in the breach. Whenever you get out there, you’re going to have that dark stuff, those arrows.”

When I ask whether faith is an essential component of abortion recovery she seems flummoxed by the possibility that a woman could “recover” from abortion without faith. “A woman does not, who is not a believer—”

“It’s just going against who God made us, and if they don’t admit that, they will still suffer,” she contends. “It just flies in the face of womanhood to tear your child out of your womb.”

Shortly after Perez resumes her post outside the bus, she reemerges with a young woman named Evelyn, who says she didn’t want to pay $30 for a pregnancy test at Planned Parenthood when the HCFL bus offers one for free. Evelyn is ushered into the tiny bathroom to pee on a stick. Perez is thrilled to have snagged her very first client, the fruits of what she considers her singular life’s labor. She clutches my hands excitedly. “This is my first!” she exclaims. “This is my first fruit.”

“I know we’ve won the battle,” Perez tells me. When I ask how she knows, she replies, “I know that God is in charge.. the ultimate victory is his.”


*Correction: Bob Casey Sr., Pennsylvania’s former Governor, and Bob Casey Jr., one of its current US Senators, were originally identified as the same person (a mistake with a storied history). RD regrets the error.

Research assistance for this article was provided by RD Editorial Assistant Katie Toth.