Members of Cathedral Parish in Superior pray outside the WE Women’s Health Clinic in Duluth with 40 Days for Life-Duluth coordinator Paulette Moreland. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

One of the challenges related to any of the multiple Respect Life issues is that every situation and circumstance is unique. We want to apply a clear set of black-and-white principles to assess the morality of what is right or wrong, but the variables even within one family dealing with how to defend and protect life are complicated.

Catholic moral ethics provide clear parameters to form a conscience, but the definition of serious sin also requires that full consciousness and free will be in play. That said, morality as studied and discussed in a classroom rarely has access to the personalities and emotions at play in the moment of making a moral decision.

Given the highly polemic narratives surrounding abortion and “crisis pregnancies,” it is even more difficult to have conversations that take a calm and curious approach to a woman and her pregnancy.
As someone who has been through five pregnancies, not one like any other, I have had a much harder time navigating my own positions on where right and wrong are to be found.

There is no question the commandment of “Thou shall not kill” makes clear that murder is wrong, but one block of First Street in downtown Duluth shows just how many angles can be squashed together, making it difficult to delineate the shades of gray.

The Women’s Care Center, a pregnancy and parenting resource center in Duluth, is on the north side of the street at the corner of First Street and First Avenue. If you walk past their door and continue towards Second Avenue, you will pass what appears to have been condos or apartments at some point. The beautiful three-story red brick complex, complete with arched bay windows, is all boarded up with an extra barrier built on the street level to prevent access.

Across the street is the Clayton Jackson McGhie memorial; its mission is to foster racial justice and promote healing and reconciliation in the community.

The story behind the memorial is a 1920 lynching of three black men, wrongly accused of raping a white woman, who were abducted from the city jail, beat, tortured and hung from a lamppost by an angry mob.
If you stand facing the life-size reliefs of the three men, you will read the large lettering above their heads: “An event has happened upon which it is difficult to speak and impossible to remain silent.”

I visited the block on Friday, Oct. 1, to participate in the 40 Days for Life prayer campaign and was struck silent myself by the odd “life triangle” of sorts from the crisis pregnancy center to the memorial, then walked back towards First Avenue – passing a pawn shop, adult entertainment center and the Eagles Wings Invite God Ministry – before crossing the street to where the pro-life were gathered in front of the Building for Women.

Even as an undoubtedly pro-life woman, who has been through unexpected pregnancies both as a single and married woman, I couldn’t bring myself to put on one of the “Pray to End Abortion” signs. I admit that I cringed watching the video taken by one of the counselors the day before of her pleas to “have pity on your baby,” which was called out to a client escorted into the building.

There was a sincerity of love in her voice, no doubt. The loud punk music blaring from a boom box and the college-aged escorts with their umbrellas shielding the young woman from the sidewalk counselor’s view and voice definitely attempted to create a wall between the “pros” and “antis.”

Closing my eyes, it was hard to hear anything coherent rise above the cacophony of shouts and cries voiced in each of the three locations bridging the gap between life and death, free will and choice, justice and mercy. I found myself wanting to blow a bubble in which a calm conversation could be had, stories shared and experiences heard.

As important as racial questions are, many within the geographic area the Diocese of Superior covers might not have direct experience with those situations. My guess is there is not more than a handful of readers, if any at all, whose lives have not been touched by a crisis or unplanned pregnancy.

Like I mentioned earlier – and as one of the ultrasound technologists at the Women’s Care Center confirmed – married women seek support and resources at a high rate. Economic circumstances, health challenges, personal and career goals, birth control failures and rape are not exclusive to single women.

A positive pregnancy test can be just as overwhelming to a woman on the verge of making a dream come true or working through personal challenges whether she already has children or not.

Terms such as “unplanned” and “crisis” are often used to describe these pregnancies as opposed to a wanted or sought-after pregnancy. Even through the teaching of Natural Family Planning methods of fertility awareness, the tendency can be focus on the intentionality of the pregnancy.

As such, anything not wholly desired is somehow tainted – but none of the factors of how, or with whom, the pregnancy came about touches in any way the value and validity of the child that was conceived.

Yes, there are awful and tragic circumstances in which pregnancies result. Those conceived with most elements in place except the planning are much easier to switch gears and embrace.

The truth remains – no matter the circumstance – that each child is a gift of God in some way, shape and form.
The question, then, seems to be our disposition of receptivity – and what obstacles stand in the way.

“Unexpected” is a term used by the Women’s Care Center to describe pregnancies of women they seek to support. Visiting their website – – abortion, pregnancy and ultrasound are all tab options across the top of the page, including locations.

The Duluth site is one among almost 30 centers across 12 states.

“Parent” is also a term used by the center’s staff as one of the three options the woman has of how to respond to the pregnancy. It’s not to keep the baby, or save the baby – but to parent, placing the focus back on the woman’s choice and its consequences.

Parent, abort or adopt. If a client comes in “abortion-minded,” as they would term it, they are trained to offer information and considerations around what that entails and try to help the women start with confirming their pregnancy and its progression via ultrasound.

When a woman expresses interest in learning more about adoption, referrals are made to connect her with the right professionals – conversations which often occur right at the Women’s Care Center.

Parenting is their specialty – support services that are designed to continue after birth and form layers of support – from concrete items needed and resources aimed at helping the woman achieve financial stability to learning about healthy relationships and parenting skills.

Possibly even more important than those offerings is the effort to connect the women, couples and men with a network of support outside the Women’s Care Center. Sometimes that support turns out to be immediate family who are more supportive than the pregnant woman ever expected; other times, it is friends, social workers or other mentors and professional instructors the center brings in.

Yes, men make up a decent portion of those seeking help, and there are particular incentives to encourage single fathers who have stepped up for their children.

Back across the street, it takes a minute to locate the entrance which is set back from the sidewalk. Google Maps Street View shows a sign for an organization that “supports choice and body autonomy.” The day I visited, there was a sign in one window that said, “Prayer is nice, but birth control works.”

Terminology and statistics can be all over the board, depending on informational sources and your general position on when life begins. I have yet to find anyone who disagrees that – at whatever day or week you define the fertilized egg as an embryo, then fetus – the “ball of cells,” as Planned Parenthood’s pregnancy explanation calls it, will ever become anything but a human baby.

Women considering abortion are often less concerned about what is inside their body and more concerned about the bigger picture of their life – their education, career, plans, readiness to parent, parenting support system, ability to care for a baby’s special needs. None of those factors really even address the emotional circumstances of how she got pregnant, who the father is and the hormonal changes that immediately affect the woman’s body.

I was somewhat surprised that the Planned Parenthood site didn’t actually have clear referral information for the WE Women’s Health Center in Duluth. Their abortion-referral services make it seem that the Twin Cities is the closest place an abortion could be obtained. An internet search for “abortion in Duluth” does pull up the site at First and First that I visited.

Clicking on their website,, an immediate pop-up appears for abortion care from home – no ultrasound or exam required and supplies available by mail. There are requirements – telehealth appointment and limited to at most nine weeks pregnant – but it is offered as a “convenient option” that allows “you to have your abortion from the comfort and privacy of your own home.”

The procedure is called a medication abortion and is compared to an early miscarriage. It is stated that staff are available 24/7 with any questions or concerns and indicates someone would follow-up to make sure the abortion went as expected.

In-clinic suction abortions would be the available option through almost 16 weeks of the pregnancy. “The contents of the uterus,” it explains are “removed using gentle suction.”

The two hours I spent on that sidewalk outside the Building for Women were quiet. I came from visiting and touring the Women’s Care Center and talked with the small handful of people there with 40 Days for Life and Pro-Life Ministries of Duluth. The video shared with me was from a client the day before, assumed to be there for an abortion appointment.

I participated in part of a chaplet of Divine Mercy, asked questions of the volunteers there, listened and shared some “unexpected” pregnancy experiences. In many ways it all seemed somewhat surreal, somewhat intellectual and distant.

Something like the way I even handled my own miscarriage – stuck in the realm of potential and possible.
Unfortunately I think we prefer it that way. Even those of us who vote pro-life or have pro-life bumper stickers and T-shirts, when was the last time we used a name in a pro-life conversation? Terms seem easy to use, maybe even especially when they serve as fodder for clarification and shedding light on one position or another.

Names are personal, and that is usually uncomfortable. Names are specific and sometimes related to secrets we want and feel the need to keep, whether for ourselves, family or friends.

Names are what stood out to me in both pamphlets shared with me from the Women’s Care Center – names of women, names of mothers and babies.

Once my husband and I named our miscarried child, my whole disposition shifted. When exactly had I miscarried? It was very, very early – likely what most would call “a ball of cells” – but the thought that he or she was somewhere in our sewer or wrapped in tissue in a garbage can was actually somewhat traumatic.

The image of the three men, all named, one block away is meant to be triggering. The power of names provides strong impetus towards action.

It was hard to stand on that other corner and have no names to hold onto. Not that as strangers we should have any right to private choices of women, but my heart ached being able to hold in prayer the names of women I personally know who have been through a crisis pregnancy.

There are many testimonies I have been moved by – both women who regretted their abortions and others who felt confident it was their only option at the time – who later did name those children, reconcile with them and to the point of looking forward to meeting them someday.

For myself, knowing that I was pregnant with a baby boy and being able to call him by his name, Alexander, provided tremendous strength during the weeks and months that no family member knew I was pregnant and scared. It’s the name his grandparents, aunts and uncles celebrated in ways I hadn’t been able to imagine possible.
His full name, Alexander James, has more meaning even to him as a son to the only dad he’s ever known – the names of my husband’s paternal and maternal grandfathers – something I couldn’t believe when Denny first told me.

Maybe it’s my creative nature, but planning actually doesn’t come easily to me. So when I prayed, believing that God had a plan for me and for my child during those confusing and dark days – complicated even more so by trying to navigate the unhealthy relationship I had with the biological father – I trusted there was a bigger picture.

That big picture is full of other names. In big, bold letters are my multiple parents, some who would have supported me in choosing abortion – which was definitely tempting for a short time – but all who walked alongside me.

Most prominent is my husband’s name, as being a single mom was the push I needed to delve into some of my own emotional healing and maturity in moving toward a healthy marriage, and the names of each of our children, including the one we have yet to meet.

The “big picture” includes the name of my youngest, Charlotte – the pregnancy that was in many ways even more trying than the first. The obstacles to my welcoming her were purely mental and emotional, but very real nonetheless. There were three other children – two under 2 years – and my own desires for further education, different job opportunities, etc.

Admittedly, it was only the last few weeks of that pregnancy that I was able to embrace her as an unexpected gift to bless our family – which she has done in flying colors.

She follows in the footsteps of the grandmother she was named after, who was undergoing chemotherapy during those months, under the caring gaze of her godmother, who was going through an unexpected divorce at the same time.

Most of what happens in life we don’t get to plan or ever be completely prepared for. Most of what – and who – helps us get through the unplanned and unexpected ups and downs of life are people we can call by name.

Some of them might be not accessible by phone or card any longer – others might be glad for coffee date or text message to know how much they mean to us, but they all have names and irreplaceable roles in our lives.

I don’t know that I will ever stand on the First Street and First Avenue corner again, but for having done it once I have a much deeper appreciation for the men and women who let themselves be known as public supporters in the face of unnamed women, men and their children affected by abortion.

I also know that in the big picture of names that have touched my life are men, women and children affected by abortion. I was grateful to stand outside the clinic with their names held in my heart and prayers and to never forget – along with the three black men’s names I learned that day.
I pray for the day we can all meet face to face.

40 Days for Life participants can be seen in the distance, just one block from the Clayton Jackson McGhie memorial, which memorializes three innocent men murdered by a lynch mob, a stain on Duluth’s history. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)