In secret places they murder the innocent.” I read those words from Psalm 10 outside a Planned Parenthood clinic as I stare at the windows, tinted and shadowed, wondering which room was the room. Perhaps it was facing the dense copse of weeping willow trees. Maybe they were planted to block onlookers and give the mothers-to-be-no-more a relaxing view while the deed was done. “They lie in wait, like a lion in a covert; they lie in wait to seize upon the lowly.” Maybe not. More likely the room is a windowless box, a kind of anti-womb at the center of the facility, lest the woman see those praying on one side of the building or the crisis pregnancy center on the other.
How will we remember these rooms? Will they be remembered at all?
On the sidewalk, my own memory flashes to Rwanda. I was there in 2007 with a group from an American congregation with African ties. One of our stops was at a school campus, to which Rwandans had been drawn with promises of safety during the 100 days of death that swept the nation. A million people is an abstraction, and even a tiny country is still too large to fully comprehend. But the murdered here, at this place, numbered in the thousands. A few dozen bodies had been preserved as they were found through a mummification process involving a ghostly white lye. The hope was that no one could look at these corpses and say the genocide never happened. Our guide at the school was a walking testament. He literally had a bullet hole in his forehead. The man had somehow escaped to the woods, but most of his family perished. Still, he was there almost every day to bear witness by his presence.
I pray and read the psalms by the clinic’s street sign that says “Care. No matter what.” A few feet away is a room where over a thousand people a year have been killed. Will this one day be a memorial? Will school children walk through it with wide eyes, shocked that their ancestors could undertake such barbarity? Or will it simply be repurposed and scrubbed from history? Might the nearby doggie daycare expand so that pets are groomed in the place where human blood was shed?
I think back to a dumping ground for broken headstones that I visited in Lviv, Ukraine. A market had been built over a Jewish cemetery and the marble signs of the past shuffled to an out-of-the-way place. Most indicators of a once thriving Jewish community had been quite literally painted over. One needed a guide to find the remnants—an uncovered sign for a hat shop here, a mezuzah holder on a doorpost there. A visitor can easily walk by the lovely opera house at the city’s center and not see in his mind’s eye the Jews being made by Nazi occupiers to clean the streets. And yet, the city is not completely devoid of remembrance. A public memorial built in the last decade marks the ruins of the Golden Rose Synagogue, but not without controversy. Some Jews wanted the synagogue to be rebuilt.
The organization 40 Days for Life, which coordinates prayer vigils around the world, is headquartered in a former Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Bryan, Texas (near Texas A&M University, my alma mater). On the grounds, a memorial to the 6,400 who were killed there has been built. “Room 3,” where they died, remains as it was.
I have prayed at this spot on a suburban Idaho sidewalk as part of the organization's semi-annual campaigns for three years now. With opportunities and responsibilities soon to take me elsewhere, this is likely my last visit, concluding a small contribution to a much greater effort. My usual shift is after work on Fridays.
Most times, I am alone. Yet, in one sense, I am not alone given the great cloud of witnesses who had their short earthly lives ended here.
I have prayed regularly for women with appointments and the children they carry; for the men who impregnated them and are either pressing for death or heartbroken at the thought of it; for the doctors with actual blood on their hands; and for the staff who assist the enterprise of mass killing in ways big and small. “The innocent are broken and humbled before them; the helpless fall before their power.”
Until this final shift, however, my prayers were most often focused on the future, beseeching God to stop the machinery of death from grinding on. “Break the power of the wicked and evil; search out their wickedness until you find none.” The machinery’s grisly production has now ground to a halt here thanks to a pro-life trigger law that went into effect post-Dobbs. But the means of production are merely in the process of relocating to the Oregon border town where Boise residents currently go to get their legal weed, fireworks, and tax-free big box shopping. Though the victory is geographically limited, it is real nevertheless. “The Lord will hear the desire of the humble; you will strengthen their heart and your ears shall hear; To give justice to the orphan and oppressed, so that mere mortals may strike terror no more.”
This night, my thoughts turn to the victims and the enormity of what has happened at this place. The haunting “Legal Kill” by the enigmatic band King’s X includes the line, “I read somewhere to learn is to remember, and I’ve learned we all forgot.” A brilliant Idaho sunset bids me goodbye, and I pray that this place is never forgotten. The office park next to an apartment complex is silent save for the occasional screams of delight from three boys no older than ten, too young to know what has happened just yards away during their lifetimes. They play on an undeveloped lot, enjoying the gift of life as they should.
John Murdock is an attorney who writes from Boise.
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Image by Lorie Shaull licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped.