Fort Pierce | The 40 Days for Life prayer vigil in Fort Pierce, happening now and throughout October, draws many pro-life advocates from parishes throughout the area. However, advocates’ enthusiasm and dedication to sidewalk advocacy outside A Woman’s World Clinic is a year-round commitment that has not been hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
An encounter with a couple in March earlier this year gave life advocates and sidewalk intercessors a rare experience — witnessing an abortion-vulnerable baby reach his or her day of birth. Members of the Respect Life Office recalled that day when prolife advocates met Ella and Sam.
March 14, 2020, began with advocates arriving at the clinic in Fort Pierce. Mary DelDuca, from Holy Family Parish in Port St. Lucie, arrived outside the abortion clinic at 4:45 a.m. Bill Wetzel, a Knight of Columbus, pulled up on his motorcycle, along with Robert Calino, a parishioner from St. Anastasia Parish in Fort Pierce, to pray.
Marc Richard, from St. John of the Cross Parish in Vero Beach, parked his work truck nearby as he stopped to pray before work. Will Heady, from St. Helen Parish in Vero Beach, and Lisa Bell, from St. Mark Parish in Boynton Beach, lit a candle on the sidewalk.
Father Daniel Daza-Jaller, the director of vocations for the Diocese of Palm Beach, gathered with his men’s group to pray. Deacon Dave Hankle from St. Helen Parish held a sign that read, “Men regret lost fatherhood.” Jorge Trujillio and other Spanish-speaking advocates from San Juan Diego Hispanic Pastoral Center assembled across the street to pray in Spanish.
The varied group prayed outside the clinic as cars arrived at 5 a.m. on the corner of 12th Street and Delaware Avenue, dropping off pregnant women seeking chemical or surgical abortions. Gift bags with pro-life literature, a blessed rosary and Miraculous Medal were offered to each woman going in but, few accepted the gift. Peg Norton, a registered nurse and parishioner from St. Anastasia Church, spoke with the post-abortive women as they left the clinic. Faithfully, week after week, Norton offers information on abortion pill reversal and post-abortion healing.
“Jesus loves you,” she said. “Go to Him for mercy.”
The prolife advocates described how on that March day a couple sat in a parked truck. They counted their money as they anticipated the cost of the procedure, which increases as the pregnancy progresses. Because advocates praying outside the center cannot leave the sidewalk, an advocate called out to the woman as she exited the truck. She asked her if there was anything they could do for her.
The woman, Ella, replied, “Yes. Please, pray for me.”
The advocates asked Ella to step forward closer to where they stood. As she did so, the advocates laid hands on her in prayer. Sandra Nuño recalled turning to Ella and pleading, “Please, miss, don’t do this. I have been married 17 years and cannot get pregnant.” Crying, Nuño hugged Ella, who also cried softly.
Ella’s husband, Sam, joined her, and Ella shared her story with the advocates. She explained she had 10 other children at home. Doctors had warned her that her high blood pressure puts her life at risk should she carry the child to term.
“I’m a Christian; I don’t want to do this. But they said she would die, and I can’t lose her,” an emotional Sam said. “On the way here, I asked God for a sign if he didn’t want us to do this. You are my sign from God.”
The advocates, including Dr. Mike O’Connor, a retired neurosurgeon, spoke and prayed with the couple. After praying for a long time and talking to Dr. O’Connor, the couple left the abortion clinic having chosen life for their unborn child.
Since leaving the center that day, Sam and Ella have remained in touch with the sidewalk advocates, sending updates on their new baby girl, Loria, whom they welcomed Sept. 17, 2020. She weighed a healthy 6 pounds, 6 ounces.
Grateful that she did not go through with the abortion, Ella expressed her strengthened trust in the Lord.
“I heard the Lord say, ‘You will live and not die. Do not have this baby’s blood on your hands, for it is a great sin.’”
Although a major part of their efforts, sidewalk prayer is not where the advocates’ support ends. Sam and Ella found themselves without a car seat for baby Loria and in need of other childcare supplies. Heather Barwick, leader of the 40 Days for Life campaign in Fort Pierce, Nuño and others visited the couple’s home and brought diapers, onesies, blankets and a baby car seat.
Gerri Rorick, director of A Caring Women’s Center — a pregnancy care center in Vero Beach that rescued 645 abortion-vulnerable babies last year — provided the family with a crib, mattress, sheets, stroller, baby bottles, diapers, blankets and clothes, as well as books and toys for the other children in the family.
The advocates shared that it is rare for sidewalk intercessors to witness an abortion-vulnerable baby reach his or her day of birth. However, Sam and Ella gave Barwick and team the profound privilege of holding baby Loria.
After learning of Loria’s healthy delivery, Dr. O’Connor said, “I hope she grows up to be president of the United States.”
Laurie Manhardt, a pro-life leader added, “We’re just grateful to God that she has a chance to grow up. We don’t care what she becomes.”
Editor’s note: The names of the couple in this story were change for their privacy.
40 Days for Life is a peaceful, intensive campaign that focuses on 40 days of prayer and fasting, peaceful vigil at abortion facilities, and grassroots educational outreach. The 40-day time frame is drawn from examples throughout Biblical history where God brought about world-changing transformation in 40-day periods.
For information about 40 Days for Life in Fort Pierce, or to sign up to participate in the prayer vigil, visit 40daysforlife.com/fort-pierce. For further questions, contact Heather Barwick at HeatherAnn121@aol.com or Laurie Manhardt at CatholicBibleStd@aol.com. Follow the campaign on Facebook @40DaysFortPierce.