Katherine Mercado’s baby girl, Giulianna, is almost 3 months old now. She smiles and is way too cute in a photo that her mom sent me. As Mercado talks to me on the phone, I can hear Giulianna sweetly gurgling in the background.
How I wish we were talking about the latest fashions in baby clothes. But no, we’re talking about four pro-abortion ordinances the Allentown City Council seems intent on passing. The most controversial of the four is an ordinance that would create a 15-foot buffer zone around clinics and hospitals. The measure is aimed at making it more difficult for pro-life advocates and sidewalk counselors to interact with pregnant women outside Planned Parenthood on Ninth Street in Allentown.
Allentown resident Mercado says the proposed ordinance is a bad idea. She should know because, last September, pro-life sidewalk counselors helped her walk away from Planned Parenthood and save the life of her unborn baby. “I think that women going to Planned Parenthood should have the opportunity to speak to sidewalk counselors,” Mercado said. “They are like angels. They never leave you.”
Mercado credits sidewalk counselor Dr. Maria Tatiana Martinez-Baladejo with helping her throughout her pregnancy and her baby’s birth. “Tatiana was with me through labor and delivery,” Mercado said. “She stayed with me from the time I went into labor until after my baby was born.”
Following Giullianna’s birth, pro-life advocates organized material and financial assistance for Mercado, who is married and has three other children. “They are still helping me with everything,” Mercado said. “I don’t have to buy clothes or diapers for my baby. They have done everything for me so that I can raise my baby.”
Sharinet Rosario is another Allentown mom who disagrees with the proposed ordinance. Rosario, 21, was only 15 when she got pregnant with her son. “A 15-foot buffer zone would have a negative impact on expectant mothers,” said Rosario, who emphasized the importance of expectant mothers being able to easily talk to pro-life sidewalk counselors.
“On my way to Planned Parenthood, I was really scared and confused about what I was going to do,” said Rosario. “But then I met Maggie Sweet, a pro-life sidewalk counselor, who was very reassuring and helped me see my situation in a positive light. Maggie helped me get a free pregnancy test and ultrasound at Bright Hope pregnancy resource center.”
Rosario is now married to her son’s father, has a second child, and expects to graduate from college in December.
Sweet has served as a volunteer pro-life sidewalk counselor for 20 years outside Planned Parenthood in Allentown. Fluent in Spanish, Sweet estimates that she has helped save at least 30 babies from abortion
Despite their good works, pro-life advocates are frequently described in derisive terms. Abortion supporters refer to them as picketers and protesters and accuse them of harassing and bullying pregnant clients at Planned Parenthood. But is there any truth to these accusations?
To find out, I emailed Allentown Police Capt. Kyle Pammer. I asked him if there have been any charges filed against pro-life advocates at Planned Parenthood in Allentown over the last five to 10 years. He replied, “At this time, I’m not aware of any incidents where someone has been charged.”
Next I called Jeremy Samek, senior counsel at the Independence Law Center, a constitutional and civil rights law firm based in Harrisburg. Samek said the proposed 15-foot buffer zone is unnecessary because it is already illegal for people to block doors. Free speech and First Amendment rights are the real issue. According to Samek, free speech between people having one-on-one conversations outside abortion clinics is a protected right under the First Amendment. “Even if there was someone who did something illegal, that doesn’t justify taking away someone else’s First Amendment rights,” Samek said.
In the absence of illegal activity, the proposed 15-foot buffer zone ordinance may be viewed as an attempt by the Allentown City Council to stifle any speech that doesn’t encourage abortion. “These types of ordinances have been tried in other cities,” Samek said. “Their aim is to prevent expectant mothers from learning about alternatives to abortion and from accessing the resources that they need to parent an unborn baby.”
Simek lamented the lack of government action to protect pro-life pregnancy resource centers, which have been attacked and vandalized numerous times in other cities due to controversy surrounding the overturn of Roe v. Wade. “City councils are not protecting the ability of mothers and other visitors to safely enter pregnancy resource centers,” Samek said.
This is a real problem that the Allentown City Council could address if it were sincerely committed to helping pregnant women.
Allentown City Council will hold a special committee meeting to discuss the proposed ordinances (bills 60, 61, 62, 63) at 6 pm on Wednesday, August 24.
This article was originally published in The Morning Call newspaper, Allentown. It is reprinted with permission. It is written by Cindy O’Brien, a member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Bethlehem.