MADISON — Close to 500 pro-life advocates from around Wisconsin attended the Defend Life Rally on State Street’s Library Mall in downtown Madison Feb. 6 and marched peacefully to the Madison Surgery Center (MSC) despite boisterous pro-abortion advocates at both locations.

The rally, organized by Pro-Life Wisconsin and Vigil for Life of Madison, featured various pro-life speakers and served as a recognition of pro-life efforts to prevent abortions at the Madison Surgery Center and as impetus for the 40 Days for Life vigil expected to begin Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, and for other pro-life events in the area.

The first Defend Life Rally in 2009 drew more than 800 people to protest the MSC board’s decision to begin performing abortions. Since that time, pro-life groups and demonstrators have maintained a consistent presence outside the site at 1 S. Park St. The MSC is jointly operated by Meriter Hospital, University Hospitals and Clinics, and the UW Medical Foundation.

“They thought we’d lose interest. They thought we’d forget. They thought we’d go away. My friends – have you lost interest? Have you forgotten? Do you plan on going away?” asked Steve Karlen, co-director of Vigil for Life. He received a resounding “no” from the crowd to each question.

Chris Slattery, a veteran pro-life advocate from New York who founded the Expectant Mother Care-EMC Frontline Pregnancy Care Center, praised local pro-lifers for their persistence and urged them to show love to pregnant women and abortionists alike.

“You will prove to them that no matter how cold it is, how difficult it is, how much of a sacrifice it’s going to take to be out there, that you will have a presence in love to pray for the people inside,” Slattery said. “And even though the facility this Lent will not be open and doing killing, you are praying for their hearts and minds to be touched.”‘

Slattery, a confirmation sponsor for a former abortionist, urged a show of love on Feb. 12 in which pro-lifers sent flowers to various officials connected with the Madison Surgery Center.

“You are not sending them nails; you are not sending them nasty letters; you are sending them a bouquet of love — because that’s what our cause and our movement is all about,” he said.

Countering the lies

The rally came days after Pro-Life Wisconsin announced the release of documents from the MSC that reveal actions to maintain the secrecy of meetings and research, published as recently as 2003, involving fetal pancreas and brain tissue, and thanking Dr. Dennis Christensen, who performed abortions at the Planned Parenthood Clinic on Madison’s east side, for his assistance.

A spokesperson for UW Hospitals and Clinics stated that no such research is currently being performed at UW-Madison and tissue from abortions at the MSC would not be used.

Pro-Life Wisconsin has also raised the argument that Christensen, whose retirement from practice at Madison Abortion Clinic was the impetus for the decision at the MSC, is continuing to perform abortions at his clinic in northern Illinois and in Milwaukee.

“The lies we’ve been exposing — the lies that are going on here at the Madison Surgery Center are being brought into the open,” Peggy Hamill, director of Pro-Life Wisconsin, said over rising chants of counter protesters. “Their position is based on lie after lie after lie — and they will not be able to shout out the truth.”

Pro-life presence continues

“I heard John Paul II once say, ‘The truth whispered is stronger than a lie screamed a hundred times,’” said Fr. Eric Nielsen, co-pastor of St. Paul University Catholic Center on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. “Imagine how strong the truth is when it’s proclaimed from the housetops. So be silent no more and let your voice be heard.”

The event was sponsored by Vigil for Life, Pro-Life Wisconsin, Wisconsin Right to Life, the Wisconsin Family Council, the Diocese of Madison, and the State of Wisconsin Knights of Columbus.

Security at protests

Lisa Brunette, media relations for UW Hospitals and Clinics, confirmed Feb. 12 that no abortions had yet taken place at the MSC and that a date to begin performing abortions has not been set.

“The reality of it is that it has taken longer than expected,” she said, identifying arrangements for providers and security as factors in that delay. “We are concerned we can maintain a safe environment not only for the patients but for the staff.”

With regard to whether the pro-life demonstrators at the clinic have made a difference in preventing abortions from being performed at the clinic, Brunette said, “As to the extent that the ‘anti-abortion’ movement has put on a presence at the site, it has made us aware of security issues.”

Police were present at the Feb. 6 rally, at Library Mall and at the clinic, but no incident reports were made. Counter protesters, who at greatest count numbered 44 people, chanted slogans and performed other distractions while circling the rally’s police-cordoned area on Library Mall, but speakers merely spoke more loudly into the microphone.

At the MSC, to which rally goers marched, led by a Knights of Columbus honor guard, they were met again by a contingent of pro-abortion demonstrators. Pro-lifers at the rally were asked not to interact with the protesters and to report any violence.