Vitals Reporting on the pro-life movement

Making a city notice

Life | Pro-life advocates hold church services near abortion facilities to expose the evil of the industry
by Leah Hickman
Posted 9/28/20, 06:00 pm

Pastor Ken Peters said his wife’s eyes widened when he announced to the congregation his plans to start holding church gatherings outside Planned Parenthood in Spokane, Wash. It was the end of an August 2018 service at Covenant Church Spokane after a talk from Rusty Thomas of Operation Save America. Peters thought of the idea during Thomas’ talk and hadn’t discussed it with anyone, but he said the announcement “drove home” the message.

“[Thomas] was encouraging people to get out to Planned Parenthood and worship and pray and preach the gospel,” Peters said. “That sounds like a church service to me.” Within a couple of months, his church held its first gathering outside the abortion facility, an event the organizers call “The Church at Planned Parenthood.”

For almost two years, Covenant has held evening services once a month on the grassy lawn next to the facility, drawing up to 600 people at a time. Though the gatherings have sparked conflict inside and outside the church, organizers said they force the community to reckon with the abortion industry’s presence and have inspired similar efforts in other cities.

Covenant livestreamed its services at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March and April. It started meeting in person again in May. Planned Parenthood sued the services’ organizers in June, arguing the gatherings intruded on operations and violated state laws that prohibit noise at health facilities. Even though the church starts at the facility’s 6 p.m. closing time, Planned Parenthood said patients and staff often remain inside until 7 p.m. and the services disrupt some appointments.

Superior Court Judge Raymond Clary on Sept. 21 ordered the church to move across the street and push the start time to 7 p.m. Peters and the other organizers texted congregants about the change in plans before the Sept. 22 service. Some silently protested by coming at 6 p.m. to kneel and pray on the property. Peters and his church plan to appeal the injunction and fight the lawsuit claiming a violation of their First Amendment rights.

In the meantime, he said the congregation would continue gathering near the facility because the church serves a specific function in the community. People at the services rarely interact with Planned Parenthood clients or employees besides seeing some leave work for the day. But Peters said the church draws the community’s attention to abortion and attacks evil “in a spiritual manner.”

“When you meet right by Planned Parenthood, the whole city notices that, and they wonder, ‘Why are all of those people at Planned Parenthood?’” he said. “It really exposes their industry, it exposes their sin … in a very peaceful way.”

Peters said the services have led to conversations with members of the city council, the police chief, the city attorney, and the mayor and led to coverage on a few television networks. During the events, people driving by sometimes make rude gestures or curse at the worshippers. Some have even protested at the services.

Peters said some congregants left the church because of the Planned Parenthood gatherings. “For some people, it’s just a little too close to the action,” he said. “A lot of Christians will say it’s too protest-y or it’s too mean-looking.”

But since he started the services in 2018, Peters said other “churches at Planned Parenthood” have popped up other cities, including Salem, Ore., and Indianapolis. Pro-lifers across the country have contacted him for ideas on how to replicate his model.

“It’s a really good, solid foundation for what needs to be done if we’re going to protect children,” said longtime pro-life activist John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe, who helped start the nonviolent “rescue” movement of the 1970s and 1980s. “When you launch a campaign of nonviolence, you are deliberately provocative. … You’re asserting that the power of love is greater than the power of death.”

Read more Vitals Sign up for the Vitals email
Leah Hickman

Leah is a reporter for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Digital. She is a World Journalism Institute and Hillsdale College graduate. Leah resides in Cleveland, Ohio. Follow her on Twitter @leahmhickman.

Read more from this writer