Buffer zone threatens lifesaving moments, pro-life advocate says

Chelsea Pickett, left, and her son Braylon shared a smile with Laura Grijalba, a sidewalk counselor, outside the EMW Women’s Surgical Center during the Lenten 40 Days for Life vigil in 2019. Pickett chose to have her son more than two years ago after Grijalba spoke to her in front of the clinic. Pickett now encourages other mothers to do the same. Sidewalk counselors are concerned a proposed buffer zone that restricts an area of the public way in front of the EMW center, will prevent them from reaching women entering the clinic.(Record File Photo by Jessica Able)

In the 30 or so seconds it takes a woman to walk the last block to the front doors of the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in downtown Louisville, a sidewalk counselor has at times changed the course of at least two lives.

Sometimes — 50 or 60 times a year by Ed Harpring’s estimate — a woman seeking an abortion will decide to give birth to her child instead.

“I’ll start by saying, ‘Could I offer you some information about the pregnancy center next door? There are options and we’d like to help you,’ ” explained Harpring, the coordinator of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s pro-life ministry. He has also served as a sidewalk counselor, urging women to rethink their decision outside the abortion clinic for more than three decades.

“The norm is that they keep walking,” he said. But he doesn’t give up.

Then — with just seconds and a few feet to spare — he often ends with something he doesn’t plan, he said. “It’s whatever God lays on your heart.”

Sometimes it comes out something like this: “God loves you and your baby.”

One day he apparently said, “You don’t have to do this.” Harpring said those words were spoken almost unconsciously. But the woman who heard them came out of the clinic soon after.

“She came out and said the last thing I said changed her mind. It was something the Lord had just put on my heart at the last second.”

Harpring and others who approach women on the sidewalk are concerned that a proposed Louisville Metro ordinance might take away those final, crucial seconds sidewalk counselors have to change minds — and save lives.

Last week, a Louisville Metro committee approved a proposed buffer zone that restricts an area of the public way in front of the EMW center and extends 12 feet from side to side. The proposal goes to a full vote of the council Aug. 20.

Harpring plans to speak at the meeting and is hopeful that a woman who was assisted by a sidewalk counselor will speak as well. The meeting will be held on the video conferencing platform called Webex and can be accessed here.

Harpring is urging Catholics to contact their Louisville Metro Council members to vote against the buffer zone.


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