The sound of about 70 college students softly intoning the "Hail Mary" floats into the cool of an early Saturday morning in October, making its way across Broad Street to the Allegheny Reproductive Health Center in East Liberty -- and every voice helps contribute a bit more money to pay for abortions.
The students, mostly members of Students for Life at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, are here protesting the abortions being performed at the clinic. But, through some fund-raising jujitsu on the part of the clinic, their presence is raising money to help fund the procedure they so abhor.
The clinic has initiated a campaign called "Pledge-a-Protester" which asks pro-choice donors to pledge a specific dollar amount per protester, per appearance, between Oct. 3 and Nov. 3. The money goes to help fund abortions for low-income women. It is a concept that has been floating around Planned Parenthood chapters across the country for some time, but it's new to Pittsburgh.
"I don't think that protesting will ever end at abortion clinics," says Claire Keyes, executive director of the center. "If they have to be here, if their presence could help a woman in need, that could be a positive outcome to a negative activity."
The protesters come out in force on Saturday mornings, with a much smaller presence during the week. Almost all of them stand across the street from the clinic entrance and have no direct interaction with patients, except for a pair of "sidewalk counselors," who stand by the door and approach patients and whoever accompanies them.
"I don't think a matter of money is going to dissuade us from coming," says protester Erin O'Mahony, a recent graduate of Franciscan. "It seems like a kick in the teeth. They can fund as much as they want. No gimmick will stop us. We're Catholic. We believe in the power of prayer."
"They look at us as a problem to throw money at," says student Brendan Flannery. "Something like this, it won't dissuade us."
But center head Keyes says she's going forward with the program:"The presence of the protesters generating money to help women in need -- I think there's something uniquely American about that."