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‘Love always wins’: Manassas abortion clinic closes

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Sept. 2017 update: Find out the new use for the clinic

"Closed" reads a sign hanging on the door of Amethyst Health Center for Women. After providing abortions for 27 years, the Manassas center shut its doors for good Sept. 28.

For the countless people who kept vigil through rain and snow outside the building, lifting their posters and prayers, the story behind the sign is not about a closing but about openness: men and women who were open to harassment as they stood in protest; women in crisis pregnancies open to life at the last minute; and an abortion doctor who was open to radical conversion.

"Some portray us as shutting down the rights of women," said Kelly McGinn, who's prayed in front of the center for 15 years. "But this is about souls reaching out to women in need, being a source of friendship. This was not so much a battle but a campaign of love."

Amethyst, located on Sudley Road, was sold following the retirement of the 76-year-old founder and owner, whose late husband began providing abortions when the center opened in1988.

There now are about 17 abortion clinics in the state, with five in Northern Virginia. NOVA Women's Healthcare in Fairfax, formerly the largest provider in the commonwealth, closed two years ago. Pro-lifers had long had an active presence at the clinic and viewed the closure as an answered prayer.

A sense of celebration and gratitude was felt again when Amethyst closed last month.

"I'm just awestruck at the power of God," said McGinn, a parishioner of All Saints Church in Manassas. "This closing has the Holy Spirit all over it."

The fact that the retiring owner did not sell to another abortion provider "is truly miraculous," added Ken Groves, a parishioner of Holy Trinity Church in Gainesville and founder of the Manassas 40 Days for Life. The biannual 40 Days for Life campaign seeks to end abortion through prayer, fasting and vigils.

"That it's closed, that the city is free of abortions - it shows so clearly that prayers get answered," said John Murray, pro-life coordinator at St. Mary of Sorrows Church in Fairfax.

Over the years, 17 area Catholic churches, along with a number of Christian denominations, participated in protests outside Amethyst. Fourteen 40 Days for Life campaigns were held there. Moms carried babies as they prayed, and retirees rose early to post signs that read, "God loves you and your child" and "Adoption is a choice everyone can live with."

"There were so many people cooperating with God to get this closing," said Mike Baldwin, former campaign coordinator of 40 Days for Life in Manassas.

The peaceful protesters received honks of support along with honks of anger, looks of disgust and yelled obscenities.

You make the choice "to be laughed at and scoffed at, to be a fool for Christ," said McGinn. "At the end of the day, we have to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations to make the impossible possible."

McGinn feels a personal connection to individuals struggling with unplanned pregnancies. Her oldest child is the result of a woman - whom she calls "our hero" - who chose adoption rather than abortion.

"It was a very, very brave decision," McGinn said. "It's an example of selfless love."

Along with their adopted son, McGinn and her husband have three biological children.

McGinn said facing a crisis pregnancy is incredibly difficult, and the goal of those who pray in front of abortion clinics is not just to save babies but also to help women "with a better path forward."

"That's such an important part of the pro-life movement," she said. "It's not about judging them. It's about helping them."

There are many stories of women being moved by the loving approach of protesters along Sudley Road. Murray recalls one December morning when a couple dozen pro-lifers were singing Christmas carols in front of the clinic. Amid rounds of "Silent Night" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," a car pulled out of the Amethyst parking lot and a young woman in the back seat rolled down the window.

"I'm gonna keep it," she called out.

"What struck me was that she was clearly joyful," said Murray. "It was a very moving experience. It was the perfected Christmas gift; nothing I've gotten has topped that."

A year and a half before the "closed" sign went up, protesters' efforts also changed the heart of a doctor who'd been performing abortions.

Groves, a retired engineer, has spent nearly every day for the past few years praying outside the Manassas clinic. When he first started coming, the father of five was filled with anger. "I couldn't imagine a person having an abortion," he said.

When the doctors arrived at work, he'd ask, "Hey, why are you here? You're killing babies." They'd respond with anger and cursing, Groves recalled.

"I realized that if I wanted them to convert, I needed to act more Christian," he said. "I needed to show them something they'd want to convert to."

With his new perspective, he started speaking to the doctors from a place of love and compassion.

One day, after talking with Dr. Charles Akoda, he asked the doctor if he was Catholic and if he might be interested in seeing a priest.

Two weeks later, on Divine Mercy Sunday, the fallen-away Catholic met with an Arlington diocesan priest. Akoda hasn't performed an abortion since.

"You think as an abortion doctor he's beyond God's mercy," said Baldwin. "But his story is an example of just how endless God's mercy is."

Groves said the last time he spoke with Akoda - who now delivers babies full time - the doctor "asked for our prayers and thanked us for doing God's work."

The prayers and vigils will continue at the remaining abortion clinics around the diocese, with the hope that "others can experience what it's like to see the 'closed' sign in the window," McGinn said. "It's just palpable joy."

And the protesters said their approach will remain one of compassion.

"Kindness really is the way to change hearts," said Groves. "Love always wins."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015