Fred Sokol Fred Sokol
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Fred Sokol stands on a thin strip of grass along Shaker Boulevard clutching the thumb-worn beads of a rosary. 

Sokol has a familiar face — the kind you’d expect from a 67-year-old father of three. His untrimmed brows are graying. His jowls hang heavy. Spidery creases frame his pale blue eyes.  

On this November afternoon, Sokol wears little more than khakis and a cheap blue department store jacket for warmth. 

But none of that is what you notice first about Fred Sokol as you drive east on the divided boulevard from Cleveland to Shaker Heights. What is most striking, almost impossible to miss, really, is the bright yellow, wooden sandwich-board Sokol wears around his neck: “Pray to end abortion” it reads in black capital letters.

Scuffed and muddied, it’s chipped around the edges like a battle-worn shield. 

With a cranberry-colored rosary in one hand, he waves sheepishly at oncoming traffic with the other. 

Most ignore him, but occasionally someone lays on the horn.

A police officer tips his hat. A black middle-aged Benedictine High School bus driver waves while ferrying teenagers home from school. An older lady with tufts of white hair gives him the middle finger without a second glance. A balding white man in a brown trench coat hangs out a rolled down window and shouts, “Keep up the good work! Keep up the good work!”

Sokol draws affirmation from even the slightest bit of attention. Every Wednesday and Friday from 2 to 6 p.m., he stands quietly outside the four-story glass building that houses Preterm, Ohio’s largest ambulatory surgical facility offering abortion services. 

While he’s just one of about 2,000 who protest annually at the clinic, he’s here alone many days, accompanied by several small yellow signs staked into the narrow strip of ground between the crumbling roadway and small brick retaining wall.

“5,234 abortions here in 2015,” reads one. Another pictures two infants — one white with hands clasped and eyes turned skyward as if in prayer and one black with a wide-eyed expression of puzzlement — under the words “Save Us.”  

“It’s important for them to see that message,” says Sokol, who hasn’t missed a shift in more than a year.

He comes armed with an arsenal of prayer cards and pamphlets redirecting patients to faith-based organizations that offer support or adoption services. He says he’s here to save lives — and since Sokol began his crusade 10 years ago, he believes he’s succeeding.

“There are people who still believe they’re doing the right thing when they’re having an abortion,” he says. “We try to educate them.”

In just the last three years outside Preterm, he says a half-dozen women have approached him publicly, confessing that his signs and daily devotion inspired a change of heart to carry their pregnancies to term. 

Three of the clinics he’s picketed in the past decade have closed. Preterm is the fourth he’s visited. Since Gov. John Kasich took office in 2011, the number of Ohio’s abortion providers have been cut in half as regulations that limit access or create barriers to their services have increased. It’s been 45 years since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision made abortion legal in the U.S., and yet legislative restrictions on abortion access and women’s health care continue to increase.

Sokol avoids Preterm’s busy Saturdays, when protestors come out in droves. He prefers to carry out his mission on the other side of the street when there’s less activity. His family worries for his safety, but supports his efforts so long as he limits them to two days a week. Every Sunday, he drafts an email newsletter to about 70 people with updates. 

“We believe in human life,” he says. “We’re not trouble makers. We’re not chaos people. We don’t try to impose our ideas on others by standing in front of the door or whatever. We’re just standing over here.”

As Sokol speaks, a gray four-door sedan drives by with its window down a little after 4 p.m. As it passes, a man leans out the window and shouts, “Go kill yourself!” 

Sokol winces and looks over his shoulder as the car fades into the distance. His head hangs heavy for a moment over the sign around his neck.

“That guy comes by every day and says the same thing,” Sokol says. “ ‘Go kill yourself.’ ”

He takes a breath and meditates on the words for a few moments. He smirks ever so slightly, as if he has to muster the strength to move past it.

“All we want to do is to make them think,” he says. “If we’re not here to make them think, who else would?”

Saturdays outside Preterm are chaotic. 

Protestors huddle around the entrance and exit of the parking lot with fists full of pamphlets and prayer cards in a desperate attempt to flag down patients before they enter.

The driveway can be difficult to find for most patients. So volunteers from Cleveland Pro-Choice Patient Escorts, a grassroots organization started in the 1980s, are there to guide them. Wearing bright yellow vests, they stand like sentries near the front of both driveways, making sure the way is made clear to enter and exit the lot.  

Once a patient parks and gets out of the car, a barrage of shouting begins. It comes from all sides and can feel intimidating and claustrophobic.

In the back, separated by a black wrought-iron fence, a young man stands on private property with his face pressed to the bars and a King James Bible in his hands. “Babies are murdered here,” he says, in a timid and shaken voice. “Please, don’t go to this place. There’s no reason to murder a child here today.”

In the front, an old man in a hood and gloves holds up a pamphlet as if expelling demons from the building, addressing patients as “Mommy” and “Daddy,” beseeching them not to go inside. 

Near the exit, a priest gathers a group around a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Holding tight to rosaries, they pace along the sidewalk, praying like a near-silent marching band.

On the first Saturday of the month, nearby St. Andrew’s Abbey holds a morning mass in its monastery chapel dedicated to the salvation of unborn children. It’s followed by several hours of praying in front of Preterm that attracts 35 to 40 members from Northeast Ohio parishes.

“There’s a faithful contingency of people,” says the Rev. Sean Donnelly, who has served as chaplain of the Rosary for Life mission over the last 23 years. “We’re trying to do something good in the face of evil.” 

That’s not how Preterm executive director Chrisse France or the volunteer escorts see it. 

They’ve witnessed a rise in protestors since Donald Trump became president last January with Saturday turnouts ranging from 10 to 60 protestors. “They’re in the business of saving lives?” questions France. “I find it hard to believe that is true when so much of what they do is cruel.”

“These are not strangers,” says today’s lead escort, just two weeks before Thanksgiving. “These are local business owners.”

She points toward a group that includes a short middle-aged man who resembles Tony Danza, a taller guy in his 60s, a large bearded man holding a megaphone, and others. 

“That guy, he belongs in my parish,” she says, gesturing toward them.“That guy was my husband’s theology teacher in high school. These are not cartoons. These are real people who are in our community.”

According to statistics compiled by the National Abortion Federation, abortion providers have reported 340,084 disruptive incidents nationwide since 1977, most commonly involving picketing, hate mail and obstructing access to service. 

In addition, they’ve reported 7,731 incidents of violence, including 11 murders, 42 bombings, 186 arsons and 583 counts of stalking. 

“We are living in a time and age where people are getting more aggressive in their so-called free speech,” says state Rep. Stephanie Howse. “In that aggressiveness, there are people who are definitely crossing the line.”

On three occasions last summer, an unidentified assailant used bricks to smash windows at Preterm, causing thousands of dollars in property damage. Within weeks of the incidents, Howse introduced a bill that would create a 15-foot buffer zone on all sides of health care clinics and make it possible to enact civil suits against anyone harassing clinic workers and patients within that space. 

Yet Howse believes the legislation won’t make it out of committee. “This is a General Assembly that has been very against protections for women and their reproductive decisions,” she says. 

Since the 1980s, protestors have become physically violent on at least two occasions at Preterm, according to France, including an incident about five years ago that resulted in a restraining order after an escort was shoved.

So any time a protestor gets too close to the invisible line drawn between the sidewalk and the front door, the escorts shout for them to get back. 

It’s why escorts huddle close as a group and break off into pairs when directing traffic or walking patients to and from their cars.  When protestors stand quietly on the sidewalk praying, escorts still deem it a threat.

“It’s not OK to me,” says the lead escort, holding a clipboard in her hand. “The reason we’re here as an escort program is because of people who are intimidating to patients or people coming to the clinic. If people are intimidated by [praying], then I’ll be here.”

As an extra security measure, the escorts document the protestors’ behavior. The regulars have nicknames to make tracking easier.

“Pringle Mary,” named for the yellow Pringle-shaped backing of the Our Lady of Guadalupe statue she places near the exit, comes every Saturday morning with a large wooden cross and an American flag. She leads prayer beside graphic signs of aborted fetuses. 

“Jesus John” earned his nickname for his shouts of “Jesus” that resound like the trumpets of Jericho. He often takes the lead on conversation with patients by the entrance.

While the lead escort takes notes, a young black man and woman get out of a car on the far right side of the building. She intentionally sets off the car alarm to drown out the noise until she’s safe inside.  

Near the exit, “Ted the Baptist” yells out when the car alarm dies down. “The borders of hell are enlarged daily,” he says. “It’s going to get worse without Jesus, dad! There’s room in there for all of you.” 

Fred Sokol was born June 7, 1950. But his parents were unprepared for the financial or emotional responsibilities to care for him. So, with the help of Catholic Charities, they gave him to a foster home when he was just a day old. 

“All I wanted was a chance, and I got it,” he says. “For me, it was a blessing.”

He spent the next 12 years in the care of a devout Catholic family who taught him that all life is precious, all life meaningful.  

Then, everything changed. His birth parents returned and regained custody. That’s about all he’ll say about his family and upbringing, except for one turning point when he was 16.

His younger brother got into a mess of trouble. Big trouble. A family member — Sokol won’t say who — chased his brother with a gun and threatened to kill him. But Sokol got between them, stared down the barrel and stopped anything more from happening.   

“The name of the perpetrator isn’t important to me,” Sokol says. “What’s important is that I saved my brother’s life that day — or God did.”

His parents and brother have since passed away, but that small thematic seed as the protector of the little guy has taken root in Sokol’s life. 

During the ‘70s and ‘80s, he worked as a researcher for The Cleveland Press and then as a cashier for the Cuyahoga County Probate Court. He and his wife, Barbara, skimped and saved to put their three kids through Our Lady of Angels Catholic School. They lived in Cleveland’s West Park neighborhood until 1991 when their home was broken into and ransacked one evening while they were out to dinner.  

So they found a colonial in Rocky River. But within two years of moving to the West Side suburb, Sokol believed he had cause to worry about his family’s safety again. Rocky River Mayor Earl Martin announced plans to convert a 150-bed hotel into a 72-bed minimum-security, state-funded detention center. Sokol and other residents were distressed by the idea of a prison in their backyard and flooded City Council meetings to voice their concerns.

Sokol remembers how Martin and other officials seemed intent on the idea despite the outcry. “It just broke my heart,” he says. “He wasn’t budging.” 

As his neighbors spoke out against the detention center plan, Sokol stood in the back furiously taking notes. Then he wrangled the people together to form the Committee for Concerned Citizens of Rocky River. The group knocked on doors, filled out petitions and crowded council meetings in opposition to the jail issue. 

Within a month-and-a-half, the battle was won. Martin announced he wouldn’t seek re-election, and the proposal died. 

“All I wanted to do was speak for those who were not being heard,” he says. “I realized then the power that people have if they do it in a peaceful democratic way.”

None of Sokol’s subsequent political efforts have been nearly as successful. 

Worried about economic development ideas like the detention center, Sokol proposed amendments to the Rocky River city charter on three separate occasions — in 1994, 1999 and 2001 — that required voter approval for any change in zoning regulations. But in each case the initiative failed.

With each defeat, he grew more disillusioned with the ability of a regular citizen to make a significant difference. So in 2003, with no political experience, he decided to run for City Council as one of four candidates seeking three open seats. 

“My mom was never happy about that,” says his daughter Molly Sokol. “She knew that he was putting his heart out there, but she knew he would never win anything.” 

According to The Plain Dealer, he campaigned like a self-appointed watchdog, writing letters to the editor of the West Life weekly newspaper and speaking out at council meetings to promote his political platform.

When the votes were counted in November, Sokol finished a distant fourth. 

But rather than give up on his political aspirations, he set his sights even higher. He believed Rocky River’s political leadership was taking the city in the wrong direction and wanted to upend the entire system.

“A councilman couldn’t do that,” says Sokol. “But a mayor could.”

In 2005, he campaigned against 30-year political veteran and two-term incumbent Mayor William Knoble. As part of his platform, Sokol proposed a plan that would symbolically overturn Rocky River’s political establishment. He wanted to sell the naming rights to the Don Umerley Civic Center, which had been dedicated to the esteemed mayor who died in 2001.

Then-council president and current mayor Pamela Bobst called the idea “outrageous” and vowed to oppose such a plan.

Cleveland Magazine made several attempts to contact Bobst via email and through her executive assistant Mary Ellen Umerley regarding this story, however our requests for interviews were never returned. Brian Hurtuk, a member of council at the time, declined our interview request.

“We didn’t want to see his heart break,” says Molly. “But that’s how it ended up.”

When Sokol lost with only 30 percent of the vote, he lashed out, according to The Plain Dealer, with a citywide email to residents. “When Rocky River dies,” he wrote, “as it will (since 1990), they who did not help Fred will have themselves to blame.”

Even then, Sokol had one last stand left in him. On June 9, 2006, Knoble resigned after pleading guilty to two misdemeanor charges for hiring family members at the Rocky River Waste Water Treatment Plant. After a council vote, Bobst became mayor, so Sokol decided to run against her in 2007.

But this time, his approach needed to be different. Rather than attacking the political system, Sokol looked inward. 

“A voice or a thought told me, You’ve told the people of this town everything about you except one thing — you’re pro-life, ” he recalls. 

So he made it the focus of his campaign. He’d do everything legislatively possible to stop abortion in Rocky River. 

He spoke out on the issue at council meetings, passed out anti-abortion literature and began picketing outside River’s Planned Parenthood using grotesque photos of aborted fetuses. 

“You deal with issues by exposing them,” Sokol says. “Expose the problem and people, if they’re legitimate and logical, will say, ‘Enough is enough.’ ”

That November, Sokol garnered just 517 votes to Bobst’s 4,231. “Because I stood for life, I was cremated,” he says. “They didn’t care about it enough to vote for me.”

Sokol vowed to never seek political office again. He’d found another calling.  

“I may not be popular. People may not be throwing roses at me. But I’m going to do what I feel I need to do,” he says. “I need to speak for those people don’t care about, the most obscure, the most rejected — and that’s the unborn baby.”

It’s never easy. 

None of it. Just getting to this point can be traumatic — the realization, the worry, the decision, the cost, the guilt, the future.

“As soon as a woman knows she’s pregnant and she doesn’t want to be,” says Preterm’s France, “she doesn’t think about anything else until she decides what she’s going to do.”

Then Ohio law forces her to think about her choice even more. The state requires each patient go through a two-day process. From the time a woman first meets with a physician until the time she undergoes a procedure, she must wait a minimum of 24 hours.

“She doesn’t need a 24-hour delay,” says France. “She doesn’t need somebody to tell her what her chances of carrying a pregnancy to term are. She knows that. It’s demeaning.”

The initial visit can be overwhelming.

First, she must navigate the throng of protestors, sign in at the front desk, walk through a metal detector and then take the elevator to a waiting room where colorful prayer flags hang from the ceiling.

As part of her lab work, state law dictates she must undergo an ultrasound to ensure she is no more than 22-weeks pregnant according to the date of her last menstrual period. 

Each patient then meets one-on-one with a patient advocate in a counseling session to discuss the terms of her pregnancy without any outside influence. It is her decision alone. Her husband, boyfriend, partner, mother, sister or friend can be there for comfort, but not during the meeting with a counselor. 

As part of Preterm’s standards, the advocate is required to sit in on an abortion procedure prior to being hired. An advocate also routinely sits with a patient throughout the procedure offering support.

Counseling sessions are designed to comfort the patient and finalize the procedural details. Often, however, the state’s regulatory requirements feel like unnecessary hurdles for patients. Advocates are required by the state to offer copies of the ultrasound, provide family planning materials that show various stages of growth for the fetus and supply informative packets that discuss adoption. 

The second visit is even worse.

For some, the decision still weighs heavy. Some request anesthesia to make it through. Others are relieved they’ve made it this far and are thankful for having the option.

When a patient returns to Preterm, she is often faced once-again with a slew of protestors before signing in and taking the elevator to a more intimate waiting room. Under dim lighting, journals are spread throughout the room. Patients can leave notes for other women and men going through the same experience.

“You are strong, loved and beautiful,” reads a May 27 entry written by a mother accompanying her 14-year-old daughter who’d survived sexual assault and was seeking an abortion. “No shame. No judgment. God is good.”

In a March entry, a 23-year-old returning for a follow-up appointment two weeks after her abortion writes, “One day the world will open their eyes and [realize] it’s ‘my body, my choice.’ Stay strong you beautiful women.” 

France, who’s read through many of the journal entries, says the letters have inspired the way Preterm approaches the public conversation on the divisive issue. 

In the last decade, the organization has worked to encourage others to share their abortion stories to show that it’s OK to feel grateful for your abortion. That message is plastered on billboards and signs downtown in direct response to the sidewalk protestors who try to amplify any feelings of shame or guilt. 

“We do abortion care,” says France.

According to Preterm’s annual report, there were 12,067 clinic visits and 5,071 abortions from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017. But Preterm also does much more than that. Of those clinic visits, 424 dealt with sexual health, including providing resources for birth control and testing for sexually transmitted disease. 

This year, the clinic will begin hosting a series of LGBTQ programs that offer sexual health education and hormone therapy for those transitioning genders. Essentially, Preterm supports its patients with health care services geared toward leading an effective, proactive and successful life. 

“They believe,” continues France, gesturing at the protestors outside, “that we’re killing a human being. We are never going to come to an agreement on that.”

Tied to a tree outside Preterm, an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe stands almost as tall as Sokol. 

Shrouded in an emerald cloak, she is perched on a black crescent moon lifted by an angel. She’s surrounded by a burst of heavenly sunlight with her hands pressed together in prayer. A black ribbon, tied high above her waist following Aztec tradition, makes her one of the only images to depict Mary, mother of Jesus, as a pregnant woman. 

“It’s a plea,” says Sokol, standing over her image. “A plea for life — and peace.”

He first laid eyes on Our Lady of Guadalupe in 2009 when a Vermont-based evangelical group brought a venerated image of her to local congregations while traveling throughout the country. 

Sokol was inspired by the story of how, in 1531, the Lady of Guadalupe appeared in visions to an indigenous Mexican convert to Roman Catholicism named Juan Diego. In his visions, she instructed Diego to convince the bishop to build her a shrine on a hill called Tepeyac, overlooking the lake upon which Mexico City would one day be built. 

But when Diego approached the bishop with the request, he required proof of the miraculous vision. So, our Lady of Guadalupe told Diego to climb to the top of the hill in the middle of winter and gather in his cloak all of the Castilian roses growing there as a sign of her visit. When Diego unfurled his cloak in front of the bishop, there she was, the venerated image of the pregnant mother stained on his cloak. 

Diego’s act is said to have propelled the veneration of the Holy Mother in the Americas and helped inspire a movement to end human sacrifice by the Aztecs. She became so important to the Mexican national identity that eventually they began using her as the symbol of the Mexican resistance against the Spanish conquerors. Today, she’s also a symbol for the anti-abortion movement as the protector of the unborn child.

Sokol, in learning the story, pulled out his rosary, placed it on the image’s forehead, mouth and pregnant belly and said a prayer. He’d already been protesting outside Rocky River’s Planned Parenthood for two years with little affirmation. 

But what happened next, says Sokol, is a series of small, everyday miracles, beginning with the crucifix on his rosary changing from silver to gold over the following weeks. 

He took it as a sign that he was being called to this issue. “That’s when I started praying the rosary,” he says.

Small victories came first. A young couple considering abortion saw one of Sokol’s signs, which he had let a friend borrow,  and changed their minds. On their daughter’s first birthday, he interviewed them for a video urging other couples against abortion.

Then other miracles: For a mass at Old Brooklyn’s Mary Queen of Peace in July 2011, Sokol brought a venerated image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Near the end of the mass, a storm blew through, bringing with it the smell of roses. 

A photograph from that day shows Sokol standing beside the Lady Guadalupe painting with a small white orb levitating above her navel — a sure sign to him that the mother of God was present and paying attention to all of his work.

A few weeks later, Sokol prayed late one night at Our Lady of Angels in West Park about his next steps. “It was like a marching band going through my head,” he says. “It wouldn’t give me any peace. I couldn’t focus on anything else.”

He began to feel a spiritual tug in a new direction. He was going to stop using graphic abortion images and take his prayers to Cleveland Surgi-Center, an ambulatory surgical facility just a few blocks from the church where the orb was captured.

Within weeks of Sokol relocating, Rocky River Planned Parenthood stopped offering on-site abortion services. Like dominoes, clinics began to fall. In summer 2013, Sokol took another image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the Cleveland’s Center for Women’s Health in Shaker Heights. The single physician practice closed its doors a few weeks later and relocated to Michigan.

While Sokol sees this as divine affirmation, Kellie Copeland, executive director of  NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, understands it as something else entirely. “[The physician] closed because of the ever-increasing restrictions on abortion providers,” she says.

Since 2011 when Kasich became governor, approximately 20 new restrictions on reproductive health care have been signed into law, including a requirement that all ambulatory clinics offering abortion services have a signed transfer agreement with a non-public hospital in the case of an emergency. 

“A right without access is meaningless,” says Copeland. “There’s clearly an orchestrated attack on Roe v. Wade. That’s why we’re seeing all these incremental bans on abortion.”

Cleveland Surgi-Center in Cleveland, where Sokol stood several days a week from 2011 to 2014, closed its doors when the landlord declined to renew the lease in 2014. 

“That meant they would have to get a new license from the Ohio Department of Health,” affirms Copeland. “They were really concerned that would be too difficult to do.”

Sokol views it all as confirmation he’s doing good work — a modern day Diego. 

“Any life that he saves, even if it’s one, he sees that as a big difference he’s made,” says his daughter, Molly. “My dad has never wavered.” 

And he says he won’t — not until Preterm closes. 

“Remember during the Las Vegas shooting, how a lot of people ran?” he asks. “But what did our law enforcement do? They ran to danger. So, that’s what we’re called to do, to go where they say angels dare not to tread.”

He smiles and nods to himself, letting the thought sink in. “That’s why I’m here,” he says. “It’s the hard thing to do.”

As Caitlin* enters the room, Andrea** sits quietly in a small wicker chair with her legs crossed, wearing gray sweatpants and a pullover. It’s Saturday morning, and the sunlight coming in from the front-facing window falls on her face, adding warmth to the 26-year-old’s red hair.

Caitlin, whose lanyard is full of pro-women’s rights buttons including one with an orange fist raised under “Resist,” sets aside paperwork and sits down across from her.

Today is Andrea’s first day at Preterm.

“Is there anything at the front of your mind or questions you have?” Caitlin asks.  

Andrea has gone through a preliminary screening that includes the state-required ultrasound and the option to view the heartbeat if detected. While she’s declined a copy of the ultrasound, her pregnancy has not advanced far enough for a detectable heartbeat.

“I feel like probably the usual stuff,” she says, lifting her shoulders in a small shrug. “I just feel like … kind of guilty.”

She pauses.  

“Sad.”   

“So you feel …” begins Caitlin, before stopping abruptly.

Andrea begins to cry. She leans forward with tears streaming down her face and grabs hold of a few pieces of Kleenex. 

“I just feel embarrassed,” she says, her bottom lip quivering with every word. “I know better. I’m an adult.” 

Caitlin talks her through what she’s feeling, that women of a certain age sometimes ask themselves why they’re here and it can be hard sometimes.  

Andrea is not alone. Forty-five percent of Preterm’s patients seeking abortion services are between the ages of 23 and 29. Although this is Andrea’s first pregnancy, nearly two-thirds of women who seek abortions at Preterm are already mothers. 

“It’s so silly,” says Andrea. “I almost feel relieved to be here?”

“Well,” says Caitlin, “it’s relieving to have options.” 

Andrea is 5-weeks-and-6-days pregnant. She was on her way to work three days ago when she felt an unfamiliar sense of nausea. When she got home, she took a pregnancy test. It was positive, so she took another. She took a third just to make sure. 

“I never wanted kids, period,” she says. “It’s my worst nightmare.”

The embryo inside of her uterus is roughly 6 to 7 millimeters long.

“Knowing yourself and being an adult and knowing you don’t want children — that doesn’t have to change just because you got pregnant,” says Caitlin. “It’s OK if it does but it’s also the same amount of OK if it doesn’t.” 

Prior to her appointment, Andrea talked about her decision with a friend who’s had an abortion, and with her own boyfriend, who already has a 5-year-old daughter.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 1 in 4 women nationally will have an abortion in their lifetime. 

“From a financial standpoint, I don’t feel like I’m ready,” she says. “Emotionally, I don’t feel like I’m ready. I’m not where I see myself in my life having a kid.”

Andrea has two options to terminate the pregnancy. She could have a medical abortion that allows her to take two sets of pills — one in the clinic that will prep her body for delivery, and the other to take at home which will stimulate an abortion. It doesn’t always work, which makes Andrea uncomfortable.

Instead, she prefers option two, which will only take about five minutes. If she chooses to be sedated, she may have eating restrictions up to eight hours beforehand. 

Her cervix will be dilated, and the doctor will use a cannula, a small plastic suction tube attached to a vacuum aspirator, to remove the uterine lining and fetal tissue.

“It’s a ton of pressure,” says Caitlin. “Like someone is leaning their whole weight on your pelvic bone. Then they remove the pregnancy with a suction, which feels like very strong period cramps.” 

Andrea is concerned that Thanksgiving is one week away. She’s worried about her family finding out.

“I just don’t want to be sick,” she says, mulling it over and laughing, almost absurdly, at the benign thought of looking forward to the holiday.

“Your pregnancy sickness will go away pretty quick,” Caitlin reassures her. “It’s OK to have things to look forward to.”

Caitlin then hands Andrea a list of possible complications to look over. It’s a lengthy list of items, ranging from bruising and nausea to hemorrhaging and death.

“That’s a scary list of complications,” says Andrea, quietly.

“The truth is,” says Caitlin, “those happen about 1 in 500,000 abortions. The most common thing that can come up afterward is potentially an infection, but there are easy ways to avoid that.”

Before Andrea can ask any more questions, the voice of “Jesus John” booms outside like a bell on some faraway forgotten church, slicing through the silence. 

“Flee this place while you can,” he yells. “The blood of the unborn cries out for mercy: ‘Have mercy on me! And may God have mercy on you!’ ”

Andrea lifts her face toward the light coming in from the window. “It’s terrible,” she says. “I just don’t want to hear that right now.”

Andrea schedules her abortion for six days later.

*Caitlin asked to be identified only by her first name for her own safety. 

**Andrea’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

Tonight, as the light grows dim around 5 p.m., Sokol is not alone. 

Ben, who asked only to be identified by his first name, has started to join him on occasion. The air is thin, crisp and quick, tightening the lungs with every breath. 

They stand on the side of the road anyway, facing headlights of cars like some forgotten missionaries.

“A lot of times when you see people like ourselves out here, it kind of fits the mold,” says Sokol, a headband covering his ears to keep warm. “It’s not like we’re antisocial or anything like that. We’re just acting out what we believe but in a peaceful way.”

Ben, his black beanie pulled tight over his round head, clutches a plastic rosary his mother made for him. Sokol holds a 30-year-old wooden crucifix in one hand and a rosary in the other. 

A few lights still shine inside Preterm’s glass windows. Only a few cars sit in the parking lot. 

While the two men stand curbside in the growing cold, Sokol’s wife and daughter Molly are at home eating dinner.

“When these people go by here and they see these signs, the scab is ripped open and they respond,” he says. “The only way you’re going to heal is when you rip that scab off. Pain causes healing. It makes you realize you did something wrong and you need to do something about it.” 

Hail Mary, full of grace, they begin. The Lord is with thee.

Nearby, Sokol’s duffelbag sits open with a few prayer cards folded like campaign pamphlets flapping in the wind. 

Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of they womb, Jesus.

A little farther away, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is lifted up by a breeze for a moment before the string tying it to a small tree becomes taut, pulling it back into place so that its face is turned toward Preterm. 

Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

Amen.  

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