Lauren was 22, in college and already had a baby when she drove up to the gate of Dr. George Tiller’s abortion facility in Wichita, Kan., with the intention of terminating her second unexpected pregnancy.
It was Dec. 8, 2008 — the feast of the Immaculate Conception — and Anne “Annie” Sperle, then age 8, had the day off from Catholic school.
“I had a feeling that this was going to be a special day,” she told Our Sunday Visitor.
Annie’s mother, Jennifer McCoy, was leaving for her scheduled vigil at the facility, but she thought it was too cold to take any of her nine children, even though she often did. Annie insisted and McCoy relented, and took two other children as well.
They had just finished praying the Memorare when Annie approached a car that was coming up to the gate.
Lauren stopped and rolled down the window.
“Please,” Annie said. “Can I give you some information?”
Lauren reluctantly took the pro-life brochures. A half-hour later, Lauren came out of the clinic crying, and started to drive away. Then she saw Annie and stopped.
“What can we do to help you?” Annie asked.
“I read this stuff you gave me,” Lauren said tearfully. “And I don’t know what to do.”
“If you park your car, I’ll take you to see my mom’s friend,” Annie said, referring to Pro-Life Choices Medical Center next door. There, Lauren received counseling and care, and saw an ultrasound of her baby.
“You saved a baby’s life today,” she repeatedly told Annie when she came out of Choices. “You saved a baby’s life!”
The story of Lauren is one of nearly 400 confirmed “saves” in the five years that the Kansas Coalition For Life (KCFL) held vigils at the abortion facility, which closed after Tiller was murdered in May.
“We were there every moment that it was open for business,” KCFL director Mark Gietzen told OSV. “If they were open on Saturday or Christmas Eve, we were there. When there was a tornado warning, or the streets were icy, we were still there.”
Volunteers came from all over the country, many scheduling vacations around the peaceful vigils. McCoy, an active pro-lifer for 20 years, and her husband, John, were among more than 650 people who maintained a presence at the Tiller clinic.
KCFL members cherish each “turnaround” when they convinced a woman to not go inside the facility, but only confirmed “saves” are counted. Lauren’s baby was definitely a yes, and Annie was present when Anberlyn, her namesake, was born on Aug. 3.
“I called Lauren that day, and she told me, ‘It’s funny that you called now because I’m on my way to the hospital, and would you like to come?’” McCoy said.
Annie joined Lauren’s fiancé and sister in the labor room and stayed through the delivery. The families keep in touch and Annie visits Lauren and her daughters. On Dec. 8, 2009, the one-year anniversary of the “save,” Anberlyn stayed overnight with Annie and her family, who took her to Mass and told her story.
“I truly think that she was a gift from the Blessed Mother,” McCoy said.
The coalition now focuses on other pro-life issues in Kansas and takes its Operation Rescue Truth Truck on the road to maintain a presence. They continue to provide whatever it takes to save a baby. Sometimes it’s just a little bit of support.
“We saved a baby once just by paying a $47 electric bill, proving to the mother that we were willing to help,” Gietzen said.
Annie, now 9, encourages others to keep vigils and to “pray a lot” for the mothers in distress.
“I saved a baby when I was only 8 years old,” she said. “If I can do it, so can you.”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.
Driven to save lives (sidebar)
Dale Weldy liked to stand where he could encounter the driver as people came to the late Dr. George Tiller’s abortion facility in Wichita, Kan., because, he said, many drivers were men, and, “I think the men have a lot to do with women having abortions.”
On June 27, 2007, though, a pregnant woman named Rocio drove herself while her friend, Rhonda, came for support and to interpret.
“I asked her to please save her baby,” Weldy, now 73, said.
Rocio asked if the crosses that were set up like a graveyard were for her baby.
“Yes, they are,” Weldy told her.
His volunteer partner, Donna Lampkin, gave the women a baby blanket, and Rocio turned around and drove away.
When Kansas Coalition For Life director Mark Gietzen was out with the Operation Rescue Truth Truck on May 18, 2008, Rhonda came out and said the truck had played a role in saving her friend’s baby. Weldy soon had a reunion with Rocio and Valentina, who was born on Valentine’s Day 2008.
Weldy is humble about his role, but Gietzen can’t say enough about the volunteers.
“Dale doesn’t speak a word of Spanish, and he is retired — like a mirror image of little Annie Sperle — and he was able to accomplish a save,” he said. “Here are two very different people, one so young, and one older, and that shows that no matter what your age or who you are, you can save a life.”