TOLEDO, Ohio — The moment Ann Barrick stepped from the sidewalk onto the crumbling parking lot, her eyes filled with tears.
“You pray about these things, and you never think you’re going to see it happen.”
For nine years, Barrick stood on that very sidewalk, praying that Center for Choice of Toledo would cease to exist. Every autumn, she led the “40 Days for Life” vigil outside the abortion facility.
Her prayers were answered. Shuttered in 2013, the Center for Choice was finally bulldozed at the beginning of September. Today, the derelict parking lot leads only to a muddy plot studded with fragments of the former foundation.
“It can’t be anything but prayer. There’s no reason this place should have come down,” Barrick said.
Representatives from multiple pro-life organizations met at the offices of the Diocese of Toledo Sept. 26. The ecumenical group is executing a once far-fetched vision: to convert the site of the abortion clinic into a memorial for the unborn.
Denise Emerine purchased the land two years ago with the aid of many sponsors. “We really felt that the Lord was wanting this to be a place to engage people and not be a place of death,” said Emerine, who also directs the Greater Toledo House of Prayer. “He is the redeeming God. He’s bringing hope. Out of the ashes he’s bringing beauty.”
The group, which also includes representatives from Catholic Charities, the Foundation for Life and local crisis pregnancy centers, christened the site “Hope Park” and wants to complete the memorial by October 2017. Artistic renderings show a grassy area adorned with trees that has two paths leading to three free-standing walls. “Faith,” “Hope,” and “Love” are emblazoned on the walls, along with verses from Chapter 61 of the Book of Isaiah.
Plans also include a “Wall of Remembrance” where mothers can add the names of unborn children. A single dogwood tree that once marked the entrance of the clinic will remain on the grounds as the “Tree of Hope,” symbolizing the triumph of life.
“There are some projects that you can feel you’re part of something big. This is one of those projects,” Tim Schlachter, chair of the Hope Park building committee, told Catholic News Service. To him and the other members, even the estimated cost of the project shows God’s hand: $610,000, a number that echoes the “61” of the chosen chapter of Isaiah.
“When Jesus went into the synagogue, they handed him the Torah to read Isaiah 61, ‘The spirit of the Lord is upon me, he has anointed me to set the captives free,’” Emerine explained. “So I believe he’s saying, ‘I want to restore life back to all the families that have been affected by the death sentence that was here.’”
The conversion of the clinic has redeeming significance to Mandy Sattler, one of the planning members. Nine years ago, a student just beginning nursing school, she had her own abortion at the Center for Choice. She described the shame that kept her silent for years, and the hope that this new chapter brings.
“To know that the building had been taken down, it was a sign for me: God’s taking care of this, he’s big enough for this, you can let it go,” Sattler said.
When the Center for Choice closed in June 2013, it had documented over 50,000 abortions in 30 years of operation. Many of the organizations planning Hope Park had been praying and working for years to see it shuttered.
The breakthrough came when the clinic was unable to secure a “transfer agreement” with a local hospital. Such an arrangement is required by Ohio law for all ambulatory surgical facilities, giving a doctor admitting privileges should a patient be in a condition requiring hospitalization.
Ed Sitter, executive director of the Foundation for Life, has now focused his organization’s efforts on shutting down the one remaining abortion clinic in Toledo: Capital Care Network. “If women have more time to really contemplate their decision, they get more informed, they get more aware, they’re empowered to make a life-affirming decision,” he said.
From Sept. 28 until the beginning of November, prayer vigils for the national 40 Days for Life campaign will be held outside Capital Care Network. A thanksgiving service at Hope Park also was planned for Oct. 6. Peter Range, director of the Office for Life and Justice at Catholic Charities, is helping to organize those events.
“It’s amazing to see God’s hand at work and a good reminder that God does have the ultimate victory. Life does eventually triumph over death,” he told CNS.
“Prayer is really truly one of our most powerful weapons,” Sitter explained. “I believe that Capital Care Network will also close like the Center for Choice, and I believe that abortion will become a thing of the past.”