Anti-Abortion Activist Gets Arrested, Attention
Back in front of the cameras, Mahoney recites both his cell phone number and the Christian Defense Coalition's land line to reporters. He again compares himself to civil rights activists fighting segregation. He fields questions from the crowd. And he lays out the plan for the coming photo-op: "We're just going to have one or two people walk onto the sidewalk so that we’re not blocking anything," Mahoney instructs his supporters. "If they are going to arrest, I’d submit that you weigh the cost first . . . I hope they won’t keep you overnight, but you never know how quickly they'll release you." People interested in praying, he adds, should have a valid photo ID on their person in case of arrest.
After administering his instructions for praying on Planned Parenthood's grass, Mahoney concedes the floor to a selection of people who have knelt on the lawn over the years. Missy Smith stands in front of the group and claims that sidewalk counseling at the clinic has “saved 300 babies,” along with countless women. “I’m just so proud of anybody today who stands up for God and country and gets arrested," she says. Retta takes his turn in front of the cameras in order to remind onlookers that Planned Parenthood employees "kill people. That’s what they do for a living." Harry Valentine of the Capitol Hill Prayer Alert, in a baseball cap emblazoned with an eagle and a flag, announces that "what were’ standing for here is the Constitution!”
Also on hand: Carol Anderson of the American Life League, who has arrived toting a sign reading "Mary, Please Stop Planned Parenthood." This is a rare weekday protest for Anderson; she generally comes to the clinic on Saturdays,"When the slaughter happens. When the walls are covered in blood and women’s thighs are dripping with it," she explains. Anderson says she doesn't engage in civil disobedience, but she's still happy to lend her support to the cause. “That police officer just told me not to bless him!” she announces at one point. “I hadn’t even blessed him yet and he told me not to bless him!”
The event gets back on track when Inspector Burton returns with the word from higher-ups. “Somebody needs to record what the commander says to me,” Mahoney informs his supporters. Burton tells him that the District of Columbia considers the area private property, and that Planned Parenthood would prefer Mahoney not protest on their grounds. "We know they don’t want us to do this. Business owners didn’t want people of color to sit at their lunch counters!" Mahoney responds. He turns back to the crowd. “Whoever gave me this mike, you should take it now—if I get arrested, you might not get it back!”
But before he prays, Mahoney must pray. “I know some of you might get emotional seeing your First Amendment rights trampled," Mahoney says. "Let us pray.” Mahoney bows his head and places his hand on his Bible. He begins to pray for all the “children who are brutally murdered and women who are diminished” by abortion. He prays that all the employees of Planned Parenthood will be moved by the power of God to stop the massacre. Soon, Mahoney's head is lifted. His Bible is clenched in the air. He is praying directly to the cameras. He pauses. It's now 35 minutes past Mahoney's initially planned prayer time. But once he's whisked away to jail, he's lost his audience. "Now, if there are no more questions," he finishes, "I'm going to go pray."
Mahoney turns to enter the lawn. A line of three police officers are blocking the entrance. “Are you saying I can’t even go in there?” Mahoney asks them. They step aside. The Reverend finds a spot near the center of the walkway, kneels down, and opens his Bible.
No one joins him. Most of his supporters are content to observe him through extended viewfinders. A pair of representatives from Prolifeunity.com, Peter Shinn and Rachel Sargent, capture the event on video camera and wired microphone, respectively. Only Anderson takes a knee, albeit outside the fence. Eventually, Sargent crawls into the fenced area and extends her microphone as close as she can to Mahoney.
Finally, he is arrested. Burton removes his hat. Mahoney stands on his own. Police lead him outside the fence, where he surrenders his Bible to a supporter and returns the microphone to the reporter. He is handcuffed. The crowd of press and supporters snakes down the sidewalk after him, snapping away until Mahoney's head is ducked into the back seat of the police car. "I got some sweet photos!” Whittington says as the crowd pushes him back. Sargent sticks her arm through an open window of the cab. Shinn shoves the video camera in, too. “Excuse me, please keep your hands outside the car,” a police officer tells the pair. "Do not reach inside a police car."
Shinn's video camera lingers inside the car to ask one more question of Mahoney: "Any last words?"
Photos by Darrow Montgomery.