By Christine M. Williams, Anchor Correspondent
BOSTON — The people who pray outside of abortion clinics are truly the last line of defense for the unborn. Their quiet witness and gentle offers of assistance are often the only thing standing between a child and death.
In 2011, more of these children were confirmed saved outside Boston-area clinics than in years past. The final total came to 117, a nearly 60 percent increase from the previous year and the only triple-digit number in the years since the Supreme Court legalized abortion 39 years ago last Sunday.
They are tabulated from three facilities — Planned Parenthood in Brighton, Women’s Health in Brookline, and a private clinic in Haverhill. Members of the Boston chapter of Operation Rescue, which records the saves, called the news “encouraging.”
“It was a good year,” said Eleanor McCullen. “Each save is not just one child. We’re talking generations of people who are going to be born.”
McCullen has spent two days a week for the last dozen years outside Planned Parenthood in Brighton. She approaches women coming to the clinic with a “good morning” and offers her assistance.
If the women want information, McCullen has ultrasound pictures and illustrations of fetal development. She offers to take them to a pregnancy resource center and freely gives out her phone number. If they provide theirs, she follows up.
“It’s important to let them know someone cares. They made the right decision, but they won’t be alone,” she said. “I really do love these women, and I really want to help them.”
Sometimes she throws baby showers and purchases strollers and baby clothes. She and her husband have helped some women financially, providing them with rent, furniture, groceries and home repairs.
McCullen said that the success stories are like “pebbles in the ocean.” For each save, there are many women who come to the clinic and have abortions. Most of the responses she gets to her offer of help are “not friendly.”
“This evil is entrenched in our culture,” she said.
Many of the women with whom McCullen speaks are young and concerned about finishing their education or holding down their jobs. They see abortion as a quick fix to their dilemma.
One young woman had an abortion because she had just started a new job. Three months later, she called McCullen and said she was so depressed that she could not get up to go to work in the morning.
“That’s what happens. You think it’s going to be alright, but that grief settles over you. She was paralyzed with grief,” she said.
Ron Larose, coordinator of 40 Days for Life in Attleboro, said that he believes more people are recognizing the toll of abortion now than ever before.
“There seems to be a much greater awareness of abortion and the negative effects of abortion,” he said. “I think the tide is turning in our favor.”
He said that 40 Days For Life — a nationwide campaign of prayer, vigil and fasting — is having a positive effect, particularly on young people. A group of youth participated in the past fall’s campaign in Attleboro.
“Getting these young people involved is a blessing for us, and the Pro-Life community at large,” he said.
The first 40 Days for Life was conducted in College Station, Texas in 2004. The first nationally-coordinated 40 Days campaign was held in the fall of 2007. Since the beginning, 5,045 lives have been confirmed spared from abortion.
The Attleboro vigil began in fall 2008 outside the Four Women Health Services building, the only remaining abortion clinic in the Diocese of Fall River. During the last campaign, the Attleboro group recorded two saves of its own. The next campaign begins on February 22.
Bill Cotter, head of Operation Rescue Boston, said that it is difficult to pinpoint the reasons for the record number of Boston-area saves in 2011. He added that the group has strict criteria for a definite save and that there are likely more that are never reported.
Anecdotal evidence certainly points to that. At least a couple of times a year, a woman will approach sidewalk counselors and say counselors outside that clinic saved her child two, five or 14 years ago, he added.
Cotter called sidewalk counseling the “retail sales pitch” for crisis pregnancy centers, which he believes are the most effective Pro-Life ministry on the front lines. He encouraged everyone to support such centers, which are usually “shoestring operations.”
Though there are some 2,500 pregnancy assistance centers in the country and 700 abortion clinics, the clinics still have the upper hand. They tend to be better financed and have larger staffs.
“Three crisis pregnancy centers do not equal the firepower of one abortion clinic,” he said.