PORTLAND — Whatever happened to kindness? This question has popped into my head and stayed there over the past few weeks. The repeated news articles about the Planned Parenthood protests on Fridays and Saturdays by abortion protesters raise the question in my mind.

Reports in Portland-area newspapers have detailed the complaints made by patients to the Planned Parenthood clinic on Congress Street.

Planned Parenthood surveyed patients, with 150 of the 161 patients who responded reporting they felt uncomfortable about the protesters’ presence outside the clinic’s door, and 110 of those patients indicating they felt harassed or intimidated.

What has happened to kindness among people? Yes, there are First Amendment rights that guarantee freedom of speech, but what about human decency and kindness?

Yes, we have a wide range of opinions about health care options for those seeking an abortion, but is standing outside a clinic shouting things like “you will burn in hellfire” — as one protester scolded a patient, according to Portland’s police chief — really going to change any abortion laws one way or another? Changing laws (sometimes) happens at City Hall, the State House or the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C., but certainly not outside a medical clinic.

As most of us know, but perhaps the protesters have failed to absorb, any medical or health care decision we make is likely done in privacy within our own hearts, or with trusted counsel of a family member, friend or spiritual adviser.

I doubt that anyone in our free society would want another person telling him or her the health care decision they should make or taunting them about that decision.

Yet right before our eyes, protesters are taunting, harassing and name-calling patients as they approach the Planned Parenthood clinic and walk through the clinic’s doors.

We know that some people in our free society have taken their strong feelings about abortion too far; in our recent history, some doctors who performed abortions have been murdered for this reason alone.

There’s a wide berth between taunting, harassment and murder, but why indeed do these protesters scream out their vengeance about abortion at those who have made a private decision in their own hearts in our free society?

Our police chief and the city’s neighborhood prosecutor say that the process of deciding whether to have a buffer zone surrounding the clinic’s entryway is not an easy one. First Amendment rights for both sides need to be considered.

The law stretches beyond my comfort level in regard to allowable verbal taunts, hollering or voicing fervent opinions on the sidewalk outside the clinic.

I’m one voice. I’m hoping others will be challenged to think about my question regarding kindness.

A T-shirt logo I saw recently said: “You have the right to Love!” In the name of loving our fellow human beings, I hope those who wish to express their opinions about abortion outside the Planned Parenthood clinic will think about love and kindness long and hard. As a wise global spiritual leader said recently, “Who am I to judge (others)?”

Indeed! Who are we to judge others, declare them sinners or decry their decisions? In my faith journey, to my knowledge, the Scriptures about the life and ministry of a man named Jesus and the people who followed him were known as “The Way.” Love, kindness and mercy were at the root of every parable or lesson taught. Jesus’ ministry and what he asked of his followers was to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger and visit the sick with loving kindness.

One of the followers of Jesus wrote in a letter to the Ephesians: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Many prophets in ancient and more recent times have taught that basic tenet that I believe is so important: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Perhaps those who holler and taunt do not love themselves enough to pass loving kindness unto others. I do not know, and will not judge them.

However, in the spirit of love and kindness, I earnestly hope that judgment, shouting and taunting in the neighborhood of the clinic will cease. I suspect the women approaching the Planned Parenthood clinic are in need of kind and loving voices as they make their way through those doors.

 

JulieAnn Heinrich is a resident of Portland.