By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
BETTENDORF — Luana Stoltenberg of Davenport will always regret her choice to undergo three abortion procedures in early adulthood — procedures that rendered her unable to have children when she wanted them later on. Now a non-denominational Christian and pro-life activist, she said the recent videos depicting Planned Parenthood employees discussing the sale of body parts from unborn children adds a new level of pain and questions for those who have experienced abortion.
“Did I check a box to donate my babies’ body parts? Why did (the doctors) tell me that it was just tissue if they were going to sell my babies’ parts? I will never know the answers to these questions.”
Stoltenberg and about 300 other pro-life individuals gathered for a National Day of Protest in front of Planned Parenthood in Bettendorf Aug. 22, praying, sharing testimony and holding signs along the street. Pro-life advocates across the country gathered at Planned Parenthood locations to peacefully decry abortion and the recent reports. Other sites in the Davenport Diocese included Planned Parenthood in Iowa City. Planned Parenthood is the top provider of abortions in the United States.
“Because of the Planned Parenthood videos, many participants feel the evil of abortion and deceitful practices of Planned Parenthood must be ended,” said Sheryl Schwager, executive director of Johnson County Right to Life. “They want Planned Parenthood defunded and held accountable.” She attended the Iowa City protest with about 150 other pro-life individuals.
Pro-life leaders in both Iowa City and Bettendorf said the Saturday protests were among the most attended in recent memory. The recent videos, they said, have spurred on pro-life individuals, motivating them to take a stand.
Bev Heiderken, a member of Holy Family Parish in Davenport, used to pray in front of Planned Parenthood in Bettendorf “years ago” when they still performed surgical abortions at that location. The recent videos have motivated her to once again make a public stand. “This is just too much, it’s over the top. It’s really gotten me upset,” she said at the protest.
“The videos are an outrage. They are unconscionable,” said Joan Crider, who attended the Bettendorf protest with husband Tom. Both are members of the pro-life committee of Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton.
Father Corey Close, parochial vicar at St. Mary Parish and campus minister at the Newman Catholic Student Center, both in Iowa City, spoke to the crowd at the Iowa City rally. He said he encouraged the crowd to channel resentment into love. “Those who work for Planned Parenthood need prayer just as much as the mothers, fathers and children (being affected by abortion). We endeavor to take that anger and frustration and direct it into charity, prayer and peaceful protest. …We are sinners too, and we need conversion ever more. We can’t have a holier-than-though attitude,” he told The Catholic Messenger after the protest.
Leigh Geramanis told protesters at the Bettendorf protest that it is important for pro-life individuals to lovingly share their convictions. The woman from Moline, Illinois, believes a deeper understanding of the sanctity of life in the womb could have stopped her from undergoing an abortion procedure in college. “Silence leads women to believe it’s just a blob of flesh. We have to speak the truth,” she said.
Deacon John Weber of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf stood along Spruce Hills Drive as supportive drivers honked their horns. He said it’s important to let people know the impact abortion has had. “Seventy million people were killed in World War II. Abortion has killed almost 60 million since it was legalized. It’s a staggering fact.”
Karen Dugan, a member of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire, regularly volunteers to help women in the midst of crisis pregnancies. She believes there is power in group prayer and was glad for the opportunity to participate in the peaceful protest in Bettendorf. “We can be that peaceful, powerful prayer presence here for the most vulnerable.”
Father Bill Kneemiller, chaplain of Kahl Home in Davenport, arrived at the Bettendorf event with a box full of Holy Land Military Rosaries to distribute. He encouraged the crowd – Catholic and non-Catholic – to pray to Mary, who “protects life.”
Father Chris Young, pastor in solidum of St. Mary and St. Alphonsus parishes in Davenport and St. Peter Parish in Buffalo, prayed the rosary at the Bettendorf protest and held a sign reading, “Peace begins in the womb.” Fr. Young found it fitting that the protest occurred on the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary holy day.”Mary said yes to life, to being the mother of our redeemer. We need to ask for her intercession to stop the violence against women and of children in the womb, and do so with the mindset of forgiveness for the men and women who have dealt with this in the confusion of our times.”