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Planned Parenthood’s Schumacher Health Center, 1108 16th St. NW.
This 16th St. clinic, a stone’s throw from the White House, is the area’s leading source for affordable women’s health care, birth control, and abortion services. For the same reasons, the center falls victim to the largest unofficial barrier to contraception access: The “sidewalk helper.”
Roshan Anthonypillai, who fills a weekday 8 to 9 a.m. shift at the clinic, is dedicated to helping women who come to Planned Parenthood seeking to terminate their pregnancies. But Anthonypillai works as a different sort of abortion counselor; he is a representative of “40 Days For for Life,” a national anti-abortion campaign that has organized activists in 170 cities to hold vigil outside abortion clinics from Sept. 24 through Nov. 2 this year. Every day before work, Anthonypillai stands on the sidewalk outside the clinic, holding rosary beads and guarding a few trinkets arranged at the trunk of a tree: a small makeshift crucifix and a paper bag luminary adorned with a red cross.
“By standing here, I think I’ve convinced two to three women not to have an abortion,” says Anthonypillai, a 35-year-old Ashburn resident and a Catholic. Volunteers report those numbers back to 40 Days, which keeps a tally of saved lives; the campaign claims to have stopped as many as 268 abortions nationwide this year. Many more women, Anthonypillai says, have made the wrong choice. “Every young woman that I’ve seen, personally, coming in here, is coming to get an abortion,” he says of the clinic, which also offers gynecological exams, STD testing, and birth control. The clinic, meanwhile, keeps tabs on people like Anthonypillai: It staffs escorts to shield patients from protesters and sends visitors through a metal detector before letting them into the waiting room, where no cell phone use is permitted.
A little after 9 a.m. brings the changing of the abortion clinic guard; Anthonypillai hands off duties to Sarah Smith Bartel, a Hyattsville graduate student who arrives with her two daughters, Clare, 4, and Kate, 2. The girls take turns sipping from a thermos of hot chocolate as their mother explains her position. I’m trying to offer these women the right choice, one that recognizes the true femininity and essence of womanhood,” says Smith Bartel. “And, of course, preserves the life of the unborn child.” But though Anthonypillai is happy to head off to work, he says he has no plans to suspend the vigil come Election Day. “I’ll still be here, praying,” he says.
KNOCK-UP RISK: Depends on the shift.