Walking along the sidewalk of Hwy 61, Kathy and John Gardner silently advocate their Pro-Life message. She pushes a stroller of two baby dolls and a lamb stuffed animal with a sign attached stating, “Stop Abortion Now.” Her husband carries the same sign, and has a baby doll adorned with a lace bonnet and an inked tear drop on its left eye.
Drivers honk as they pass, some in agreement, others roll down a window and yell, “Pro-Choice!” before speeding away. “These girls threw eggs at us one time,” Kathy said, “But a car got hit instead.” These reactions no longer unnerve the Gardners. John’s seventeen years of activism have resulted in a myriad of reactions. “A cop lied on him once,” Kathy started, “In court. Lied in court.” Mr. Gardner recalled the incident saying the officer said he had leaned too much of his body into a person’s car and was walking in the middle of the street protesting, but John claims none of it was true. Another time, a person fired a BB gun on him, leaving small welts for months. There have been other memorable reactions, such as a man that slipped five dollars into his pocket one day. “I know he didn’t agree with the cause,” said John, “but I think he liked my dedication. And I didn’t want to preach too much because that’d just push some away. I don’t want to turn a soul away from one day being saved.”
Asked about his initial motivation to begin Pro-Life activism, Mr. Gardner says he’s never personally known someone whose had an abortion. Before becoming a born again Christian, John was an alcoholic, facing the same problems his father had. “I wasn’t fit to be a woman’s husband,” he said, “But then I got saved. And I felt a call to preach.” He began his plight on the steps of the State House in Columbia, South Carolina. After a rally on the anniversary of Roe VS Wade in 1991, Mr. Gardner felt he was called to the cause. He returned several days later with a simple anti-abortion sign, and his mission has persisted ever since. Branching out from their hometown of Columbia, the Gardners travel every Monday, Thursday and Saturday to another location in Charleston, Greenville, or Florence. When not on the road, John spends time trying to gain support from government representatives. He had an ally in House representative Ralph Davenport, who attempted to push two bills through. The first bill was the Right to Life Act, and the second was to construct a monument for unborn children. Legislative details and a drawing of the monument are included in Mr. Gardner’s newsletter from his organization Voice of the Unborn, which he hands out to drivers during red lights. The purpose for the monument is outlined in the newsletter: “We will never outlaw abortion until we become repentant and sorrowful for the awful sin we have committed. This monument will express our remorse and sorrow for allowing these murders to go on for years. People will come from all over the world to see this monument as a result. Many children will be saved from murder.”
When asked about other possible methods to go about their cause, Kathy and John discussed previous ties to other Pro-Life organizations and counseling women on-site at clinics. Mrs. Gardner conveyed her frustrations with a Catholic activism group who she felt were pursuing “Band-aid fixes, but nothing ever got done.” After the director of the organization spoke out against the monument bill, the Gardners severed ties with the group. As for counseling, the majority of women still decided to terminate their pregnancies, which Mr. Gardner expressed pained him greatly, but the small amount who changed their decisions gave him great joy. Kathy described a neighbor whose daughter had become pregnant, and originally intended to seek an abortion, but learning of John’s activism, changed her mind. Mrs. Gardner said they bought several outfits for the newborn; happy to see they had made a change. Mr. Gardner remembered another occasion when he was out on the corner of road protesting. He said one young woman waved him over to her car and had a toddler in the backseat. She told him that several years ago she had seen him on the street with his message, and it was because of him that her daughter was born.
In the beginning, John focused on protesting at clinics where Dr. Jessie Floyd worked. One day, Dr. Floyd was sideswiped by another vehicle. He was killed on impact, but his grandson survived. Mr. Gardner said he didn’t take joy in Dr. Floyd’s death, but that he took joy in the fact that no more babies would be murdered. He estimated that Dr. Floyd performed over 30,000 procedures in the time John knew him. Mr. Gardner said he thought the wreck had a message, “God saved the grandson. He saved the child.” Since Dr. Floyd’s death, Kathy says four of his five clinics have shutdown that he started.
Throughout Mr. Gardner’s activism, he has predominately worked alone. It is only within the last couple of years that his wife, Kathy, has joined him. When asked about her motivation to be a part of John’s message, she said for her it’s about saving babies. “Have you ever seen pictures of babies after abortions? The babies look like they been torn to pieces. Arms and legs pulled off.” This is an image she reverts back to repeatedly when discussing their mission. She makes a point to wear a shirt with a picture of her three year old grandson ironed onto the front; so people will see the child in her life.
Whether or not one agrees with their beliefs, the Gardners’ method of activism is nonviolent and is protected by the First Amendment. It is surprising the aggressive reactions such passive activism has received, which brings to light a concerning facet within the divide between Pro-Life and Pro-Choice groups and individuals. Since when has taking a side caused a wall prohibiting communication and dialog to emerge?