5 P.M. Rush hour is in full swing on Grove Road near the Gantt neighborhood of Greenville. Cars, trucks, and vans speed past the Greenville Women’s Clinic, the thrum of motors punctured a few times by wails of ambulance sirens and other emergency vehicles headed to a nearby hospital.
On a small patch of earth nearby, Greg Bida sits quietly praying the rosary shortly after 5 p.m. on a Thursday, seemingly oblivious to the noise.
Bida, a member of St. Luke Church in Easley, is one of thousands of volunteers who will spend time along roadways big and small around South Carolina and the nation this fall, taking part in round-the-clock prayer vigils outside abortion clinics like this one as part of the 40 Days for Life.
“This is my sixth year doing this during the spring and fall,” Bida said. “I’m out here because I feel really strongly about pro-life issues. My sister got pregnant at a young age and choose to keep her baby, and because of that I don’t understand how anyone could go about having an abortion.”
Bida brings his rosary and missal with him for his solitary vigil.
Usually he gets no response, he said, but most people are friendly — honking horns or giving the thumbs-up sign.
Some folks aren’t so nice. Around 5:30 p.m. a man and woman in a battered green Ford Taurus station wagon stop dead in the middle of the busy road near the wooden stump where Bida sits. Other motorists jam on their brakes or swerve to avoid them. One person in the wagon yells something unintelligible and makes an obscene gesture. They turn around in a nearby driveway, drive past, turn around again and move slowly by Bida. He admits the behavior is strange, but doesn’t get upset. Eventually the green station wagon goes away. Bida quietly goes back to his rosary.
6 P.M. Three men arrive to take Bida’s place: Ray Ireland, Jim Canvin and Tommy Smith. As they prepare for their hour, they stand in the cooling afternoon air and talk about what brings them to the side of the road. They tell personal stories and describe spiritual revelations they had over the years that convinced them how precious life is and why abortion is evil.
“Just the experience of seeing our children grow up, looking at the pictures of my grandchildren, that lets me know this is a terrible, terrible sin,” Mr. Ireland said. His wife Ingrid shares his commitment. She prayed here earlier in the day and is one of the organizers of 40 Days for Life in the Upstate.
Conversation over, the three turn to what brought them here.
They stand in a small circle together, praying the rosary. Ireland reads pro-life meditations at the start of each mystery. The other two close their eyes and recite the Hail Marys fervently, uninterrupted by the last waves of rush hour that pass by.
7 P.M. Haney and Tina Armaly from Our Lady of the Rosary in Greenville pull into the parking lot of the Piedmont Women’s Center, a crisis pregnancy center located right next door to the clinic. They finish a fast-food dinner they grabbed on the way to the vigil, then get out of their car, he in a three-piece suit and she in a stylish blouse and skirt. Both came straight from work.
“A while ago I was asking God to guide me, I said I want to serve you in some way,” Mrs. Armaly said. “This is what came to me. I really feel like I’m called for the pro-life cause.”
They walk toward the area where they will pray. Mr. Armaly stops for a moment near the red wooden fence that surrounds the clinic and looks at signs posted there.
“PLEASE DON’T BLOCK THE DRIVEWAY WITH YOUR VEHICLES” is written in Spanish and English. There’s something different about the Spanish sign.
Whoever made it put a small picture of the Blessed Mother surrounded by rosary beads in the top right hand corner.
Shortly after 7 p.m., they are joined by others who will share the hour with them: Richard and Marianne Stoddard and Kim Nguyen, also from Our Lady of the Rosary. The Stoddards have participated in 40 Days for Life vigils for about 10 years. Nguyen, like the Armalys, started this year.
The four greet each other, talk briefly, then begin to pray the rosary. There is no more conversation, just the gentle rise and fall of praying voices as the traffic subsides. Crickets and a few random, early-fall cicadas can be heard from the trees. When the rosary is finished, they recite other prayers and softly sing verses of hymns they know, beginning with “How Great Thou Art.”
As darkness descends, Mr. Stoddard pulls up a music track on his smartphone and the little circle of people begin to softly sing the hymn “One Bread, One Body.” Their voices carry over the road as the vigil continues into the night.