Catchers in the Rye: Lessons, Tears, and Triumphs of Talking Women Out of Abortion

I have been engaged in every sort of pro-life activism for over forty years, including participation in pro-life rescues and going to jail. But it is sidewalk counseling that forms the backbone of pro-life activism.

Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around—nobody big, I mean except me. And I’m standing on the edge of a crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d like to be. I know it’s crazy. —Holden Caulfield, from J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye

Something completely unprecedented in the history of the human race has taken place within the last fifty years. People stand outside of certain buildings and try to persuade women not to kill their own children. The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision created the absurdity, as almost overnight abortion centers spread across the landscape. Since these exact localities openly advertised their “services,” those opposed to the killing of unborn children became aware of the actual places and the exact days when such killing was about to occur. 

The idea arose that, knowing where and when the killing of the innocent, protected by law, was actually taking place, perhaps it would be possible to talk to abortion center clients before they crossed the thresholds of such centers, reach out to them and actually save unborn children from their scheduled extermination. Thus, a phenomenon was born and came to be called “sidewalk counseling.” 

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily

Email subscribe inline (#4)

The exact number of unborn children saved from abortion through the efforts of sidewalk counselors over the last fifty years is not known. It’s safe to say, however, the number is well into the hundreds of thousands. Also, very safe to say, the vast majority of these unborn children would have endured the violence of abortion had it not been for those who stood—and those who continue to stand—outside of our nation’s abortion centers.  The exact number of unborn children saved from abortion through the efforts of sidewalk counselors over the last fifty years is not known. It’s safe to say, however, the number is well into the hundreds of thousands. Tweet This

I am a veteran pro-life leader. I have been engaged in literally every sort of pro-life activism for over forty years, including participation in pro-life rescues (more recently Red Rose Rescues), going to court, and going to jail. And while there should be an increase in Red Rose Rescues, it is sidewalk counseling that indeed forms the backbone of pro-life activism. Regardless of all of the varieties of absolutely necessary and important pro-life work—without sidewalk counseling, or at least a pro-life presence at places where the unborn are killed, the movement that seeks to defend and secure protection for the unborn would be hollow.  

Beginning in 1978, I personally have logged in thousands of hours on the sidewalk reaching out to women arriving for their scheduled abortions. I have many personal experiences from which I could choose, but I will focus on only two that illustrate the heights and the depths of “last minute” efforts to help women choose life and save the unborn from abortion. 

Saving Nina

In 1982, I stood outside of Concord Medical Services, located on the near-east side of the Chicago Loop. When I was twenty-four years old, I was arrested at this abortion facility with eleven others in the first “sit-in” to take place in Illinois under the leadership of the late Joseph Scheidler. On this morning, my usual sidewalk counseling partner, Greg Morrow—yes, men can be very good at sidewalk counseling—had already left for the morning. Now I was alone. 

After two hours, and with no woman turned away from abortion, I, too, was about to leave. Suddenly, a Yellow Cab pulled up. A black woman got out. She started to walk the mere fifteen feet from the curb to the abortion center door. I felt caught off-guard, but I managed to clumsily blurt out to her, “Don’t kill your baby—come on—let me help you!”  

Unlike the other fourteen women before her that day, she stopped and looked directly at me. She rolled her eyes, shrugged her shoulders slightly, then nodded and said in a faint voice, “Okay.” That was it. Nina fell into my hands. Having exited the cab that brought her to the killing place, she got into my rusted Toyota Celica and sped away from Concord, her unborn child having escaped what awaited fourteen others. 

I took her back to her apartment in a rough, run-down neighborhood on Chicago’s south side. Nina, who already had a seven-year-old daughter, Disiree, born out of wedlock, lived on welfare and food stamps, barely managing to get by. Like the vast majority of women turned away from abortion, the father of her children was absent.

Greg Morrow instantly partnered with me in helping Nina in the next seven months of her pregnancy. We often trekked to the south side, brought her groceries, paid her utility bills, took her to doctor appointments, and provided her with items donated for her soon-to-be-born baby. Occasionally, Nina even agreed to go to church with us. Her baby saved from abortion was born that August, and she named him Darius. 

Greg and I continued to keep in touch with Nina well after Darius was born. Little did I realize that thirty-eight years later Darius and I would have a most remarkable reunion.

But in the meantime, I went on to talk many other women out of abortion and learned many lessons.

Losing Two—Saving One

The phone rarely rang in my office at Michigan’s Madonna University, where I taught Theology for fifteen years. But on December 3, 2010, a Thursday afternoon, I received a call from Kristen, one of my former students. She took her Catholic Faith seriously and was very pro-life. She said, “Dr. Miller, my sister works at a hair salon, and she knows that her co-worker Lila is pregnant and wants an abortion. Dr. Miller, do you think you could talk with her, try to convince her to keep the baby?” 

I dreaded being yanked into such emergency pro-life missions—missions that required instantly springing into action lest the abortion appointment be made and the baby’s life lost. I told Kristen, “Of course, I’ll talk to her.” Kristen didn’t know where Lila lived, only where she worked. The hair salon was located inside a shopping mall north of Detroit. 

That evening, I made the fifty-minute drive to the mall. The shopping center was already decorated for Christmas, and Christmas music was piped into the corridors. I was nervous. Here I was, a perfect stranger, intent on talking a woman out of an abortion—and seeking her out at her place of work no less! Would she see me? Would she speak with me? How do I even introduce myself? I found the salon, said a prayer, and entered. 

A young, pretty woman stood behind a counter. I approached and quietly asked, “Is Lila here tonight?” The woman looked at me with large, dark eyes. “I’m Lila—how can I help you?” I spoke very softly, “Well, Lila, actually, I am here to help you. I’ve helped a lot of women in your situation. Can we talk for a few minutes?” She frowned slightly, her eyes narrowed, and I expected to hear, “Get lost, go to Hell, and get out of my personal business!” Instead, she said, “Okay, sure.” 

We exited the salon and entered the mall corridor. We sat down together on the nearest bench. Directly behind us was Santa’s Village. Little children were lined up to tell Santa what they wanted for Christmas while a miniature choo choo train clanked on its miniature circular track. It was a bizarre backdrop for a conversation about abortion.  

Oddly, Lila didn’t ask me how I knew about her pregnancy. Somehow, she seemed to put two and two together. I told her my name, assured her that I had helped a lot of women in difficult pregnancy situations, and asked her to tell me about herself. She was twenty-three years old, born in Iraq, and thought she was about 10 weeks pregnant. 

Armed with pro-life literature, I opened a pamphlet with photos of fetal development and a photo of an unborn child aborted at twelve weeks. Suddenly, Lila began to cry. When counseling a woman out of abortion, tears are a very good sign. Tears mean that the heart is not hardened, that the conscience is alive. 

I comforted her and assured her that everything would be okay. She turned to me, wiping away her tears, and said, “I can’t tell my parents—they’ll never accept this.” “Look, Lila, don’t worry about that now. They don’t need to know right away. I will come with you at some point and we can talk to your parents together. Give yourself and your baby a chance, please.” 

I reached into my pocket and pulled out a slip of paper on which I had already written my phone number. I gave it to her and asked her to give me hers. I had a pen, but I had neglected to bring any other paper—so she scribbled her number on one of the pro-life pamphlets. 

We stood up; I hugged her and said, “I’ll call you tomorrow.” She said, “Okay,” then she turned and walked back to the salon. During our conversation, Lila told me that she had made an abortion appointment for the next Tuesday at the Northland Family Planning abortion center in Southfield, Michigan.

I called Lila late Friday morning. She answered the phone. I felt relieved. I asked her how she was doing. She said, “Okay.” I proposed that we meet for lunch that afternoon. “Sorry, I can’t,” she responded. “I got called into work. One of our girls is out.”     

“Okay, Lila, we can do it tomorrow, either lunch or maybe dinner, depending on your schedule.”

“Yeah,” she said, “that might be okay—but I don’t know yet if there will be a hair appointment for me in the afternoon on Saturday—depends on if that other girl is still out. So—can I call you?”

“Of course, yes, please call me. Please let me know.” 

I felt a sense of unease as I hung up the phone. I could not be sure if Lila had just concocted an excuse to put me off. I prayed for her the rest of that Friday. Saturday morning came and went with no call from Lila. The afternoon came and went; and still, she didn’t call. My initial unease was turning into real concern. I called her instead but could only leave a voicemail message.

I decided to call the salon. I was told by another worker that Lila had already left. The next day was Sunday. I called Lila twice. She never answered the phone. I simply had to leave encouraging messages on her voicemail. I knew the salon was closed on Sundays—thus there was no point in trying to reach her there. 

On Monday, I called her from Madonna University between my classes. I called her three times only to hear her recorded greeting. My concern for Lila now shifted to full-blown worry. I knew from vast experience talking women out of abortion that if the communication dries up it is a bad sign. It was now late afternoon. I decided to go to the salon and try and talk to Lila as I had done initially. 

I drove to the mall and went to the salon, only to find Lila was not there. It was now about 4:30 in the afternoon. I knew that Lila’s abortion appointment was the next day, Tuesday. Time was running out. I called Kristen and asked her if she could go to Northland Family Planning Tuesday morning and, if Lila showed up, try and speak with her and urge her not to abort her baby. I was not able to go myself as I had a morning class at Madonna. I felt that at least someone should be at Northland and make a last attempt to save Lila and her baby. 

Kristen said yes and had a friend who would go with her. Kristen had never met Lila, so I had to describe Lila to her. However, even if they did identify Lila, talking to her was going to be difficult, if not impossible. 

Northland was located on the second floor of a modern building surrounded by a large, deep parking lot. The entrance to the building was a good hundred and fifty feet from the public sidewalk. Unless pro-lifers were willing to risk arrest (as six of us did in an April 2022 Red Rose Rescue at this very clinic) all sidewalk counselors could do was hold signs, try and flag down cars as they pulled into the parking lot, and hope to have some kind of communication with women coming for their appointments.

While driving home from the mall, I was suddenly struck by an idea. I took the Evergreen Road exit and headed south toward Northland Family Planning. I had been at Northland a few times after hours, just to see for myself exactly where the abortion center was located inside the multi-tenant building. A women’s restroom was located on the second floor, just off the stairs, close to the elevator and just around the corner from the abortion center’s entrance.

I took four pro-life pamphlets out of my glove compartment. They were used by Guadalupe Workers, my husband, Edmund’s, pro-life group headquartered in Detroit. They were the older pamphlets, not used anymore, but they were all I had. In any case, the pamphlets contained the group’s phone number.

It was just after 5 p.m. I walked toward the door of the building, afraid it was closed for the day. I pulled on the lobby door, it opened, and I quickly bounded up the stairs to the second floor. The building was eerily quiet and vacant. I slipped into the women’s restroom. I pondered where would be the best places to leave the pamphlets. I thought: who knows, Lila might first stop in the bathroom on her way down the hall to Northland, see one of them, read it, and change her mind. And, certainly, other women coming to Northland might do the same! 

I wanted the pamphlets to be seen, but I didn’t want a worker from Northland to come into the restroom and see them right away—and toss them in the trash. I decided to lean the pamphlets up against the inside wall of the stalls, facing toward someone using the stall. With my task quickly accomplished, I left the building and sped home, my heart filled with prayers of desperation. Later that night, I made a final effort to reach Lila by phone. Again, she didn’t answer. 

Tuesday morning came and went. Kristen called me after twelve noon only to say they had not seen anyone fitting Lila’s description. This gave me a bit of hope that maybe Lila skipped the appointment. That evening, I sat on my couch grading exams—pondering whether I should call Lila. 

Instead, the phone rang. It was Kristen. “Hello, Dr. Miller. I am really sorry to have to tell you.” Her voice began to crack. “My sister told me Lila went through with the abortion—and…and…she…aborted twins. I am so sorry.” Kristen and I promised that we would continue to pray for Lila. I wanted to get off the phone, afraid I would burst into tears. 

I sat still on the couch. Suddenly, I realized the date. It was December 8th—the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Of course, many unborn children since the legalization of abortion were killed on Our Lady’s feast day, but, oddly, I felt a baby I tried to save shouldn’t be killed on such a holy day—that such a day would be marred by such unholiness, the incongruity of which I was now keenly struck. And not just one baby—but two!

I got up, walked to the front door, and peered out the window. It was night. Snow was falling. It was the first snow of the season. Strangely, watching the silent snow gently descend comforted me as the ground was slowly covered in soft, virginal whiteness. It was as if God, at that moment, was renewing the broken earth—creation receiving a blanket of cleansing falling from on high—by which sins and betrayals were taken away.

Two days later found me again sitting on the couch grading papers. Suddenly, Edmund came into the room. “Guess what!” he blurted. “We just got the weirdest call.” “What do you mean—weird?” I asked. “This woman said she found our pamphlet in a restroom—and it was one of the older pamphlets that we don’t really use anymore. She had an abortion appointment but is coming to see us tomorrow.”

I sat there, dumbfounded, yet filled with joy! My pamphlet that I had hoped Lila would see had saved another woman—and saved her baby from abortion. Lila’s twins ended in death, but, by the grace of God, my efforts to help her brought life to another unborn child. 

The Ultimate Pro-Life Gift

In 1995, Nina moved her family to Kenosha, Wisconsin—a mere forty-five-minute drive from Milwaukee, where I had moved to in 1985 to begin work on my Ph.D. I would visit Nina from time to time. By now, Darius was a tall, gangly thirteen-year-old. Whenever I did visit, Darius was always happy to see me—and, I noticed, even happily attentive to my presence. I am sure he probably wondered, “What’s this white lady doing in our lives?” 

I believed he figured I was just someone who had stepped in to help Nina during her pregnancy with him. Certainly, Nina never told Darius that she had almost aborted him and that I had talked her out of that decision. And that is every mother’s right—not to say such things to a child they almost killed in utero. I certainly was never about to break her confidence! 

Eventually, Nina made a decision to move her family to Taylors, South Carolina. We continued to stay in touch. Then, in January 2019, I received a Facebook message sent from Darius. It announced Nina had suddenly died. Darius, now a grown man, found her lifeless body on her bed. She had apparently died from heart failure while taking a noonday nap. Darius was devastated. He was very close to her. I was stunned.

I immediately called him, and Darius wanted to talk. He reminisced about his childhood in Chicago and said, “You and Greg were the only white folks I ever saw as a kid—’sept for the poe-leece and firemen!” I promised Darius that the next time Edmund and I went to visit family in Tallahassee, Florida, we would come and visit him. And so we did. 

It was June 16, 2020. On our way back to Michigan, we took the extra time and drove to Taylors, South Carolina. We found his apartment complex, parked our car, and walked toward his unit. I had not seen Darius for many years. He would now be thirty-seven years old. I wondered if I would recognize him. Then, outside his apartment, I saw a tall young man sitting on a chair. It was Darius, waiting for us to arrive. I was overjoyed to see him and we hugged each other closely. 

Within another minute, we were sitting on a couch in the apartment. Darius introduced us to Rosalia, the woman with whom he had been living for ten years—in essence, his “common law” wife. They had three children: two boys, ages ten and eight, and a little five-year-old girl.  

The two boys sat to our left on dining room chairs. Rosalia, who had served us sweet tea, sat with Darius on a couch directly opposite where Edmund and I sat, their little daughter nestled between them. 

Suddenly, Darius stood up. He introduced us to his children. He then addressed them in a loud, emphatic voice as he waved his hand toward me: “And I want you to know that if it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be here, and you wouldn’t be here neither—cause Monica don’t believe in killin’ no babies—and don’t care what color you are neither!” 

He knew! All this time, I thought he didn’t know the real reason I was in his life. But he knew! At some point, Nina had told him after all! I cried such tears never shed before. Many women I have talked out of abortion have thanked me, as not a single one ever regretted giving birth to the baby she nearly killed, but I had never been thanked by the actual person saved from abortion! Darius’ words to his children are the ultimate gift a pro-lifer could ever receive. As I continued to weep, he and I hugged one another. 

Before we said our goodbyes, Darius gave me a copy of Nina’s funeral program with a dried red rose he had saved for me. 

This article began with a quote from The Catcher in the Rye. The legalized killing of the innocent is the edge of the cliff where millions of helpless innocents have been thrown over. But pro-lifers are like Holden, perhaps especially the ones who stand outside the clinics, trying to “catch everybody.” Salinger’s character, who speaks from an insane asylum, said, “I know it’s crazy.” But his vision—to be a “catcher in the rye”—is the reversal of insanity. And in a world gone mad, perhaps we can say with him, “that’s the only thing I’d like to be.” 

[Image Credit: Carla Bleiker/DW]


  • Monica Miller

    Monica Miller, Ph.D., is the Director of Citizens for a Pro-life Society. She holds a degree in Theatre Arts from Southern Illinois University and graduate degrees in Theology from Loyola University and Marquette University. She is the author of several books including The Theology of the Passion of the Christ (Alba House) and, most recently, The Authority of Women in the Catholic Church (Emmaus Road) and Abandoned: The Untold Story of the Abortion Wars (St. Benedict Press).

Join the Conversation

in our Telegram Chat

Or find us on

Editor's picks

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Signup to receive new Crisis articles daily

Email subscribe stack
Share to...