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Victims of attack return to Planned Parenthood in Baltimore to continue their mission: ‘I do this for the babies’

Christ the King parishioners and pro-life activists Dick Shaefer, 84, left, and Mark J. Des Marais, 77, greet patients and staff outside the entrance of a Planned Parenthood center in Baltimore with a message of hope and alternatives for those with unexpected pregnancies. The pro-life activists say they aren't deterred by recent assault near the facility. (OSV News photo/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review)

BALTIMORE — While police continue to search for a man who assaulted two pro-life activists, the victims are back in front of Planned Parenthood in downtown Baltimore almost daily carrying out their mission of praying for the unborn and handing out literature.

The Baltimore City Police Department released a video June 15 that it hopes will lead to the apprehension of a suspect who brutally assaulted a 73-year-old man and an 84-year-old man who were standing outside a downtown abortion center May 26.

A Baltimore City Police spokesperson said there has been no progress in the search for a suspect. The department released a video of the assault on its Facebook and YouTube sites June 16 in hopes of generating tips. Tips can be phoned to Baltimore City Police Central Division detectives at 410-396-2411 or anonymously to Metro Crime Stoppers at 1-866-756-2587.

The men were attacked outside the Planned Parenthood center in downtown Baltimore that shares a wall with “Options@328,” a pro-life pregnancy resource center operated by the Center for Pregnancy Concerns and supported by the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Pro-life advocates pray regularly on the sidewalk in front of the centers and distribute small bags that contain information on pregnancy resources, details about the unborn and snacks.

Christ the King parishioner and pro-life activist Mark J. Des Marais, 77, holds a gift bag of hope outside a Planned Parenthood center in Baltimore June 20, 2023. (OSV News photo/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review)

Dick Schafer, one of the men assaulted, said he and the other victim, Mark Crosby, returned to their post outside the abortion center less than a week after the incident that sent Crosby to R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma at University of Maryland Medical Center with severe head injuries.

Schafer, 84, was on Howard Street June 20 along with Mark J. Des Marais, 77, handing out literature and engaging with passersby and those entering Planned Parenthood. Schafer said he occupies his spot on the sidewalk five days a week for 52 weeks of the year.

The retired architect told the Catholic Review, Baltimore’s archdiocesan news outlet, that he’s there for the “babies.” He says he doesn’t have much memory of the assault that he called unprovoked and “happened in the blink of an eye.”

Crosby declined to comment for this article.

Schafer says he doesn’t hold any animosity toward the man who assaulted him, even though he thinks it was premeditated.

“He’s in God’s hands,” said the parishioner of Christ the King Church in Towson, Maryland. The parish is part of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, a Roman Catholic diocese with Anglican traditions for the U.S. and Canada established by Pope Benedict XVI. “If I saw him again, I’d just say ‘Come on, man?’ and forgive him,” he added.

He said his only goal is to change someone’s mind who is considering an abortion.

“I do this for the babies, and I’m going to do it until the day I drop dead,” said Schafer, who can’t bring himself to watch the video of the assault. “I’m pretty stubborn.”

Others in the pro-life advocacy movement take the same approach.

Jay Walton, a parishioner of Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland, is president of the Maryland Right to Life’s Baltimore County Chapter. He says he has been praying in front of abortion clinics in the Baltimore area almost nonstop — up to 10 hours a day — for the past three years, and he uses the term “awful” to describe what happened to fellow pro-lifers Crosby and Schafer.

“Our mission is the right to life; it’s pretty specific,” said Walton, a 41-year-old musician and adjunct professor at Goucher College in Towson. “In a world full of lies, we are here to bring truth about abortion public. Our mission is to shepherd scared women who feel they have no other option than abortion to pro-life pregnancy centers in Baltimore County and City.”

Walton, baptized and married at St. Rita in Dundalk, Maryland, said his group uses education and prayer as its tools.

“Make no mistake, this is a battle,” he said, “but we use rosaries, holy water, the crucifix and education as our weapons.”

He said Baltimore County Respect Life meets the fourth Tuesday of every month, at Cub Hill Presbyterian Church. Walton describes himself as a “cradle Catholic,” but says the group accepts anyone. “We take anyone whose mission is truly pro-life — Protestant, Catholic or Jew; straight or gay; Black or white,” he said.

Walton said he regularly prays in front of the Femi-Care Surgery Center in Lutherville, Maryland.

He thinks the assault will “steel our resolve” and help boost the Maryland Right to Life’s numbers for the 40 Days for Life campaign, which begins in late September.

“It’s not the first time this happened,” Walton said of the assault. “I’ve been assaulted, but none of us has gone through what Mark Crosby experienced; he could have been killed. I just hope they catch and prosecute the person before he can hurt someone else. When they do catch him, it should be prosecuted as a hate crime because they were attacked purely for what they believe.”

A lawyer for the American Center for and Law and Justice, which is representing Crosby and Schafer, did not respond to a call for an interview.

In a post on its website, the ACLJ, wrote: “This was a savage, unprovoked attack that nearly killed one of these innocent men who were merely trying to save lives. … The two victims were sharing a message of peace, love, and compassion with the community when they suffered this vicious attack by a pro-abortion extremist. The ACLJ is representing these pro-life victims to help achieve justice in this unsolved case.

“We’re representing the two victims and working with the Baltimore authorities to help apprehend this dangerous man and see that he faces justice,” the post continued. “Our question is: Where is the FBI? This was not just an attack — it was attempted murder, the way we see it. The FBI should be joining the investigation to catch this monster before he attacks again and possibly does kill someone.”

A few days after the assault, Gina Ruppert, executive director of the Center for Pregnancy Concerns that operates Options@328, said, “It was very upsetting. We often see confrontations but nothing at this level. Our ministry starts once people walk in our doors. We can’t control the sidewalks.”

Planned Parenthood of Maryland Chief Executive Officer Karen J. Nelson said in a statement, “Friday, May 26th, there was an unfortunate incident on the sidewalk outside of our Baltimore health center between a pedestrian and anti-choice protestors. We at Planned Parenthood of Maryland condemn all violence. When abortion care is under attack across the country, we cannot tolerate violent acts from anywhere — especially when it gets in the way of patients’ receiving proper health care.”

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