Gibson makes fighting abortion his life’s work

| October 23, 2019 | 0 Comments

Brian Gibson, executive director of Pro-Life Action Ministries in St. Paul, stands in front of a Robbinsdale house owned by the ministry that is next door to an abortion clinic (white building in the background). In the back corner of the house is a room where the Eucharist resides in a tabernacle. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

Brian Gibson’s first stance for the unborn came when he was a high school sophomore in 1972.

Debates about abortion were raging across the country, he said, as the U.S. Supreme Court prepared to take on the case of Roe v. Wade, which led to the landmark 1973 ruling legalizing abortion in the U.S.

A teacher in Gibson’s public high school in Columbus, Ohio, raised the question of abortion to her 35 to 40 students, presenting various scenarios and asking them to indicate their stance on each.

Gibson, a lifelong Catholic, was the only one who publicly stated abortion was wrong under all circumstances.

That conviction has never wavered, and has led to nearly 40 years of activism in the pro-life movement, most notably as executive director of Pro-Life Action Ministries. The St. Paul-based organization was started in 1981 by Michael Gaworski and Paul O’Donnell, who later in the decade left to start the Franciscan Brothers of Peace and in 1989 chose Gibson as the pro-life ministry’s executive director. Brother Michael died in 2003, Brother Paul died in 2015.

Gibson, 63, started as a volunteer the same year the ministry was founded and became a sidewalk counselor around 1987, a role he still performs once a week. He has seen the ups and downs in the fight for life over more than four decades, and he is not about to exit the battle, even though he has been jailed several times for up to 30 days and been mocked, cursed, yelled at and punched while in front of abortion clinics.

He will stay at Pro-Life Action Ministries “until God takes me or they quit killing babies,” he said. “I don’t see retirement (mentioned) in the Bible. I never found it. I’ve searched. I was hoping. I’m hopeful my wife will be able to retire, but I don’t think I will. I’ll have to be forced out of it.”

Probably at least a few employees of Planned Parenthood, Minnesota’s largest abortion provider, would like to see him go away. Gibson said he has been a constant source of irritation for its staff, and employees all the way up to local executives have shown their displeasure. One executive regularly makes an obscene gesture at Gibson when passing him on the way into the clinic parking lot.

Gibson is a regular at the clinic, leading prayer vigils such as an annual event on Good Friday, which he said drew 3,800 people this year. He also leads an event he started four of five years ago called the Jericho March, which takes place over seven days and is patterned after the biblical story in which the Israelites caused the  walls of Jericho to collapse by marching around the city for seven days and blowing trumpets on the last day.

Along the way, he has inspired many pro-life people of all denominations, including Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens, himself a strong advocate for the unborn who once spent two weeks in a Nebraska jail after being arrested at a demonstration at an abortion clinic. He first met Gibson more than two decades ago, before he entered The St. Paul Seminary to study for the priesthood.

“What I really appreciate about Brian is his direct-action approach, which is he puts his love and compassion into action by trying to reach out to women in their most vulnerable moments,” Bishop Cozzens said. “It’s hard to think of anybody who’s been more dedicated to a presence, a pro-life and loving presence, at the abortion clinics in the state of Minnesota than Brian has. You can tell that it’s a charism and that it’s deep in him because he never tires of engaging in this struggle for women and for their babies.”

Gibson addresses those gathered April 19 for the Solemn Good Friday Prayer Vigil at Planned Parenthood in St. Paul. It’s been an annual event since 1984, and Gibson has been to all of them. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

Deep roots

Gibson credits his parents for modeling pro-life beliefs throughout his childhood in Columbus. The third oldest of nine, he had a younger brother born with a mental disability. Brian remembers how his parents talked about and treated his brother.

“We grew up with this very profound understanding of the value of our brother’s life, and how wonderful he was to have in our family,” Gibson said. “I can remember — absolutely clearly — so often Dad saying, ‘God sent us an angel.’ And so, Mom and Dad showing us how to honor the life of our brother certainly had a foundational effect on me and our whole family.”

Affection for his brother flared up anytime Brian overheard other people making fun of someone with a disability. He remembers getting out of his seat on the school bus during his elementary and high school days to confront people who said it was OK to abort a baby discovered to be “retarded,” the commonly-used term in those days for someone with a mental disability.

“It infuriated me to hear people saying that they thought abortion would be good (in cases where the unborn child was discovered to have a disability),” he said. “They were assaulting my brother as far as I was concerned.”

Gibson said his pro-life efforts waned for a few years after high school when he fell away from his faith. Then, in 1981, he had what he calls a “reversion,” and soon got back into pro-life activism. In the spring of that year, he met Gaworski, who with O’Donnell founded Pro-Life Action Ministries that year and recruited Gibson to join them.

The two began doing what they called sidewalk counseling, a practice that has spread throught the country. Gibson, a ministry volunteer at that point, later joined in the sidewalk counseling effort, which involves trying to reach women coming into a clinic for an abortion and attempting to convince them to choose life for their babies.

With Pro-Life Action Ministries, Gibson has witnessed joyful victories and bitter defeats. One of the best moments was when Regions Hospital in St. Paul stopped performing abortions in 2011. Gibson had been organizing 40 Days for Life prayer vigils outside the facility for three years, and got the news Nov. 25, 2011, that the hospital’s abortion facility would close in a matter of days.

“There was elation — those emotions were just off the charts,” Gibson said. “A place killing more than 500 babies a year… closing. It was just absolutely exciting as can be. I grabbed Brian Walker, my program director. We went out to Regions and stood in front of their sign. And, I did a quick video to throw on YouTube.”

He also walked inside the abortion facility to make sure it was closed. It was the first time, he said, he was able to even get close to it “without threat of being arrested or taken down or physically stopped from going in.”

Now, Gibson and the ministry are targeting a second local abortion facility — the Robbinsdale Clinic. Hope it might one day close is based on a key development that came in 2008. After buying a home next door for a deep discount well below the market rate, Gibson got permission from Archbishop Harry Flynn to have Eucharist permanently placed inside the house. It is in a tabernacle placed on a stand near the back corner of a bedroom. People kneeling in front of the Eucharist are able to look out the window and see the abortion facility.

“We’re looking for perpetual prayer for the closing of this abortion facility,” Gibson said. “We believe that the power of prayer, and the power of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the power of those who come out and are moved by this, are enough to close this place down.”

Gibson noted there are three abortion facilities left in the Twin Cities. The “Goliath” is Planned Parenthood in St. Paul, which has steadily grown since a new facility was built in 2011.

“This Planned Parenthood affiliate that’s housed in St. Paul is probably — if not the premier — one of the premier Planned Parenthood affiliates in the nation,” he said. “It’s an evil monster and they’re still growing. Their political clout is unbelievably high, in this state in particular. In Minnesota, it’s off the charts strong and powerful, which it shouldn’t be. Their rhetoric, their propaganda on what abortion is and who they are is just eaten up by the secular media and regurgitated as if they were advertising for Planned Parenthood.”

In his fourth decade as leader of the pro-life ministry, Gibson takes a sober view of the cultural landscape that keeps abortion entrenched in the minds of so many Americans. That’s why, in addition to thinking big, he thinks small, as in each unborn child whose future is put in jeopardy by an abortion-minded woman. He counts every baby who is saved through the ministry’s sidewalk counseling. Since the ministry started keeping track in the mid-1980s, 3,439 lives have been saved, including 62 lives this year.

Each time a baby lives because a woman coming to an abortion clinic changes her mind, it becomes, at that moment, the greatest victory the pro-life movement can claim, Gibson said.

“We celebrate every baby that is saved,” he said. “We post them on Facebook and all the other social media we can. … We make it known as best we can. When we do our banquets, we get testimonies from the women, see their babies and get to hold them. There’s great joy in that.”

There’s also joy in seeing people volunteer for the ministry and take on the challenging task of sidewalk counseling, which always has been a bedrock of the ministry. Gibson said there now are at least 300 trained volunteers who go out at least once a month.

At the heart of all his efforts to end abortion, which he hopes will happen in his lifetime, is prayer. Gibson attends Mass at the Robbinsdale house and spends time there in eucharistic adoration. Everything he does on the sidewalk is rooted in prayer.

“We can only come at it as people of prayer, people of peace,” he said. “Over the decades of sidewalk counseling, I’ve come to learn… I have never changed the mind of a single woman — not once. God has. So, if the prayerfulness is not there, then whatever words I’m saying will be absolutely, wholly ineffective.

“But, if the right attitude, the right heart, the right prayerfulness is there, even when my words are inadequate, they can reach the heart of that woman because it’s God who does it, not me.”

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