The New Face of the Pro-Life Movement
Forty years ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade, a case that began in Dallas. Now the city is serving as a proving ground for the newest weapon in the battle over abortion.
As David Pomerantz tells the story, his grandfather was 6 years old at the beginning of World War II, when Pomerantz’s great-grandparents were killed by Nazis. The young boy was put on a train bound for a concentration camp. He was riding in the last car—it was packed so tightly with people that he could barely breathe—when a pin fell out of a coupler, dropping his car from the rest of the train. The boy walked to a nearby town, only to find that its residents were being herded into the square to be cut down with machine guns. When the shooting started, the boy fell to the ground and pretended to be dead. There, the story goes, Pomerantz’s grandfather hid for three days under the bloody corpses of strangers. When the coast was clear, the boy got up and walked for miles, until he came across a refugee camp in the woods. He lived there for eight years, in squalor and pain and anguish, before he could immigrate to America, where he eventually married and had two children, Pomerantz’s mother and his aunt.
This is what Pomerantz thinks about when he is on the street, parked in front of an abortion clinic five days a week. As he tries to convince a woman to keep her child, he thinks of all those different lineages, the bloodlines that were saved when the train car detached.
“I picture myself as that pin,” he says. “I don’t just see a baby. I see a line of humanity we’re saving that could exist for eternity.”
It’s late October, and, after a long, sweltering summer, the air is beginning to cool. Pomerantz is standing in front of an abortion clinic not far from Parkland, handing out glossy cards he tells people are “good for one free sonogram.” A few feet away sits a large, white van emblazoned with the letters “SOS,” which stands for Sonograms On Site. He’s 23 years old and has a Justin Bieber haircut, sparkling blue eyes, and an engaging smile. For several hours a day, nearly every day, he tries to direct women away from the clinic and onto his van.
The clinic is on a quiet road, between a wine distributor and a construction site. The front door opens, and a man walks out. He backs up a late-model Chrysler to the door, and a nurse appears, pushing a woman in a wheelchair. A security guard sitting outside helps the nurse get the wheelchair to the side of the car. The woman is wearing a University of Iowa sweatshirt. She’s slumped over, in a daze. The security guard opens the car door and the nurse helps her into the passenger seat. In an instant, the car is out of the lot and gone. Then it happens again. The next woman looks glassy-eyed, exhausted. Pomerantz is close enough to see a spot of blood on the woman’s sweatpants.
Within minutes, three young women approach the clinic, apparently walking from a nearby neighborhood. They look barely old enough to vote, but two of them have tattoos crawling up their necks. Pomerantz offers them the glossy card, but they don’t even make eye contact as they pass him and walk into the clinic.
Before long, though, two of them return. One is wearing a blue tank top and the other a red sweater. They look inquisitively at the van.
“Come on over,” Pomerantz says, his voice as peaceful as he can make it.
The young women oblige. They say that Hangover II is playing in the waiting room inside. It’s “too weird” in there, one says. Their friend, the one inside, is here for an abortion. They’re told about the van, the free sonograms. After a brief conversation, the woman in blue explains that she’s actually pretty sure she’s pregnant. The woman in red says she thinks she might be pregnant, too.
“We can do sonograms right here,” Pomerantz says. “We can do pregnancy tests, too.”
The women are timid. They’re torn.
“Come on,” one of Pomerantz’s friends tells the women. “It’s cold out here and the bus is warm.”
With that, both women climb on board and the door closes behind them.
David Pomerantz is, in many ways, the new face of the pro-life movement. He doesn’t call women baby killers or hold a giant picture of an aborted fetus. He doesn’t scream or throw holy water. His goal is to stop abortion, to save babies, by helping mothers. Once he gets them on the van, they’re offered a free pregnancy test and an ultrasound. A trained counselor and a sonographer are there to assuage any fears the mothers might have. They want to change minds with kindness, and the idea is spreading. In the eight months Pomerantz has been doing this in Dallas, he has been contacted by multiple groups from all over the country hoping to start mobile ultrasound units of their own.
Pomerantz believes that every abortion is motivated by fear of some sort. And for every fear, the kind people at Sonograms On Site have an answer. Maybe the woman is worried she can’t take care of the baby financially. “We have resources, connections,” he explains. “We can help you fill out the paperwork to get government money. We have diapers, food, baby clothes, strollers, everything you’ll need.”
Maybe the woman is in an abusive relationship. “We can get you relationship counseling or a safe place and resources to help you start over, whether you have the baby or not.” Maybe she’s just afraid this baby will ruin her life and waylay all her plans. “Having a kid will be the thing that saves your life,” he tells them. “You’ll be happier than you ever thought. You’ll have something new to live for!” And for the mothers on the fence, Pomerantz gives out little hand-knit baby booties.
The margins of the internet, where the most passionate die-hards debate abortion every day, have already taken notice. One very popular anti-abortion website called Pomerantz’s van “an abortion clinic’s worst nightmare.” The liberal blog Feministing.com posted a photo of the van under the words “guerilla anti-choice tactics.” The writer called what Pomerantz is doing “repulsive.” A caption reads: “If you see this bus driving around, please run and call a friend. It’s full of people that want to force their scary beliefs on to you.”
Pomerantz insists he’s there first and foremost to help women, not to preach. “We’re the ones offering true choice,” he says. “Women are reminded all the time that they can have an abortion, that it’s their right. What you don’t hear is people telling her it’s okay to have the baby, that she can work through her fear. We want to make it easier for you to choose the choice you really want.”
He signifies not only a change in the approach of the pro-life movement, but also a change in the tone of the conversation. For years, he has heard people say that pro-lifers care only about a woman until she doesn’t have an abortion. He has seen women shamed, ostracized, threatened.
The clinic where he parks his van—Pomerantz would prefer the name of the clinic not be published, fearing it might draw either future clients or troublemakers—has been the site of shrill protests over the years. The police have been called several times, and a freshly painted red line marks where the public property stops and the trespassing charges begin. A few feet from the front door sits the clinic’s security guard. He is paid by the doctors to keep the peace at the clinic. A smile comes over the man’s face as he gets up and walks toward Pomerantz.
“How’re you doing today, Buddy,” Pomerantz says. “You remember to take your Centrum Silver?”
Buddy laughs. He’s several decades older than Pomerantz, with a gold tooth and a Dallas Cowboys cap on. “Oh, you think you’re funny, don’t you?” Buddy says. They exchange an elaborate handshake.
“This is my boy right here,” Buddy says, pointing at Pomerantz. “Anything happens to him, something’s already happened to me.”
On most days, Pomerantz is here around 9 am. He’s calm, perpetually smiling. He offers an earnest “Have a nice day!” to everyone, even the people who look like they want to punch him in the face. He wants to distance his project from the protestors of yesteryear. “I’d rather be an advocate than an activist,” he says.
He tries to approach every woman he sees. When he can’t get to someone, one of the regular Catholic protestors generally will. For years, the pregnancy center across the street has had protestors standing in front of this clinic from open to close. Some of them have been protesting abortion since before Roe v. Wade, when they suspected illegal abortions were being performed in college dorms. During the lulls at the clinic, they tell Pomerantz their old abortion-fighting tales, and he tells them about his newer, softer approach.
The idea came when Pomerantz was on a mission trip to New York City two and a half years ago. He was there to learn about street evangelism, how to engage people on the sidewalk. A friend of a friend he met there was pioneering something Pomerantz had never seen before. He had a van—a ratty old clunker—with a mobile ultrasound machine in the back. There were no signs, no shouting, nothing confrontational at all.
“It was just a resource,” he says. “If you needed help, we had something for you.”
As he gets excited, he sounds part pastor, part prudent businessman. His voice is smooth, a young man destined for a life full of microphones and cameras.
The reaction to the van from the women approaching the clinic in New York was stunning, he says. Instead of running past or looking down to avoid eye contact, the women seemed to be interested in the earnest offer of help. One week he remembers the New York van gave 25 women ultrasounds. Of those, he says, about two thirds decided not to have abortions.
“It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen,” Pomerantz says. “It was everything I wanted from the pro-life movement since high school but had never seen.”
Pomerantz wondered why there wasn’t one of these vans in every city in America. He stayed in New York to study the van. He wanted to know which approaches worked best, which words sent mothers running. One afternoon, traffic at the New York clinic was slow, and Pomerantz was left by himself for a few minutes. He remembers it clearly: a woman came up to the clinic. As she opened the door, she looked right at him. He was new to this and didn’t know what to say. Her hand was shaking as she held the door.
“We have resources,” he remembers telling her in his most compassionate, pleading voice. “We can help with a place to live, food, money, whatever you need. Just let go of the door.”
She said she couldn’t. She already had two kids.He said he could help place the baby with a loving family.
She said she couldn’t. She looked at Pomerantz and let out a pained, exhausted screech, then ran into the clinic. He could hear her sobbing through the door.
He knows he’ll never forget the look in her eyes. And he knows she’ll always remember that before going in for her abortion, some random 21-year-old was begging her to take a step away from the door.
“She didn’t want to come talk to me because she knew if she talked to me, she wouldn’t be able to go through with it,” he says. “I knew right then and there: these women don’t really want to have an abortion. They’re driven by fear to do something that’s unnatural for any mother. If we can save the mother from her source of fear, we can save that child from being murdered.”
He initially wanted to start his project in New York, but he says God called him to come to North Texas, despite his never having been here and knowing nobody local. He approached First Baptist Dallas, and someone there directed him to the Downtown Pregnancy Center, which operates rent free out of a church-owned building. It’s an arm of Involved for Life. There he met Carolyn Cline, the center’s executive director, and pitched his idea for an ultrasound-mobile.
“His goals matched the center’s exactly,” she says. “I immediately thought of it as an extension of what we were already doing here.”
Cline took him to talk to the board of directors of Involved for Life. The board, half of which are members of First Baptist Dallas, said Pomerantz could do it, but he had to raise the money for the van—about $150,000—in five months. With a check for $100,000 from a
single donor coming in just days before his deadline, Pomerantz was close enough to his goal that he got the green light.
He bought the van and had the interior customized with cushioned benches, cabinets and drawers, a small toilet (with a curtain), and a micro-fridge so they can offer the women cold water. And, of course, there’s the top-of-the-line portable ultrasound machine. Connie Rucker, the head certified sonographer at the pregnancy center, says their machine is probably better than the abortion clinic’s.
Next, Involved for Life wrote up the official procedures, and Pomerantz studied the applicable laws and picked a clinic. He chose the one he did because, he says, it’s the most frequented. Plus there’s public access. The clinic’s website features a price schedule, with the fetus’s age in weeks next to the cost of the abortion, and three women smiling in the corner of the screen.
The van got rolling in mid-May of last year. The project was originally called “Save the Storks,” and there was an illustration of a stork carrying a baby on the side of the van. Pomerantz thought the imagery was innocent and secular enough to seem safe, but it didn’t work. Some people inferred that he saw the mothers as nothing more than birds or baby-delivery systems. After a few weeks, he changed the paint job to read Sonograms On Site and made the logo look more clinical.
That’s when business picked up. Now the days when he doesn’t get anyone on board are few, and he often has more than one in a day. On a recent Monday, they gave sonograms to three women. The first was an 18-year-old immigrant. She’d come to get an abortion because she’d been told that she couldn’t get her citizenship if she was pregnant. When Cline showed her a picture of her baby and they explained that someone had lied to her about the immigration statutes, the woman could barely speak through the tears.
The second was a teenage girl referred by the Catholic center across the street. Her sonogram showed that she was likely having a miscarriage. Because the sonographer isn’t legally allowed to diagnose anything, the girl was told she needed to make an appointment with a doctor.
The third woman that day was much older. She had tried to give herself an abortion at home and changed her mind. When they hooked her up to the ultrasound and she saw that the baby was alive and well, she was relieved. She left the van grinning, excited about the new life ahead of her.
Pomerantz grew up in a service-oriented environment. He lived outside Philadelphia, with both his parents and his mother’s parents. For much of his life, his family worked in a homeless shelter. He was homeschooled until the seventh grade and then he went to a private school where he was the only white kid. For the first time, he realized how sheltered his life had been.
“I didn’t know anything about sex at all, and I had no clue what the other kids were talking about,” he says. “I was the socially awkward fat kid.”
In ninth grade, he transferred to the best private school in the area, an academy for the privileged, the best and the brightest—where he fell in with a group of atheist kids. He began questioning his beliefs. “Atheism seemed like a completely viable option as a world view,” he says.
It was around that same time that his father began to exhibit signs of schizophrenia. The family took him to a number of counselors, but it didn’t help much. As he saw his father’s illness get worse, Pomerantz had a series of religious experiences. The most remarkable, he says, was when he witnessed the exorcism of an infant. He doesn’t want to go into more detail, because he doesn’t want to distract from his current mission.
Abortion isn’t something most kids think a lot about. But Pomerantz became obsessed. He was outraged to learn that friends and teachers—people he considered good Christians—were pro-choice. Every day, he wore a t-shirt with an anti-abortion slogan on it. Every school project was about abortion. Every presentation or essay: abortion. At one point, he baked cupcakes and threw a birthday party for all the aborted children who didn’t get to have birthdays. While the other kids ate frosting and cake, Pomerantz showed them graphic photos.
“I owned it,” he says. “I was known around school as the abortion kid. If I talked to you, it was probably about abortion.” He laughs. “It made me extremely unpopular.”
When he graduated from high school, he went to a Bible college in upstate New York. He wasn’t particularly gifted when it came to schoolwork, but he enjoyed reading and debating the other students. The more he studied the Bible, the more he noticed how often Satan kills babies in scriptures.
“It goes along with Satan’s plan to attack humans,” he says. “He goes after the bloodlines. We could have aborted Einstein. Every time I see a woman walking into a clinic, I see a baby, and the forces of the supernatural are influencing this woman to get rid of this baby. I see that woman as a safe loaded with gold that thieves are trying to steal.”
Now he lives in a loft in southeast Dallas, a building full of artists and stylish young professionals. The neighborhood streets, though, are patrolled by prostitutes and drug dealers, so he keeps his Prius in the gated parking lot. He leans toward rebellious, but he stays on the straight and narrow. He’s still a virgin, for example. He was also a vegan for several years. Not for the animals, he stresses—“I’d own a slaughterhouse if I thought it was profitable,” he says—but to lose weight and live healthier. It’s the same reason he took up rock climbing. He enjoys going up to the roof with his Bible, praying as he looks out at the Dallas skyline, and then rappelling down the side of his building.
He generally keeps his apartment door open. He seems to know everyone he passes in the lobby or elevator. He regularly throws parties on the weekends that run deep into the night. He calls it “party church.” People can bring alcohol, but not too much, and neither drugs nor sex are permitted. “It’s true fellowshipping,” he says. By 2 or 3 am, he’s usually trying to foster discussion of the gospels. Sometimes he stands at his DJ booth and spins.
He certainly has temptations he struggles with—“Every day I wake up, it’s a conscious effort not to look at internet pornography,” he says—but he doesn’t see a problem with alcohol. Sometimes it helps bring people together, and he’s all about finding common ground, especially with a topic as divisive as abortion.
On a recent night, it wasn’t booze that was flowing, but Pellegrino sparkling water. Pomerantz’s mother, Tamara, was in town. She’s half Ukrainian, half Brazilian, and she always has a case of Pellegrino sent to Pomerantz’s loft in advance of her visits.
“When the water gets here, that’s how I know it’s time for a Mom visit,” Pomerantz says.
She was staying with one of Pomerantz’s co-workers (the arrangement in the loft is more suited to someone in his 20s), but she had come by to cook Pomerantz a spaghetti casserole. Pomerantz invited several people to join them: three friends, a reporter, and one of Pomerantz’s co-workers. As the plates were making their way to the kitchen sink, one more guest arrived. It was Buddy, the security guard
from the clinic. Buddy recently lost his mother, Pomerantz would explain later, and he needed to be around friendly faces. When he walked in, Tamara gave him a warm hug.
“I’ve heard so much about you,” Buddy said.
“Well, I’ve heard a lot about you, too!” Tamara said. “Come, come sit down.”
The table sat a mix of liberals and conservatives, skeptics and believers, young and not-so-young. And yet all night there was nothing but
pleasant, amicable discourse. Conversation moved steadily from where to get good cheese to what constitutes good health care to eating chocolates filled with liqueur to the unrelated facts that demons are real and cell phone buttons are too small.
By now the two young women who got in the van together have been aboard for more than an hour. Their friend, the one they left inside the clinic, has already come to look for them once. As soon as they got in the van, Pomerantz, standing outside, started texting updates to Cline at the pregnancy center. There, at least one person—often several—will concentrate in prayer, hoping to sway the women aboard the van to choose life. If, when they come off the van, the women need something the center can provide, Pomerantz will send messages so they can have a care package ready.
He hopes one day he’ll be successful enough to send dozens of women to the pregnancy center every week. But he also knows that taking care of these mothers is expensive. On this he pulls no punches: “It’s a sham for the pro-life movement to say one thing with their mouths and another thing with their pocketbooks,” he says. “I don’t think you can be pro-life if you aren’t giving your time or money or resources directly. You’re just anti-abortion, and that doesn’t help women.”
He adds: “I’d love if these pro-choicers gave us money, too. We’d use every cent of it to take care of these women. What would they have me do? Is there anything else I can do? If there is, tell me, because I want to do everything I can.”
The van door opens, and the young women walk out. The one in the blue shirt, the one who was pretty sure she was pregnant, looks devastated. The woman in the red sweater, the one who thought there was a chance she might be pregnant, props up her friend as they walk.
Pomerantz wants to approach them. He wants to ask them how their experience was, if there’s anything he can do for them. But when he sees the pained looks, he backs away. “Let’s give them some space,” he says.
The woman in red isn’t pregnant. The woman in blue, who now looks like she might crumble to the ground at any second, had a positive pregnancy test, but from the ultrasound it looks likely that she’ll have a miscarriage. Before they leave, Pomerantz makes sure they know whom to call if they need help seeing a doctor.
In some ways, the biggest complaint from his opponents is that he’s interfering in the lives of strangers, that he’s convincing women who can’t handle the responsibilities of raising children to have them anyway—or, worse, that he’s trying to manipulate women at the most vulnerable moment of their lives. These women are scared and upset, and he shows them a sonogram, a picture that upsets them even more, perhaps leads them to make a life-altering decision based on a fleeting emotion.
“The truth is, there is a responsibility that comes with having sex,” he says. “There’s a responsibility with having a child, no matter how it was conceived. I wish I could carry a child. I wish I could contribute more to that, as a man. I can help however I’m asked, but it’s still up to each person to take responsibility.”
By his count, Pomerantz and his friends have saved 52 babies with the ultrasound van. Given the circumstances into which these children were born, Pomerantz knows that not every one of them will grow up to become a happy, healthy, contributing member of society. Maybe one of the 52 will become the next Einstein. More likely, though, he’ll wind up in jail. But Pomerantz sees only the good.
“I’m sure the guy who goes to prison will still affect someone positively,” he says. “Or his children, or his children’s children, or someone else. Or he could come out of jail and end up starting the next Apple computers. Or be a behavioral psychologist. It’s fun to think of the possibilities of what all these children could become. Even Hitler changed the course of history, and who knows what good came of that?”
Soon, another woman arrives at the clinic. She parks across the street, and when she sees Pomerantz, she tries to avoid him. He smiles and holds out his card. She gets closer, and he extends his hand. She’s nearly past him, nearly to the red line.
“Here,” he says. “We can help you.”
WRITE TO MICHAEL.MOONEY@DMAGAZINE.COM.