At top, Father Stephen Imbarrato defends his right to protest outside the abortion clinic to a West Palm Beach police officer. Above, prayer vigil participants pray the rosary outside of Presidential Women’s Center in West Palm Beach. (FC PHOTO BY CECILIA PADILLA)

‘Protest Priest’: Launches pro-life project in Florida

West Palm Beach  |  Despite the soaked ground from the afternoon’s rainstorm, local pro-life activists kneeled in prayer on the muddy earth outside of Presidential Women’s Center in West Palm Beach on Aug. 22. Many of the protesters held signs expressing anti-abortion sentiments as they prayed the rosary, led by Father Stephen Imbarrato. 

Father Imbarrato, a priest associate with Priests for Life, approached a West Palm Beach Police Department squad car called by the abortion clinic upon his arrival. “All we are doing is praying openly for the women and babies who are being harmed,” said Father Imbarrato to one of the police officers. “They are being misled into thinking abortion is the only option when faced with pregnancy. There are other options. There is hope.” 

Father Imbarrato’s presence at Presidential Women’s Center is one stop on his route for the On the Road for Life campaign, which he inaugurated Aug. 19 in Miami at Eve Medical Center and Advanced Women’s Care Center. The goal of the campaign is to take to the road in a camper trailer to various abortion clinics in the southeastern states to protest through candlelight vigils, rosary vigils, sidewalk counseling, blessings and more. He aims to organize and energize pro-life supporters in their local areas by bringing attention to the important work of pregnancy resource centers throughout the country.

Susan Pine, president of the nonprofit organization called FACE Life (Faith, Action, Counseling, and Education) and organizer of regular prayer vigils outside Presidential Women’s Center, was enthusiastic of Father Imbarrato’s support of her local work. 

“I have been in pro-life work for 30 years and spend every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday protesting the killing of innocent babies at this clinic,” she said. “It’s wonderful to have Father Imbarrato here to join in our mission.” 

Following the prayer vigil at Presidential Women’s Center, Father Imbarrato celebrated Mass in the Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel of the Holy Innocents at Birthline/Lifeline Pregnancy Care Center in West Palm Beach. The pregnancy care center is situated in the same plaza as Presidential Women’s Center and served as a meeting place for prayer vigil participants that afternoon. Later that evening, Father Imbarrato held a free lecture on the pro-life movement at St. Luke Catholic Church in Palm Springs. 

Father Imbarrato’s attitude towards West Palm Beach law enforcement was respectful and peaceful, however, he showed an unflinching boldness to police and abortion clinic volunteers when confronted. 

Protesting the atrocities of abortion is not new to Father Imbarrato, who is known as the “protest priest” among mainstream news outlets. His involvement with Red Rose Rescue, a nonviolent form of protest where priests and pro-life activists enter abortion clinics to offer counseling to mothers seated in the waiting rooms, launched Father Imbarrato into a series of arrests from 2018 through 2019. The Red Rose Rescue groups give expectant mothers a red rose — a sign of life and hope — and remain in the waiting rooms to pray in solidarity for the victims of abortion. The pro-life group is careful to adhere to laws and ordinances when they protest, but clinics immediately call on law enforcement to remove protesters from the premises, usually through wrongful arrests. 

Jim Kolar, a representative of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel of the Holy Innocents at Birthline/Lifeline Pregnancy Care Center, joined the prayer vigil outside Presidential Women’s Center. “There are six squad cars here today. It’s incredible the lengths the abortion clinic will go to prevent the ‘dangers’ of a Catholic priest and a prayer vigil,” said Kolar of Father Imbarrato’s protest reputation. 

Famously, Father Imbarrato stood trial in June 2018 for a Red Rose Rescue arrest, which occurred the previous year in Washington, D.C. He passionately addressed the judge, When will the babies have their day in court? When will their voice be heard? Legalized abortion in this country is government sanctioned, government protected by the courts and government sanctioned with our taxes. If I have to go to jail to have a greater voice for the babies, so be it. You can send me to jail and I will gladly go again and again.” Father Imbarrato spent six days in jail in Washington, D.C., that week. 

The “protest priest” has inspired many pro-life supporters to take action outside abortion clinics. Wojciech Wojtysiak, a member of the prayer vigil group outside Presidential Women’s Center, has dedicated his time to anti-abortion activism every Saturday for the past nine years. He had heard Father Imbarrato speak on EWTN. 

“He spoke so passionately about the tragedies of abortion and how a simple conversation can change a mind. Through personal experience, I’ve witnessed men wait outside the clinic as their loved one goes through an abortion. They shared their life story and, although I was unable to stop them from an abortion, I was a compassionate ear to them in that moment,” Wojtysiak said. “I hope I was Christ to them in their time of need.” 

Under the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Teresa of Kolkata, Father Imbarrato has spent the month of August traveling to various pro-life groups in Florida through the On the Road for Life campaign. “I’ve adopted Mother Teresa’s charism to my ministry: To be the face of Jesus and see the face of Jesus in everyone I encounter,” Father Imbarrato said. “I hope to carry this out through On the Road for Life and in all we do for the unborn.”