By Lou Baldwin Special to The CS&T

Should you be strolling along Philadelphia’s Eighth Street early on a Friday morning, when you pass Appletree Street, just north of Arch Street, you might see a small knot of people in prayer facing a nondescript multi-story building. They are mostly members of Helpers of God’s Precious Infants, and the ground floor houses the Philadelphia Women’s Center, where abortions are performed four days a week.

The building actually fronts Eighth Street where there is also a day care entrance. Appletree, at that point, is really just a one-block alley between Eighth and Seventh Streets. The clinic entrance is located at what would normally be a building’s service entrance, and it gives new meaning to the term, “back alley abortions.”

Among the pro-life advocates in prayer, you might notice one young woman kneeling on the concrete. She is Laura Wolk, and as she kneels she leads the recitation of the entire 20 decades of the rosary, then stands to lead the Chaplet of spanine Mercy and an abbreviated Litany of the Saints. Afterward she picks up her white cane and walks to her nearby office, where she works for a non-profit as a case manager for persons with disabilities.

Wolk, 24, is blind, and has been since she was about 18 months old. She lost her sight through retinoblastoma, a rare cancer that mostly develops in early childhood and can cause blindness either in one eye or both. Wolk lost sight in both eyes.

Originally from Allentown, she came to the Philadelphia area to attend Swarthmore College, and it was there she earned her degree in psychology and where she received an excellent education in her field.

However, as a birth Catholic, she quickly discovered the moral values of her faith were not generally shared at her college where they weren’t kidding when they said “liberal” arts. She simply did not tell people she was Catholic.

Wolk was church-going, but really didn’t think deeply on faith issues. Paradoxically, it was the lack of faith she found on campus that made her dig deeper into her own spiritual life.

A friend began taking her to Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in the Overbrook section of Philadelphia, and there she learned many things about Catholicism she never knew. She also began to attend the Latin Mass at St. Paul Parish in South Philadelphia on occasion, and a retreat in a New York monastery, where the nuns, by their example of prayer, deepened her appreciation for human life. She became active with the school’s tiny Swarthmore Students Supporting Life (SSSL) group.

A final turning point for her on the abortion issue was a routine visit to her oncologist who asked if she was sexually active. “I don’t think she believed me when I said I wasn’t,” Wolk said.

The oncologist proceeded to explain that retinoblastoma is caused by a detectable genetic mutation which Wolk had, and there was a strong chance it could be passed on to children. If Wolk became pregnant, she was told she could go through testing to determine if her baby had the defective gene. The oncologist also said with embryonic screening she could be implanted with an embryo that did not have it.

“Basically what she was telling me was that if I was going to have a baby like me, an abortion was my best option,” Wolk said. “I was so angry. I knew this was wrong.”

She told the oncologist that morally she could never do that.

Afterward she began rising at 5 a.m. on Fridays to catch the 5:52 train to Center City, to pray that no mother would have an abortion that day. She also prays for the mothers and babies if the mothers choose abortion and for those in the abortion industry who fail to see the injustice of the act.