GROVE — More than 60 Grand Lake residents gathered Saturday morning on a vacant lot where an illegal and underground abortion clinic once stood to remember the lives of more than 20,000 unborn children.
“The purpose of this service is to honor the lives of the unborn children that were aborted at this site for 23 years,” said Steve Dyer, of Grove, pointing to the vacant lot.
Longtime Grove residents said the medical clinic was built in the 1940s. It was across the street from city hall, which also included a one-man police department. The building later was remodeled into a two-story brick building and eventually destroyed in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Since then, the lawn of the vacant lot has been replanted with trees.
Saturday's service was identified as neither an anti-abortion nor an abortion-rights rally, but rather a remembrance service, Dyer said. A public schoolteacher, Dyer was one of several pastors and parishioners from Grove's churches who participated in the citywide faith-based service.
From 1939 until his arrest in 1962, Dr. William Jennings Bryan Henrie tended to many of the medical needs of the community. He forgave many medical bills when a patient couldn't pay, according to longtime Grove residents and former employees of the doctor who have been interviewed through the years.
Henrie delivered about 1,250 children in his almost a quarter of a century career at Grove, published accounts state.
“He was a beloved family physician,” Dyer told the crowd. “But he was also a forerunner for legalized abortion.”
In an article that ran in The Oklahoman in 1963, Grove was pointed to as “the abortion mill of the nation.”
“We are not here to judge Dr. Henrie or our ancestors,” Dyer said. “We are here to honor the lives of the unborn children and two women who died from abortion complications.”
The speakers offered prayers and spoke of repentance. Several speakers also spoke of blessings over today's children and for healing for the women who had abortions.
As with most small towns, everyone in Grove knew everyone's business, and that the abortions were taking place was common knowledge seven decades ago. Few people voiced displeasure about Henrie's illegal abortion practice, Dyer said.
Dyer referred to a crime bureau agent's report which was reported in a 1963 Daily Oklahoman story as, “Attitude (in Grove) (is) one of tolerance … business profiting.”
It has been 50 years since the last abortion was performed at the site, Dyer said. Referring to the unborn children, Dyer said, “They are the ones who died here and hallowed this ground.”