They followed a man carrying a simple wooden cross, singing as they circled Planned Parenthood.
"He's got the little bitty babies in his hands," the 18 voices sang in unison.
After a short walk around the 728 S. Beaver St. facility in York City, the group of anti-abortion activists -- who prefer the term "prayer warriors" -- returned to the sidewalk. Some rested their backs against the rails of a ramp leading to Planned Parenthood's front door.
Rain or shine, for many years, the group has gathered here each Friday morning to pray.
"The postman has nothing on us," Ann Cedrone, 73, said.
The activists might have to adjust their traditional Friday gatherings, however, depending on the outcome of a debate on both the national and local levels.
At its Dec. 18 committee meeting, the York City Council decided to move forward with a proposal that would ban protesters from a 30-foot "buffer zone" around the entrances and exits of York City healthcare facilities. The council had planned to introduce the legislation at Tuesday's meeting.
Planned Parenthood officials asked the council to consider the buffer-zone law.
However, on the advice of the city solicitor, the council will table that proposal until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of a similar law in Massachusetts, Council President Carol Hill-Evans said.
The solicitor "said he just thinks it would be better if we just wait to find out what the decision is," Hill-Evans said.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case by late June, according to the Associated Press.
Anti-abortion protesters sued the state of Massachusetts over its 2007 law setting up a 35-foot protest-free zone outside abortion clinics. Federal courts in Massachusetts have upheld the law as a reasonable imposition on protesters' rights.
But the law appeared unlikely to survive Supreme Court review after liberal and conservative justices alike expressed misgivings about the law in arguments Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.
Lawyers for both sides faced tough questions about the law aimed at ensuring patient access and safety at abortion clinics. Nationwide, clinics have dealt with threats and violence, including the shooting deaths of two employees in Boston-area clinics in 1994.
Court justices questioned the size of the zone and asked whether the state could find less restrictive ways of preventing abortion opponents from impeding access to clinics without prohibiting peaceful, legal conversations.
"In speech cases, when you address one problem, you have a duty to protect speech that's lawful," Justice Anthony Kennedy said.
Kitty Felter, who joins the Friday morning group in York most weeks, said she believes buffer zones are "a bad idea because I think it's our constitutional right to be able to stand on a public sidewalk and pray."
"I pray that they think about what they're doing. Once they're pregnant, they're pregnant. There's a baby in there. That's a life," the Spring Garden Township woman said. "I'm praying that you don't make this mistake. There are a lot of physical ramifications and emotional ramifications to having an abortion."
In all the years she's gathered outside York's Planned Parenthood, Felter said she's never witnessed a serious confrontation between protesters and the facility's patients or staff.
"They can't tell us who to talk to and who not to talk to," she said. "Those girls have every right to walk in there, and I would never try to physically stop someone."
However, safety concerns remain. Sarah Newman, director of public affairs for the region's Planned Parenthood facilities, said the organization worries about patients being harassed or prevented from entering the clinics.
"It seems very calm now, but I do think folks are very passionate," she said Friday, as the activists prayed nearby.
The buffer zone would allow the activists to continue to voice their opinion, but, "They wouldn't be right in your face," Newman said.
Abortions are not the only service Planned Parenthood provides. The organization also offers life-saving cancer screenings, birth control, prevention and treatment of STDs, breast health services, pap tests, sexual health education, information and health counseling.
Regardless of whether York passes the buffer-zone law, the Friday morning activists will continue to gather, Cedrone said.
Cedrone said she believes the push for buffer zones is indicative of anti-abortion activists' growing influence on the abortion debate.
The group's goal, Cedrone said, "is to close this killing mill."
"If they move us, we'll still come," she said.
-- Reach Erin James at firstname.lastname@example.org.