By Monica Migliorino Miller, Ph.D
Director of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society
Sidewalk counseling is one of the most effective ways to save unborn babies from abortion. While it can be the most demanding of all pro-life work— when a baby is saved it is the most rewarding.Nothing compares to the inexpressible joy a pro-lifer experiences when a baby is saved from abortion because he or she was there in front of the abortion center intervening on behalf of the innocent unborn.
The First Thing Is Prayer
Effective sidewalk counseling begins with prayer! Sidewalk counselors should be people of prayer and maintain a truly prayerful attitude when out at the local killing centers. Prayer is the sidewalk counselors’ most important source of power in talking women out of abortion. And here is the key: recruit others who will specifically hold you up in prayer all during the time you are out in front of the abortion center. These people are praying for you and for the moms. Surround your work with a dedicated team of prayer warriors. People who, for whatever reason, cannot do sidewalk counseling themselves (perhaps because of age or infirmity) can serve as your prayer supporters. Knowing that you have someone praying for you and for the success of your work is a tremendous consolation In addition, there should be a team of praying people at the killing site who stand in the background and do nothing but quietly and fervently pray. These people do not picket or sidewalk counsel themselves—they pray! When a woman approaches the center they pray her heart will be softened. As the pro-life sidewalk counselor talks to her they pray she will listen. If she goes into the mill they pray for her to come out. Prayer to Almightly God, who alone changes hearts and minds, is a must in order for women (and boyfriends, etc.) to turn away from their decision to kill their own babies.
The Atmosphere Is Important
Effective sidewalk counseling depends a great deal on the general atmosphere outside of the abortion center. Many abortion centers have pro-abortion escorts. However, despite the presence of escorts, pro-lifers can still, in many ways, control what the atmosphere or environment will be like that benefits their sidewalk counseling efforts. Ideally sidewalk counseling should be conducted in a quiet atmosphere. The pro-lifer must decide whether he or she wants to protest and publically condemn abortion or approach women, one on one and try to engage them in conversation in a sidewalk counseling effort. Going to an abortion center to protest against abortion (which is totally legitimate) is not the same thing as sidewalk counseling. Indeed, generally speaking, loud protests and picketting with signs, INCLUDING GRAPHIC SIGNS, should be scheduled for a different time from sidewalk counseling. Here’s why. When the street is quiet and absent of telltale pro-life protest activity the woman walking toward the abortion center will feel less threatened by the approach of a common citizen whom she rightly perceives as wanting to enage her in simple friendly conversation. The woman is less likely to put off the sidewalk counselor as a protestor–someone she may perceive as in opposition to her. Also the protest activity alerts the woman as to “what’s up” and she will already have had a chance to formulate her response to the counselor even before the counselor speaks to her. The key here is for the sidewalk counselor to be welcoming and unthreatening to the woman so she will trust the counselor and be more willing to listen and open up about her own concerns. Protest activity is distracting to this process.
Literature Is Essential!
Always make an effort to get literature into the woman’s hand. If she won’t take it give it to the boyfriend or whomever is with her. Make sure the literature includes phone numbers of local crisis pregnancy centers or even your own number. Also give her a religious article, a little cross or rosary or small prayer book, etc. If she takes something like that into the mill with her this will aid her in deciding against abortion because such articles can arouse spiritual sentiments and remind her how offensive abortion is to God. Religious items may arouse her conscience. Don’t tell her what the item is—just give it to her. “Say, ‘hi,’ this is for you” and put the literature and the religious article right into her hand.
Angry Shouting Must Be Avoided
The pro-life sidewalk counselors’ goal is to get the woman to stop and talk, to get the woman to listen. The pro-lifer wants to actually have the opportunity to counsel her and get her to open up to you. If the woman is surrounded by pro-abortion escorts who are making noise to drown out your voice then an elevated voice level is necessary but the message should still be positive and not angry or condeming. The woman must believe that you are on her side and really care about her as a person. Most people do not like confrontations and flee from them. Only one pro-lifer should speak to the woman at a time. Two or more pro-lifers speaking or shouting at the woman (even positive messages) creates that unpeaceful climate where real communication to the woman is compromised. If the woman insists on continuing her approach to the door and actually enters the abortion center, remain calm and peaceful. This is a crucial moment. Often the counselors’ message to the woman becomes more shrill in tone and more angry as the woman gets closer to door. When the woman enters the center the shrill tone and angry words reaches a peak. At this moment the pro-lifer thinks all is lost and that he or she must make that last ditch effort to warn her or condemn her for what she is about to do. A cetain desperation enters in. However, it is very possible that the woman will come back out and she will be more likely to come back out if she believes that the pro-lifer out there will embrace her in gentleness rather than confrontation. Make yourself a magnet of love. The abortion mill is a sad, despressing place but the woman might prefer to stay in this “comfort zone” than come outside and face anger from pro-lifers. When speaking to the woman, even if she is cold and nasty, avoid anger and sarcasim. If she goes in assure her that you’ll still be on the street for her and that you’ll help her all you can.
How to Handle the Pro-Abortion Escorts
Escorts are there to thwart the efforts of sidewalk counselors. Their usual tactic is to approach the woman before the pro-life sidewalk counselor does, surround her (and whomever may be with her) and prevent you from giving her literature and having any meaningful one on one conversation with her. If escorts are present the pro-life sidewalk counselor must be more aggressive than they are. You will need to approach the woman first but frantic rushing toward her or her car must be avoided. Be on the ball, watch for the women approaching and walk briskly toward them if this is necessary. The pro-lifer must remain between the woman and the escorts. To help facilitate this, perhaps a group of three pro-lifers could approach the woman, but only one do the talking, to form a more effective barrier between her and the escorts. After the woman has parked her car ask her to role down the window and engage her in conversation before the escorts get to the car themselves. If the woman wants to get out, give her room to get out but continue to enage her in conversation. If she permits the escorts to surround her stroll along with them but avoid shouting your message, if possible. At abortion centers with escorts it is important to try and approach women as far away from the center doors as possible. Not all pro-life counselors should stand near the door. One or two may be needed near the door for those women who park right in front of the center’s entrance. Counselors should stand far down the block to maximize their time with the woman—with or without the presence of escorts. Some women approach from one or two blocks away. Keep a lookout for them. If there is a parking structure nearby that women park in, a counselor can be in that structure and talk to women even before they get to the street. Be clever. Be wise. Do what works. A quiet atmosphere on the street, an atmosphere devoid of loud protests, will help defuse the aggressiveness of the escorts. Not only do they think they are needed to physically block your efforts but loud protest noise makes them believe they are needed to be of psychological comfort to the woman. The quieter it is, the less they will feel they have a job to do-a quiet atmosphere means that they have less to thwart.
Sometimes pro-lifers are treated unjustly by escorts, people passing on the street, the police and abortion center customers. In some localities this injustice is very frequent. Pro-lifers who go to the killing centers in this culture of death are often derided, mocked, called names, pushed, hit, given the finger and arrested (sometimes on trumped up charges) for their efforts to save the unborn. This is your opportunity to put the Beatitudes of Christ into practice. Do not return hate for hate, violence for violence. Put on the mind of Christ. If you are struck do not strike back. If you are verbally assaulted do not retaliate with words of hate. Christ meant for the Beatitudes to be taken seriously and this is a great opportunity to take Christ’s words seriously. People are impressed when they see forgiveness and love and on the street we can do this and win others to the truth. Besides, practicing the Beatitudes brings us closer to Christ. But this doesn’t mean that the sidewalk counselor should not stand up for his rights—but we do so because we are advocating for helpless others who need us. It may be wise to have a pro-lifer at the clinic unobtrusively videotape your actions and those of the escorts.
Signs Can Be Helpful
Signs of aborted babies strategically placed near the abortion center can be very helpful in dissuading a woman from getting the abortion. This is especially true when the clinic has a large parking lot in front of it and contact with women going in a very limited. Signs, in fact have saved babies. However, the sidewalk counselor should not carry one. Ideally signs should be propped up standing alone apart from a protestor. This is so that the sign may speak to the woman. When a sign is held by a protestor the women may be more afraid to look at the sign for fear of having contact with the protestor. In some cities the police will not permit signs to be propped up even though the sidewalk is not blocked by them. Signs can be attached to cars however. Ideally, an entire freestanding display should be arranged on the sidewalk with various kinds of pictures—aborted babies, living unborn babies, mothers and fathers holding children, cute baby clothes, pink and blue ballons, etc.—whatever will help the woman positively identify with her baby. A set of fetal models should be part of the display. If local ordinances forbid such displays on the sidewalk then set them up on the trunks of cars or on flat bed trucks parked where women will pass them and see them. One or two pro-lifers should stand near the display to guard it against vandalism by pro-abortion escorts. These pro-life “guards” could be part of the prayer team.
Counselors and the Cops
Here’s a tip: Don’t look at the police as your intrinsic enemy. Be friendly to them, enage them in conversation, share the facts about abortion with them. Get them to see you as a flesh and blood person. This will go a long way to weaken their “them versus us” mentality which makes it easier for the police to arrest pro-lifers because they cannot identify with you and they think you are against them and a potential threat to public peace. Often the police and escorts are in an alliance, but your own friendliness with the police can soften that, maybe even alter that altogether. There is psychological and spiritual wisdom in this. If the police see you as a decent fellow human being it will be harder for them to harrass you and arrest you. It is easier for them to stand in your way when they are in confrontation with you or detached from you. Pro-lifers outside of the mills can do things to soften the police and win them over. If the police make a request from you comply in a friendly way—but you may choose not to comply if the request is contrary to your legal rights and a detriment to sidewalk counseling. Don’t yell at the cop. Reason with him—tell him why he’s wrong.
Some Final Words of Wisdom
If you succeed in turning a woman away from abortion get her address and phone number and follow up with her. Bring pen and paper with you for this reason. If she won’t give you her address and phone number be sure you give her yours. Sometimes when a woman goes into the mill, the boyfriend, or person (s) who came with her will come out. Seize this opportunity and talk with them. Convince them to go back into the mill and get the woman to come out. Babies have been saved this way! Try not to socialize. Maintain a spirit of prayer and be focused on the women who are coming.
Sidewalk counseling is hard work so be kind to yourself. God is there. Rely on His abiding strength. Even if you do not talk women out of abortions you stand in solidarity with the least of Christ’s brethren — the rejected unborn.
This is everything.
Be at peace.
For Sidewalk Counseling opportunities please contact these groups: