by Debra Braun
Education Director, Pro-Life Action Ministries
In some ways, sidewalk counseling can be as simple as handing someone a brochure. On the other hand, the breadth and depth of it can be extensive, enough for our annual two-day National Sidewalk Counseling Symposium! After more than 30 years of sidewalk counseling, I’m still learning new ways to be more effective. However, the basics of sidewalk counseling have remained the same over all these years. I hope this article, which focuses on those basics, will be helpful to those of you who are new to sidewalk counseling and may not have had any formal training (or just need a refresher). On the other hand, I realize that many of you have been sidewalk counseling for decades. This article may be helpful as you train others to sidewalk counsel in your city; please feel free to send it to your fellow sidewalk counselors. (For a printable version, email me.)
Protesting abortion is important and necessary (at the appropriate times and places) and although sidewalk counselors surely oppose abortion, sidewalk counseling is not a protest. Rather, it is a final attempt to save lives in imminent danger of being killed by abortion. It is an attempt to save as many individual babies as we can while the pro-life movement as a whole works to end abortion completely. This is done by reaching out to pregnant women and their companions with truth and love. These two pillars of sidewalk counseling correspond to two basic facts that you already know as a pro-lifer:
1. abortion is always wrong (truth), and
2. there is help for a woman who chooses life (love)
Although we strongly encourage you to become a better sidewalk counselor by learning more about abortion, the moral and philosophical arguments against it, and the alternatives in your local area, being grounded in the above two simple facts are a sure foundation that will help you save lives, even if you are not (yet) an expert on the issue of abortion.
There are three basic messages you need to convey to the abortion clients in your conversations, in the literature you give them, and in any signs you might use. These are not meant to be presented in a linear fashion. These three messages are intertwined in good sidewalk conversations, in the literature, even in the design and placement of signs. Remember, too, that you must listen, really listen, to the messages the women and her companions are giving you without losing the ability to bring the conversation back to the real issues at hand in the limited time you have before the baby is scheduled to be killed.
1. We’re here to help you.
This includes the help that your organization, the local pregnancy help centers (and you personally if appropriate) are willing to provide in order to eliminate the despair the woman is feeling and replace it with hope. Focus at that point on meeting her immediate needs. The woman needs to know that she DOES have a choice, that she can choose to accept the help available and give her child life.
2. Abortion is harmful to you – emotionally, spiritually, and maybe physically.
This includes the risks of abortion that may impact the pregnant woman, the father and other family members, and even friends who accompany the woman to the abortion center. You should cover spiritual risks such as guilt and a feeling of estrangement from God; emotional risks such as shame, depression, anger, regret and the loss of the relationship with this child; and physical risks such as infertility and even death. In reality, many of these risks are connected to the fact that abortion is an immoral choice and an unnatural physical act. This leads to the third of the basic messages.
Abortion is wrong because it kills a human being who has inherent value and dignity, having been created in the image and likeness of God.
This is a very important message, one that is often THE deciding factor in a woman’s choice for life. The other two messages may not be sufficient. That is, the woman may not feel that she wants or needs outside help to have her baby, and she may think that in HER case, abortion won’t harm her (or she’s willing to risk the harms because, in her mind, the “benefit” of not being pregnant outweighs the possible risks of abortion.) Also, since nearly half of abortion clients nationwide (44.2% in 2012) have already had at least one abortion, there is the strong likelihood that she has already aborted and believes that she has handled that abortion okay or at least “survived” it.
Tools used to convey this third message include photos, on-line videos, and descriptions of fetal development, and abortion victim photos (such as the photo of the 10-week aborted baby in our “We’re Here for You” brochure). Such photos have convinced many women not to abort and convinced many fathers to speak up for the lives of their children. Encouraging the woman to look at her ultrasound is another tool used to convey this message.
Many times when we ask women who have changed their minds WHY they did so, they respond, “I just couldn’t do it.” This indicates that it is this third message (“Abortion is wrong . . .”) that has persuaded them not to abort. Because of our literature, our words and the visible presence of pro-lifers praying, the woman’s conscience was pricked and she just could not kill her baby despite the seemingly insurmountable problems that brought her to the abortion center. Praise God for the openness to His grace and the courage these women display in doing what is right and rising to the challenge of this unexpected pregnancy!
* A note about signs – It is best not to carry signs while you are actually sidewalk counseling as it immediately identifies you as one of those “protestors” the woman was forewarned by the abortion mill to avoid. It also sets up a physical barrier between you and the woman, and it actually can make it more difficult to quickly hand out literature, especially to people driving or quickly walking in. However, you may prop up signs nearby or encourage your prayer supporters to carry them. These signs should be directed to the abortion clients, not to the general public (save those for your abortion protests). Therefore, your sidewalk counseling signs should convey the same three basic messages through images wisely displayed (fetal development and abortion victims), and short, easily-read sentences. A few examples — “Free Help 651-771-1500 You DON’T Have to Abort” “Heart is Beating at 3 Weeks” “Women DO Regret Abortion” “God Loves You and Your Baby. Let us Help You!” For more sign ideas, email me.
Finally, and perhaps most important, be aware that when you are sidewalk counseling, you are in the midst of an intense spiritual battle between life and death, good and evil, truth and falsehood. Pray before you go out that you will be a worthy instrument of God’s grace in the lives of all you meet and keep praying while you are on the sidewalk!