By Brian Gibson, Executive Director of Pro-Life Action Ministries
On March 5, 1981 four local college students walked into the Planned Parenthood abortion facility in St. Paul, Minn. They took up strategic places inside the waiting room and refused to leave until all abortions stopped. About 90 minutes later, they had been removed by the police and placed under arrest for criminal trespass.
These young men undertook this endeavor because they realized that despite all the very good and important efforts being made educationally and legislatively to end abortion, very real unborn human beings were being tortuously torn apart and systematically killed each and every day. A direct and immediate response was required to save the lives of these innocent human beings. So these students acted after much prayer and thought. But almost as soon as they had been released from arrest, the further realization came that they could not sustain this type of activity and be able to try to save lives every day.
With the same passion and desire to intervene for the lives of the babies about to be killed each day, they began to engage in what we call sidewalk counseling. So they took their zeal for life and the energy used to organize the “sit-in” to begin organizing daily sidewalk counseling outside Planned Parenthood. Thus we mark the beginning of Pro-Life Action Ministries. More than 35 years later and 3100+ documented lives saved, we continue to organize and fine-tune our sidewalk counseling efforts, seeking to intervene to save every life possible each and every day.
The purpose of sidewalk counseling is in keeping with the reason those young men courageously walked into that abortuary in 1981 and conducted that sit-in. Unborn babies are being killed every day. The response of sidewalk counseling is an effort to save every life possible from death by abortion. We are there on behalf of the babies, to intervene for their lives. Our purpose is the babies.
Sidewalk counseling is not about closing abortion mills, although we may have a direct impact on that becoming a reality. It is not about being the new John the Baptist or other prophetic voice. It is not to demonstrate nor picket nor display the latest (or oldest) pro-life signage. Sidewalk counseling is not about preaching the pro-life message. All of these have their place and need to be employed as proper responses to abortion. Prayer vigils and rallies can be dynamic witnesses to human life and bring a powerful spiritual dimension to our work that is a necessity. Our 2011 Good Friday Vigil drew more than 2500 participants and was an amazingly successful spiritual event. But it interfered with sidewalk counseling.
Daily or regular sidewalk counseling forgoes all these other activities so that babies can be saved from being killed now. That purpose—to act on behalf of the unborn on the day they are scheduled to be killed—must remain primary to our understanding of sidewalk counseling.
Because the babies cannot see or hear us and are completely at the mercy of their mothers, our focus must be on the women. We cannot allow anything to interfere with this focus. Often though, in order to reach the woman, we need to reach the mind or heart of a boyfriend, girlfriend, family member, etc. We cannot let our emotions get in the way, although there may be times that an employee or escort at an abortuary infuriates us.
We cannot let conversations with other sidewalk counselors or even prayer times interfere with our focus—reaching the women. At this point, I will state what I hope is the obvious: sidewalk counseling requires a great deal of prayer. Sidewalk counselors must be people of prayer who are dedicated to growing even deeper in their prayer life. We must be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and be spiritually strong enough to engage in this very difficult mission of saving lives. And with every encounter with a woman coming to the abortuary, we must be in constant prayer.
Everything we do must aid the effort to reach the woman—from our signs to our literature, (see our brochure, “We’re Here for You,” designed specifically for sidewalk counseling below) from our demeanor to our words, how we dress and how we smile. We must be approachable. Everything else that interferes with this focus just has to be ignored.
We are looking to engage the woman in conversation. Once we are approachable, we must become listeners. Conversation means both parties get to speak and each should be hearing what the other has to say. For us that means we must listen well and respond with what will be heard. This is an art, and not a science, that we grow into over time. But the Holy Spirit, who guides us to all truth, will aid us if we allow Him.
There is no room for deception. Our words must ring true in the woman’s heart and mind in order to overcome all she is being told by abortion workers, escorts, family members, her boyfriend, etc. We cannot “trick” women into giving life to their babies. We need to know the facts and not embellish. All too often in the pro-life movement, facts get distorted or exaggerated to help underscore the horrific nature of abortion. We cannot let that be a part of our sidewalk counseling efforts. Come to the sidewalk prepared. Have a copy of the great little booklet, “Sharing the Pro-Life Message,” which was put together by the Pro-Life Action League. Spend time learning the most important facts most often needed when sidewalk counseling. Bring additional materials with you to supplement that information.
None of us can know everything there is to know, but we can have materials handy that add to our knowledge or point to the resources in our local area that have that information. Keep a list of pregnancy help centers, especially those that are in close proximity to the abortuary where you sidewalk counsel.Remember, our purpose is the babies. The immediacy of saving the life of the baby takes precedence over evangelizing the woman at this time. This takes precedence over conversations with fellow sidewalk counselors or talking to the escorts, workers, or passersby.
Working with Your Sidewalk Counseling Partners
When there is more than one sidewalk counselor present, you should work out ways to be most effective. Using the logistics of the abortuary you are at, you should define areas to each be working and work together as a team. Create head nods or hand signals that escorts or workers don’t see or recognize to gain an advantage to engage the women.
Dealing with Escorts/Employees
Escorts/employees/guards can be a serious point of frustration. As much as possible, do not allow them to frustrate you. While sidewalk counseling, avoid directly addressing the escorts/workers unless it will aid in reaching the women. During down times between women arriving, evangelize them. Tell them of the love of God and their necessity to quit aiding in the destruction of innocent lives. Try to always remain civil in speech while telling them the truth. Their souls are in danger and they are cooperating with the direct killing of innocent human beings. They need to hear this in various ways from time to time. But remember not to overdo it either, although that may not be the greater concern. Being genuine is the most important part of this. Do not make an effort to tell them the truth as a reason to let off steam or frustration. It is always acceptable to not ever say a single word to an escort or employee, even if they speak to you first.
When We Fail
We are called to be faithful, not successful. Sidewalk counseling is one of, if not the, most difficult ministries that exists. It can be heart wrenching and discouraging. We do the best we can yet babies still die, women ignore our pleas, escorts/workers scoff at us, and passersby may even scream at us.
But we have no idea the great good God is accomplishing through us. Future lives can be, and indeed, are saved. The babies, who are even rejected by their own mothers in life, have a friend standing up for them in death as they reach the arms of Jesus.
2 Corinthians 5:18-20 states that we are ambassadors for Christ, God as it were acting through us with the ministry of reconciliation. In our very prayerful efforts on the sidewalk, we must always keep in mind that we represent Christ Himself. This means that how we speak to the women, the abortion workers, the escorts and even passersby must be with that mind of reconciliation. Most of all, pray, pray, pray.