Thursday, November 2, 2006

Two Lives Saved by Sidewalk Counseling

Dawn Eden brings us the news about a young woman who spoke to the Waco, Texas, City Council in defense of pro-life street counselors who encouraged her not to have an abortion:
The council went on to ease its restrictions against demonstrations outside abortion clinics.

On a busy day at an inner city abortion clinic, you may find both anti-abortion protestors and clinic escorts. Legally both the sidewalk counselors and the picketers have the legal right to express their views under the first amendement. However, there are certain laws which do limit their access and proximity to the clinics. However, that's not what I'm wanting to focus on here. Today, I'd like to discuss the role of sidewalk counselors. There's a lot of assumptions that they're the same as the picketers. Actually, there is a difference in presentation and demeanor between sidewalk counselors and picketers and their goals are different. I think a lot of folks don't understand who these sidewalk counselors are and what they are there to accomplish. The sidewalk counselors are there to offer information on alternatives, resources for pregnancy and parenting, caution clients against going to a shody clinic (which has malpractice and negligence suits), and support to a woman considering having an abortion.

"How is a frightened woman on her way into a clinic for an procedure supposed to tell the difference between a "counselor" and a "picketer"?"

That's a good question. Usually counselors are offering informational pamplets and not loud or obnoxious, although they may call to the woman to get her attention. They also have a different goal, not to scare or intimidate, only to offer alternatives to abortion and also to director her to resources which can assist her.  Picketers on the other hand, primary try to intimidate and shock women into not choosing abortion. And while I disagree with many of the picketer's methods (i.e. bloody photos or screaming words of condemnation), there are protestors who make a quiet prescence with just prayerHere's an interview with a protestor. Oftentimes, I think individuals and groups mix up the two groups and assume the worse about sidewalk counselors without actually getting to know them on an individual basis. They just may have more in common goal-wise than they know.

It is up to every individual woman whether or not she'd like to speak with the sidewalk counselors, and especially if you're not sure about your decision, I'd like to encourage you to give these people a chance and hear them out. Even so, I'd like to bring to attention that clinic escorts often block the patients from ever having the chance to speak to the sidewalk counselors both physically and verbally, sometimes with loud music and megaphones, and sometimes they even harass and physically engage the sidewalk counselors and picketers. And also I'd like to point out that many pro-choicers and clinic escorts perpetuate a fear of pro-lifers, painting them all as violent, raving, "crazies" and make sure to keep women from hearing them, non-the-less talk to them. She's not given a choice once she's at the clinic and in the grasp of a clinic escort. She's often rushed into the clinic, regardless of whether it's of her own will, past the sidewalk counselors without a second thought. And clinic escorts are often eager for the protestors to get forcibly removed from the premises and often rough-up the sidewalk counselors and fabricate and over-eggagerate minor offenses to local police, who often side with the clinic, as demonstrated below.

"But when someone goes into an abortion clinic, she already knows what she's going there for."

When women go into these clinics considering having an abortion, often they go there with a heavy heart. Most of the time, we find that they feel ambvient about the decision, that abortion is their only viable option. In addition, one study found that 64% of American women felt pressured by others to have an abortion. In fact, when it comes to counseling provided by the clinic, the same study found more than half felt rushed, yet 67% received no counseling and 79% were not told about available alternatives (1), as demonstrated by the testimonies of past and current clinic workers and women who've had abortions.

"Showing her an aborted fetus or telling her how she's going to burn in hell is not going to somehow "convince" her."

I agree. When people start flashing gory images or yelling to them that they are sinners and murderers, and that they need to repent, it does not sway them to choose life. I think it scares them more or worse, angers them and would want to go through with the abortion just to spite them. They go into the "leave me alone, its my life and body thinking" Rather I think they should be dealt with compassion and understanding. These women need someoe to love them and support them and help them.

"Do sidewalk counselors actually change minds?"
It is a difficult ministry, and while it is not always the case, but yes, there have been women who've changed their minds after speaking with a sidewalk counselors.

On a Related Note:
Sidewalk Counseling Guides:

Sidewalk Counselors Blogs/Testimonies:

No Greater Joy (Caution: brief images of aborted fetuses)
This video discusses sidewalk counselinig from the perspective of four individuals: who they are, the type of information they distribute, spiritual involvement, how to approach women ("don't yell at the women and if they yell at you, don't respond", "don't be rude to any woman you're speaking to, never shout", "don't accuse this woman. You're not there to accuse, you're there to help") and guidelines, caring about both woman and child.

More About Sidewalk Counseling

1) VM Rue et. al., “Induced abortion and traumatic stress: A preliminary comparison of American and Russian women,” Medical Science Monitor 10(10): SR5-16 (2004).

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