This article was co-authored by Joe and Ann Scheidler
The pro-life activist movement has a history of controversy. As a result of biased media coverage of pro-life activists, especially during the heyday of the Operation Rescue sit-ins, the public perception of the activist is an aggressive, angry, self-righteous, even violent, extremist. Even some pro-lifers who have not been involved in activism tend to keep their distance from the folks with the picket signs.
The activists themselves know this perception to be false. Pro-life activists have a particular calling to raise public awareness of the reality of abortion and to reach out to women in an effort to save them and their babies from the fatal choice of abortion.
The Chicago Method of Sidewalk Counseling
The Pro-Life Action League has promoted sidewalk counseling using what we have dubbed “The Chicago Method” for at least twenty years. In 2000 we produced the video “No Greater Joy” to teach this method to those who are willing to go to abortion clinics and try to save babies and their mothers. The Chicago Method is predicated on the fact that by the time women arrive at an abortion clinic they have already emotionally aborted the baby. They are mainly concerned about getting themselves out of a difficult predicament.
We research the records of the abortion clinics to discover the malpractice lawsuits brought against the clinics and their staff, including the abortionists. This information is summarized and distributed to clients as they approach the clinic. Often women who refuse to consider the baby at this point in their decision will think twice about subjecting themselves to harm inside the clinic. This approach to sidewalk counseling, coupled with the prayer element promoted by Msgr. Philip Reilly, founder of Helpers of God’s Precious Infants, is quite successful in saving the lives of unborn babies and rescuing their mothers from a life time of regret.
Aggresive Tactics Don’t Work
Some pro-lifers, however, still use a more aggressive tactic, creating an atmosphere of chaos outside the abortion facility. Protesters shout at women to get their attention. They greet abortion-bound women with large graphic posters of aborted babies, hoping to shock them into a change of heart. The latest tactic to grab the attention of the press is taking pictures of women and their companions as they arrive at the abortion clinic, then posting the photographs on a website, in the hopes that the fear of friends and family finding out about the abortion will shame women into changing their minds.
The Wall Street Journal ran a lengthy story on this latest photo technique on May 28. The website, abortioncams.com, is operated by Neal Horsley who first surfaced in the media when he posted the names and address of abortionists on a website. The website became a controversial part of a FACE lawsuit in Portland, OR even though Horsley himself was not a defendant in the case.
Horsley and the activists who supply him with photos of the women at the abortion clinics believe this tactic is a deterrent to abortion. They also believe that women who choose abortion deserve to suffer whatever consequence comes from the abortion and that they should be treated no differently from serial killers. Their own explanation for the photo tactic, as it appears on their website, states, “Those homicidal mothers must be held up for the world to see.”
Horsley Ignores Christ’s Compassion
Although the promoters of this tactic wrap themselves in the mantle of Christianity, quoting scripture and claiming to be speaking for God, their approach is anything but the compassion shown by Jesus Himself in the Gospels. Time after time when Jesus confronted sinners, He specifically refused to condemn and invited the sinner to forgiveness. The only instances of angry words from Christ were His admonitions to the Pharisees who claimed to have a monopoly on righteousness. For Mary Magdalene, for the woman caught in adultery and for the woman who had had several husbands and was not married to the man she was currently living with, He offered the chance to change their lives, to start anew.
This is the type of Christianity pro-life activists are called to. Neal Horsley says that our “literature reeks with words about the poor ‘victims’ who decide to have their children butchered.'” He also says that treating the woman as a victim of abortion means that we hold the “present peace and security of the ‘mothers’ at higher value than the life of the child.'”
Horsley considers anyone who compassionately ministers to women who seek or have abortions to be the “enemy.” He thinks that the pro-life movement has caused “confusion” by “treating mothers who kill their children as victims who needed to be ministered to rather than infanticides who must be punished.”
Love Them Both
Horsley’s attitude angers us and frustrates us. As Dr. Jack Willke has said for over three decades, “Why can’t we love them both?” We have stood outside of abortion clinics as protesters and as sidewalk counselors. We will never forget the first time we saw a real woman walk into an abortion clinic to have a real baby aborted. It is nothing but sad.
No woman wants to be there. What she wants is to be free of the crisis situation she is facing. We recently had a full day of email communication with a woman who had an abortion at one of the clinics where a group of pro-lifers shouted at the women and accused them of sin. It did not change her mind and it did not cause her to feel she could turn to a pro-lifer for help. She felt nothing but condemnation from the group who claimed to be Christian and she transferred their behavior to the entire pro-life movement and the broader Christian community.
She emailed, “There are lots of reasons women choose abortion.” From our years of sidewalk counseling we know she is right. There are lots of reasons women choose abortion. None of them are justified. But it is not our job to judge her. We are not living her life or experiencing what is driving her to consider abortion. Out job, rather, is to help her see that abortion is no solution, and that it will, in fact, make matters worse. Sometimes when you hear a woman’s story, you can’t imagine that things could be any worse. But adding the death of her baby to the litany of bad circumstances in her life will certainly not help, but will heap guilt on top of the whole mess.
Pro-Lifers Must Remain True to Christ
It is tempting to think that because our cause is just, any tactic that will save a baby’s life is justified. It is a tougher challenge to remain true to our mission as Christians, to see each pregnant woman and the people in her life from the perspective of Jesus Christ. “What Would Jesus Do,” the currently popular slogan, is a question we should routinely ask ourselves. We need to reflect the loving Father and compassionate Son if we are going to change the culture. It wouldn’t even be necessary to change the laws on abortion if we were able to change hearts and minds. Abortion would become unthinkable.
If you want to do something truly effective, learn about the Chicago Method of sidewalk counseling, go out to an abortion clinic and show the women that they deserve love and that their babies deserve love. Don’t try to intimidate them or harass them. Give them truthful, helpful information so they can make a positive choice for life. And pray for them, no matter what they do. As Msgr. Reilly has pointed out, the abortion may be the very thing that finally makes a woman face the serious issues in her life. And your presence at the clinic, along with your prayers for her salvation, may be the witness she needs that forgiveness is possible because God loves her.