JT Eschbach leads a sidewalk counseling seminar in Aurora, Illinois [Photo by Matt Yonke]
The Pro-Life Action League has been promoting sidewalk counseling for its entire thirty-year history. In fact, the very first chapter of Joe Scheidler’s book CLOSED: 99 Ways to Stop Abortion is devoted to this critical pro-life ministry.
But it has been a little like pulling teeth to get pro-lifers to take that extra step and try actually reaching out to abortion bound women at the abortion clinics. Many people are simply afraid they won’t say the right thing to save the baby’s life. But in the wake of the 40 Days for Life prayer campaigns, some pro-lifers feel compelled to learn more about how they can help abortion-bound mothers find the help they need to choose life.
Sidewalk Counseling Expands in 2009
In 2009, we saw a significant increase in interest in sidewalk counseling. The League capitalized on this development by offering over a dozen sidewalk counseling training seminars throughout the year, conducted by both JT Eschbach, an associate of the League, and me.
JT gave four seminars in Wisconsin and one in Michigan, as well as a presentation at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, IL. He also offered sidewalk counseling training at the League’s Pro-Life Training Day during the 40 Days for Life campaign in Aurora, Illinois. I gave seminars in Maine, New Mexico, Florida, Texas and Hawaii.
Ann Scheidler gives a sidewalk counseling seminar in Hilo, Hawaii
In each case, we made an effort to visit the local abortion clinic site personally, in order to better answer the questions that attendees ask at the seminars. Both JT and I have a basic presentation on the philosophy and application of sidewalk counseling techniques, but each town and clinic present its own challenges. Sometimes a clinic is located inside a multi-purpose building. Sometimes it is conveniently located on a public sidewalk. Sometimes it is set back behind a fence and a tarp. And sometimes the clinic is set in the middle of a strip mall shopping center, where no one is quite certain where exactly they are allowed to stand.
We present various approaches that work in these different circumstances. For example, when a clinic is in a strip mall and not visible from the public sidewalk, it can be very helpful to use large signs, reading “Pregnant? Need Help” and a phone number to the local crisis pregnancy center or to the Option Line, a service that directs the caller to the nearest pregnancy center.
Careful Tactics Needed To Save a Baby
Inevitably someone in the audience asks about the advisability of using graphic images when sidewalk counseling. My advice is that the graphic picture can be very effective, but that the sidewalk counselor should not be the person holding that sign. In actual counseling situations, it may be necessary to show the pregnant woman or her companion what is going to happen to her baby if she goes ahead with the abortion. But it is not usually the first argument I would use to dissuade her from the abortion.
We know from conversations with women who have had abortions and those who have chosen life after talking with a sidewalk counselor that the abortion bound mother is principally worried about herself at that point and is not thinking about the baby. So we try to show her that abortion may not be as safe a choice as she has been led to think. We alert her to the lawsuits other women have filed against the clinic and to the related health problems, like an increase in risk for breast cancer for women who have had abortions.
Reaching out to a woman who arrives at an abortion clinic, nervous, frightened and unsure of her decision, with love, compassion and true help is a beautiful way to put your pro-life convictions into action. We at the Pro-Life Action League live by the motto “Action speaks louder than words.”