40 Days Spawns Interest in Sidewalk Counseling

Ann Scheidler with Dr. Peggy McGinty and David Butler

Ann Scheidler with Dr. Peggy McGinty and David Butler at the sidewalk counseling seminar in Ponca, Nebraska April 26

As the 40 Days for Life prayer campaign gains momentum across the country, so does interest in maintaining an on-going presence at the abortion clinics. The Pro-Life Action League has seen a significant increase in pro-lifers’ seeking to learn more about sidewalk counseling.

During the 40 Days season in fall 2009, I gave sidewalk counseling seminars in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Jacksonville, Florida, Hilo, Hawaii, and Augusta, Maine, in addition to training sessions in Aurora and Chicago. Opportunities to share instruction on this critical pro-life ministry have continued through 2010.

Ambulance Appears during Atlanta On-Site Training

With a small but faithful core group of pro-lifers gathering regularly to pray outside the Feminist Women’s Health Center in Atlanta, Kateri Howard took on the task of organizing a 40 Days for Life campaign this spring. Wanting to expand the ability of the local pro-lifers to save babies at Feminist Women’s, she invited me to conduct a sidewalk counseling seminar at Immaculate Heart of Mary parish hall on Friday, March 26.

I stayed at the home of Laszlo and Veronica Pallos, who hosted a dinner for the 40 Days coordinating team before heading to Immaculate Heart for the seminar. About thirty people attended—more than Kateri expected. Most had been to the abortion clinic, but had never attempted to counsel the clients going in. They were enthusiastic about getting started as sidewalk counselors.

The following day, an unusually chilly Saturday morning, I joined Kateri in front of Feminist Women’s Health Center. A white line was spray painted across the sidewalk and parkway to indicate where the pro-lifers were permitted to stand as they offer help to the pregnant women arriving at the clinic. An aggressive clinic guard checked each vehicle as it arrived in the clinic lot.

The patient entrance is at the rear of the building, completely inaccessible to sidewalk counselors. But many of the drivers entering the lot stopped and took literature from Kateri or me and listened while we explained the help available at a nearby pregnancy center. However, as soon as they reached the intimidating guard, he demanded that they turn over the literature, telling them, “I can’t let you on the premises with that paraphernalia.”

About an hour after we arrived at the clinic, with at least twenty patients inside, two ambulances arrived and headed to the rear entrance. One was part of the city fire department rescue squad and was accompanied by a fire truck. The other was a private ambulance.

A half-hour later, the rescue ambulance and fire truck left. The private ambulance, followed by another vehicle left with a patient inside. Kateri and Laszlo jumped in his car and followed the ambulance to the hospital, where they prayed for the safety of the patient and waited for her companion to come back to his car so they could offer him assistance.

Compassion Is the Key to Saving Babies

Linda McManus of Worcester, Massachusetts, asked me to conduct a sidewalk counseling seminar in her area, partly because of the tensions surrounding various approaches being used at the Planned Parenthood abortion clinic. Like many of Planned Parenthood’s centers, the Worcester building is designed to keep pro-lifers at bay. So some pro-lifers resort to dramatic attempts to get the attention of clients and staff. One man dresses in a grim reaper costume. Some call out threats of eternal judgments.

In my PowerPoint presentation, I emphasized that the mission of the sidewalk counselor is compassionate outreach, and that it is important to create an environment in which a woman would feel safe and comfortable talking with the sidewalk counselor.

After the presentation to about sixty people, we walked over to the abortion clinic to assess how the draconian Massachusetts bubble zone ordinance impacts the sidewalk counselors’ mission. It does present a challenge, but it is still possible to offer life-saving assistance. And fortunately the pregnancy center is directly across the street from the abortion clinic. Signage at the clinic is confusing and often Planned Parenthood clients come to the pregnancy center instead.

“Telemed” Abortions Threaten Heartland

Planned Parenthood has targeted Iowa in its overall plan to expand abortion “services,” offering “telemed” abortions through the various referral centers throughout the state. In Sioux City, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland provides surgical abortions every other Tuesday. But the abortionist, Susan Haskell, does chemical abortions via the Internet any day of the week wherever the Telemed system is in place in the state of Iowa.

Dr. Peggy McGinty of Ponca, Nebraska, near Sioux City, invited me to do a sidewalk counseling seminar in order to maximize their outreach when the abortionist is in town. The seminar took place on Monday evening, April 26, with onsite training on Tuesday morning. Abortionist Haskell arrived at 10:15 a.m. with at least a dozen clients already in the clinic. A traveling pregnancy counseling bus was also at the site, but none of the clients we approached took advantage of the opportunity to have a free ultrasound and counseling.

Two women who arrived at the Planned Parenthood clinic that morning were desperate to make it clear that they were not there for an abortion, but for birth control. We were able to give them information on the dangers of the pill and the alternative of natural family planning.

Future Activists in Kalamazoo

When local Kalamazoo activist Ann Norton learned that I would be driving to Kalamazoo on May 3 with my husband Joe, who giving the keynote address at the Kalamazoo Right to Life fundraising banquet, she asked that I hold a sidewalk counseling seminar the following day. Forty people attended the seminar at St. Monica’s parish.

We had attended the 8:00 Mass at St. Monica’s and were surprised by Fr. Farrell’s introduction of Joe at the Mass and his assurance that the students of St. Monica’s—all in attendance at the Mass—would be the pro-life leaders of the future. When these future pro-life activists are ready to become sidewalk counselors, the Pro-Life Action League will be there to train them.

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