On Saturday, May 20, the Pro-Life Action League held a sidewalk counseling seminar at St. Mary of the Angels Parish in Chicago for over 50 counselors and new recruits.
“Bubble Zone” Troubles
On account of the ongoing challenges over the enforcement of Chicago’s “bubble zone” ordinance, attorneys Tom Brejcha and Tom Olp of the Thomas More Society Pro-Life Law Center began the seminar by addressing the group about their First Amendment rights and what to be concerned about in the face of accusations and complaints from abortion clinic personnel and clinic escorts.
Three Chicago abortion facilities (American Women’s Medical Center and two others operated by Family Planning Associates) use escorts provided by the Illinois Choice Action Team, while Planned Parenthood’s facility in the Gold Coast neighborhood uses its own escorts. In all of these cases, pro-life counselors have encountered gross misinterpretations of the city’s bubble zone ordinance by both the Chicago police and abortion clinic personnel. The long-term solution is to file a lawsuit against the City of Chicago since we believe the ordinance violates the rights of pro-lifers to free speech and assembly. The attorneys are presently working on the complaint for such a suit.
Saving Babies by Text
Kathy Bozyk, director of the South Side Pregnancy Center in south suburban Oak Lawn, explained a new technique her center has incorporated into their overall counseling program—namely, text counseling. Aware that many young people communicate via text far more than by phone, South Side has launched a text counseling program that provides a designated number that a young woman can text for information and help.
In the context of sidewalk counseling, a special cell phone number for a specific counseling center can be given to the abortion-bound woman. Since texting is more private than a phone conversation, once she has that text number, she can contact the pro-life center from anywhere—even the waiting room of the abortion clinic. The number puts her in immediate contact with a pro-life counselor whose primary focus is to make an appointment for her to speak directly with a counselor in the center. South Side has had considerable success with their text counseling program.
Kathy had so impressed me with her center’s text program earlier this year, that I put her in touch with Mary Strom, director of the Woman’s Centers of Greater Chicagoland, a network of pregnancy care centers. Kathy and Mary organized a text counseling program for the Women’s Center, which has since been launched. Sidewalk counselors can hand a business card to the abortion clinic clients with the text number. They can also publish the number on signs outside the abortion clinic so that women who are undecided or confused can take advantage of the opportunity to explore other options. This is an exciting new tool in our outreach to women who arrive at the abortion clinic doors.
Women’s Center Gets Mobile Ultrasound
Another exciting development is the mobile ultrasound unit that will be unveiled by the Women’s Center in just a few months. A Sprinter van—roughly the size of a regular UPS delivery truck, will be outfitted with a reception area, ultrasound room and bathroom. The smaller mobile unit is easier to park in the city than the large recreational vehicles often used for this purpose. Not only can it be parked near abortion clinics without a pregnancy center nearby, but it can also be used for education at schools, county fairs and other venues.
Following the presentations on legal issues, text counseling and the mobile ultrasound, I presented a training session on sidewalk counseling—a refresher for the seasoned counselors and training for new recruits. This segment of the program also offered an opportunity for questions and for sharing concepts and ideas. Since we know statistically that at least half of the women coming to an abortion clinic have had a previous abortion and that many of their companions also have an abortion in their past, I stressed the importance of distributing post-abortion healing literature.
Dealing with “Deathscorts”
One of our challenges in the presence of the pro-abortion escorts (or “deathscorts”) is simply getting information into the hands of the pregnant women. I advised counselors to remind abortion clients that they have a right to the information we give them, and that the escorts and clinic personnel have no right to take it from them.
I had recently acquired confidential materials provided to the clinic escorts, which I provided to our pro-life counselors to help them learn how to deal with them. I also recommended that our counselors wear orange vests similar to those worn by the clinic escorts. They believe the orange vests give them the look of authority, and we suspect that they tell their clients to follow the directions of the people in the vests. If pro-lifers also wear vests, we may stand a better chance of getting literature into the hands of the clinic clients and talking with those clients in an effort to turn them away from abortion.
I reminded the counselors that their mission is specialized, and that they should keep their focus on saving babies and their mothers from abortion, and not to get caught up in arguments with clinic staff or escorts. In addition to giving women information on their options, the sidewalk counselor is a witness to the dignity of the unborn baby and a beacon of hope to those women and men who are desperate for a solution to what seems to be an insurmountable problem.