On the frontlines: sidewalk counseling 101

Tips for reaching out to abortion-minded women in a time of crisis.

These are tips for reaching out to abortion-minded women in a time of crisis.

I have been sidewalk counseling for almost three years. I have seen women broken by abortion before and after the procedure, and I have been privileged to be used as an instrument of God’s grace to save lives.

This information alone may not be enough to prepare you to sidewalk counsel. I strongly recommend that those who feel called to sidewalk counseling seek out a local pregnancy resource center for one-on-one training, or contact the Austin Coalition for Life to inquire about sidewalk counseling training.

Tip #1: Focus on her needs first.

An abortion-minded mother is in crisis mode. The unexpected pregnancy she is facing is a terrifying reality for her, and she is focused on how she can fix a mistake she made and get her life back on track. It isn’t the baby that is scary to her. It’s the idea of having to raise that baby in the situation she is in, whatever it is. That is what must be addressed, and that is crucial to understand when you have just a few seconds to speak before she goes into the abortion clinic. Telling her that she has other options and free resources available to help her may resonate with her. That leads into tip number two.

Tip #2: Have resources and information readily available.

There are thousands of pregnancy resource centers in the United States. Visit these centers in your area and become familiar with their staff and their services so you know where you can refer pregnant women if they are in need of assistance. Ask for any literature or pamphlets these pregnancy centers have so you can take them to the sidewalks to offer women who are going into the abortion clinic.

What SWC’ing looks like (Photo: Austin Coalition for Life)

Print off literature with information about local health care centers that provide comprehensive health care along with reproductive care, but do not offer abortion services. Visit the HRSA website to locate such health centers, as many cater to low-income and impoverished families but are not abortion providers.

Tip #3: Always have compassion in your voice and your stature. 

The moment an abortion-minded woman gets out of her car to the time she enters the abortion clinic, talk to her as if you are talking to a friend in need. Stay calm and speak in a loving tone. You may stammer to find the words to say, but how you speak is as crucial as what you say.

No matter how she responds to you, always exhibit kindness.

Tip #4: Talk to the people she is with.

Most of the time, an abortion-minded woman will arrive at a clinic with a friend, family member, or a partner. Let these people know that you care about them as well. Sometimes, the person accompanying the woman is hesitant or in opposition to the abortion, and may take information from you. Usually, they will ignore you. Other times, they can be aggressive and agitated by you. Again, it is imperative that you remain calm and collected, regardless of how people respond to you…that’s tip number five.

Tip #5: No matter what, always remain calm.

Just recently, a weekend of sidewalk counseling pushed me to my limits. I was cursed at, yelled at, and demeaned. It was difficult to stay focused on why I was even on the sidewalk to begin with, and often it was tough not to retaliate to those who persecuted me. No matter what is said to you and no matter how you are treated, never show animosity toward anyone going in or out of the abortion clinic.

However, if you believe that you are truly in physical danger, contact law enforcement immediately.

Tip #6: Refrain from citing religion right off the bat.

Seven out of ten women who obtain abortions are members of a Christian church, but that does not mean that appealing to the Gospel will be effective with abortion-minded women. This ties back in to tip number one: focus on this woman and reassuring her that help is available. If you are able to engage her in conversation and get a feel for her religious background, then it may be perfectly fine to discuss faith.

But if the idea of faith or God is a foreign or rejected concept for an abortion-minded woman, hearing Bible passages from the sidewalk is going to turn her away from you completely.

Tip #7: Be there for her after her abortion.

Some of the most difficult moments on the sidewalks of the abortion clinic aren’t before a woman gets an abortion. It’s afterwards. I recall a time I tried my best to offer a post-abortive woman information about Rachel’s Vineyard so she could seek healing in the future. As she slowly walked across the parking lot, alone, she maintained eye contact with me the entire time. She was empty inside. This was not the face of someone simply coming out of anesthesia. This was the face of a woman who would face a lifetime of pain.

Get information about post-abortion ministries to offer women after their abortions. Keep your voice gentle, because at that point, these women are either hurting physically and emotionally, or they’re numb on both aspects.

Tip #8: Be prepared for any situation to arise.

When you sidewalk counsel for years on end, you see and experience a lot of disturbing things on the sidewalks: women coming out from their appointment and vomiting in the parking lot. Girls as young as fourteen being physically dragged by their hair into abortion clinics by their parents. Partners screaming at and threatening pregnant women. You will see it all, and you must be prepared to handle such situations.

If you continue sidewalk counseling, there will come a time that an abortion-minded mother leaves or doesn’t even go into the abortion clinic. Be prepared to give her directions to a local pregnancy center, or even have her follow you to a center by car.

Days like that will change your life forever.

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