in this blog post are paraphrases, not actual quotes.
|Meet Susan. Please note her homemade apron specifically designed to hold all her sidewalk supplies.
she smiled and waved. That’s because she smiles at waves at pretty much every
single person or car she sees. She’s just a smiling and waving kind of gal. I
walked up to her and told her I was looking for Wynette who, as it turned out,
was just pulling up.
all about the literature they hand out, the people she meets, how she ended up
doing sidewalk counseling in the first place, how some people in her family
reacted to that, and many other stories. And she is a great storyteller. Great
enthusiasm, vocabulary, emphasis, she even does the voices of other people in
her stories. I was impressed with her on those grounds alone. 🙂
sidewalk counselors are not allowed to step beyond a certain boundary on the
sidewalk—basically they can’t enter the parking lot of the clinic, they must
stay on the public sidewalk next to it. There was a clinic escort that stayed
in the parking lot to ensure this; she was a woman who looked to be about my
age. I thought it would make for a very interesting blog post to speak to the
escort and get her perspective on the sidewalk counselors and on her job as an
escort, so I started walking towards her to ask her if she’d be interested in
an interview. But I hadn’t gotten within 20 feet or so when she said (politely,
but firmly), “You actually can’t go past that line.” I said, “If you want me to
leave I’ll leave, but I’m not with them [gesturing to Susan and Wynette]. I was
hoping to do a sort of point-counterpoint blog post about this situation and
wanted to get your take.” But she said no, once I associate with the protesters
I can’t go past the line.
sidewalk. Susan told me they’ve had situations where mothers drop off their daughters for abortions, and while the daughters are in the clinic,
sometimes the mothers come out and talk to the sidewalk counselors. She said
she’s seen mothers change their mind and want to go back into the clinic to
talk to their daughters, but once the mothers associate with the sidewalk
counselors, the clinic workers won’t let them back inside. I didn’t see
anything like that while I was there, but Susan said she’s seen it happen more
than once, and seen mothers get quite distraught about it.
clinic escort would take a camera out of her satchel and take photos of the
sidewalk counselors. The counselors told me the escorts do this to be
intimidating, but I’m not so sure. If I wanted to intimidate people by taking
photos, I’d be ostentatious about it; I’d walk close to them and hold the
camera at eye-level. This escort kept her distance and had the camera about at waist-level.
I don’t know why though—perhaps they want to make sure all the clinic employees
know what all the sidewalk counselors look like, in case any of them try to
enter the clinic? Not sure. In any case, if Susan or Wynette noticed getting
their picture taken, they would just smile and wave.
the day before I showed up, they had a young woman (I’ll call her “Mary”) park
in the clinic parking lot, but go toward the sidewalk to have a cigarette. Mary
stayed within the buffer zone, maybe 4 or 5 feet from Susan. Susan stepped over
the line to ask if Mary was all right, but the clinic escort (a man this time)
told Susan to stay back. So she did.
questions about her situation and to offer her a list of alternative resources.
The clinic escort came over and stood between Susan and Mary, trying to block
Susan from Mary’s sight. So Susan just kept sticking her head to one side of
the escort and then the other, continuing to talk. Mary told Susan she believed
she had a life inside her, but she was scared to have a child. Susan talked to
Mary about the resources available. The escort spoke too, telling Mary that
she didn’t have to listen to Susan, and that she was free to make whatever
choice she wants and she could still get an abortion. Somewhere in all of this,
Susan gave Mary her business card, which includes her cell phone number.
from the curb, and, instead of going into the clinic, she walked back to her
truck. The escort followed her, continuing to remind her that she need not listen
to Susan, and she could still have her abortion. Even so, Mary got in her truck
and left the clinic, with Susan signaling for Mary to call her if she wants to
to get an abortion, but I hope she does call Susan. It sounds like she was in a
pretty tough situation, and Susan works very hard to help the women who decide
to carry their pregnancies.
their fellow sidewalk counselors meet at the sidewalk every Wednesday, Thursday,
and Friday morning (those are the times the clinic performs abortions). But on
the days they aren’t at the sidewalk, Susan drives all around delivering
diapers and car seats and other supplies to the women she’s met from sidewalk
counseling. Susan works with various groups to support women in crisis
pregnancies, and she told me those groups get a lot of donor support (go
pro-life team!). Apparently it’s not uncommon for strangers walking down the
street to see the sidewalk counselors and just hand them cash. They tell Susan,
“Here, help the mothers. Help their babies.” So she does.
often, in fact, that random strangers in her day-to-day life have gotten to know
her for it. For example, for a long time Susan would go to a local McDonald’s
drive thru each morning to get an unsweetened iced tea. She would chat with the
drive thru lady (who I will call “Liz”) while she waited, and they got to know
each other. Liz asked why Susan’s car was filled with signs and pamphlets about
abortion, and Susan explained her sidewalk counseling. Other days Liz asked why
Susan’s car was filled with baby supplies, and Susan would explain the
follow-up care she does with the women she’s met.
a cryptic voicemail from Liz (who found Susan’s phone number in the phone book—how
old school is that?) Liz left a message about how she was in a bad place and
needed Susan’s help. Susan tried to call back but couldn’t get through, so
finally she left a message saying “Liz, I’m going to be at your McDonald’s
tomorrow at 6:30am. I hope you’ll be there.”
the next morning, and Liz came running out from behind the counter to her,
smiling and exclaiming “Susan! Susan! I made the right choice!”
that’s great, honey! …what choice is that?”
pregnant and I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I am choosing life for my
cried and hugged, and everyone else in the McDonald’s hugged (according to
boyfriend didn’t want her to carry the pregnancy, but she had decided to
anyway. She said, “I know you’ve talked a lot about how you help women in need,
and I don’t know if you’re for real, but…here I am! I need help!” And Susan was
glad to help.
delivery. Susan went to visit Liz in the hospital. When she got there, she
realized Liz’s boyfriend was also there. He approached Susan and asked, “Are
you the woman that helped Liz keep the baby?” “Yes,” Susan answered nervously. Then
he smiled and shook her hand. “Thank you so much!”
proponent of the pro-life movement. She gave Susan permission to use a picture
of her newborn son in one of Susan’s signs:
celebrating this l’il guy’s first birthday in the next couple weeks! And of
course, Susan will be there.
of resources the sidewalk counselors give out. It includes STD treatments,
mammograms, OB-GYN care, maternity homes, financial assistance, adoption
agencies, and post-abortion counseling. They even have a handout specifically
for women going to the clinic for services other than abortion; it’s called
something like “I’m Not Here for An Abortion,” and it explains why the sidewalk
counselors protest abortion and which local clinics provide all the same
services without doing abortions. Susan says many women have thanked her for
the information and turned right around to go to those other clinics.
other sidewalk counselors offer pamphlets to every car driving in and out of
the clinic. Many times the drivers will stop and take the information and then
be on their way. There’s often no time for dialogue, which is why it’s great
that they have all their information printed and ready to send home with
their literature made me hesitate. For example, they had a brochure called “Before
You Choose…” A lot of the brochure was great. It had information about fetal
development and hotlines to call for counselors “to help you locate food, money,
shelter, and more in your local community.” But on the other side, the brochure
had a lot of information about the risks of abortion for women.
abortion does include risks for women, and I believe women should be aware of
those risks before they make a decision. That’s basic informed consent.
However, I think informed consent means informing women of the risks in an
objective way, and I worry this brochure overstates the case. For example, the
brochure talks about how “13 major studies in the U.S. and 27 worldwide show
that women who have an abortion increase their risk of breast cancer.” I’ve
written extensively on the abortion breast cancer link before, and I understand
pro-lifers diverge on this issue, but I do think the strongest case we can
honestly give is that studies have conflicted. An honest assessment of a woman’s
risk would include acknowledging the many studies that have not found a correlation between abortion
and breast cancer.
about the emotional effects of abortion on women, the problems with how well abortion
clinics are regulated, and other physical risks of abortion. I think there are
arguments worth making for all of these (we need look no further than Gosnell
to see that), but again, I want to make sure that anything pro-lifers tell
women is factual. We have truth on our side; we need not diverge from it.
and Susan about my hesitations, but I was worried I would hurt their feelings.
I also worried I had little right to say anything, considering they are out
there for hours every week trying to help women in desperate situations, and I’m
comfortable in my apartment, blogging away. Even so, ours must be the side of
facts, so I went ahead and let them know I had concerns about the pamphlet.
Happily, they were completely receptive to my thoughts. Wynette pointed out
that the pamphlets hadn’t been updated in ages, and that she’d love to have updated literature. So that’s
something I hope to help them with (and if anyone reading is interested in that
project, please email email@example.com
and let us know!)
it was a very informative and inspiring experience! If you’re interested in
helping with social support work, consider the following opportunities:
SPL create secular sidewalk counseling materials that objectively inform women
about fetal development, the risks of abortion, and the resources available to
money or gather supplies for local pregnancy resource centers. Check out NationalBaby Shower Day’s website for some ideas on how to do this.
local PRCs and find out if anyone involved does sidewalk counseling. See if
there are peaceful counseling groups you can join to try to reach women with crisis
pregnancies. I expect most sidewalk counselors would be happy to have any
additional people come support them, and this may be especially true if you are
a secularist. Wynette told me she thinks the presence of young, secular people
can really help diversify the counselors’ approach—you never know what type of
person a woman may most want to talk to.
anyone reading this has sidewalk stories to share, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
so we can arrange a guest blog post. And to all the people out there who put in
the time and resources to help women with crisis pregnancies: a very big thank you!