Patty Knap calls herself a “born again” Catholic. She planned to be a wife and mother of four or five kids with several girls, but as life played out, she’s a single mom with two young adult boys. She counsels at a crisis pregnancy center, teaches CCD, takes online classes with the Avila Institute, and loves the beach, dalmatians, and America’s national parks. She also saves recipes in a pile until it gets big and then throws them out.
A couple of years ago, I was helping out one Saturday at the pregnancy center nearby, when a big guy came in alone. Pregnancy centers regularly see young women alone, and often couples, but almost never a guy by himself.
Initially I was a little hesitant because I happened to be in the office by myself that morning and, as I said, this guy was big. But that all changed when he smiled and asked if could give him some of our literature. He was praying out in front of Planned Parenthood a few doors up from our center, and wanted to be able to refer pregnant women to our pro-life center. Oh, that's why you're here... sure! I remember being so moved by this man's devotion and use of his time. Up until then, I was only familiar with women or couples together praying at PP. I was about to learn how crucial men can be in helping to save the lives of unborn babies.
I gave Joe a stack of our cards with our address and phone number, in English and Spanish, for him to hand out. He explained that he and a small group of Catholic and a few Protestant middle-aged men he knows meet regularly Saturday mornings to pray and 'sidewalk counsel' at Planned Parenthood. Several of these men are post-abortion themselves; that is, they were involved in a girlfriend or wife's abortion at some point, often years earlier. They give out info on our center, what we do and how all our services are free, to pregnant women heading into PP as well as to anyone walking by. “The people who live and work in this neighborhood need to know what goes on behind those doors. Even if they're not going there that day, they may have a sister, a friend, a co--worker who might be next week, and we want them to know there are people who really care who will offer them real help... and abortion is not real help.
Joe shared that women have been “sidewalk counseling” for years, trying to engage in conversation young pregnant women who are considering an abortion, as they head into Planned Parenthood. In their experience, the fathers encouraging (or pressuring for an) abortion more readily speak to a man than a woman, and are especially willing to hear what a man who says he's been in their same position before, has to say. “It's so important that men step up to the plate and talk to the fathers, and encourage them to be the head of their family, to be the leader and protector. A lot of them feel overwhelmed by a pregnancy, many haven't had their own father in their life, and the impulse can be to just run away. We have to reach out to them and tell them there's a better way. We can share with them our experience from our own abortions—nothing can devastate you more. They think everything will be the same as before the pregnancy if the baby is aborted, but that's just not the case. It leaves a psychological and spiritual scar that really wounds the father, really stays with him.”
The group prays before they “sidewalk counsel” that God will lead them to the people who need help that day, and that He will give them the words to say and the love to guide them. Sometimes a couple heading into PP, or a guy waiting out front for his girlfriend inside, is grateful that someone is talking to them.
“Sometimes we find that they're just desperate to do anything other than abort, but no one has suggested anything else. Everyone around them just keeps saying they have to have an abortion. So you can see how relieved they are to hear someone really trying to offer them an alternative. These young guys really need to hear from another guy what it's actually like to live with knowing you took your pregnant girlfriend to the abortion center and allowed your own child to be killed. They need to hear that ten, twenty, for one of us it's over 30 years ago and it's still the number one regret in our life. Other times their heart is closed off, they're determined to have an abortion no matter what you tell them, no matter what ramifications you explain are risks from the abortion. They won't meet eyes with you, they won't take the brochures.”
Often one of the men carries a fetal model set in his backpack, ready to show the size and development of the unborn baby at the exact stage as their child. “That can be really crucial. Sometimes that right there is enough to get them to turn around from an abortion appointment, and go sit down with the pregnancy center folks up the street.” The ones that are open to hearing more are either pointed a few doors up to our center, or actually walked over and introduced to us.
Across the United States, more men are acknowledging their past involvement in abortions and sharing their testimony in an effort at preventing the same tragedy in other young men. What a beautiful thing it is these men do with their loss and their Saturdays.