Why 'Sidewalk Counselors' Are Crucial to the Pro-Life Movement

Outside the abortion clinic doors, sidewalk counselors stand (or sometimes kneel) and pray for a change of heart.

Pro-life activists and Planned Parenthood workers gather on the sidewalk in front of Planned Parenthood in Washington, DC.
Pro-life activists and Planned Parenthood workers gather on the sidewalk in front of Planned Parenthood in Washington, DC. (photo: Photo: Elvert Barnes, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Wherever there's an abortion clinic, there are sidewalk counselors.

The purpose and motivation of sidewalk counselors is saving young women and their babies from the tragedy of abortion. Prayer is their weapon. These are the folks on the front line of the pro-life movement who speak to the sanctity of unborn life. They're there to pray, not only for the people entering intending to abort their baby, but for the abortion workers themselves. They're also there to use any opportunity to chat with the pregnant women who go in for an abortion, unaware of the ramifications and unaware of so much help available to them.

Outside the abortion clinic doors, sidewalk counselors stand (or sometimes kneel) and pray for a change of heart. Some come as part of a church group, others come with a friend or two, some come with their family or by themselves. The rosary is often said, but it's not all Catholics who pray. Evangelicals and other Protestants can often be found alongside their Catholic friends. A few might hold signs, “Please Let Us Help You!” "See Your Ultrasound Before You Decide" or “Adoption, Not Abortion.”

At the abortion place not far from where I live, people are outside praying six days a week, the very same hours abortions are available. I've seen them when it's 20 degrees and I've seen them when it's 95 degrees. A retired man from my parish has made it his mission to be there three days a week, “on duty,” as he calls it, for the past eight years. He always has little cards with him to hand out with the name and website of the pregnancy center a block away. He'll say hello warmly to a worried looking young woman getting out of a car, or walking up the street towards the abortion place, and offer a card. “If you're pregnant and struggling, these folks have a lot to offer… and it's all free.” A couple goes together every Saturday morning, rain or shine.

Last week Lori chatted with Alicia, on her way in to Planned Parenthood. Lori said she was there for a pregnancy test, and Lori told her PP charges $100 for them, but that the pregnancy center up the street does them for free. “Really?” said Alicia. “They're only $20 at the drug store.” “Yes,” continued Lori, “and they offer free ultrasounds too. PP doesn't let pregnant women see their ultrasounds because they're trying to sell abortions, and they know when you see your ultrasound, you know you have a real baby there and you want to protect him or her.”

They continued chatting, and Lori offered to walk Alicia up the street to the pregnancy center. But Alicia wanted to know if the pregnancy center does abortions. She was glad to save $100 on a pregnancy test, but she really didn't want to see her ultrasound because she just wanted to “get rid of” her pregnancy. Lori told her she could be assured of getting the entire truth about her pregnancy, what an abortion would entail both to her baby and to her, and any assistance that was available to her, without any pressure involved. She brought Alicia into the pregnancy center office, introduced her to the person at the desk, wished Alicia well and said she'd be praying for her, and gave her a hug.

Within a few minutes, a pregnancy counselor was sitting with Alicia getting some basic information. This would be her first pregnancy; she was 17; her boyfriend wanted her to have an abortion immediately. A pregnancy test confirmed Alicia was pregnant, about 8 weeks along. Had she been at an abortion center, the first and only suggestion would've been to 'terminate.' Any possible negative ramification of having a baby would be emphasized, while no negative effects from abortion would be mentioned. “Having a baby will really mess up your life. Do you know how expensive it is to raise a child? You're too young to have a child. Let us take care of your little problem and you can go on with your life. It's just a blob at this stage anyway...” So much for “choice.” The better word is “deception.”

But what Lori knew when she brought Alicia in was that she would now receive the entire truth, with real help offered to her, all for free. In fact, the primary reason pregnancy centers are free is because they want each client who comes in to know there is nothing being sold, no profit motive whatsoever. There's simply no other motivation than to provide the full truth. Alicia was shown fetal models of the unborn baby, who at 8 weeks has a beating heart, brain waves, tiny arms and legs, and is already a boy or a girl — a son or a daughter. An ultrasound was arranged for her for the next day. Alicia asked about abortion and so the brutal 'procedure' was described, along with the risks to her as the mother — an increased risk of infertility and miscarriage (“You cannot be sure that you will be able to have another child after this, that's something you must consider”), increased risk of breast cancer, increased risk of depression, relationship problems, even suicide (six times greater risk). These were all facts Alicia had never heard before, and wouldn't have heard at an abortion place. They also told her about the thousands of American couples waiting to adopt a baby. They told her that many colleges now offer scholarship to single mothers and also have childcare on site. And then Alicia was told that the pregnancy center was there for her straight through, whatever she needed, that they would sit down with her parents, her boyfriend, even her boyfriend's parents, and explain the ramifications of this pregnancy to them. They could offer her maternity clothes and baby items. They could help her decide between keeping her child versus placing the baby for adoption.

It was a lot to take in. Alicia was feeling a little overwhelmed. But she left the pregnancy center that day still carrying her baby, much more knowledgeable about the choice before her, and with an appointment for an ultrasound the next day. Because of the truth shared with her, Alicia ultimately chose to keep her baby, grateful that Lori had been out front that day she planned to have an abortion. 

Two weeks ago Bob, another prayer warrior who himself had a girlfriend who aborted their child years back, was outside Planned Parenthood on a broiling hot day. In his friendly, calm way, he began chatting with four different people on their way in to the abortion center. One by one he walked them each up the block to our pro-life pregnancy center, reminding them that our only motivation is to give them the entire truth, for free, and then the decision is theirs. Two were considering an abortion. Another needed maternity clothes and baby items, all of which we were happy to provide for her. The fourth was looking for STD testing. All four were educated on abortion, abstinence, contraception, natural family planning, cohabitation, and pornography. Best of all, the lives of two babies were saved, and their mothers spared the lifelong devastation of abortion, all because Bob gave up his morning to pray in front of Planned Parenthood.

If you think you have an hour or two a week to join others in praying in front of an abortion center, check with your parish's respect life ministry or area pro-life organization for days and times. You'll never meet a nicer group of folks or spend your time in any more worthwhile way!