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What I Saw Sidewalk Counseling

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image of sidewalk counseling in San Francisco
From my experience sidewalk counseling, the issue of abortion is incredibly messy and wounds so many people.

All sorts of people would walk up to me on the streets of San Francisco and ask in a confused tone, “Why are you, a young woman, wasting your life out here sidewalk counseling in front of a Planned Parenthood, on a Saturday morning?”. I had plenty of reasons.

My sidewalk counseling friends and I would wake up on Saturday mornings, drive across the Bay Bridge overlooking the foggy city, and pull into the Mission District. It is a neighborhood that is fondly loved by locals and tourists alike for the vibrant culture of old school Latino roots, awesome food, and hipster energy. Despite all the quaint eateries and picturesque views, I was there because Saturdays were usually abortion procedure days, and I wanted to get there before the clinic opened to talk to as many abortion vulnerable women as possible.

What Is Sidewalk Counseling?

Sidewalk counseling is intentionally having conversations with women in an unexpected pregnancy situation outside of an abortion clinic facility. The purpose of the conversations is to provide options for the women hoping she will choose life. Conversations are not limited just to abortion-minded women though. It is a wonderful opportunity to engage in conversations with the variety of people on the sidewalk. During my time, I learned abortion does not just hurt or affect just women. Abortion is a destructive chain reaction that hurts everyone she cares about – including the child in or out of the womb, the child’s father, friends and family.

graphic of post-abortive women and sidewalk counseling

Counseling Abortion-Minded Women

There are several types of abortion minded women who go in, but all with different goals.

Signs of Abortion Pill Users

This woman will pop into the clinic briefly. Later she   exits holding a paper bag she did not have before coming in. It reminds me of mundane errands of picking up prescriptions at the drugstore pharmacy. From my experience, the paper bag usually contained chemical abortion pills. However, I would always ask first to determine what was in the bag. If the abortion pill, then I would talk about the detrimental effects of taking an abortion pill, and emphasize that this pill is not a quick fix solution like some say it is. In addition, I would try to remind her that she can still change her mind with abortion pill reversal if she takes the pill and regrets her decision.

Watch: The Truth About The Abortion Pill

Signs of Surgical Abortion Patients

I would see a woman and her male partner, parent or friend walking side-by-side into the clinic. If the woman is still in the clinic, but her companion comes out without her – the abortion procedure is taking place. At this point, I would attempt to engage in a conversation with her companion. Perhaps they are not in favor of the abortion and might help change her mind. In most cases,  the companion looks uncomfortable and leaves the premises avoiding us. However, there are rarer cases where they are willing to listen and talk to the woman.

Seeing women post-procedure – drugged out, exhausted, and hollow-eyed as she slowly walks out is one of the most disheartening sights. I would still attempt to talk to her at this point to gauge how she was feeling. I would gently offer a care package with snacks, a handwritten card, and a resource list for post-abortion care in case she ever regrets her abortion.

Before the Final Appointment

It is always a great idea to talk to any woman even if it is not clear why she is there. She can be coming back later to have her surgical abortion or for a pregnancy test. Unfortunately, by the time a woman and her companion are walking in for procedure day, there is a slim chance that the decision will be reversed. Therefore, it is a great opportunity to have conversations earlier on in the decision-making process.

Regardless of where she is in her process, let her know about a pregnancy resource center that will provide more support. In my time as a sidewalk advocate, I’ve passed out hundreds of local pregnancy resource center lists to non-pregnant women. Although I will never find out how many women actually chose or will choose life, it is encouraging to know many of these women at least had the resources to make a better informed decision for the future.

Counseling Women Not Abortion-Minded

A few of the women go to the clinic for pregnancy tests, women’s health checkups, contraception, and STI testing. There are various reasons why these women come in. It is important to lovingly engage with these women too. Everyone has a story. Some may even be victims of sexual abuse or trauma. Many are unaware about the gravity and concerns of the abortion industry. 

bible verse about sidewalk counseling and post-abortive women

In my memory, there was one woman that was in the terrible situation of being sexual abused. To make matters worse, she was not a US citizen or resident, so Planned Parenthood was a place where she could go to without insurance. She discovered she was not pregnant and was going in for STI testing. It was shocking to me as she expressed that more than health services, she wanted a safe place where she could be supported  for the trauma that had emotionally scarred her. I was happy to connect her to a local pregnancy resource center, which offered counseling services, and to a woman from my church.

Counseling Men and Fathers

A common sight is the baby’s father. He may be the boyfriend, husband or someone else to the woman. The father will either be waiting around, giving rides or coming in and out of the clinic to serve the woman’s needs.

The fathers that I had a hard time connecting to were the ones who looked apathetic, emotionally checked out or bored.  On the other hand, the fathers that took care of their girl usually were easier to talk to since he cared about her. Sometimes he would get angry on her behalf thinking abortion is the best option. In some cases, he was willing to listen, and we would help him know about the facts. In the case the father believes he is unable to say something, we would encourage him that his opinion does matter. I have seen a father successfully talk to his girlfriend out of the clinic by being vocal about supporting her and the baby.

One sad memory that sticks out is encountering a family in Oakland that were homeless. There was a father, pregnant mother and two small children. The father was openly teetering between his wife’s abortion and agreeing that abortion is wrong. Yet, he was worried about the quality of life for the baby. Sadly, I suspect his wife came back to get an abortion because the husband landed on the decision, even though there were resources to support the whole family.

Counseling Family Members and Friends

Typically, a legal-aged adult needs to pick up a woman who went through an abortion. It will usually be a parent, family member or friend. I have seen young girls in middle or high school teeter out accompanied by their stony-faced mothers. Or, there are situations where a mother and child walk out as discreetly as possible and staunchly avoid any eye contact. Sometimes, a sibling or friend would come to help so that the secret of the baby’s conception could be hidden. I was in a tough place of being that trusted friend, and sadly I failed for a lack of knowledge to truly do or say anything helpful. 

bible verse about sidewalk counseling and mercy

Several years before I was aware of the abortion industry and began sidewalk counseling, some of my college friends got into difficult situations that landed them at the very abortion clinic that I would talk to women in the future. It is something I regret, but I didn’t know the truth, just like many women today.

Counseling Clinic Workers

You will typically see clinic workers in scrubs, briskly coming in and out. Depending on the clinic, there are security guards watching for aggressive behavior or infringement on trespassing ordinances. Sometimes, you will see a worker escorting a drugged and exhausted woman that just finished her abortion procedure to a car. Typically, most workers, regardless of their role, tend to ignore any sidewalk counselors or have a hostile attitude. However, there are rarer instances that I witnessed where the clinic worker is open to having a conversation.

Do not be afraid to speak to the workers! According to And Then There was None, a non-profit set up to encourage and support abortion clinic workers to leave the industry, there have been over 600 quitters in 44 U.S. states. If you know or ever have a chance to candidly speak to an abortion clinic worker, there are resources to help them get informed on the abortion industry’s practices that are unethical and harmful.

Watch: How To Shut Down Your Local Abortion Clinic

Encountering Others In Sidewalk Counseling

There have been times when I have encountered other sidewalk counselors, which is always a pleasant surprise. It can be great to connect, share resources and even coordinate a schedule to cover more time in the week to reach more women and men.

This Is A Welcome Invitation

Psalm 145:9 conveys the encouragement and promise that “His mercy is over all His works”. From my experience, the issue of abortion is incredibly messy and wounds so many more people than just the mother and her preborn baby. Christ’s mercies cover every mistake; He is the one who is leading all His works. Feel free to lean into God’s mercies and see that there are many, many seats at this table to serve and love the people who are going to abortion clinics.

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