The Real Truth about Crisis Pregnancy Centers and Sidewalk "Protesters"
Our readers/commenters have some terrific questions on how to even go about being a compassionate sidewalk counselor, and I'm sure I would have wondered those questions all too, had I not had a group of experienced women (and men) already doing this to show me.
Keep in mind, After Abortion isn't about recommending or advising "activist" roles to any post-abortive women or men, or to anyone for that matter. Neither do we discourage anyone from such involvement. It's primarily
"a place where these seekers can get useful information--the realization that there are resources, others who have gone through the same difficulties, and hope for the future."But since there is some interest on the part of at least some of our readers, well, get a cup of Joe and settle in: it's a long post but well worth the reading, especially clicking through on the links.
I'm not the creator or author of the information, just the messenger, too. Many, many noble and loving people before me have figured out how to "do this right." The proof is that there are, in this one small city in Connecticut, 1,391 moms who have changed their minds at the very last minute, between February 1990 and April 2005, as a result of the love and caring of this small group of maybe 20-30 people.
It's just a shame that the mass media and even our own politicians and state attorney(s) refuse to recognize we're out there, doing it right.
And as Em said eloquently in our guidelines, "let us 'seek not so much to be understood as to understand.'"
So let me share what I’ve found is most helpful to the women and families.
Regarding Ann Marie’s and Rachael’s advice about becoming a crisis pregnancy center (CPC) counselor: I highly recommend it. In fact, I’d even taken a free training course over several weeks at one, thinking that’s what I would do. I learned a great deal about connecting with the women personally, focusing on them and their needs with love (nothing else), even if they rejected our help and went for the abortion anyway, doing reflective and interpretive listening, asking gentle, helpful questions, using tender, loving but frank communication and communicating with non-Christian folks. Even though I didn’t become a CPC counselor, the training helped me to help others better out at the sidewalks.
People may find a calling in either of these places. You’ll know what’s right.
As for what to do out on those sidewalks, while I don’t think the title of this webpage is appropriate or accurate (though their group name is), the information provided was a valuable start for me over two years ago when I started going to the sidewalks.
As for my own experience and suggestions, I'll answer each question by turn:
All of the "guides" I've read say to have pro-life materials to give out. Where do you get these? I really can't afford to purchase them. I can barely afford to feed my own five children….Do you know any resources in Houston, Texas?
In Houston, check out these 10 crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs).
Josephine (or anyone else interested), go to http://optionline.org/advantage.asp, type in your locale, even just city and state, and it will come up with the CPCs near you.
KEEP IN MIND: Most of these CPC folks do NOT go to the sidewalks. At least those that I know do not want to even run the risk of wrongly being associated or lumped in with those awful types like the one I described in this post of yesterday, and I fully agree with them. They rely on word-of-mouth, yellow pages, ads, billboards, referrals from local religious groups or churches, etc., to meet their “clients,” the women in crisis, in total confidentiality and privacy (by the way, all CPC services are FREE). Though we also guarantee confidentiality and privacy, being out on a sidewalk is not typically where CPC folks can do their greatest good.
It is a struggle to buy the materials, I know, but the CPCs often can get you pointed toward the right, compassionate literature (and Spanish speaking materials if need be). Get a stack of their own cards and literature. They will probably give you handfuls of their own brochures for free. I personally like “Love and Let Live” or in Spanish, “Ama y Deja Vivir” by Human Life International (the Spanish site is Vida Humana Internacional.
You can buy new copies of most materials most times in bulk pricing, but perhaps local or state prolife groups can foot the bill. Ask what literature might be available from groups like Texas Right To Life. That website is missing some key info, but contact them (info is at bottom of home page) and also ask if they know of any groups already doing this compassionate counseling work out at the clinics. I’ll bet there are. Also, this group’s webpage lists 33 Texas Pro-Life groups, many with links to their websites, including Houston Coalition for Life. Even if this is the same group you mentioned, they might still have or know others who want to do more than just pray. (BTW: my dear Lord, that’s a HUUUGE building)
Or you can work with friends in your church or neighborhood group to raise money for that. Putting an ad in a church bulletin for example, asking for “a generous anonymous donor” to help with those costs, might be all that’s needed. If you have a truly Christian pastor, that is, who isn’t afraid of standing up for being pro-life. (Not all, maybe not even most are, sadly.)
Although it did cost me a little, I also made up little business-card size cards, with this info on one side:
Pregnant? Upset? Scared?On the reverse side (if you can afford it), I have this:
For confidential and free pregnancy tests and help:
CALL 1-800-203-HOPE. Hopeline Stratford/Bpt.:
203-383-4385. Shelton: 203-925-WAIT. NewMlfrd:
860-350-HOPE; Danbury: 203-207-HOPE;
firstname.lastname@example.org . Outside CT: 1-800-395-HELP
God loves you, you know. And He’ll help, if you ask.
Feeling sad about an abortion?And what if I personally can't afford to help these women materially? What can I do that will really help? I don't want to just talk them out of the abortion and then leave them high and dry.
Call confidentially: 1-877-HOPE-4-ME
In CT: Annie – (my cell number)
Rachel’s Vineyard: 203-372-4301 (x314)
God loves you, you know. And He’ll help, if you ask.
This is where meeting with the CPC director(s) and workers comes in. Do this ahead of time, and get to know them well enough, maybe do a church or local high school student pro-life group “donations drive” for baby/maternity clothing. One cool thing is to get or donate an old but good-condition dresser, put it in the foyer of a church or school, and publicize filling its drawers with donated baby/maternity clothes and supplies. Very visual and inviting! Tell the CPC directors you want to be able to offer to drive any young woman who’s leaning toward changing her mind, to that CPC right then and there. Tell the directors you’ll need to know how to reach them during those hours you’re out on the sidewalks. Some CPCs are not open 9-to-5, but I have the cell phone numbers of the various CPC directors in my area, and I know at any time of day or night, if I ever find myself talking with a girl in a crisis pregnancy who doesn’t really want to abort, I can call Patti or Sylvia or Linda and they’ll drive over to meet us at the CPC offices in any of 3 towns.
Learn from the CPCs what the legal terms are for various abortions at the local clinic. Some won't do abortions before 8 weeks gestation, others won't do second trimester abortions.
When you first approach a woman or girl and begin to talk and say "we have help for you," if she's at all receptive, at some point early on, tell her your first name, and ask her for hers. Ask how far along she is in the pregnancy. If you learn this and realize that that kind of abortion isn't done by that clinic, gently let her know and ask if you can help her right now, today, with any of her needs. Does she need a ride home? Could you invite her out for a cup of coffee to talk about what she needs in her life right now, like a job, or some job or skills training, or a place to stay?
All these things the CPCs help provide, directly or indirectly. There is virtually nothing that cannot be done.
Would she like to meet someone who can help her get those things? Does she really want this abortion or is some problem making her think it's her only option? Offer to take her right then and there to some professionals who could give her some really good, free and objective advice on her options. You can explain gently that it's truly objective because there's no money to be made by the CPC, whereas the abortion clinic loses between $400 and $3,000 if she decides not to have the abortion.
And if you find yourself driving someone down to that local CPC, offer to buy her—on the way—a bite to eat at a take-out or drive-through breakfast/donut joint. Remember, she’ll have had to stop eating or drinking anything since midnight or 10 PM the night before (due to the expected anesthesia), and by 7 or 9 AM, she’ll be hungry and tired and could probably use at least a cup of coffee and a bagel.
Just be kind and respectful. Ask if she feels safe wherever she’s living presently. She may not. If she just wants to go home instead, ask if you two can exchange phone numbers so she has someone with a name she can call in an emergency to ask for help, and you (or the CPC ladies) can call her to offer any kind of concrete assistance. If not your own number, then give her the local CPC hotline or tollfree number.
Believe me, no CPC person with their heart in the right place and true understanding of giving compassion will "keep calling to harass her," and nine times out of ten, when they want to rush home like that, it’s usually to a home situation of fear for herself about familial retribution that she didn’t go through with the abortion. It may sound strange, but think of the mentality that abuse victims fall prey to: they’ve been convinced they deserve the abuse and try to appease their abusers by “heading off” a likely confrontation, thinking if they’re upfront about not going through with it, it’ll go easier for them. It isn't always the case, but I’ve driven some girls home to just such a situation and then never heard from them again, though we had plans to talk and get together later. One of them had asked me, in the smallest, most scared little voice, "Did it hurt?" I told her I had been so upset and so much in denial about what I was doing that I blocked out any memory of whether it physically hurt or not for over 20 years, but the pain in my heart was never going to go away.
Where do you stand?
It depends on the clinic. If you are the only one doing this, first I’d suggest making a friendly call to your local police captain. Introduce yourself nicely, name, address and phone number, and explain to him that you want to stand at a legal place outside the clinic and offer literature (not forcing it on anyone), and just pray and calmly offer helpful alternative information to anyone entering the clinic. You won’t touch anyone, unless they want to shake hands, and you won’t go near anyone other than to walk alongside and only as far as the legally allowed point.
If they’re like most police, they’ll love the heads-up, the respectful explanation, and will do all they can to respect and enforce your right to legal free speech, as much as the clinic’s right to be free from harassment.
If for any reason, you are not well-received by police in such a call, respectfully ask to speak to the supervisor or level above the person with whom you’re speaking. In a calm, respectful voice, tell all police personnel you need to tell that you know your First Amendment rights of free speech and distributing literature and they cannot be restricted in this unconstitutional manner. You can assure them that as long as you don’t obstruct anyone's movements, you know that you can stand nearby, on public property outside the clinic, and that if you offer any literature to anyone, they can take it or leave it, but you will not force it on anyone. Assure the police you will not be causing any disturbance whatsoever, not even if others gather around. This is a peaceful offering of help to the women and families. If they ask you if you’re protesting, the truth is, NO. Compassionate counselors get mislabeled as “picketers” and “anti-abortion protesters” by the mass media all the time, because that’s the myth that the mass media wants to preserve. My own sign says, speaking to the women, “25 YEARS LATER, MY ‘CHOICE’ HURTS ME STILL. LET US HELP YOU AND YOUR BABY. Right now. We care.”
If that’s a “protest” sign, then I’m whistling Dixie.
(By the way, I can’t even whistle.)
If you really run into police or legal problems in this area, call one of the pro-bono pro-life law firms like Thomas More Law Center, based in Indiana but working nationwide. Perhaps even printing and showing the police this article might be enough to enlighten them, if they are being in any way resistant. It's about how the City of Fort Myers, Florida was forced to stop "threaten[ing] pro-life sidewalk counselors with arrest and fines every time they appeared in front of the city’s only abortion facility."
Tell the police you just want to stand, speak in a normal voice about other helpful options that are healthier even for the women themselves, and offer the women some literature about that help, since no one else is telling them about it.
The police will tell you what areas are “legal:” it may be right in front, it may be only on the sidewalk, or near the parking lot. They may even send a patrolman and cruiser, as they do at our clinic, for everyone's protection, and they're always very nice and respectful of us, since we are to them.
Many women already do experience the escorts literally swooping down on them, trying to "beat us to them," even from a block away. You are allowed to walk anywhere down that block, anywhere on city property, and alongside but not invading someone’s space, as well as to speak respectfully with them as they walk.
Where it has gotten interesting is when the escorts flank a woman, take her by the arm (even against her own will), and then raise their other arms to ward us off or barricade us away. IF THE ESCORTS TOUCH YOU or stiff-arm you, call the police officer over and tell them what happened and ask them to stop this. Just as we are not allowed to touch anyone, the escorts are not allowed to touch us or push us away either, although some have tried. And once a father going in with his girlfriend to abort, truly without provocation, without anyone touching them, just hurled a cup of hot coffee onto two of our group. Fortunately no one was burned (it was midwinter, we were bundled up pretty well), but the police did their job and arrested him. So no one is allowed to touch anyone else.
In front of the clinic, on the sidewalk, outside the chainlink fence, on public, city property—that is exactly where my friends stand. And helping over 1,00 moms and babies in 16 years shows that it is not too late to be out there and deliver real support. I too was surprised to learn this.
How do you know which women to approach? What if they're just getting birth control?
With friendliness, a genuine concern and gentle, calm gait, you respectfully can approach them all. Tell them you’re here to offer real help for them, not just their babies. Ask, “What do you need to help you not go through with this?” We show them we care about them, personally, really, not just now, not just until the baby’s born, but afterwards too, and just want to talk with them right now. Genuine care and concern is all we’re trying to show these girls and women. Walk alongside every woman if you can, and even some of the men who might be coming in alone. Their girlfriends may already be inside, they just went to get a coffee or a smoke, and now are coming back to the waiting room. Don’t worry if they’re not really going in. I can’t tell you how many times I didn’t talk with women, thinking they were just passing by, and then when they suddenly darted into that parking lot, I was sad I’d foregone the chance to offer help and a kind word when it would have been but a gentle whisper.
You can say many things: not all at once, of course. You should check your state’s or clinic’s particulars in some of the specifics below. Call a hospital or state insurance department. Call the health commissioner to see if there are any complaints, emergency ambulance trips, convictions, rulings or lawsuits regarding the abortionist and/or clinic, past or present (there are four of those situations in my clinic’s instance, and they made the local papers so we have the articles to prove it to the women as well).
We also know the names of the abortionists as they’re doctors on staff at other hospitals in our state. We don’t harass or smartmouth them. Some will say this is sanctimonious, but usually all I tell them as they leave their cars and enter the building is that I’m praying for them. It’s a genuine sentiment. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be them, especially if they have any reservations whatsoever about what they do. Imagine it: if they did have a shred of doubt or regret over it, they feel they’re stuck and can’t stop. Maybe their wives will castrate them for not doing abortions. Maybe they’ve got kids to put through college, or an ailing parent to care for. Maybe they honestly believe they’re doing women a good service and not a disservice, but hearing that I have had such pain and suffering 26 years later—and one of them was probably the one who did my abortion—could be a shock to their whole belief system. They need our prayers as much as, if not more than the women, the babies and the families.
Also, you’ll know what are the right, caring words and that not all these should be said under every circumstance. Things like:
“Are you coming here for an abortion? Can I tell you about some alternatives where you can still have your life and freedom but your baby can be happy with another family who wants to adopt? There are 2 million couples waiting to adopt in this country, can I talk with you a little bit? Is anyone pressuring you into the abortion? If that’s the case, you can tell the clinic that when you go in, and they will have to stop it from happening. You don’t have to do this, really, you know. There are alternatives. We help women here every week and many change their minds even at the last minute, some even after they already went inside and registered, some even after the doctor’s arrived. Between one and eight women (out of eight to 25 each day) do change their minds, twice a week here. It’s not too late. Do you have other children? How old are they? Do you need help, baby food, baby clothes, a place to live? We can get you help filling out free medical insurance from the state too, if you need care for you and your family right now, it’s just down the street, we can drive you there and stay with you while you fill out the applications, even if you’re an illegal alien, the state has to sign you up for the medical insurance care…”Some CPCs offer free ultrasounds or if she’s not sure she’s pregnant, a free pregnancy test. They will help the women with groceries, clothing, cribs, "safe haven" places to stay as long as they need, baby supplies for their other young ones, even medical care for them and their unborn babies. Connecticut gives virtually free maternity, familial, prenatal and postnatal care to those who need it. It’s called "Healthy Start" and can be obtained even by illegal immigrants afraid of being deported. My friends take them to the hospital to fill out the forms and get the approvals. Sometimes they’ve even helped expectant fathers find jobs.
Everything we and the CPCs give is free to the women. EVERYTHING. No strings. Nothing to sign. No application to fill out. The only time there might be some application is if it's an internal thing, to be responsible to the board of directors and the IRS for their 501(c)3 non-profit status, but none of the personal, identifying (name-address) information goes to those places.
Find out in advance about the statutory rape laws in your state. In Connecticut, anyone who has sexual relations or sexual contact with a person under age sixteen could be prosecuted for statutory rape, which is punishable by up to ten years in prison, and up to twenty years in prison if the victim is under age thirteen. The charge could be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on several factors, including, but not limited to:
- If the victim is under age thirteen,
- If the age difference between the two people is more than two years,
- The extent of the sexual activity between the two people.
“Anyone can report suspected child abuse or neglect. Reporting abuse or neglect can protect a child and get help for a family — it may even save a child's life…”Check with your city and state about specific laws.
Life Dynamics did a two-year study, legally recording over 800 calls to Planned Parenthood and National Abortion Federation facilities, 19 of which were to Connecticut centers including the West Hartford Planned Parenthood. The scenario portrayed a “13-year-old girl who was pregnant by an adult and wanted an abortion in order to hide the illegal sexual relationship from her parents and the authorities.” It’s on the tapes that, while many clinics informed the caller that was statutory rape and that they had to report it to police, 91% of the clinics still said they would not report it.
This webpage has numerous links on this investigation from independent mass media news articles in The Washington Post, CBS News, Newsday, SFGATE.com, The Indianapolis Star, The Cincinnati Post and Cincinnati’s WCPO-TV.
The many footnotes to that report, with the articles that were sources, are shown here. Even in my state, it made the headlines and TV News, on May 22, 2002: “Connecticut Abortion Clinics Look The Other Way.” Connecticut assistant state's attorney Steve Sedensky said,
"I think, certainly in spirit, they're skirting the law…The very fact that a 13-year-old is pregnant is an indication that she's [sic] falls under the definition of abuse, regardless of how old she says the perpetrator is."Chief state's attorney Jack Bailey was quoted as saying,
"They [abortion clinics] should give us a call and we would go over the law with them, because they're in violation of the law right now."PPFA even argues against mandatory statutory rape reporting laws by citing this as a negative effect of same:
“However, experts assert that statutory rape laws will not reduce rates of teenage pregnancy, but will discourage teens from obtaining reproductive health care out of fear that disclosing information about their partner will lead to a criminal charge (Donovan, 1997).”They focus on the wrong thing here: the goal of these laws is not pregnancy reduction, but protection of young children from sexual abusers and predators who are supposed to know better!
An abortion-rights advocacy group called The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) filed an injunction in Kansas in 2003 to “redefine the legal meaning of sex abuse in order to reduce the legal responsibility of abortion clinics to report cases of abuse to the government.” They block laws requiring mandatory reporting of certain cases of statutory rape! CRR was fighting for adolescent "age-mates" to be allowed to have consensual sex without it being statutory rape. At what age does “adolescence” start? CRR says that “adolescence starts at age 10.”
Getting back to the sidewalks, if it seems like the woman or girl is receptive in the least to listening and/or talking with us, we ask how old they are, especially if they look younger than 16. We gently inform them that the clinic by law will have to report this to the police. We offer to help them get protection by the police if the guy who got them pregnant is in violation of the state’s laws on this. Too many of these girls are dumped and shoved out on the street by the shacking-up boyfriend as soon as they abort. This devastates them even further because the boyfriends told them they’d dump them if they didn't abort. It’s happens virtually every single time.
Many of the women and girls are taught by the clinics to tell us that they’re “just getting birth control.” We don’t say that we don’t believe them, but we respectfully implore them,
“Don’t do business with this place, they’re doing abortions here today and abortion hurts women (like me), and some women have even been brought out of here on ambulance stretchers because the abortionist botched the abortion and she lost 5 feet of intestine and had to have surgery to fix a damaged bladder, from that. We have the pictures to prove it.”That’s true in my abortion clinic’s case; you won’t have the same story to tell, obviously. We then tell them anyway about the help we can offer and have delivered to hundreds of women.
If she says she’s just here to sit with or help a friend who’s having the abortion, we implore her to go in and get her out of this place, saying the truth, that they inadvertently can do physical harm to her, and we show her the photo of the woman on the ambulance stretcher. We tell them that if they really love her, they really won’t leave her in there.
Many won’t believe these kinds of truths, but hearing caring voices and kindness, a lot of women and even many fathers will listen. They will engage in respectful discussions with us, and some break down crying, especially when we ask them, only after they’ve realized that we really mean them no harm, if we can pray with them. So many of them wear crosses or have Rosaries dangling from their rearview mirrors. We don’t ask this of everyone, but the vast majority of those we ask really are quite touched and willingly join in letting us pray over them, even if they turn around and go inside to abort anyway. And we don’t say Hail Mary’s or formal prayers, either. We pray in conversational, informal words. We ask God for blessings on them and their families, their loved ones. We ask for courage, strength and support to do the right thing for themselves and for their unborn baby. We ask for God's mantle of protection over them, and for the people we represent to help them be safe, happy, and keep their babies safe even if only to allow them to be adopted.
If they don’t want to pray when we ask, we don’t. Simple as that. But we still pray silently for them.
One thing we always make sure they know, even as the door to the clinic shuts with them inside: “If you ever need any help, we’re out here on this sidewalk every week this same time, you can always come back to ask us for help, no matter what.” Several have done just that, after being tossed out on the street by bf/daddy/mommy/whoever.
Still, you can know with virtually 100% certainty they’re there for an abortion if:
- they’re wearing sweatpants or sweatclothes, loose around the waist and ankles. They’re often told by the clinics to wear those for the abortion, and/or
- they’re not drinking or eating anything.
The two best things to remember always are:
- Treat everyone as we would hope and want to be treated.
- “Regardless of the situation, react with class.” (from Life’s Little Instruction Book, by H. Jackson Brown).