For the past two decades, blogger Sean Miller has counseled at a number of abortion mills in New Jersey. In this post, he shares what he has learned about sidewalk counseling, “the delicate balancing act between urgency and gentleness.”
Sidewalk counseling outside an abortion clinic – human lives are at stake, and you’re on the front lines. You may be the last lifeline of hope for a pregnant woman as she approaches the building to abort her child. She and those with her tend to be in a fragile state, wrestling with conflicting emotions. Things can happen quickly.
Knowing what to say and how to say it is of utmost importance. It can make the difference between a person accepting your help or walking away.
If you’re considering becoming a part of this important work, I’d like to share with you a few of the important things I’ve learned. I’ve been counseling for 20 years now. And just like anything else, the more experience one has … well, it never gets easy, but it does get less difficult.
How should you approach a couple who are seeking an abortion?
First, It’s important to understand where they’re coming from. Their emotions are in turmoil, overwhelming and volatile.
Internally, they’ve been going through a battle between what they’re tempted to do and what they should do. And now that they’ve decided to come to the abortion facility, many of them feel the question of whether or not to go through with the abortion has been resolved.
At this point, they just want to get this experience over with quickly so that they can get on with their lives and forget about the entire ordeal.
But, to their surprise, they see individuals on the sidewalk who appear to be standing in their way. A bunch of “religious zealots,” they think, who only want to harass them and make them feel guilty and add to the heavy burden that rests on their shoulders.
So how should we, the sidewalk counselors, respond?
Since the couple already feels defensive, it’s important to dispel their illusions about us. We need to get across that we’re there for one reason only: to help them.
It’s been said that within the first few seconds of meeting you, a stranger makes a good number of judgments about you. Body language is a language unto itself, and it reveals a great deal. So smile. A smile has the power to knock down barriers that are otherwise immoveable. In a smile we see that a person is glad to see us. By welcoming the couple with a smile you are inviting them to dialogue with you.
Then approach them gently but with a sense of urgency in your voice reflecting the seriousness of the situation. It’s also helpful to slightly bend down to them so as to present a manner that won’t be perceived as threatening.
I tell them that we can help them, and it won’t cost them a cent. If there’s a pregnancy center nearby (and there often are near abortion mills), let them know where it is and strongly recommend that they consider seeking help there in making such a grave decision. And make it clear that these services are free.
If they don’t want to engage with you, gently encourage them to take the literature you have for them so that they can look through it as they wait in the abortion facility. In this way, they may be touched by what they read since they are not open to a discussion at the moment. The idea is that they get the pro-life message one way or another.
Making an Informed Decision
If the couple is willing to talk with you, an important point to bring up early on is that they need to make an informed decision.
As an analogy, when people decide to buy a car, they don’t buy it simply because it looks good. Instead, they find out about the miles per gallon, the safety features, the size, and all the other important details. Then, with all of the facts before them, they can make a truly informed decision.
Well, if this is true about a mere car, which is only a “thing,” how much more important is it when a human life is at stake?
To make an informed decision, people need to know the facts about the baby in the womb. You may need to present this information and make them aware of the scientific reality of life in the womb.
Pictures, of course, can have a tremendous impact as the latest technology provides us with breath-taking images of the miracle of life before birth.
Sometimes people are shocked when they find out that a baby has a heartbeat at 20 days and all of its vital organs at 8 weeks. And often, when they see a life-sized model of a baby at 3 months, they are amazed.
With the facts before them, the couple need to ask themselves whether they’re making an informed decision or looking for a quick fix to their problem. Are they thinking logically or running on emotions of fear and despair?
And because this is such an important decision, I urge couples to go and talk about it further. It’s important to hear each other out, and it’s also wise for them to include a third person so that they can get advice from someone who’s not as emotionally involved as they are in the situation.
Seeking counseling before making such a critical decision gives their emotions a chance settle down and provides the opportunity to think more clearly.
Stay on Point
Sometimes a person will talk to you about a number of issues that are related to abortion or religion. Many times this is done to divert attention from the act of abortion.
The sidewalk counselor cannot allow himself to be distracted by issues surrounding abortion while the very act of abortion is being overlooked or even completely ignored.
You have to stay on topic and remind the person that they have a decision to make right now, and it’s time to recognize that reality.
For example, When a person does not want the responsibility of raising a child they will come up with every possible scenario to justify the abortion.
Some common examples are: What if my baby is disabled, I cannot afford to raise a child, I am not ready to be a parent, and the excuses go on and on. These excuses are given to simply avoid any type of responsibility.
When somebody does this, they need to be reminded that they are already a parent and that the burden is not meant to be carried solely on their shoulders. They need to be reassured of all the help that is available to them.
And be careful not to get caught in the whirlwind of “winning an argument.”
Unfortunately, winning an argument could very well mean that you lose the couple in the process. This is not the right time to be concerned about “being right.” Rather, it’s more important to win the hearts of the couple so that the goal – keeping their baby — is achieved.
Guiding them to the right decision by continually offering support in a loving manner is the best way to show them both hope and love.
And above all, respect the person’s space.
We want the couple to know that we’re simply offering help and hope. But, of course, it’s their decision to choose to accept or decline that help.
That is very much in line with the teachings of Christ. Christ never forced anybody to love Him. Our Lord has always given us an open invitation. Jesus says, “Come and see …” Yet, the choice is left entirely up to us.
Naturally, we pray earnestly that all these women turn around and choose to have their babies. It is absolutely heart-breaking to watch them go through those doors of the abortion facility where they will be forever changed.
Still, it’s necessary to respect their “space.”
And psychologically that’s the best approach to take. How do we react when we’re approached by salesmen or people who are too pushy or forceful? We instinctively pull away or retreat.
And the same thing will happen outside the abortion facility. The people we want to reach will write us off. But if they sense we respect their space, they may be more willing to converse with us and be more open to receive help as well as the pro-life message.
Sidewalk counseling is a delicate balancing act which requires gentleness while conveying a strong sense of urgency. And it all must be done with respect.
When to Come – When to Go
The abortion mills where I’ve counseled usually open at 8 a.m. I would make sure to be there by 7:30. This is because the couples, understandably anxious about their decision, are often there early, waiting outside the door. This is a great opportunity for counseling as they wait silently in desperation.
Most of the time, I would counsel for approximately 3 hours before leaving. The nature of the task and the emotions involved can leave you depleted of energy after a few hours.
Who Likes Rejection?
Who likes rejection? Nobody! — and constant rejections can be frustrating to say the least.
But when you decide to sidewalk counsel at an abortion facility, rejection is just a part of life. However, that’s no reason to be discouraged. Counseling work is critical. The important thing to remember is to be a message of hope and love for these couples who so desperately need it.
And sometimes they do hear you.
One day a couple walked into the abortion facility unsure about their decision. An hour later they came out. I asked the man what happened, and he exclaimed, “We’re keeping the baby! It is time for me to Man-Up!”
That response has stayed with me and given me hope. He admitted that it was time for him to take responsibility. He knew he had to take care of his “girl,” and his little baby – to protect them from all harm. And when a woman receives such support from a man, she will find strength herself – the strength that dares to bring new life into the world, even in the face of adversity.
And we see in that strength the beauty of motherhood – and fatherhood. It’s all about the couple and their baby – and that’s the heart of the message we want to convey.
For more blogs by Sean, just search for “Sean Miller” in the box in the upper right corner of the home page.