One of the most controversial methods of opposing abortion and protecting the lives of innocent unborn babies is picketing abortion “clinics” and engaging in sidewalk counseling at those “clinics.” (The two are often not the same thing.) When I became active in the pro-life movement in the fall of 1997, that was one of my primary means of activism. Christians who oppose abortion should do both far more than we do.
First, the difference between picketing and sidewalk counseling. Picketing is just that – standing in front of the abortion “clinic” with a sign, to alert the public to what is happening inside. Sidewalk counseling involves volunteers trying to speak directly to the women (and whoever is accompanying them) to convince them to give the baby a chance to live. Here in Bloomington, people doing sidewalk counseling generally do not carry signs – and holding a sign can make women arriving at Planned Parenthood for an abortion less willing to engage.
Both tactics serve the unborn and save lives. There are some women who will cancel or reschedule their appointments if there are people protesting the “clinic.” Occasionally (though sadly this is very rare) some women will change their minds and not have an abortion after speaking with pro-life volunteers. This has happened a few times here in Bloomington.
But not surprisingly, this is both the most controversial tactic and the one pro-life activists are least drawn to. I would say that any pro-life person who dismisses picketing at Bloomington’s abortion “clinic” out of hand should go at least once to see for himself/herself what really goes on and how people conduct themselves.
There are a lot of myths about what happens at Planned Parenthood in Bloomington- that people are screaming at and damning the women going inside, that people are intimidating women and are violent. None of that is true. Sidewalk counselors call out to and try to engage the women going inside to let them know there are other options. Because they know that any incidents will hurt the pro-life movement’s credibility and make it harder to speak to women, picketers and sidewalk counselors will police each other’s behavior.
Standing in front of Planned Parenthood on Thursdays is not a fun place to be. It can be intimidating and lonely, especially if you are the only one there. In inclement weather (heat, rain, snow and cold) it is often miserable. People look down on and scorn the volunteers sidewalk counseling and picketing. But it is arguably the most critical element of the pro-life movement. The pro-life movement works to elect candidates and pass laws, but since killing unborn babies is legal, picketing and sidewalk counseling is literally the last line of defense for the unborn babies scheduled to be murdered that day.
In 2007, 2008 and 2009, there were 845, 855 and 818 abortions in Monroe County. The Rally for Life, the booth at the county fair and Life Chain (all of which are valuable) can educate people about abortion. But those are all one-time events, and are far from the front lines of this cultural war. When those efforts are done and the decision is made to end a baby’s life, the only people standing between the baby and the abortionist are the people in front of Planned Parenthood every Thursday. That courage is to be celebrated and encouraged.