So, last week was actually a pretty good one for sidewalk counseling. A triathlon closed down most of the road in front of the clinic, which made it a lot harder for people to show up. We only had half as many women come. Also, one woman came specifically to talk to us and show us her beautiful 4 month old baby. Last year she was scheduled for an abortion, but changed her mind after she saw our signs. It’s really encouraging to remember that even if they don’t come and talk to us, our mere presence can make a difference.
Currently 40 Days for Life is going on, which draws a different crowd. We haven’t been able to do 24 hour coverage or anything, but I think that there’s someone out on our patch of parking lot during business hours at least. I sometimes have my qualms about this. Usually, when you get new sidewalk counselors, you only get one or two at a time. They tend not to say anything at all for the first few weeks until they get comfortable with the whole thing. This helps to get newbies comfortable with the rules of counseling. However, 40 Days brings out many fresh faces who are left out there by themselves, without a more experienced counselor to show them what they should be doing. For the most part, 40 Day-ers seem to just stand around with signs and pray, so I’m not too worried about them. But the more active of them do try to sidewalk counsel, which I don’t always agree with.
Sidewalk counselors are nice, normal people. Anyone who lasts 3 months is pretty sane. But sometimes we get crazies. 2 weeks back this woman shows up. She used to be a patient of Dr. Payne (the abortionist) back when he sometimes delivered babies alive. He did an ultrasound and found out that her child had a congenital defect (non-life threatening) and told her that she needed to get an abortion. She refused and demanded to see another doctor. Her son is 30 and he is severely mentally retarded, but they’re both happy. We were all very glad to hear her story and talk to her for a bit. But, while this woman is there, a teenager walks out of the clinic with her parents. It’s obvious that she just had an abortion. And the woman we’ve been talking to starts yelling something awful at the poor girl. Immediately, we stopped her and explained that this was not what we do. She didn’t get a whole sentence out, but this incident really worried me. If something like this can happen while we’re standing right there, what can happen when we’re not?
Don’t get me wrong, I trust the people in Tuscaloosa who organize 40-Days. I’m sure that everyone’s been told just to pray, to not cross this line in the ground, and to make sure that the people in the road can see our signs. Not a single one of them has done anything wrong or weird so far as I can tell. I’m hoping a few of them will turn out to be regulars. But these are my admonishments to newbies:
• For the first few weeks, you’re there to be seen and not heard. Your presence will change more minds than any words you have to hurl across a parking lot any way.
• If you do have to talk to someone, find your compassion. People facing these decisions are going through mental and emotional turmoil. Calling them murderers or damning them to hell isn’t going to do anyone any good.
• Know the resources in your area. Know where they can get free or reduced clothing, sonograms, medical care, housing. When you tell people you can help, you better be able to follow through.
• Try not to be cruel to a woman who just had an abortion. By this I mean, put down your heart beat sign and your happy living fetus signs and remember to tell her that there are still counseling services willing to help her.
• Don’t break the law or encourage others to do so. Don’t joke about violence. Crazy people bombed an abortion clinic or two back in the day. We’re still trying to recoup our reputation from back then. Don’t ruin our hard work by showing off your crazy.