How to Help People Talk Themselves Out of Abortion

Often pro-life advocates who have never done sidewalk counseling before are hesitant to get started because they feel like they don’t know what to say or do. The most common excuse I hear from people who have considered sidewalk counseling but have not tried it is that they are afraid they will say the wrong thing. In my eight years as a sidewalk counselor, I have been blessed to help nearly 60 families leave the abortion clinic to choose life for their child. There are many things I have learned through experience that I wish I knew on my first day of counseling. In this article I want to share with you one of the greatest secrets to saving lives.

Based on my own experience, I can tell you with confidence that many times the person who is coming to the abortion facility for their appointment will actually talk themselves out of the abortion if they are given the chance to process their situation out loud. Even a beginner to sidewalk counseling can help to save lives in circumstances like that because it doesn’t take experience or much training to help in this manner. Let me tell you about a time when I had that happen at the abortion facility:

We were at the clinic. It was cold that day and they had an older brown Honda Civic, ugly-as-can-be car. They parked in the lot pretty close by us. They sat in their car for 20 to 30 minutes, just talking. You could tell they were just talking, not fighting or anything. At the abortion clinic, talking is a very good sign. It seems like when people are talking, they are usually talking themselves out of the abortion. The couples who are not talking at all are harder to reach.

ERI Statement on the Abortion Subplot in Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why”

Netflix recently published the third season of 13 Reasons Why, a show whose first two seasons were criticized for aiming graphic, mature content at a young intended audience. In the second episode of the third season, there is an abortion subplot that misrepresents the pro-life movement and sidewalk counseling so severely that it can only be described as propaganda. The character seeking an abortion first goes to a deceptive pregnancy resource center she believes is an abortion facility and then in another scene goes to the abortion facility and is met by a group of deceptive anti-abortion protestors.

13 Reasons Why logo

The primary scene we want to comment on is the scene at the abortion facility. It depicts a harmful caricature of the reality of sidewalk counseling and could be no further from what ERI teaches in the Sidewalk Counseling Masterclass. The abortion-minded woman is met by a group of Christians when she arrives at the clinic. They call out to her asking her to pray with them and telling her God loves her and her baby. Then a woman approaches her wearing an orange vest labeled “Clinic Escort” and she says, “Come on, let’s walk past the crazies,” and clearly acts like she is with the abortion clinic, not the Christian group. The pregnant woman’s boyfriend says to her, “This day is hard enough” to which the woman in the vest responds, “It should be hard. Killing is a sin.” In this moment the pregnant woman realizes that she has been deceived by the woman in the vest, who is actually one of the protestors in disguise. Then, the fake escort says “Take this” and puts a bloody fetal model in the abortion-minded woman’s hand and pleads with her to not go through with the abortion. 

This is not at all representative of sidewalk counseling. We have worked with many sidewalk counselors across the United States as well as pro-life organizations who train sidewalk counselors, and we can say with confidence that deception of abortion-minded women is openly condemned. In our own training course, we instruct sidewalk counselors who wear vests for their safety because of incoming traffic to always try to choose a vest that is a different color of any escorts who are at the clinic. The vests that we will be selling online for the safety of pro-life advocates say “Pregnancy Resource Advocate” with the purpose of distinguishing them from the abortion facility because we believe it is wrong and harmful to deceive the abortion-minded person into thinking we are a clinic escort. 

Sidewalk counseling is not about protesting abortion or shaming women coming to the clinic. It is about offering information and resources to those who would like to make a different choice.

Peaceful Witness: Prayer and Beyond

Sidewalk counseling is a life-saving ministry of the pro-life movement, but not all pro-life advocates feel ready or called to sidewalk counsel. Many instead serve as peaceful witnesses through prayer outside of abortion facilities. This non-talking role is massively important but often underestimated because pro-life advocates do not fully understand how much they are able to participate through their presence. In this article, I will share with you some ways that pro-life volunteers have assisted my sidewalk counseling ministry.

Prayer vigil

Sidewalk counselors have two goals when they go to an abortion facility. First, they want to save babies and help families. Second, they want to shut down the abortion facility. Advocates who choose to be “Non-talkers,” also sometimes referred to as “Prayer Warriors,” can help advance both goals through their peaceful witness. Non-talkers help with the primary goal by supporting talkers through prayer, by holding signs, or as a witness to what is going on, especially if the police need to be called. Non-talkers help with the secondary goal by being a witness to the community. We go into detail about how this works and how much optics matter in the Sidewalk Counseling Masterclass but I will be focusing on the primary goal in this article.

Holding Signs

Non-talkers can hold welcoming signs that offer help to the families coming to the facility. I recommend signs like, “Free Ultrasound and Pregnancy Verification,” “Here to Help, Not to Judge,” or “Today is a Hard Day, We are Here to Help.” Signs like these are conducive to helping the sidewalk counselors start conversations with the abortion-minded woman. They offer sympathy and resources. We talk more about signs in the course as well, including how some can seem helpful from the pro-life perspective but may be off-putting to the families coming to the abortion facility, making it more difficult to start conversations.

Signs add to your presence because they can communicate to those driving by or driving in that you are there for a purpose. This can raise awareness in the community, especially if you are there on a consistent basis.

Recording Incidents

I have been sidewalk counseling since 2012 and unfortunately, there have been times when it was necessary for me to call the police. We shouldn’t do this frivolously, but we also shouldn’t hesitate when there is a serious risk. There have been multiple times when cars have purposefully and recklessly driven right up to and past us, coming very close to hitting me and my fellow sidewalk counselors. I have also had a clinic escort become threatening and physically shove me while I was at the clinic. (For that full story, see my blog post, Why I Called the Police at the Abortion Facility Last Month)

In times like these, for the safety of everyone, it can sometimes be necessary to call the police and make a report. Unfortunately, when you are making a report it can turn into a he said/she said situation unless there is some sort of video evidence. This can be one of the key roles for peaceful witnesses that can go overlooked. Non-talkers should be ready to record with their phones if something happens because third party videos from a small distance can usually show more of the story than a video being recorded by the people involved.

Quote from the Sidewalk Counseling Masterclass.

Why I Called the Police at the Abortion Facility Last Month

Unfortunately, there may be a time when threats or acts of violence against you become a reality while sidewalk counseling. It is important to know how to handle such a situation, and, in particular, when and how to involve the police.

When I arrived at the facility there were already some sidewalk counseling volunteers there. I spoke with one volunteer who said that one of the abortion facility escorts, Roy, was acting particularly aggressive that day. He was physically pushing his way in between sidewalk counselors and abortion-minded people at the facility. A couple of hours later, I saw two sidewalk counselors persuade an abortion-minded couple outside the facility to come down to talk with them.

Roy saw the sidewalk counselors in conversation with the facility’s potential customers and started marching aggressively in their direction. I could see that Roy was going to try to break up their conversation, so I walked over to them to intercept Roy. I stood with my back to the couple and faced Roy. When he was about ten feet away from me, he stuck his arm out horizontally at about shoulder height and continued to walk until he ran into me with his forearm.

Why We Need Male Sidewalk Counselors

Jacob Nels is the Operations Coordinator at Equal Rights Institute. One of the most important things Jacob brings to the table at ERI is his expertise in gracious dialogue, particularly with people who are post-abortive and abortion-minded. In addition to putting those skills to good use at college campus outreaches, Jacob has a regular presence outside an abortion clinic as a sidewalk counselor and has had the joy of helping many women, men, and children leave the clinic alive and whole.

Jacob Nels sidewalk counselor men

Jacob Nels sidewalk counseling in Georgia

A few years ago I watched a black sedan pull into the parking lot of an abortion clinic. A man and a woman got out and walked up to the clinic, ignoring my attempts to engage them. After the man walked her into the clinic, he came back to his car for something. Raising my voice to carry across the parking lot separating us, I tried again to start a conversation with him. I said,

Jacob: Hey, man! I know this is a hard day. No one really wants to be here. I’m here if you want to talk.

Ross: I’m not for this. I don’t like it.

Jacob: What do you mean? Would you tell me your story?

To show my respect and friendship, I did something that almost always works with other men. There is a white line painted on the sidewalk that I cannot legally cross. Pressing my toes to the line, I extended my hand to the man and said,

Jacob: My name’s Jacob.