MOUNT PLEASANT—Sometimes all it takes to reach a woman facing a crisis pregnancy and have her choose life for her baby is to show her there is hope.
That’s the key lesson that women learning to become sidewalk advocates for life learned at a training session held Jan. 23. Sponsored by the diocesan Family Life Office, it was led by Stasi Gormley of Mount Pleasant and Dana Bowman of Charleston, both of whom have volunteered to speak with women outside the Planned Parenthood-Charleston Health Center office.
The session used materials from Sidewalk Advocates for Life, a national organization founded in Texas that seeks to train people to offer “peaceful, prayerful and law-abiding” intervention for women and men dealing with crisis pregnancies. The program’s goal is to provide an experience that is the direct opposite of situations in the past, when women were confronted with raised voices and negative feelings. Instead, advocates take a friendly, gentle approach and focus on offering women alternatives to choosing abortion.
“We want to reach out to the women and let them know that we are here out of love and want to help in any way we can,” Gormley told the participants.
The Sidewalk Advocate approach is currently being used in 202 locations around the U.S. and overseas, and organizers estimate that 12,409 babies have been saved by advocates who were able to persuade women to choose life.
Volunteers have been acting as sidewalk advocates outside the clinic in Charleston for about five years. There are also advocates who stand outside the clinic in Greenville. At the Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia, volunteers from another initiative, called “A Moment of Hope”, provide services similar to sidewalk advocates, but they are not affiliated with the national Sidewalk Advocates program.
Gormley and Bowman said the nonconfrontational approach that the advocates take is a peaceful contrast to pro-choice protesters in Charleston, who recently have been shouting and using noisemakers such as squeaking dog toys to drown out the prayers and voices of the advocates. Some pro-choice protesters have also surrounded women entering the clinic with opened umbrellas to try to keep advocates away. Other confrontations have also been happening outside the clinic in the Upstate.
The key thing to remember, the trainees were told, is to always stay focused on the mission of helping the woman and saving her baby, no matter how loud or ugly the opposition becomes.
During the training session, the participants watched videos from the Texas-based Sidewalk Advocates office and received materials that outlined the importance of focusing on the mother in crisis and her needs, and addressing them with compassion and Christian love.
One of the most important concepts that sidewalk advocates are asked to remember is, “If we care about babies, we must start caring for the mothers.”
The advocates are asked to remember that many women facing a crisis pregnancy feel they are losing control of both their present and future lives. The key is to quickly let them know that there is hope, and plenty of resources available for assistance. In many cases, a woman will choose life if she realizes that she does not have to face the crisis alone.
Advocates work hand-in-hand with local crisis pregnancy centers and learn how to provide women with information about how they can visit the centers to receive ultrasounds, prenatal care and any other help that the local centers offer. In many cases, advocates will go directly to a local pregnancy care center with a woman if she wishes it.
Sidewalk counselors also learn about other programs available to help mothers, such as housing needs, rent and utility assistance, baby supplies and more.
The key, the volunteers learned, is to find out what the mother’s main need is and offer a way to fulfill it so she will be able to choose life for her baby and improve her own life at the same time.
Future training sessions for sidewalk advocates are in the planning stages. To learn more about the national program, visit https://sidewalkadvocates.org.