Sidewalk Advocates or Sidewalk Bullies

When I was in my early 30s, I stood outside of a number of abortion vendors in my state. I had the advantage of having a lovely woman as my mentor. Jeanie taught me how to be alert and aware of my surroundings. She’d seen the vitriol of the movement first hand. She didn’t tolerate any animosity from her side of the sidewalk, though.

Any negative vibes would have to come from someplace else. Her sweet spirit and gentle demeanor was ever present at the gates. She knew which days were abortion days and arrived early with her pleas for consideration from those who would enter. She offered hope and help to anyone crossing over.

At one of the sites, I stood with her in the whipping cold winter and burning heat of summer, week after week. She and I both had a few different signs that we’d bring. A huge smiling baby with the word, LIFE on one. Another had the word, CHOICE, and a photo of a 10-week abortion victim. I called that my gruesome sign. We were sidewalk advocates. I had a variety of placards with offers for help with needs that arise with unplanned pregnancy.

We also carried pamphlets. They exposed the abortion vendors’ manipulation tactics or the risks of abortion. Some were stories of women who’d overcome the crisis of pregnancy by assault or when faced with a poor inter-diagnosis. We always had resources for after abortion too. We offered loving kindness, especially on the days that we had the gruesome signs. Our hearts were broken.

I have very mixed feelings about the gruesome signs. My experience varied greatly. Most people were simply repulsed by the graphic photos of the victims of abortion, but I’ll never forget the last time I held my CHOICE sign at the door of the abortion clinic. A man of slight build and a countenance of a bully ushered a woman larger than him in every way, down the sidewalk. She stopped about eight feet from me and looked as though she might fall to her knees, she burst out in tears.

I leaned away from the sign and told her that she didn’t have to go in, there is help available. I pleaded with her, but she shook her head and said, “I can’t.” Barely able to catch her breath, she wailed while the man, with his hand firmly on her back went into the clinic. Another woman followed with her teen girl and almost the same response. They didn’t stop.

I felt as though being there only added fuel to their fiery trauma. I don’t know what the answer is, but that wasn’t it. I returned many times to various places, but at the doors of the abortion vendors, I bring my pamphlets and placards and not the gruesome sign.

I do think there is a place for showing the world the reality of abortion, similar to that of Emmet Till’s casket demonstrated the horror of violence against people of color in the 1950’s. But as a nation we’ve been traumatized by abortion. Millions of people have suffered the scourge of this brutal mass murder. Not a soul hasn’t been affected. So, how and where it would be appropriate to show such pictures is a complex question.

At the doors of the abortionists, we plead, we weep, we offer hope and resources, hoping to rescue those drawn to the death.

It is the anger associated with the brutality of abortion that causes a divide. It is a horrible act, committed by those whose conscience has been seared. Abby Johnson told of her experience recently. She said that she could have left the abortion industry two years sooner, had she not been alienated by a protester.

Some will experience an evolution of thought about protests. I did. 40Days for Life and others provide a pro-life witness. Those few bullies yelling obscenities and accusations may find their way too. Let’s pray they do.

I do believe that this era is a horrible blot on humanity. I hope we can turn it around, even if only one heart at a time.

1 Comment
  • Thank you for your thoughts on this, Darlene. This question comes up again and again when I’m talking with activists. After listening to several women who used to work in abortion facilities, I won’t participate in a sidewalk witness that includes bloody-baby photos. The former abortion workers have told me unanimously that those images only increased their sense of solidarity as abortion providers.

    Thirty years ago, I wouldn’t have believed that such a reaction was possible. Live & learn.

    August 11, 2017 at 3:33 pm

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