Author in front of the Utah Valley Planned Parenthood in Orem, Utah
I got started in pro-life activism in 2016 and have been involved with Pro-Life Utah ever since. Whether through investigating Utah Planned Parenthood clinics, testifying on behalf of pro-life legislation, or supporting women in crisis pregnancies, I am committed to using my time and talents to end the violence of abortion in my state.
Today, I want to discuss another strategy we use to build a culture of life and support women who are in difficult circumstances: sidewalk advocacy.
Sidewalk advocacy is where trained individuals go right to where abortions happen—the sidewalks outside of Planned Parenthood—to offer support, help, love, and resources to men and women who are in crisis. Sidewalk advocates are not protestors. They are not belligerent, they are not insulting, and they are not there to cause harm or make a scene. Sidewalk advocates obey all laws, have conversations, and hand out pamphlets about life-affirming resources to help these women.
Here are 5 things I’ve learned about sidewalk advocacy:
Sidewalk Advocacy is Effective
The first thing you should know about sidewalk advocacy is that it works. Women really do engage with advocates, learn about free help available to them, and make a decision to keep their baby. It’s not just wishful thinking on our part; it truly is effective.
Sometimes advocates get discouraged when their offers of help are continually refused and they keep seeing women enter the abortion facilities. Martin Cannon, an attorney with the Thomas More Society who has defended sidewalk advocates in court for decades, has said the following:
“For every life that we know is saved, I would submit that there are 10 or 20 that happen that we don’t know about. All she has to do is see a moral authority on the sidewalk and probably a third or even half of the time, she’ll simply drive on by. We’ve had on several cases, clinic escorts and managers testify reluctantly (not exaggerating things to garner sympathy from the court), we had them testify that sidewalk counselors cost them a third or more of their business. That is a huge number of saved babies! So every sidewalk counselor needs to know that when you go out on the sidewalk and you think it was an uneventful day and you don’t think you had any effect, that might have been your best day, and you don’t even know it. There is no such thing as wasting your time on the sidewalk.”
When I have spent time on the sidewalk outside of Planned Parenthood in Salt Lake City, my immediate goal for the day is to kindly engage with women, lovingly offer them alternatives, and empower them to leave and go to the pregnancy center for further assistance. But sidewalk advocates have a long-term goal as well: close their local abortion facility. Every hour we spend on the sidewalk in prayer and peaceful outreach brings us closer to that goal. We know sidewalk advocates have accomplished that at countless abortion facilities. Here is the story of one of those facilities:
Sidewalk Advocacy is Difficult
There is no getting around the fact that participating in sidewalk advocacy can hurt your heart. When you understand what abortion is and the way it kills a child in the womb (as well as the trauma it brings to the mother), you cannot help feel a deep sense of grief and sorrow when standing just a few feet away from where this atrocious act takes place. We have a natural aversion to being in front of abortion facilities, and although our hearts may break, we rely on prayer for strength to be there.
In addition to the emotional pain of knowing that abortions are happening so close to us, sidewalk advocacy can be uncomfortable in other ways as well. While I have had many productive conversations with passerby or women who need assistance, any sidewalk advocate will tell you that you’re bound to get a fair share of rude comments, middle fingers, or even angry outbursts. In a society that believes that anything goes, what we are doing out on the sidewalks is counter-cultural, and the tension we experience from those who disagree with our work can be palpable.
Sidewalk Advocacy is Simple
One of my favorite things about sidewalk advocacy is that almost anyone can do it. You do not need an advanced degree, you do not need to be of any particular religious denomination, and bringing just a few simple supplies can equip you with what you need to serve these women. Many folks who have gotten involved in sidewalk advocacy have expressed that they weren’t necessarily the type to stand as public witness or be out there for others to see. But man or woman, young or old, if you have the heart for these women and these babies, you can become a sidewalk advocate as well!
Pro-Life Utah uses the training provided by Sidewalk Advocates for Life to equip us to handle any situation we may encounter on the sidewalk. This training helps you be confident and informed in how to navigate difficult situations, legal boundaries, and anything else you may experience while standing on the public right of way outside of an abortion facility.
Sidewalk Advocacy is Beautiful
Throughout the years, sidewalk advocates with our group have helped several women turn away from the abortion facility to find real solutions to the problems they face, and in doing so, have helped to save the life of their precious babies. We have held baby showers for some of these women and formed lasting friendships with them.
In the picture at the top of this page, I was 6 months pregnant with my 3rd child. Even though I was very busy and did not have much time, I felt like I needed to be on the sidewalk. Driving to the Orem Planned Parenthood that day, I remember thinking “I can only be here for 45 minutes. Is this even going to be worth it?” Well, it was worth it. About 20 minutes in, I met a young woman who had just received a positive pregnancy test. After talking for a bit, she jumped out of the car to hug me, and together we called and made an appointment for her to get a free ultrasound at the pregnancy center in Salt Lake. We exchanged contact information, Pro-Life Utah team members showered her with gifts, and 7 months later she texted me a picture of her holding her newborn baby boy.
Witnessing a woman accept an invitation for help and turn away from the culture of death is nothing short of a miracle. Not only do we find peace and victory in a life saved, but we likewise rejoice in a mother and a family being spared the deep pain of regret.
Sidewalk Advocacy Is Our Duty
There are two facilities in the state of Utah that exist solely to end human life—Planned Parenthood Metro & Wasatch Women’s Center, both in Salt Lake City. We know where they are located, we know their hours of operation, and we know their mothers wouldn’t be seeking abortions unless they were in crisis. These human beings that are scheduled to be killed by suction vacuums, metal forceps, or chemical starvation have no legal rights to protect them. As people of faith and conscience, it is our duty to do our part to save these children from the slaughter.
David Bereit is a renowned pro-life leader who has said the following:
“If the sidewalks in front of an abortion facility are empty, we may as well put up a sign that says ‘open by way of the Church.’”
As Americans, we are particularly blessed to live in a nation where our 1st amendment rights to peacefully assemble allow us this access (Canada, for example, has virtually zero laws restricting abortion, and sidewalk advocacy is prohibited). It is our God-given duty to spend time in prayer and outreach on the sidewalks in front of abortion facilities.
If your heart has been convicted on the tragedy of abortion and you want to help women who feel trapped but don’t know how, please consider that you may be called to sidewalk ministry. To learn more or possibly get involved with sidewalk advocacy in Utah, please visit UtahAdvocatesforLife.org. Even if you’re not sure it’s your thing or don’t have a ton of available time, I promise the training is worth it. Just like how God used my 45 minutes on the sidewalk to assist a woman in need, God can use whatever amount of time you can give to work miracles out on the sidewalk.
If you are struggling with an unexpected pregnancy, we are here for you. Visit pregnancychoiceutah.org to see the resources that we offer. If you are able, please consider donating so we can continue the essential work of sidewalk advocacy and supporting women in unexpected pregnancies.