Akiko Bremar, Contributing Writer
Every Saturday morning, at 7:30 a.m. and 9:00 a.m., Crusaders for Life brings students to an abortion clinic to pray out front or act as a sidewalk counselor, talking to people who are about to go in. I met with Ben Morrissette, a graduate student who has been a sidewalk counselor with CFL for a year and who interned last summer with Texas Right to Life. After providing some background information about sidewalk counseling, he shared a few of his experiences.
AB: What made you want to become a sidewalk couselor?
BM: I remember when I first started going to the abortion clinic, I saw the sidewalk counselors and my thought was, “It’s a good thing I don’t have to do that,” because I am not the type of person to be on the street and approach total strangers. But somewhere along the way, the idea sparked me, and it didn’t go away. So it seemed like something God wanted me to do. I went to the training about a year ago, and even helped out in the summer because the diocese offered paid internships, and I have been helping out since.
AB: Can you tell me about your first experience as a sidewalk counselor?
BM: I was partnered with a girl that I didn’t know, and it was both of our first time. We saw a girl in the parking lot, and she seemed unsure of something. I went up to her and asked her if everything was alright. She said she was ok, but I saw that she was timid. I told her a bit about Birth Choice and asked if she wanted to go. She had said no thank you and proceeded to the abortion clinic.
She came out some time later and had a haunted, unsettled look. I walked back to her and asked her again if she was ok and if she wanted to reconsider Birth Choice. At that moment, my partner came up and offered to walk with the girl and go in with her. She agreed, and they went, but it wasn’t open yet since it was still early on a Saturday. So we called Joanna, the director of sidewalk counseling, and we called STORKS, a mobile truck that offers sonograms to women.
The girl went into the truck, and my shift had ended. Somehow I was still in the parking lot when she came out of the truck though, and the girl was just beaming. I think it was the first time she had the chance to see her baby. It made my week, and I was overwhelmed. It was my first time helping, I didn’t do anything special, but somehow we made someone so happy, and it made us all feel happy as well.
AB: What is it like being a sidewalk counselor? How do you approach people, and what do you do?
BM: Usually there will be pairs. One person will be a prayer partner who doesn’t participate in the intervention. The counselor will initiate some interaction with the people going in. We just go up and ask how their days are going, and if they are willing to stop and listen for a little bit. We have literature with resources that we try to give people. In addition, there is a clinic across the street, called Birth Choice, that offers various services like free basic medical exams, pregnancy tests, other materials and support. We have a 30-second window before people walk into the clinics so that we can help them know that there are other options.
AB: What are some challenges that you face on the sidewalks?
BM: The challenges are myriad. But for me, the greatest challenge at this point is simply learning how to respond to people as they need. You go in thinking that you have to say the right thing, or that there is a certain way to do things. Or you think that you can plant a seed and do something that will help. But there is a certain temptation to want to rely on yourself and your abilities instead of relying on God.
AB: How do you respond to people who don’t want help and continue walking towards the clinic?
BM: What we have been taught, and what we’ve come to develop, is great respect for individuals and their choices. It is a disappointment to see people decline and go into the clinic, which happens more often than not. There is some reassurance that we know that maybe we’ve planted a seed. Even if they go through with the abortion, maybe their contact with us will help them sometime in the future with healing. Ultimately, I don’t condone what some people choose to do, or I don’t agree with it, but I definitely respect them as individuals. We don’t want to badger people or chase them around.
AB: How many saves have you experienced during your time as a sidewalk counselor?
BM: Approximately 15 to 20. I wasn’t necessarily the point person, but I have worked with other counselors who have helped out.
AB: How do you respond to people who disagree with the method of sidewalk counseling—standing outside abortion clinics—and to those who say that it’s only an outward show?
BM: When you are out there, the reaction and responses that we get from people are certainly not being done for show. Some people are friendly and receptive, but many are not. Saying that sidewalk counseling is showy really contradicts the experience. If you’re doing something for show, then it goes against the nature of the person doing it, because they expose themselves to some threats, because some counselors have been threatened.
In response to people who say that sidewalk counseling is not good or effective, it is certainly not ideal. No one wants to stand outside an abortion mill. But in terms of it being effective, how do you measure the efficacy of saving a life? Do you say it is ineffective because one person was saved or two? The way I look at is, one person is one person, whether there are twenty that you didn’t get to.
AB: How do you think people should discern whether or not they should do sidewalk counseling?
BM: I would say that if you are considering it, if it is a thought that has occurred to you, then there is probably a reason. A lot of time, I think the concern is, “What could I do?” or “I don’t know what to say.” But it is helpful to realize that there is no one way to do things or one right thing to say. Once you get past personal limitations, things suddenly become possible, and you can do a great good.