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How To Sidewalk Counsel Abortion-Minded Moms Without Going To Prison

woman sitting on exam table at abortion facility
Image Credit New Voices/Flickr/Public domain

To truly reach the heart of a mother in crisis, we have to go out of our way to create a safe, confidential, and respectful space.


As president and CEO of the nation’s largest sidewalk outreach organization serving outside of abortion facilities, I’m deeply concerned when I hear of someone being arrested for their presence at a facility. Recently, six pro-life activists in Tennessee were convicted for supposedly singing hymns outside an abortion facility. After throwing on my attorney hat and digging into the case, it became clear there was more to the story than many are letting on. I hope to shine a light on the difference between what I see as risky bravado and strategic, life-saving outreach. 

The facts of the case note that pro-life demonstrators in Tennessee were convicted under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act —  or, more definitively, for blocking the door of an abortion facility by sitting in front of it. Just last year, the Department of Justice (DOJ) convicted another group of individuals for violating the FACE Act after they blocked access to a Washington, D.C., abortion facility using their bodies, tying themselves to furniture with chains and ropes. One woman testified that the activists “grabbed at her, told her she was going to hell and followed her all the way into the clinic — where they barred her from entering,” WUSA9 reported. I was shocked to read about these modern-day “rescues,” as some are calling it, knowing how delicate it can be to win a life-saving conversation with a mother considering abortion.

The goal of Sidewalk Advocates for Life’s interaction with an abortion-minded mother is to soften her crisis such that she’ll consider life-affirming help. Our teams, unlike those described above, never physically block or touch a woman because we hope to create a safe place for dialogue, in contrast to the abortionist who wants to hurt her and her child. Sadly, modern-day “rescue” attempts often confuse women, making the abortion facility the safe haven, according to testimony from And Then There Were None, which ministers to former abortion workers.

Meanwhile, the Biden DOJ has been eager to use FACE specifically to protect the abortion industry, while failing to prosecute those who vandalize and threaten pro-life pregnancy centers, which can also be protected under the FACE Act. Even though the FACE Act is unjustly applied as a legislative weapon against pro-life activists and unnecessarily duplicative of local laws that already address the criminal activities the FACE Act purports to prohibit (e.g. trespassing, assault, etc.), sidewalk counselors can still work within the current legal landscape and reach people effectively.

I’ve dedicated my life to this cause, discerning how best to help abortion-vulnerable women choose life. After 22 years on the sidewalk, I can tell you that, to truly reach the heart of a mother in crisis, we have to go out of our way to create a safe, confidential space and avoid anything that could paint us as unapproachable or threatening, including doing anything illegal. Our peaceful, prayerful, law-abiding presence has helped us build relationships with thousands of women and their families when they encounter us in a dire moment of need, thereby saving their precious children.

Downsides of this Strategy

Regarding a law-breaking strategy, it’s hard to discern the perceived win of shutting down a facility for half a day while police are called, just to — according to testimonies of former abortion workers — have abortion appointments rescheduled at that facility or one nearby. It neither helps the pro-life movement nor a pregnant woman in crisis when an abortion facility closes for a few hours, pro-life individuals are arrested, and facilities reopen to continue the killing. Further, those individuals who sought to help are removed from ministry, tied up in needless litigation, and separated from the everyday conversations that change hearts and minds. This is in stark contrast to the numerous opportunities to reach women safely and legally on the public sidewalk. 

Additionally, it’s paramount that abortion facility outreach is law-abiding, because breaking any law outside an abortion facility gives state and city governments fodder to create unconstitutional buffer/bubble zones around abortion facilities, which put a perimeter around a facility to limit pro-lifers speaking with abortion-minded women. When sidewalk outreach is forced dozens of feet away from the facility, it can be very difficult to warmly, lovingly, and peacefully reach a woman in need.

Achievements of A Gentler Approach

While my heart understands the urgent drive to save preborn children from death, we must be wise as serpents and gentle as doves in these high-stakes, life-or-death scenarios. And there is an alternative that is working! Peaceful, prayerful sidewalk advocacy has proven to be effective, and we have trained thousands of people to connect with women using this tool, leading to 22,000 preborn children saved. Not to mention, our presence has given us opportunities to form friendships with abortion workers, encouraging 88 of them to leave their jobs. It has moved women who have experienced abortion to find healing and to report their sometimes-horrific experience to legal counsel, all of which helps shut down these facilities for good. We are now celebrating 55 abortion facility closures, in fact!

As leaders, we have a moral obligation to wrestle with what is working and what is not. More confrontational approaches can seem like an exciting way to right the grave injustice of abortion, but I’ve yet to see it do that. These tactics rarely save preborn children or bring more understanding or compassion to our side — but they can put many well-intentioned people in federal prison

If we say yes to peaceful, prayerful, law-abiding outreach at an abortion facility, our name may not be in the headlines, but we’ll win a much greater prize: more lives of innocent children, more hearts of hurting women, and more communities gradually proclaiming a culture of life. And because we’re not embroiled in legal battles or imprisoned on federal charges, we’ll be free to reach countless more souls and save countless more lives for years to come.

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