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What Sidewalk Counselors Do

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Sidewalk Counseling Ministry

What Sidewalk Counselors Do

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They hold bloody signs, chase down women as they are walking into the abortion clinic, and yell in their faces that they are murderers… Well, that’s at least what everybody thinks we do. And to be honest, it’s what I thought too before I got involved with this very difficult and very misunderstood ministry.

A few weeks ago, this stereotype had a short surge of support with the news that a federal lawsuit had been filed against “Louisville Abortion Protestor” David Hamilton. According to the Courier Journal, the suit claimed David “used force against an escort as she was taking a woman inside the center. Hamilton also attempted to injure, intimidate and interfere with others trying to get inside the clinic.” Reports like this seem to confirm that sidewalk counselors are nothing more than pro-life bullies out to harm anyone with an opposing view and an unwanted pregnancy.

Let me assure you, there is nothing farther from the truth.

I was actually inspired to join the sidewalk counseling ministry in Louisville, Kentucky, through none other than the accused radical, David Hamilton who I knew through my church. I heard that David was going out to the nearby abortion clinic every week and since he didn’t strike me as the angry yelling sort, I asked him what he was trying to accomplish out there.

David told me he was partnering with another local church, Immanuel Baptist Church, and their “Speak for the Unborn” (S4U) ministry. According to the S4U website, this ministry was created with the goal to “make abortion impossible in Louisville, KY, through the means of sidewalk counseling and prayer.” David explained that every week “sidewalk counselors” walk with those entering the abortion clinic and share evidence from both Scripture and the fetal development process that the unborn are actually human beings created by God and deserving of life.

They also encourage women to visit the nearby pregnancy center, A Woman’s Choice Resource Center (AWC), as an alternative to aborting their babies. At AWC, women can walk-in and receive counseling regarding their specific situations. AWC is a non-profit special health clinic equipped to provide pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, maternity/infant supplies and referrals for medical assistance, financial aid, adoption resources, etc. – all donated in order to help mothers going through crisis pregnancies. David assured me that sidewalk counselors were not out there as protestors, but as Christians concerned for the well-being of all involved – mothers and babies.

This concern for those affected by abortion is what drew me to the S4U ministry, and the very first week I joined I saw how true David’s explanation had been. The S4U volunteers are people who attend with one goal: to offer hope and help to women intending to have abortions. The wild card in this ministry is of course, that most of the people we encounter disagree with our stance that every life is precious and are offended by our efforts to change their minds about abortion. Add to that the fact that there are volunteers for the abortion clinic who come specifically to shield mothers from our conversations, and you can imagine how tense the environment can get.

Clinic escorts and sidewalk counselors conversely vie for the attention of clients while walking a short distance down a narrow sidewalk leading to the clinic. Understandably, it is not the ideal environment to hold a sensitive conversation, especially in front of an audience of opposition. Nonetheless, we seek to conscientiously engage in this atmosphere because we truly believe we have the opportunity to help save the life of a baby. And beyond that, we know that this ministry is effective, because we have seen it work. Already this year, we have confirmed 3 instances of women coming out of the abortion clinic having decided to keep their babies. We know the sidewalks are a last resort, but surely we should show up if it’s worth the chance to help save a life and spare a mother a lifetime of regret.

The accusations that David tried to “injure or intimidate” anyone is completely unfounded and goes against all he was seeking to accomplish on the sidewalks. His original case was dismissed and the new federal suit is grossly lacking in evidence and substance. We are confident that if he is investigated, his outstanding character and compassionate reputation will be a credit to his innocence. Further, it is stated on S4U’s website that sidewalk counselors, “in no way support illegal activities, unkind words or tone, threats, unwanted physical contact, or anything of the sort.” David and all sidewalk counselors are careful to abide by these principles. It would be completely counter-productive to our ministry to be intimidating those we most long to help, and would discredit the grace and compassion we show up to represent.

I can’t vouch for every sidewalk counselor in our nation, but I can say that in Louisville, the Speak for the Unborn ministry is committed to engaging with women in a non-violent manner that is loving, kind, and respectful. I have consistently observed a motive of love in the sidewalk counselors I serve with and have wholeheartedly joined in with this lot. We may be misunderstood and misrepresented, but our confident convictions will keep us coming back day after day. We are motivated by the hope that women will hear our message and cherish the miracle of life over the devastation of abortion. We share these thoughts through our freedoms of speech and through godly and legal means. That is what sidewalk counselors do.

If you’d like to learn more about what sidewalk counselors do, please feel free to look through our website for more information.

8 Comments

  1. Ken

    Miss Brandy,

    I will give you the credit due because you are one of the more civil and kind sidewalk counselors. But you are the exception, not the rule. By their mere presence at the clinic, sidewalk counselors intimidate people going to the doctor. They do not ask permission to speak to people and continue to talk when folks ask to be left alone. They crowd in on the clients, invading their poersonal space, shoving unwanted literature at them and telling them they are going to go to hell if they go through with their decision. We have both seen sdiewalk counselors get right up to clients car doors so that they cannot move when they get out of the car. We have both seen counselors purposefully obstruct clients paths to the clinic – a classic violation of the FACE act. We have both seen counselors verbally abuse escorts, especially those of color, to the point of the escorts braking down into tears.

    And don’t even get me started on Miss Angela!

    But to your point of why you are there: In my two plus years of escorting, I have seen maybe twenty clients that were actually in crisis over this decision. The vast majority of clients have moved through the crisis mode and are in resolutioon mode when they get to the clinic. The time to talk to them was two weeks ago. Where were you then? Where are your efforts to prevent unintended pregnacy through birth control and proper sex education? Where is your support to fund education programs that actually prepare women to join the workforce at a rate that affords them to have children? Where is your support of funding for safe and abundant childcare?

    And for those few clients that show up at the clinic still unsure, do you really think dead bloody fetus posters, soapbox preachers, and screaming at a 2″ thick plate glass window really helps them? No, they need someone to listen to them. They need support and help and understanding.

    Now you may say that you are not a part of all the ugliness down there. And I honestly believe you are trying to help. But the fact is, in the cacophony that is Saturday morning on the sidewalk, you are part of the intimidation and harassment that make escorts necessary.

    Reply
    • Brandy

      Hey Ken,

      To your first point about typical sidewalk counselor behavior, I unfortunately think we will probably just disagree on that issue. I hope you do recognize a marked difference in the way that Speak for the Unborn volunteers act out on the sidewalks. We hold to a very high standard of lovingly presenting the truth of the Gospel to the women we encounter. The Bible calls us to speak the truth in love. We recognize our message of truth is uncomfortable and even offensive to most, but it should always be conveyed with genuine concern and care. I honestly have never seen one of our volunteers shoving literature or telling people they’re going to hell if they have an abortion. I’ve also never seen someone stand in a mother’s way, and certainly never seen verbal abuse toward escorts (although I have observed that consistently from a number of escorts towards us). I can only speak for the S4U volunteers but I think you may have confused us with others out on the sidewalks. Regardless, if you do ever see that kind of action, please tell us b/c we would lovingly confront one of our own if they were acting out of line with the Bible too.

      And when it comes to the number of women in crisis, I am pleased to tell you it is far more than you think! We have documented as of today, 20 women who have had abortion appointments, gone into EMW and then come out deciding to keep their babies… in the last 3 MONTHS!! Most of the time girls don’t change their minds on the sidewalks, but they do in the waiting room. There they have time to think about our words of hope and some, more than a few, change their minds and come seek our help! Ken, I would come back day after day even if only 1 women came out in 2 years, but numbers like this are extremely encouraging for us to keep speaking out and seeing God use our words to encourage and change hearts. It is not too late on the sidewalks!

      Even beyond that evidence, I hope you know that we sidewalk counselors DO want to help these women prior to the day of their abortion appointments. In fact, God commands His church to be loving and serving the communities around us. And thankfully many of us are! Have you looked into the community ministries of Kenwood Baptist Church or Immanuel Baptist? I bet you’d be surprised to hear how we are sacrificing our time elsewhere to serve our neighbors. And A Woman’s Choice does help 100’s and 100’s of women every year before they get to the point of abortion. I love being a part of my church’s outreach and AWC’s ministries as much as I am committed to Speak for the Unborn. We truly believe the Bible has answers for our society’s problems and we are out telling God’s hope to all we can. Sex education, community programs, job placement… these are not the ultimate answers for the problem of abortion. We are after people’s hearts and the only way we can reach that is through the hope they have in Christ. So we are out on a mission to share the Gospel and at the same time we are meeting whatever practical needs we can. On the sidewalks outside our city’s abortion clinic, we encounter a lot of women who desperately need the Lord. If I haven’t met them before, I am glad to meet them then and share that Christ has offered them a better choice than the sin of abortion. He has afforded them payment for all of their sins and freedom from Satan’s hold on their hearts, if only they will hear and believe and trust in Him rather the empty promises of this world. I consider that a beautiful opportunity!

      Reply
  2. Ken

    You are correct in that I DO lump all of the anti-choice folks on the sidewalk into the same camp. It is very difficult to tell the Catholics from the Baptists from the Born-Agains from the Evangelicals from the Redneck Misogynists. It’s really difficult to distinguish the differences when the behavior is all too similar.

    And if you have never heard a sidewalk counselor condemn someone to hell for their impending actions or viciously rip into an escort then you must have gone temporarily deaf this morning when Miss Angela lit into me because I return your literature rather than see it go into the garbage. My soul is still sore from that verbal beat down. And if you try to justify that as anything other than hateful and abusive, well, we really cannot dialogue.

    I also have to take issue with you saying that 20 women have come out of the abortion clinic in the past three months. All my time at the clinic, I have seen three women come out. And two of them were back within a week. Please, please, show me some real evidence that your perception is true. Not that it will change my actions or support of women, but just to let me know you aren’t bewitched by the brainwashing to which the pro-life movement subjects you youngsters.

    To your point about birth control and sex ed. Please research the actual facts. Since this country has removed funding for anything other than abstinence only education, abortions have SKYROCKETED! We need comprehensive sex ed in our middle and high schools. You don’t let a teenager jump in a car without a little instruction and explanation of the peddles and controls. How dare we not give them the same tools to figure out their bodies?

    But none of this precludes you preaching your gospel. I do not step on your message or deny you the space to talk to people. Why is OK for the religious right to stomp on my message of fact based truths?

    THAT is the issue I have with your relgion. I do not hate you or Jesus or the message of the Bible. But I am so beat down by you and yours thinking your way is the only way and best one right way and I must be silenced that I am in a fight or flight instinctive mode. You love your religion. Great. But stop trying to force feed it to those of us that have experienced it already and are moving beyond it to a deeper understanding of God’s creation and what this all REALLY means.

    There are folks on the brink of major breakthroughs that may unite the schools of thought of religion and science. Your drakonian clinging to 6000 year old ideals may just kill any hope we have of TRULY realizing the Glory that humans were created to achieve.

    On a softer note, I am glad that you and I are able to engage on the sidewalk without it being so abrasive anymore. And please know, I followed you with that companion this morning as much for your safety as anything else. She had exhibited volatile, potentially violent behavior earlier and I wanted to postion myself so as to prevent any altercation. Not that I was “protecting” you. But my presence supported her, the companion, in a way that she did not feel threatened and therefore the need to lash out. As bizarre as it may sound, escorts are there, on the sidewalk, for your well being as much as anything else.

    Reply
    • Brandy

      Well Ken, although you lump us all together on the sidewalks, I really can’t speak for everyone who is there. All I can tell you is what our Speak for the Unborn goals are and how we are committed to expressing ourselves to you and everyone else we encounter. It is a tough atmosphere, and we are there to tell people an uncomfortable truth. Of course we know that our message can be offensive, we too were once offended by the idea that our choices were wrong and we needed to instead follow God plans and even ask His mercy to save us. This is not fun to hear, but it is a message that everyone has to face. Will you trust yourself or will you trust in God? The urgency we feel not only for the baby at stake, but also for the family about to take part in its killing makes our message even more desperate.

      Our perspective on escorts is all the more difficult. You are promoting the very message that we are there to defeat and your support of their choice is a slap in the face to our God and all His truths. It should anger us that you slight the object of our utmost affection and respect. And honestly, I think we should be firm in sharing with you the danger of what you are doing. But, you are right in that we cannot be your ultimate judge. We can see your actions though, and warn you of the judgement you are in danger of receiving from God someday soon. Either you will have to pay for your wrong choices or you will let Jesus pay them for you. I desperately want to see all your wrongs made right by Jesus’ sacrifice rather than by you being punished for them. I hope to tell you these things out of my care for you, and never out of hatred. I can honestly say that I hate what you promote, but my God tells me to pray for you and love you with the same love that He showed me back when I was His enemy too. Your decision about God is between you and Him. I am sorry if you’ve been berated by Christians, but in the same vein, I also hope that we never make you feel comfortable living without God. Your peace with God will always be our greatest desire for you.

      On to other issues… You asked how we get our statistics and I am glad to tell you more about that! All 20 of the women I referred to have been documented by A Woman’s Choice volunteers who have spoken directly with the girls as they’ve come out of the clinic. The reason you and I don’t see these women is because they rarely have a change of heart within the first few minutes of being in the clinic. As you probably know, they all have to wait a couple of hours before the abortions are performed so most have a lot of time to think while sitting in the waiting room. AWC is so great in that they come out and greet every woman who exits the abortion clinic, yes even if they’ve had an abortion. They give them gift bags and still offer them assistance if the ladies are interested. Through these interactions and those who have come directly over to their clinic, they have kept track of the numbers. I get weekly updates from the staff there. So the stats come straight from those women on the sidewalks that you trust.

      As for abortions skyrocketing b/c of a lack of sex ed… Ken that is quite a generalized statement. You may consider that a fact, but it is so short-sighted that it can’t qualify as anything more than opinion. What other things have happened in the last 4 decades… hmm… the sexual revolution, the rise of the feminist movement, the legalization of abortion on demand, etc. Have you not considered any of these factors in your statistics too? Well, I think that these are significant influencers as well. Besides, are you really arguing that back in the day when there was NO sex ed, it was culturally taboo to have sex before marriage, and birth control wasn’t even around.. that abortions were more prevalent? I’d love to see where you are getting these “facts.” It just makes logical sense that as people have more sex they need more abortions, especially when sex is taking place outside the security of a committed life long relationship. Of course these scenarios are difficult, but isn’t that partly because we’ve opened ourselves up to it by separating sex from one of it’s purposes/functions – procreation? That’s a biological fact that our culture is trying to deny… but it’s obviously not working as abortions are skyrocketing. If our kids are abstinent, they won’t need abortion. Does that count as a fact too?

      Our religion ties into all of this debate because it offers more facts that you give us credit for. I honestly see so many holes in your worldview that I don’t find in Christianity. With your “fact based truths:” lives are inconsistently either valued or destroyed (who gets to decide? Might = Right?), morality is determined by preference (what happens when opposing preferences meet?), you trust women but only those on your side of the argument (I’m a woman, why don’t you trust me?). The Bible shows me that all lives are created with equal value, there is an absolute moral law consistently applied to all, and men and women are inconsistent but we can confidently trust the Creator of them. Although my views are “drakonian” to you, there is something to be said to my beliefs which have been around and stayed around for 6,000 plus years. Your views on abortion are only recently popular in our culture. How do you know your side isn’t just a fluke or a passing cultural opinion? And by the way, bring on the unity of religion and science. Science is the observation of an orderly universe and its functions. What great evidence for an orderly Creator!

      And lastly, yes thank you Ken for guarding me the other Saturday. I do really appreciate that and I know you care. That’s why I’m glad we can keep talking. I hope you know I care about you too.

      Reply
  3. Julie Was Here

    “They hold bloody signs, chase down women as they are walking into the abortion clinic, and yell in their faces that they are murderers… Well, that’s at least what everybody thinks we do. And to be honest, it’s what I thought too before I got involved with this very difficult and very misunderstood ministry.

    Actually, that’s EXACTLY what you people do. That’s what I’ve seen in every single family planning clinic I’ve ever visited. Granted, I’ve never been to Louisville, but I’ve been in contact with a few escorts that have. You may say they lie, but the videos and photos do not. Hell, I even recognize the man in the photo using his adopted child as a political tool (way to value children, btw.)

    And don’t kid yourselves, you aren’t counselors. Counselors are trained professionals with extensive medical and/or psychological backgrounds. They’re bound by ethics and are accountable for their words and actions. They do their counseling in private, not in public. Lastly, they don’t force themselves upon people, people go to them willingly.

    Even if you think you’re in the right out there harassing strangers, you KNOW you’re not counselors. But, it’s not like integrity is something much valued in your circles.

    The ironically named “Women’s Choice Clinic” is not a health clinic. Health clinics staff trained medical personable, provide medical care, and don’t come with an agenda. The closest thing that this CPC lists to healthcare on their own website is over-the-counter pregnancy tests. Their website doesn’t say whether they provide ultrasounds or not, but some CPCs do. However, just getting an ultrasound in not medical care. It’s not a magic look at the fetus machine. It’s a diagnostic tool meant to assess the health of the pregnancy and should only be done under the care of a trained medical professional who knows what to look for.

    The Escorts aren’t vying for the attention of clients. They’re just there to get people safely through the mob you create. They aren’t an opposition force. If you weren’t there bothering people, they wouldn’t need to be there either.

    If you’re the man in the picture above, I’ve seen videos of you before. There is absolutely nothing loving or respectful in your harassment of total strangers seeking medical care.

    I guess the dishonesty of you antis isn’t limited to the sidewalks.

    Reply
    • Brandy

      Hello Julie,

      You have a lot of strong opinions about us, and I appreciate you sharing them. I’d like to offer some insight by briefly addressing your points:

      -I hope you realize that I’m not denying such protests do happen outside abortion clinics, what I do claim is that our Speak for the Unborn ministry is different. We are out to share the hope of Christ with all who are affected by abortions – moms, dads, friends, and children. Since this website is your only contact with us, I hope you can at least recognize our motives and see what we are trying to accomplish out on the sidewalks. Please even watch the video on our homepage which includes footage taken by clinic escorts. We aren’t trying to hide anything, and to be honest none of the videos that include our volunteers show any of the hateful yelling or abusive behavior you assume we take on.

      -We call ourselves “sidewalk counselors” b/c it is a great description of what we do. We don’t claim to be professional/licensed medical counselors, but you don’t have to be to offer counsel to people. “Escorts” are not professionals with years of experience as bodyguards or in public protection, but they take on that name because it describes what they do.

      -A Woman’s Choice is actually registered in Kentucky as a “Special Health Clinic.” This is our official title, given to us by the state, so I can assure you that we are, in fact, a health clinic. And why do you assume we do not have medically trained personnel? We actually do. We do not advertise ourselves as a doctor’s office, because the medical side of our clients’ care is only a portion of what we provide. We do have Ultrasound Technicians, volunteer nurses, and volunteer doctors who work at A Woman’s Choice and beyond their services we provide referrals to strictly medical facilities. AWC is there as a resource for the medical, emotional, financial, etc. needs of women where they can seek the private counseling you referred to earlier. These are all people who care, I don’t know why it’s so threatening to offer women help and a loving alternative to abortion? What do you think their motive would be for providing all of these free services to hundreds of women every year? I assume you are probably a fan of the Planned Parenthood services that aren’t always strictly medical… why not ours?

      -And as for the mob you envision we create, we try to limit about 2-3 counselors per couple that is walking into the clinic. We hardly create a mob around them, especially since our goal is to talk with them, not obstruct them. By your standards, the escorts create as much of a mob as we do since they too walk side by side with the clients. We know that is illegal to block someone’s path and we are not out to break the law. We want to change hearts and minds, not delay an abortion by all of 30 seconds.

      Overall, I’m guessing your biggest complaint against our ministry is not actually in what we do, but in what we believe. I know the Gospel is offensive to you. It requires us to repent from our sins, believe in Jesus Christ as our complete Savior and live according to God’s rules. I get that you don’t want to do that and you wish we’d stop telling others to do the same. But Julie, I still believe that the Gospel is your only hope. I still believe that God’s rules do apply to you and that your life won’t be fulfilling until you realize it. And for that reason, the fact that I want you live in peace with your God and enjoy a fulfilling life with Him, I persist in telling you that it is true! God has hope for you, for the escorts, and for every client going in to get an abortion. That’s why we speak uncomfortable things. Because we care more about your soul being made right than we care about you liking us (although that would be great too).

      I’ll leave you with my favorite verse I think about outside the abortion clinic: Isaiah 55:6-7 “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.”

      Reply
  4. Ken

    Brandy,

    In regards to the mob thing there is one glaring difference between escorts and you “sidewalk counselors”:

    CONSENT

    Escorts ask for and gain permission from every client, every time.

    You folks do not respect peoples’ personal space and rarely, if ever, understand that no means no and stop means stop and thereby perpetuate rape culture.

    (A great explanation of rape culture on the sidewalk of the clinic
    http://everysaturdaymorning.wordpress.com/2011/01/14/revisiting-one-of-my-favorite-posts/#comments)

    It is the single most triggering offense you “sidewalk counselors” constantly push.

    There are at least 7 other things in your post with which I take issue, but frankly, our previous attempts to dialogue devolve into you quoting The Bible to reinforce what The Bible compels you to do. Your logic is circular and dependent on faith, not fact. But my biggest issue with you isn’t your faith. It’s the fact that you want everyone to live by what you have decided is the one right way.

    Love Jesus. Live your faith. But leave other people alone to do what they need to do.

    Reply
    • Brandy

      Well, we’ve talked through the consent thing before. The fact is that my freedom of speech is not dependent upon consent. And beyond my “right,” my intent is to share a difficult, but helpful message with these women. By your own logic you are just as inconsistent and circular as you acuse me of being. If I ask you to not stand near me while I talk with clients, i.e. I deny you my consent to be near me or talking over me, will you abide by my wishes? No. And why is that? Because you have a message or a cause that you believe to be greater than my wishes. We can’t go around living according to everyone’s preferences. It’s impossible when you encounter anyone with an opposing view you aren’t willing to concede with.

      And I apologize if my responses are too preachy. I hope to share Bible verses to prove to you that my Christian faith isn’t something I just made up in my mind, but really based on Scripture from the Bible I’ve staked my understand of life on. (You said many escorts claim to be Christians, so I hoped to show that they aren’t consistently following the Bible that they claim to believe. I’m trying to follow it as much as possible and those verses are my evidence of that.)

      If anything, I hope to show you that you live by faith as much as I do. Your faith is not the faith of the Bible, but it is a set of assumptions and values you’ve decided on that can’t just be boiled down to black and white facts. The “fact” that you “trust woman” is a faith decision. You don’t have facts to support why a woman has the right to determine when she may kill her offspring, but you do have a belief that this is the way it should be. You believe that some lives are more valuable than others. That’s not a fact, that’s your opinion.

      Our faiths oppose one another, Ken. Hence the discussions continue as we point out perceived flaws in one others rationale that led to our selection of beliefs. Please show me how the Christian faith seems inconsistent to you. I don’t want to believe it if it doesn’t have answers to your cirtiques. But so far, I haven’t been let down. I welcome the challenges and so far have delighted to see the Bible does have responses to common objections. And to be honest, I love my worldview so much more than yours. I think it’s beautiful that all persons have inherent value, potential, and purpose – regardless of social status or size. That is very comforting to me rather than a world where I would have to continue prove my worth or struggle to be one of the valued persons in a culture that wavers on who is significant.

      I care about you too much to let you continue comfortably in your bleak worldview. I want to win you to my side! And what’s more I think you’d thank me for it if ever you experience the refreshing hope that I get to live in and enjoy!

      Reply

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