We are elated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous decision to uphold the free speech rights of certain citizens because of their pro-life views and give hope to a woman considering abortion. As sidewalk counselors, we know the incredible impact that caring and compassionate counselors can have on women who are feeling hopeless and lost and thinking that abortion is the only way out.
By striking down the law that required pro-life counselors to stay 35 feet away from the property of abortion clinics, the Court has not only upheld crucial First Amendment rights but also has given abortion-minded women and their unborn babies the last chance to get care and information they may want and need.
Abortion clinics are crucial areas for pro-life advocacy. The law the court struck down required these front lines be pushed back to 35 feet from the door or driveway, which would have severely limited sidewalk counselors’ efforts to pleasantly and rationally offer other options to women who may be experiencing pressure to seek an abortion against their will.
The pro-choice side portrays pro-life sidewalk activity as loud, obnoxious, disturbing and scary. We’ve seen that firsthand, but we’ve also seen, and participated in, calm and compassionate conversations with women who just needed a lifeline for themselves and their unborn baby. We have been that lifeline, that last hope for life for the child and peace of mind for the mother.
The buffer zone would have been a true detriment to our ability to effectively talk about caring options to women. Prayer, protest, and sidewalk counseling are three types of pro-life activity, but the latter can only be done near where the women are.
For the abortion-minded woman, the buffer zone meant she would only see protesters down the sidewalk. If she felt alone and helpless, there wouldn’t be anyone there to offer her another choice and a compassionate ear. She might feel judged by the protesters, just like she’s been judged by those close to her, and will believe that even the pro-lifers don’t really care about her.
While the ruling is great news for the free speech of pro-lifers, this isn’t about them. This is about giving women the opportunity to choose life, which is what the pro-choice crowd claims to want. If they truly favored giving women in crisis pregnancies choices, they would support this decision as well. If abortion is a harmless medical procedure, then it should not need to be protected by a First Amendment-free zone. Sidewalk counselors can’t stop women from having abortions, but they can offer information and resources and just a listening ear so that the woman no longer feels desperate and alone.
Contrary to biased media reports and pro-choice advocates, we sidewalk counselors care deeply about these women and their unborn babies. We don’t give up our time early on a Saturday morning for no reason. If we can help one woman and her child to choose life or to give her a way out other than abortion, it is worth it.
We are grateful that the Supreme Court has not taken away the last chance for a pregnant woman to hear the other side of the story and crippled pro-life activism on the sidewalk. The buffer zone would have prevented pro-life sidewalk counselors from expressing a message of love and compassion, and makes us present only the anti-abortion side of our message and not the pro-life side. It leaves the desperate abortion-minded woman without anyone to offer her a way out, and reaffirms her belief that abortion is her only choice. But thanks to this ruling, we hope to be that compassionate lifeline for these women.
Katie Young will be a senior at University in Irvine, California. Ellen Shannon will be a senior this fall at Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW). Both women have been sidewalk counseling for a year.