For many years while I was a volunteer client advocate at a pregnancy help center there was no connection between the work we did and those who were called to demonstrate and pray outside of abortion clinics.
The approaches of each group were distinctly different, even though our vision and goals for women vulnerable to abortion were the same.
On Friday, April 1, at the Heartbeat International Annual Pregnancy Help Conference, Lauren Muzyka, president and CEO of Sidewalk Advocates for Life (SAFL), was the keynote speaker for the lunch session. Muzyka shared the vision of SAFL and how they are training a new kind of sidewalk counselor.
SAFL is focused on peaceful, prayerful, loving, and law-abiding outreach outside of abortion facilities to aid the women seeking services at abortion clinics with life-affirming resources and information in an effort to save their pre-born children and end abortion.
Specifically stated, their mission is, "To train, equip, and support communities across the U.S. and the world in sidewalk advocacy: to be the hands and feet of Christ, offering loving, life-affirming alternatives to all present at abortion facilities, thereby eliminating demand and ending abortion."
Currently SAFL covers 220 abortion facilities with ongoing sidewalk advocacy, which is about 20% of all abortion facilities. Their goal is to be present outside every abortion facility.
To date over 17,000 women have been served and their babies saved as a result of SAFL’s efforts, according to Muzyka. Further, 83 and counting abortion workers have left the industry and 29 abortion facilities have closed their doors.
Muzyka is an attorney who has more than 20 years’ experience as a sidewalk advocate. Her passion for defending the sanctity of human life led her into the pro-life movement.
For over two years, Muzyka served as campaign strategist for the national 40 Days for Life Team, advising more than 300 of their campaigns in North America.
Muzyka spoke about why they are compelled to go to abortion facilities to advocate.
"Abortion is the greatest cause of death in the history of the world,” she said. Sixty-three million deaths since Roe v. Wade decision in 1973."
"We channel righteous anger toward the first crisis, at the abortion clinic,” Muzyka said, “which is that a mother is there to take her child's life."
Inspired by the work of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, Muzyka pondered whether her own personal love of Jesus would move her into the streets to pick up people the way in which Mother Teresa did.
"Then I realized, they aren't dying in the streets but behind closed doors in abortion facilities,” Muzyka said. “We need to go where children are dying and women are wounded. This is the crossroads of life and death in America, at the abortion facility. Roe v. Wade ends for the individual or community, one at a time when we succeed.”
Tweet This: We need to go where children are dying and women are wounded. This is the crossroads of life and death in America, at the abortion facility.
The SAFL website details the training they offer and the tools they utilize, and ways individuals can support their work.
Noting the evolution of sidewalk advocacy methodology, Muzyka highlighted two specific ways in which those involved have shifted in their approaches:
1. Doing a better job presenting themselves as the trained professionals that they are.
2. Keeping in mind that the woman they are approaching may be pulled away at any moment, they are doing a better job of marketing the free services of the local pregnancy center by sharing the information quickly and having tools in hand ready to hand off to these women. It may be as simple as pointing out there is a mobile unit nearby where a nurse can see her immediately for the same life-affirming services for free, such as a pregnancy test, ultrasounds, or STD testing.
"Former abortion providers say peaceful, prayerful sidewalk outreach was the activity that most devastated their business," Muzyka told the Heartbeat Conference.
A SAFL video reporting the work in San Antonio demonstrates how sidewalk advocacy in conjunction with the use of a mobile unit from a local pregnancy help center is a "match made in heaven."
Not only did a South San Antonio abortion facility close, but a mom whose child was saved by the encouragement of an advocate pointing her toward a mobile unit came back with her five-month-old child, grateful, reuniting with the advocate, demonstrating the effectiveness of the human connection employed with sidewalk advocacy.
Former Planned Parenthood Director Abby Johnson has also spoken of the effectiveness of prayer and peaceful advocacy outside abortion facilities.
"When there is a peaceful, prayerful presence in front of an abortion facility,” she said, “Planned Parenthood regularly documents up to a 75% cancellation rate."
Muzyka listed the main goals of sidewalk advocacy in terms of addressing a woman’s needs.
"Fill the need that brought her to the abortion facility,” Muzyka said. “Direct all business away from the abortion facility."
This is why an important part of the work is to have on hand literature that lists all the free services of the local pregnancy center. Regardless of why the woman is approaching the abortion facility she can receive the care that she needs at the local pregnancy help center for free.
Muzyka spoke to the fact that sidewalk advocates must keep in mind the priority of putting the needs of the women they serve first.
"We are not there to counsel the baby,” she stated. “We are there to help the mother. If we meet her need for love and support, then we can help save the child in the process."
SAFL advocates follow this map: smile and greet in love, give out literature and explain the help available, ask questions and listen, solve the perceived problem, and empower her to leave.
"At any point in the conversation when she's ready to go to the pregnancy center, immediately affirm her choice, and switch your focus to a comfortable, professional handoff," Muzyka said.
Muzyka said the partnership between pregnancy help centers and sidewalk advocates work best when pregnancy help centers, "Have woman-oriented, welcoming curb appeal.”
“Your services are free, immediate, and visible,” she said. “You're open, and advocates can mention a free pregnancy test and sonogram."
SAFL has a plan and vision for passing the baton consistently to pregnancy help centers as they reach out to women in front of abortion facilities.
The group is sponsoring its National Sidewalk Advocacy Conference October 28-30 in Dallas, Texas.
Speakers will include Abby Johnson, pro-life strategist David Bereit, Heartbeat International President Jor-El Godsey, Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins, and Muzyka.