Sidewalk counselors aid pro-life campaign
Published: Monday, March 18, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 00:03
With six days left in the 40 Days for Life national pro-life campaign, Coalition for Life members say the relationship with Planned Parenthood has evolved while continuing to counsel women in front of the health care facility that offers abortions.
Since Feb. 13, members of The Coalition for Life have held signs and publicly prayed in front of the Planned Parenthood facility in Bryan as part of 40 Days for Life.
The Coalition for Life — a nationwide organization of people gathered in protest of the practice of abortion — began 40 Days for Life in 2004. The organization started in 1998 and went national in 2007. It received recognition after only nine years of operation, but the roots of the effort were planted in the Brazos Valley.
Emily Goodrich-Gazda, director of communications for the Coalition for Life, said the primary focus of the group is prayer on the sidewalks of a Planned Parenthood facility. 40 Days for Life continues this mission with a 24/7 vigil that lasts for 40 days outside of the facility.
Members participating in 40 Days for Life try to provide guidance to women through sidewalk counseling. Counselors must go through training and shadow a counselor before becoming qualified, Goodrich-Gazda said.
“Planned Parenthood has a fence up around their parking lot that we never go inside of,” Goodrich-Gazda said. “The sidewalk counselor will just introduce themselves to the people that arrive and see if they give a response. We want to let them know that we’re there and that we’re friendly and that we have information for them.”
Goodrich-Gazda said she pulls double-duty by doing sidewalk counseling outside the clinic along with serving as director of communications.
The Coalition for Life’s main goal is to combat abortion, while also giving women alternative options for receiving other medical care. Planned Parenthood offers STD testing and treatment, contraception, cancer screening, pregnancy tests, abortions and other services.
“Most of the people that I’ve talked to have been there for other services,” Goodrich-Gazda said. “It’s been really neat to talk to them because a lot of people that go there aren’t even aware that it’s an abortion facility and they never would have gone if they knew. I’ve witnessed a lot of conversations that have really caused them to think about what they’re planning to do and hopefully giving them the courage to make a different choice.”
The Coalition for Life has people from 25-30 parishes that help with sidewalk counseling, many are college students. Madelyn Rodriguez, junior history major, has been counseling for about a year.
“I’ve always been actively pro-life, but [until I started counseling] I’d never seen anything like this,” Rodriguez said. “I would do anything to help them. It’s difficult on the sidewalk because you have about a 10-second window to reach them. Once they get out of the car you are kind of at a loss for words. I wish I had the chance to hear all of their stories.”
According to its website, the Planned Parenthood facility in Bryan performs abortions once a week on Tuesdays.
“The first time I ever went out to Planned Parenthood it was on an abortion day,” Rodriguez said. “I’d never experienced anything like it. I do think it’s important that there are people outside of Planned Parenthood that provide a loving message for the people who are seeking resources or treatment or abortions at the facility just so that there is someone there giving them a different side to the story.”
In 2003, Gloria Feldt, then-president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, named Bryan-College Station one of the most “anti-choice” places in the country.
“Planned Parenthood has employees to escort visitors inside,” said Victoria Griffin, senior visualization major said. “They kind of shield them from us. Sometimes [the visitors] do actually stop to listen and that’s when we can actually tell them all the information.”
Griffin said the relationship between Planned Parenthood and the Coalition for Life started out rocky, but has evolved into coexistence, both accepting that the other is not going anywhere any time soon.
“At first they would actually come out and yell at the volunteers,” Griffin said. “In the recent years they’ve come to just accept that we’re not leaving. I think as long as we don’t bother them, they won’t bother us.”
Sidewalk counselors and those involved with 40 Days for Life said the campaign has already made an impact.
“During the first campaign alone there was a 28 percent drop in number of abortions,” Goodrich-Gazda said.
Other cities followed suit and eventually coordinated campaigns to happen at the same time as in Bryan-College Station.
“There is so much good that is coming from the sidewalk counseling,” Rodriguez said. “As long as there’s a need I’ll be there.”