32 Things You Didn’t Know About Being A Sidewalk Counsellor

The political and social debates about abortion in Australia all become very real in those moments a woman walks from her car to the front door of the clinic.

Sidewalk counsellors offer help and support to women facing a crisis pregnancy in those crucial moments.

They encounter a lot of opposition in their everyday work. But this is what you don’t know about them.

Special thanks to all the counsellors and friends who provided personal experience and information for this article.

    1. We’re all volunteers. 

      None of us are paid to do what we do. Whether a woman chooses to terminate or continue her pregnancy, we make no financial gain. In fact, quite the opposite is usually true: a lot of us invest not only time but resources into getting women the support they need.

    2. We are professionally trained.

      We invest a lot of time into becoming better equipped to help women in crisis pregnancies, and to provide reliable information at every step.

    3. We’re a pretty diverse bunch.

      This work attracts people from all walks of life, differing in culture, religion, and gender – we are practising Buddhists, agnostics and atheists, Muslims, all kinds of Christians, and so much more.

      Source: Instagram @Studentsforlife
    4. It’s not our aim to argue or protest, but to offer support. 

      We’re not there to argue with anyone. If someone doesn’t want to engage with us, that’s their right and we respect that.

    5. We’re not always morning people.

      Rain, hail or shine, we’re there from the early hours of the morning onward, so that we can be there to offer support, information and alternatives to those we encounter. It’s not always easy, but a hot coffee and a smile from someone on the street does wonders.

    6. Many of our counsellors have experienced abortion themselves. 

      We’ve been there, and are motivated by the desire to offer women the support that we wish we’d had.

    7. We don’t shout at or threaten women (or anyone). 

      Staying calm and respectful is the number-one rule of sidewalk counselling. A peaceful presence is key at this really intense time for everyone involved, and it’s a shame that activists on both sides of the debate don’t always respect that.

    8. Our counselling doesn’t stop once we go home or to our day jobs. 

      It’s not unusual that we’ll give out our phone numbers to those who ask for them, often to receive calls from the women we meet the following day and beyond.

    9. We will drop everything if we get a call from a woman needing our help. 

      Anywhere, anytime, we’ll be there for her.

    10. We offer practical support in any way we can. 

      We don’t just offer emotional support and a listening ear; we’re assisting women with housing, employment, visas, medical expenses, as well as with childcare, material goods and anything else that might be required. Many counsellors dig deep into their own pockets in order to provide these necessities to the women who need them.

      Source: Instagram @Thebabesproject
    11. We care about women after they leave the clinic too. 

      It’s our goal to offer love and support, not judgement, to everyone who have been touched by abortion. If they are experiencing any negative consequences, emotional or physical, we enable their access any care they need.

    12. We journey with women after abortion too. 

      Something we can usually agree about, on both sides of this issue, is that a crisis pregnancy presents one of the most difficult situations a woman will ever have to face. That means it’s important that we’re there for her on the other side, no matter what happens – whether she wants to talk about it or not, it always helps to have a friend who understands.

    13. One of the hardest things is hearing from women who’ve regretted their decision straight after the abortion.

      Sometimes you just have to stand there with them and cry.

    14. Women who’ve had abortions often approach us on the street to tell their stories. 

      Often they’ve felt unable to speak about their experiences to anyone else, sometimes for years at a time. They thank us for our presence, and express their wish that somebody had been there for them too.

    15. The most common phrase we hear is, “If I had a choice, I wouldn’t be here.” 

      It’s heart-wrenching, but this is the reality of what most women face, with pressure from all sides telling them they won’t be able to bring their baby into the world.

    16. We believe in the right to choose too. 

      That’s why it’s important to us that women are empowered emotionally, financially and physically when they face a crisis pregnancy, so that they feel truly free to choose. We will be there to support them in any way we can, regardless of whether or not we agree with the choices they’ve made.

    17. We are sometimes the first supportive voice that a woman has heard. 

      We speak to women who want to continue with their pregnancies, but who have been told nothing but ‘you can’t do this,’ ‘you’re not strong enough’ and ‘you’re not ready.’ We’re there to empower them to be the best version of themselves they can be.

      Source: Instagram @Studentsforlife
    18. We make friends with the ‘regulars.’ 

      Whether it’s a passerby on the way to uni or someone who works nearby, often the conversation goes beyond the usual ‘Happy Friday!’ and into a real relationship, which is awesome.

    19. Lifelong friendships have been formed through sidewalk counselling. 

      Our connection to the people we speak to outside the clinic goes beyond the sidewalk. We receive invites to first birthday parties, share stories and become part of each others’ families.

      Source: Instagram @Fourtifiedfam
    20. We’re often confronted with verbal and physical abuse. 

      We’ve received rape threats, death threats and pretty much any form of verbal abuse you can imagine. The abuse can also be physical: we’ve been punched, spat on and thrown to the ground, and one elderly counsellor suffered a broken hip as a result of an unprovoked attack from a clinic escort.

    21. We also deal with harassment in our personal lives. 

      Photos of us have been taken and uploaded on social media without our consent, tyres have been slashed, and private property has been vandalised and damaged.

    22. Not all clinic workers are hostile towards us. 

      Some clinic workers are genuinely polite, and we can mutually acknowledge that we are both motivated by a desire to help women.

    23. We often feel powerless to help. 

      We see women with black eyes and bruises entering the clinic with their partners, usually prevented from speaking to us even though you can see that they want to. It sounds crazy, but we’ve seen clinic employees physically dragging women into the clinic, women who’d voiced their uncertainty to us before our conversations were cut short.

    24. We hate the idea that offering someone help could be illegal. 

      ‘Buffer zones’ mean that we can’t offer support to vulnerable women. So many women we’ve spoken to have expressed gratitude for our presence and for the support we were able to offer them, and – while some clinics are places of intense conflict that we don’t support either – it breaks our hearts to think that, in our country, we have legislation that prevents us asking if someone’s okay.

    25. We have some awesome organisations backing us up. 

      Some of the best people we know are the members of the medical profession, single mothers running shelters, that we know we can refer women in crisis onto – whether that means giving them a bed for the night or referral to post-abortive counselling.

    26. Source: Instagram @Diamondwomensupport

    27. We have a pretty friendly relationship with the local police. 

      It’s not unusual that the police will be called while we’re there – usually as a sort of routine call from the clinic – but we notify them of every time we’re planning to be present, and the difference between ‘harassment’ and what we do is usually pretty obvious.

    28. Men matter too! 

      We love the opportunity to engage in conversation with the men involved in crisis pregnancies, many of whom are usually shut out of the process.

    29. The abuse hurts, even if we don’t show it. 

      We’re all human. It hurts whenever someone shouts at or abuses us – usually total strangers who don’t want to actually engage – and some days are harder than others.

    30. We love them both. 

      We believe that there’s a false dichotomy in the ‘choice’ between either loving a new mum or helping her baby. We choose to love them both.

      Source: Instagram @Studentsforlife

    31. It’s real life #squadgoals when we get together with our fellow counsellors. 

      They just get it all – the joy, the heartache and everything in between.

    32. The feeling of meeting a baby who could have been aborted is indescribable. 

      The bond between that mother and baby is so special. We haven’t never met a woman who has regretted her decision, even in the face of many challenges and uncertainties.

    33. Being able to offer support makes it all worth it. 

      Even on the hard days, if women facing crisis pregnancy know that they are loved and supported, then our job is done!

    34. Source: Instagram @LifeChoiceAustralia

      Our article was written in response to this article

      Please follow and like us: