Why Sidewalk Advocacy Is Hard (And Why I'll Be Doing It Again)

  • Deanna Holland
  • 07/14/2018

Yesterday, I failed.  
Two babies.  
Two moms, one just a baby herself.  
Forever changed and damaged by something that was sold as an easy answer without a downside, a “liberating” experience.  

But the lie does not last long.  

Yesterday, I participated in my first shift as a Utah Sidewalk Advocate (where a small group of trained advocates stand outside an abortion facility in Salt Lake City and offer women compassionate alternatives). I figured it was about time to use my training. I packed the car with literature, signs offering free help, folding chairs and a cooler of water and popsicles. What I did not understand is that I was too late. The afternoon was too late. Women had been cramped inside the basement office of Planned Parenthood Metro in Salt Lake City since morning, waiting hours for their abortion.  

I came with offers of help, hope, love and options. But by the time I saw HER, there was no option left.  The cold pack she was holding on her abdomen told a portion of her story. My sidewalk partner and I pretended to ignore the obvious sign of what she had just been through but offered her some information, including a location with a post-abortive healing group. She was quiet but kind. You could see the understanding of what she just did on her face. The lie that abortion was “nothing” was exposed for the falsehood it is.  

We gave her cold water and offered her a popsicle. She took the water, went to her car, then turned around and came back…deciding that a popsicle sounded good.  

At this point, I would have run a marathon or fought a tiger barehanded if it would have turned back time for her. I wanted to open my arms and hug and cry with her. I wanted to tell her I was sorry I came too late. Tell her I loved her, and that I was sorry she had been lied to. Instead, I opened my cooler, and realized my popsicles were encased in ice. It took me a solid 45 seconds to get her a sad, soft popsicle. It was the only offering I had. Our smiles and friendliness were the only way we could communicate the unspoken understanding.

We ached as we saw her ache. We wept inside with the realization that if we had been there before her procedure, if we had chatted on the way IN, this woman may have made a different decision. Empowered with friends and resources, she may have felt capable and empowered to save herself and her baby. We could have shared our experiences, our belief in this beautiful couple’s ability to be successful parents. Instead, we prayed. We hoped that she would go to those that could and would hug her and help her heal. That was the first failure.

Our second failure we almost missed entirely. When three people walked toward us on the sidewalk, we almost did not even engage. Surely these people were not going in THERE. But my companion spoke up and asked where they were headed. They indicated they had been inside Planned Parenthood all day. It was clear they had left for a breath of fresh air. My heart sunk as I realized that the daughter of the couple, who looked no older than 13, was the reason they were there. That this girl, with pen drawings up and down her legs, had been waiting all day for an abortion. As I watched her mother reject the offer of other options, and as this family went around to the back door to return to their place in line, my heart shattered.  

We prayed. We waited. Hoping to see them leave. Hoping that they would change their mind after a day of waiting. We didn’t want to leave until we saw her again. Instead, as we began to pack up for the day, their truck came out of the back parking lot. We missed seeing her.  Missed the opportunity to give her one more smile and a wave, so maybe, just maybe, she would know that people like us were nice. Before AND after an abortion. And if she ever needed help, that she would know she could reach out. Small consolation for what we had not been able to accomplish.  

From the outside, you would have seen us as two smiling and friendly women. And if you watched long enough, you may have seen me do a little dance for the security cameras every once in a while. Distraction from thinking about our failures so that we could continue to reach out.

You may think that yesterday may have turned me off of sidewalk advocacy, but you would be wrong.  Instead, it cemented my desire to gather more of us. To go often. To build this program and help ensure that there are always smiling faces offering friendship and other options. So no woman misses having her one last chance.

This is a work of love. For these women, for the children they carry on the way in but don’t on the way out. The pain on their faces show that they’ve been sold a lie, but we have the opportunity to love them into the truth.

Join us. Help us always be there. Be a last chance. Be her hope, when she feels hopeless. You won’t regret it.

Deanna Holland is the Vice President of Pro-Life Utah.

If you are interested in becoming part of our sidewalk program, please contact us via phone, Facebook messenger, or email.

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