On the Front Lines of the Pro-Life Movement: Sidewalk Advocates for Life
Respect Life Month is an annual resurgence for the pro-life movement. Each year renews prayer campaigns, focused Mass intentions, and an increased presence of pro-lifers on the sidewalk. Called to stand and face the evil of abortion, many feel the urge to speak, but few know how to effectively change hearts and minds at the abortion center.
“What if we knew what to say?” questioned Lauren Muzyka, attorney and then-national campaign strategist for 40 Days for Life. Prayerful presence is a powerful fight against abortion. Muzyka also saw the need to reach the women’s hearts to offer real, life-affirming alternatives.
Sidewalk Advocates for Life
With ample support from 40 Days for Life and the pro-life movement, Muzyka started Sidewalk Advocates for Life and currently serves as its national executive director.
Sidewalk Advocates for Life (SAFL) offers a “peaceful, prayerful and law-abiding approach” to people servicing local abortion centers, readily providing support specific to those in personal turmoil. Though present to change minds, the Sidewalk Advocates are not there to judge.
“We’re imperfect strangers speaking to imperfect strangers,” Muzyka said. “We speak the truth, but without yelling or condemning. We’re there to love her and her child.”
Being law-abiding goes hand-in-hand with their peaceful address, since SAFL wants to focus on the women and their families without contributing chaos.
“We have to meet [the women] where they are, appealing to them through love and care. We have to back it up with reputable services, or they’re not going to switch gears.” Women seeking abortion are often unaware that they have options at all, and many are in survival mode, she said. They need clarity and hope.
Muzyka affirmed, “The baby is shining a light into an area that needs help.” And that help is exactly what the advocates on the sidewalk present to people going in and out of clinics, most of them abortion-minded women.
In addition to crisis intervention on-site at the abortion center, local Sidewalk Advocates help as long as there is a need. “Once we come into [a woman’s] life, we walk with her as long as she needs us to,” said Muzyka. “SAFL is presently helping a woman who chose life, and her baby is alive and healthy, but they need residential assistance desperately, so her local SAFL team is helping her find reputable housing.”
Muzyka said it’s working on a local level that best serves the women’s needs. SAFL’s 186 local chapters span the continental U.S., including a brand-new chapter in Hamilton, just 40 minutes north of Cincinnati. The team serves outside of the Planned Parenthood there, reaching out to women with a multitude of resources.
“We are ready to help in countless circumstances,” said Jackie Heath, local program director in Hamilton. “From help after abortion, abortion pill reversal, to domestic abuse situations; people would be amazed at how much is available.” Even down to the most unique circumstances, SAFL in Hamilton works together with Pathway to Hope Pregnancy Care Center to equip women and men seeking abortion to thrive and choose life for their unborn children.
But to get resources in their hands, the Sidewalk Advocates have to first have a relationship. “You just have a minute, sometimes seconds, to make a connection,” Muzyka said, which is why speaking love is paramount. The team takes a loving approach to build trust and show the women that there is someone genuinely on their side, ready to go to bat for them.
Heath admits she’s a natural introvert, but that doesn’t stop her from reaching out to people in crisis. “It’s not comfortable, but once you’re out there, you feel the importance of it. People see there’s a kind, loving person present,” Heath said.
The experience itself can be emotional as saves and tragedies occur. “I encountered one young girl who may have been pregnant,” said Heath. “She did not want to speak to me, but her dad did, and he didn’t want to say why she was there. I gave them all the materials on the assumption that she may be pregnant, but I’ll probably never know the truth or what they chose to do. That’s part of being a Sidewalk Advocate…you hope and pray that your efforts have made an impact.” The organization as a whole offers emotional and spiritual support for advocates, who serve quite literally on the front lines of the pro-life movement.
Being the Hands & Feet of Christ
Heath continued, “We’re there to be the hands and feet of Christ.” In order to imitate Jesus to others, everyone working with SAFL knows being in close touch with the Author of Life is essential to what they’re doing. “We’re doing God’s work, so we pray before we go out, while we’re in front of Planned Parenthood and after we leave,” Heath said.
Muzyka echoed her sentiments, “Scripture says if we don’t have love, we gain nothing, and we know our strength is entirely from Jesus.”
The new SAFL chapter in Hamilton knows there’s plenty of room to grow. Heath hopes for more advocates to join her and others on the sidewalk and offers encouragement. “The training is incredibly comprehensive, but what’s more effective is being authentic and loving. That’s more important than having the perfect words to say.” Both Heath and Muzyka entrust all efforts to the Lord. “The Holy Spirit takes over and we trust God will equip us,” said Muzyka.
For more information, contact Jackie Heath at HamiltonSAFL@gmail.com.