On the sidewalk of our state’s only abortion facility, conversations are often quiet by necessity. That day, my fellow advocate whispered to me, as a passerby approached: “Be careful with this one. She’s angry.”
I hadn’t been there earlier when the woman first walked past. Apparently, my comrade had tried to talk to her then, and was only met with verbal venom. Not feeling up to a confrontation, I was fine letting her go by.
But she wasn’t fine with it. Recognizing my friend from their earlier exchange, perhaps, she turned toward us both as we stood silent and, as it often happens when consciences are stirred, began to unleash her rage.
I would be hard-pressed to remember the exact words she uttered in her moments of fury, but she was yelling and accusing us of being on the wrong side of the issue. After a while of allowing her to get it all out—we tried but could hardly get a word in edgewise—I finally cut to the chase.
Looking into her eyes, I point-blank asked, “Have you had an abortion?” She answered quickly, “Yes, I have!” And there it was. Now that the truth had been plainly stated, we could maybe get somewhere.
However, she couldn’t stop her tirade, and thoughtful questions seemed impossible to sneak in amidst her hurling of words. Finally, I butted in again, sincerely wanting to know: “Did you name your baby?” After a slight pause, the woman responded emphatically, “Yes, yes I did! Mistake! It was a mistake, and aborting that Mistake was the best decision I could have made!”
Stunned, my friend and I went silent. What could we say in response? “God doesn’t make mistakes?” That would have seemed trite in that moment. After all, only a short while earlier, the woman had told us God was an imaginary sky fairy. Even if we’d said it, she would have discounted it.
Soon after her confession, the yelling woman walked away, and we were left standing with the raw thought of a dead child who’d never had a chance to breathe fresh air.
Reading about these kinds of exchanges might elicit thoughts such as, “I could never do sidewalk advocacy and deal with angry people like that.” It’s true, perhaps, that not everyone is cut out for this ministry. But if you’ve ever entertained the idea, let me offer some helpful thoughts.
In the years before coming to the sidewalk to pray and fight for the unborn and their parents, I never would have imagined myself in these conversations either. But I’ve learned a few things over time, including this imperative: Look past the anger and to the pain.
While I’m no psychologist, I can reasonably conclude that most of the raw emotion which lands on the sidewalk comes from a place of deep hurt and excruciating mental, emotional, and spiritual unrest. Understanding this, we can also realize that it’s not personal. From there, we can see these wild shows of emotion for what they are.
Any unkind word or gesture becomes a simple note to keep in mind: Hurt person ahead. Knowing this, we don’t have to take that hurt onto ourselves. We can instead give it to God and allow him to use us to simply hear the pain and pray for their healing.
Despite my not having recalled everything she said, I do remember the yelling woman mentioning choice. She probably isn’t aware that 64 percent of post-abortive women report having felt pressured into it, and nearly 80 percent say they were not informed about available resources should they choose life for their child.
Being denied important information to make an informed choice or being pressured doesn’t sound like much of a choice to me. That’s why we’re there. We don’t give up our time to shame women or men, but to offer reasonable alternatives to abortion: life and helpful, caring support. Those who do listen, and leave with a living child, may experience the pain of childbirth, which is fleeting, but they won’t carry the pain of a dead child, which is forever.
Pray, if you would, for the mother of “Mistake,” and as you do, consider the name God might have given this dear child. In my heart, I hear, “Beloved.”
[Note: I write about my experiences on the sidewalk Downtown Fargo on Wednesday, the day abortions happen at our state’s only abortion facility, for New Earth magazine — the official news publication of the Fargo Diocese. I hope you find “Sidewalk Stories” helpful in understanding the truth about abortion and how it plays out tragically each week here in Fargo, N.D. The preceding ran in New Earth’s Nov. 2021 issue.]