The Pain of the Pro-’Choice’ Mindset By Emma Smith
October 2nd, 2011: My first day of sidewalk counseling. It was a chilly day, overcast, with a heavy wind that picked up periodically and shoved the early October cold in your face, down your spine, and into your bones.
I paced nervously along the side of the culde-sac. I couldn’t decide if I wanted someone to stop and talk to me, so I was somewhat relieved when cars whizzed by without giving me the time of day.
Then the Planned Parenthood door flung open violently.
A young man, about my age, flew out of the door. He hurried down the steps from the Planned Parenthood, staring at the ground. As I watched him I noticed: his entire being shook, but he wasn’t shivering against the cold. He was shaking because every fiber of his being was focused on containing himself. He trembled with an energy that longed to break free. He shook because his whole being was devoted to controlling the outburst that boiled just beneath the surface.
He walked across the cul-de-sac, directly toward me. The wind kicked up again and he flipped his hood over his head before jamming his hands back into his pockets defiantly. As he neared me, I wetted my lips and gingerly called out “can I give you something that will help?”
It was as if time stopped. Ever so slightly so that you could barely see it, his pace slowed, his foot took an extra second to hit the ground. He glanced up – meeting my eyes for a fraction of a second. To passers-by, or to those across the cul-de-sac, nothing had happened. But I knew it had. He wanted to talk to me, but something prevented him. He was afraid. He kept walking.
About twenty feet past me he stopped and just stood in the middle of the road. He wrestled against the trembling that had overtaken his body. Slowly, he turned around and looked me, still shaking. Then I watched as the energy he tried to desperately to control forced itself out. It built up from his toes, traveled up his legs and into his chest. His face twisted against the internal turmoil he was painfully fighting. He shouted “WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?”
But, I couldn’t tell which of the two of us he was yelling at.
Words fled my mind. I just looked at him, trying desperately to convey with my eyes that I wanted to help him in his pain, if only he’d let me.
He turned around and started walking off. Then he stopped and turned around again. He wanted to come back, his body language urged him forward. He shuffled a few inches toward me, then stopped. “FUCK YOU!” He yelled.
But, again, I couldn’t tell at whom he was yelling. He turned, and walked away.
I still think about and pray for that man every day. I still cry for him from time to time. I consider him the first person I sidewalk counseled, and I see him as my special person to pray for. I don’t know his name, but I know that I participated in one of the most personal, painful, and horrible days of his life.
My encounter with him changed everything about my approach to sidewalk counseling and the pro-life movement. When I began to teach other students how to sidewalk counsel, I tried to convey to them the level of pain I saw on that man’s face. While other students practiced their presentation of the logical fallacies behind abortion, all I could think of was the utter pain in that man’s being. My interaction with him had nothing to do with proving him wrong. He wouldn’t have heard, or cared, about any logical argument I gave him. There was nothing to prove. There was only pain: the pain of his shredded soul and his longing to be made whole again. My job that day wasn’t to prove him wrong, it was to show him that the Lord still loved him – indeed, loved him all the more – and longed only for him to turn to the Lord with his pain.
In the New Testament, the two things that Jesus Christ says the most are “Do not be afraid” and “Peace be with you,” in that order. Whenever angels come to man, the first thing they say is “Do not be afraid” or “peace be with you.” The greatest Catholic saints and leaders of our time have had the same message – John Paul II’s papacy was all about “do not be afraid,” while Mother Teresa specialized in “peace be with you.” Padre Pio championed “peace be with you” in the confessional while Maximillian Kolbe and Edith Stein both witnessed to “do not be afraid, peace be with you” while suffering in concentration camps.
I think Jesus is trying to tell us something here. If Jesus’ main focus in His work was “do not be afraid,” and His ministry is getting people to Heaven, then perhaps we should focus on that fear. What is fear? How does it affect human decisions and interactions?
Abortion is mainly a decision made out of fear – “I’m afraid of losing my life,” or “I’m afraid I won’t be happy,” “I don’t know what to do,” “I’m afraid of telling my family,” “I’m afraid that X.” Every person I sidewalk counseled, every post-abortive mother and father I’ve spoken to, every pro-choice advocate has said the same thing in varying degrees and ways: abortion is in answer to some fear.
Yet, if Christ says “do not be afraid” perhaps that’s our answer to solving this abortion problem. Yes, logical arguments are good, and indeed Christ Himself used them with people. However, fear is not something that can be rationalized away. Fear can only be assuaged. If abortion is pursued out of fear, how many families would we save from abortion if we eradicated the fear that drives it? If Christ longs for His people to come back to Him, if He longs to still their fears, drive away all doubt, and instill hope, then that must be the way that abortion truly is ended. Christ knows what he’s doing, maybe we should follow suit.
And indeed, we even more need to follow suit because if we don’t – who will? If we do not convey this message, who will? Abortion will only end when we end the fear that drives it. We must show these people that life changes, it’s messy, it’s out of our control. But there is one who longs to help us deal with it. There is one who longs to take our fear and turn it into hope, who longs to take our pain and help us rejoice. We as prolifers are a witness to this majestic, powerful, never-ending love whether on the front line at the abortion mill, in the classroom, or engaging with friends.
The message of Christ is one of peace, hope, and love. The message of pro-lifers must be the same. For it is only in peace that one finds hope, it is in hope of the Father that one comes to love the Lord, and it is in the peace of resting in the love of the Lord that one no longer fears the terrors of the night, but turns to rejoicing in the face of challenge and anguish, resting in the assurance, that with God, all things truly are possible.
Emma Smith graduated magna cum laude with a BA in Philosophy from Hillsdale College in May, 2013. While in school she served as Vice President of the Pro-Life club for 3 semesters and sidewalk counseled and trained sidewalk counselors for 3 semesters. She is currently a columnist for Ignitum Today and her work regularly appears on Catholic Exchange, Catholic Lane, and multiple local papers and resources. She is passionate about her faith, God, and all things Pro-Life. See more at her blog: paxlumen.blogspot.com
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