Former 40 Days for Life leader launches national program to train and support sidewalk counselors
DALLAS, TX, December 18, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – They’re called sidewalk counselors: the pro-life activists who pray, protest and counsel women outside abortion clinics. They’re often the last line of defense between a frightened mother and baby and the abortionist, and they’re so effective that the abortion lobby and pro-abortion politicians have targeted them relentlessly with laws aimed at keeping them far away from abortion facilities and the women who visit them.
For those who consider joining their ranks, making the leap from concerned citizen to the front lines of pro-life activism can be intimidating. Seeing news reports about pro-lifers being arrested, fined, or even subjected to violence outside abortion clinics can make sidewalk counseling a scary prospect.
A new venture called Sidewalk Advocates for Life hopes to fix that, by giving curious would-be sidewalk counselors a one-stop “shop” for information, training and legal support.
Sidewalk Advocates for Life was launched Monday during the “A New Dawn” pro-life webcast. The program is being headed up by Lauren Muzyka, an attorney, sidewalk counselor and former campaign strategist for 40 Days for Life who says she was inspired to launch the effort by the many people she met during prayer vigils who said they longed to speak directly to mothers in danger of aborting their babies, but didn’t know how.
“In past national pro-life work, serving people on the front lines, peacefully praying at the abortion center, I would often hear that they were struggling in how to properly reach out in love to mothers and fathers entering the abortion facility,” Muzyka told LifeSiteNews. “Some had training, but didn't have support, tools or technology to sustain a sidewalk counseling program in their local community. As a trained sidewalk counselor myself - and someone who had done it full-time at one point - this moved my heart.”
Muzyka said it was the experience of meeting a little girl last spring whose mother had chosen to give birth to her after being sidewalk counseled by Muzyka six years ago that finally pushed her over the edge to start Sidewalk Advocates for Life. “What a life-changing moment that was for me!” Muzyka told LSN. “I realized soon after that I needed to do everything possible to help others learn this peaceful, loving, woman-oriented method of helping mothers choose life, while also providing the necessary tools and support to keep them going long-term.”
Part of that will be using her legal expertise to train other sidewalk counselors to stay on the right side of the Byzantine restrictions many municipalities have enacted to infringe their free speech rights.
“I am a licensed attorney in Texas, so I have working knowledge of how to help navigate basic first amendment issues on the sidewalk,” Muzyka explained. “If something rises to the level of being actionable, we are well-networked with Christian attorneys all over the United States who can provide legal resources, pro bono. … In my past work with 40 Days for Life National, it was [part of] my job to line up legal resources for local campaigns when needed, so I have first-hand experience doing this,” she added.
Those who are interested in starting a network of sidewalk counselors in their area, or making a current group more effective, can apply for training and membership in Sidewalk Advocates for Life on a quarterly basis. Those who get accepted will be given tools, training and technology to organize an effective sidewalk counseling team. For example, members get exclusive access to flyer and press release templates, a training manual and DVD, inclusion in the group’s website directory, and access to a team of advisors.
Muzyka says she isn’t looking to replace currently effective groups, but to work with them and expand their reach so that every woman seeking an abortion will first have access to a trained, quality sidewalk advocate for life.
“In short, we hope to see every abortion facility in the United States covered with at least two peaceful, loving and effective sidewalk advocates or counselors every hour that it is open,” Muzyka told LifeSiteNews. “While there are some communities that already have training, local infrastructure and support to sustain their current program, there are many local communities that do not - so, if we can be a blessing to those desperately needing this, then we are honored to serve! We hope to fill the gap!”
For right now, Sidewalk Advocates for Life is only accepting U.S. applicants. But Muzyka hasn’t ruled out an expansion. “Could this program go International?” she asked. “We are open to seeing what God will do.”
The first quarter’s applications will be accepted between February 1 and 15, 2014. To learn more about the program, or to contact Lauren Muzyka, visit the group's website at SidewalkAdvocates.org.