My name is Amy, I’m a sidewalk counsellor, and this is my story.
I get up early in the morning, wrap myself up in a scarf and boots, and with a friend go down to the local abortion clinic to offer the support men and women are usually not aware of until we meet on their way to the doors. Why do I bother? Aren’t there already plenty of services available out there?
Well, in many cases, no one has even asked the women I meet how much money they need to keep their baby.
I never lead with that question, of course. Honestly, I usually start with a compliment – ‘I love your shoes!’ – or a comment on how crazy cold it is this morning. If they want to talk, we keep talking, about literally anything. I’ve had conversations about the craziest things outside an abortion clinic, from my uni subjects, to how the partners met to our favourite dog breeds. Sometimes it feels like they just want to keep on talking. Anything to take them out, even for a moment, from the reality they’re facing.
Then, every time, they start to share what’s brought them to the clinic today. If it’s money, I ask. “How much money do you reckon you need to keep this baby?” If it’s a tricky situation at home, I ask “What if you had somewhere safe to stay?”
All I ever see is surprise and wide eyes when we talk about practicals. It sounds like most of the time no one’s asked them what they actually need. More often, they’ve just been told the same disinterested line: “Yeah, that sounds really hard; you probably need this abortion.”
Why is our healthcare system failing women? Why aren’t we offering them what they need before they’re literally walking into the clinic? I wouldn’t be there if I couldn’t offer concrete support, if I didn’t know of the money waiting to be donated or of the loans on offer or of the safe houses we can connect them with.
But I also wouldn’t be there if we truly meant it as a society, when we say that we support a woman’s right to choose. Someone with a choice is able to decide between two legitimate options. That’s not what I encounter in the faces of men and women I meet at the clinic. And that’s why I’m a sidewalk counsellor.
[Note: This testimony uses a pseudonym to preserve the identity of the woman involved.]