For those who wish to advocate for the pro-life cause in a visual, humanitarian way, the diocesan Office of Pro-Life Activities supports training for so-called "sidewalk advocates," people who stand outside of abortion clinics holding anti-abortion signs and praying. These advocates stand in front of an abortion clinic on Main Street in Buffalo early on Saturday mornings, as they will do in the month of October.
Last month, Sidewalk Advocates for Life, a nationwide group that offers training for sidewalk advocates throughout the country, came to the diocese to offer classes to educate people on how to properly engage in peaceful advocacy that does not antagonize people. A member of the group that comes weekly to pray together on Saturday mornings in Buffalo, is Lisa Parker, a longtime advocate.
"From 8:15-9:45 a.m., we stand in front of the abortion facility at 2500 Main St. in Buffalo. We say all five decades of the Rosary, and we do the Divine Mercy chaplet. When we have the opportunity, when women or couples are passing by and we think they are abortion-minded, we try to hand out helpful literature for another choice," Parker commented.
The crux of the movement involves prayer, but the advocates focus on politely offering literature to any people who walk by and appear to be interested. "It's not constantly where you are talking to people. It's just kind of sporadic," Parker noted. The number of people the advocates encounter on any given Saturday tends to vary depending on the week, she said, emphasizing that they do not ever yell at people.
"The majority of people get off the bus, which is hard for us as far as encountering people that way. It's not a ton, but even if you're able to give literature to one person, it is helpful. Most of the time, people don't take the literature. Their mind made up already, unfortunately, but that's what the prayer people are there for, to try and move hearts a little bit," said Parker, who hands out information on alternatives to abortion."
There are religiously affiliated pregnancy care centers that cater to needs of those who do not support abortion. The St. Gianna Molla Pregnancy Outreach Center is directly affiliated with the Diocese of Buffalo and offers a variety of resources to help women who are dealing with an unexpected pregnancy and have financial or other needs.
When asked about the challenges of the movement, Parker noted that the advocates face a wide variety of typical responses. "Some will take it. Usually, they don't. Others will just refuse it or say, 'No, thank you.' Some will swear. It's usually not a positive response, but I usually just try to use a gentle voice and say, 'Here's some information. We are here to help you,'" Parker commented of her experiences.
In order to encourage people to take a more open mind to the pro-life movement, Parker said this is a challenging situation because women are under duress and have specific, personal reasons for going to the clinic. However, the most effective way to get through to people, she said, is to be polite to them. She always says "hello" to people who pass by, whether they are going into the abortion clinic or not.
"It's really tough because of their state of mind and their reason for going there. The only thing I can say is just to present yourself in the kindest way possible, just with your tone of voice," she said. "Try to show that you are basically there to help, you're not antagonistic. You're just offering. Some people in the past would use other terms like 'Don't kill your baby,' but I don't think that is effective."
To fight negative stereotypes such as these, Parker said the group maintains a prayerful presence that is not intrusive, and nothing is forced on anyone. In her own experience, anyone can become involved in a group such as this, as she has done for 10 years.
She first got involved with the Life Chain, which assembles annually in the fall along Niagara Falls Boulevard, and continued to remain active in the movement from there.
"We always encourage people, because we have a rather small group," Parker added. "We've been getting counter protestors. That's why we always encourage more good, prayerful, peaceful people to come out. We just stand there and pray. We don't clash with them, because we don't want to."