Having butterflies in your stomach is a familiar sensation before exceptional situations. Sidewalk counselors, the prolife volunteers who stand in front of abortion clinics encouraging mothers to save their children, could tell you something about exceptional situations.
University of Michigan junior Sarah Osentoski discovered just how exceptional sidewalk counseling can be. Too nervous for a long time to be a sidewalk counselor, she eventually decided she had to try. Soon after leaving the abortion clinic at the end of her first day on the sidewalk, she received a call that confirmed she had made the right decision; Sarah helped saved a life.
“I think I called every person I know and told them the full story,” Sarah said. “I was in tears.”
Sarah joined University of Michigan Students for Life (UMSFL) her sophomore year. UMSFL routinely does sidewalk counseling at Planned Parenthood in Ann Arbor, but Sarah said she never had enough confidence to talk to abortion-minded mothers. She said this fear had been reinforced in online debates over abortion.
“I debated a lot of people online and they were very confrontational,” Sarah said. “I’m afraid of confrontation and I don’t deal well with people getting upset at me.”
The Internet also proved to be instrumental in overcoming her fear of sidewalk counseling. She met a fellow prolife student online, UM freshman Michael Jacobson. Michael encouraged her to join others in sidewalk counseling. She said she eventually worked up the courage to go for a day and see what it was like.
Sarah, Michael and several other members of UMSFL encountered freezing weather and a busy day at the abortion clinic on Saturday, January 29. Sophomore Elise Aikman, a frequent sidewalk counselor, said few mothers were stopping to talk with them. One particular woman though walked out of the clinic to talk with them while waiting for her scheduled abortion.
Elise said the mother had recently found out she was pregnant and thought giving birth would disrupt her plan to attend law school. The students gave her information about her baby’s development and ArborVitae Women’s Center, the local prolife pregnancy center. Sarah was talking calmly and even gave out her cell phone number to the mother.
Elise said, “I was so glad Sarah was there. It’s always exciting for someone to come out their first time. Her being there was really important to the whole atmosphere of the conversation.”
Another important factor was giving the mother a fetal model of a 12-week unborn baby. Elise said she was hesitant to use it, since some women don’t react well to it, but the mother held it and was gently stroking the model’s head.
“If she’s able to see it’s really a child, her maternal instinct takes over,” Elise said. “You saw that she knew it was a baby at that point.”
Sarah said the mother told them their presence that day was a sign, but expressed regret that she hadn’t heard about other options before making her appointment. The mother decided to go back inside. After an hour of waiting, Sarah said she felt almost certain the mother had gone through with it; a disappointing end to her first day of being on the sidewalk. Many of the students including Sarah had to leave at that point, but Elise and Michael decided to stay and pray until the mother came out.
Fifteen minutes after leaving, Sarah’s phone rang. Elise told Sarah the mother had come out of the clinic looking relieved, telling them that she didn’t do it and said she had an appointment somewhere else. Sarah said the call brought her to tears. Her decision to overcome her fears had helped save a life that day.
Sarah has come a long way in two months. She’s been back to the clinic several times and she said she is talking to students at other schools looking to emulate UMSFL’s project. She hopes someday to receive a call from the mother whose life she helped change forever, and said she too was forever changed on that day.
“You hear a lot of stories about mothers and their babies who weren’t saved,” she said. “Being able to save one makes it all worth it.”
For more information about local prolife resources for mothers facing an untimely pregnancy, click here.