By: Ann L. Coker
With clipboard on my lap I faced my client and wrote down her answers to questions on the intake form. She was not slow to answer but she gave only brief information. She had finished high school but not gone on for further education. Unmarried and living with friends, she took responsibility for her support. She had been pregnant twice and has a three-year old son.
Her first question to me: “Where do I go for an abortion?”
While this did not shock me, it came matter-of-fact, as if she understood I would give her a referral. Of course, this moved the assessment from abortion-vulnerable to abortion-minded. I first answered her question, that our policy was not to recommend an abortion. Then as had been my custom, I gave a verbal description of a first-trimester abortion. I’m a firm believer that the client needs to know the truth. As I talked, her eyes showed a vague response, as if her mind was elsewhere.
|"Trotting out the toddler" is one of many tools for making a persuasive argument against abortion. This tactic and others have been compiled by Stand to Reason in their pro-life training course Making Abortion Unthinkable: The Art of Pro-life Persuasion. These have also been developed by Life Training Institute, in their helpful book, Pro-life 101, another pro-life training ground for teens and adults. These pro-life strategies are explained in the book The Moral Question of Abortion by Stephen Schwarz under the topics of "women’s choice" and "every child a wanted child."
She waited for me to finish and said, “May I use your phone?”
I asked if it would be a local call and who she wanted to contact.
“My doctor,” she replied, “He said he’d help me get an abortion.”
I explored her reasons and found out about her partner and their inability to provide for another child. I decided to use a tactic I’d learned during pro-life training but I’d not tried in the counseling room – “trotting out the toddler.”
Using the name of her young son, I asked if she would like to start an adoption process for him.“
No,” she said with emphasis, mystified by my question.
“Why not?” I said.
“I love him,” was her simply reply.
“But you said you can’t afford two children, so you could place your son in another home and go ahead with this pregnancy.”
Confused, she said, “I could not do that.”
“I understand, because you can see your son, and you love him, and he loves you." She nodded vigorously.
I continued, “You can't see the child in your womb, yet he or she is a human being just like you, me, and your son at home. He was once at the same stage of development the baby you are now carrying.”
Not sure what she comprehended or if this line of reasoning was making any difference in her decision, I offered an appointment for an ultrasound the next week. She agreed.
The day before her scheduled ultrasound I went to her house, something I’d not done before nor since. I reminded her of her appointment time and got to see her little boy standing nearby. However, she did not appear for her ultrasound, and she did not answer my calls. I soon closed her case file, writing “no contact, decision unknown.”
During volunteer training I tell prospective counselors that they will think they’ve heard it all until the next client comes in the door. That has proven true many times. For example, this young woman fit so well the stats for an abortion-minded client. A large percentage of abortions are decided by women who have had a previous abortion and/or who also have a child. It’s too expensive to have another child, or circumstances have changed such as she is no longer with the father of her child. Now she’s pregnant again.
Notice how my client fit the profile: She had one previous abortion and one child. This pregnancy was “unintended,” and the father was not fully involved. She was not married and her income would fall under the federal poverty line. To top the list, she was an African American, considered a target by many abortion clinics and even doctors who recommend abortion. (See the Top 40 Abortion Statistics in America, published by Care Net, March 2016.)
Thankfully that was not the end of the story about my young client. About a year later I heard her name spoken by another counselor as she looked through the closed files. Curious and yet cautious, I asked if my client was in the waiting room and why she was here. “It’s for supplies,” the counselor said. “You know, diapers and such.”
I asked permission to go visit her before the counselor started the interview. I called her by name. She said hello, recognizing me. I asked about her baby.
“Yes, I now have two sons, and just need a little help with diapers.”
I asked what made the difference in her decision, and she said she just couldn’t do it.
I breathed a prayer of thanksgiving that she didn’t add to the statistics. The counselor helped her pick out some supplies.
Ann L. Coker began as a volunteer at the Crisis Pregnancy Center of the Wabash Valley, located in Terre Haute, Indiana. After ten years she went on staff as Client Services Director, first at the main center and then at one in Brazil, IN. She retired in 2008 but continues pro-life work as a board member of the Wabash Valley Right to Life.