March 15, 2024

Sidewalk advocates ‘still essential’ despite state ban on most abortions

Larry Kunkel, left, and Margie Schmitz serve as Sidewalk Advocates for Life volunteers at the Planned Parenthood facility in Indianapolis, where women go for abortion referrals, birth control, “morning after” emergency contraception and other services in opposition to the sanctity of life. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Larry Kunkel, left, and Margie Schmitz serve as Sidewalk Advocates for Life volunteers at the Planned Parenthood facility in Indianapolis, where women go for abortion referrals, birth control, “morning after” emergency contraception and other services in opposition to the sanctity of life. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

It’s been eight months since Indiana enacted a life-saving law restricting most abortions in the state.

But drive by a Planned Parenthood facility in Indiana that no longer offers abortions and you’re still likely to see Sidewalk Advocates for Life volunteers armed with brochures, informational and treat-filled blessing bags—and love.

“They can’t perform abortions [here] now,” says Margie Schmitz, a sidewalk advocate who serves outside a Planned Parenthood center in Indianapolis where abortions used to be performed. “But they refer women to locations outside of the state where they can have an abortion.”

And the facility still provides services like birth control, “morning after” emergency contraception and gender-affirming care—all which violate the sanctity of life. The same is true for the Planned Parenthood facility in Bloomington.

“We know that the abortion bans work,” says Melissa Yeomans, Midwest and Northwest regional programs manager for Sidewalk Advocates for Life. “They help protect women from harm and save lives.

“But we still have women experiencing unexpected pregnancies. The role of sidewalk advocates is the same as it has always been. They’re there at the abortion referral facilities offering hope and help to clients—especially with Planned Parenthood—steering women away to life-supporting help.”

‘We can steer them to better options’

Indiana’s new law protecting most unborn children went into effect on Aug. 1, 2023. It limits abortion up to 10 weeks gestation in instances of rape or incest, up to 20 weeks gestation in cases of lethal fetal anomalies, or when the mother’s life is in danger from specific medical issues. The law also requires that abortions take place at a hospital or a hospital-owned surgery center.

Schmitz, a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, admits there are fewer cars pulling into the Indianapolis Planned Parenthood facility since the law went into effect.

“We used to see about 25 cars or so” pull into the facility’s parking lot during a typical shift, says the 16-year sidewalk counseling veteran. “Now we see probably 12.”

As a car enters or exits the driveway, a sidewalk advocate approaches it with a smile and friendly wave.

“We try to find out why they’re there so we can steer them to better options and give them better information,” says Schmitz.

“If we find out that they’re there for an ultrasound or pregnancy test, we try to get them to go to the Women’s Care Center,” a pro-life pregnancy care center adjacent to the Planned Parenthood facility.

Getting an ultrasound or pregnancy test is no violation of the sanctity of life. So why intervene?

“Planned Parenthood is going to try to pressure them to have an abortion,” says Schmitz. “There’s no pressure at Women’s Care Center, no judgment.

“And we know at Women’s Care Center they point out [on the ultrasound] the different features of the unborn child. We don’t know if they do that at Planned Parenthood. A high percentage of those who see the ultrasound choose life.”

And all of the services at Women’s Care Center are free. At the Indianapolis and Bloomington Planned Parenthood centers, a pregnancy-related ultrasound is $221 and a pregnancy test is $17.

For those who agree to go to Women’s Care Center rather than Planned Parenthood, “We run over and meet them there at the Women’s Care Center and introduce them to the staff,” says Schmitz.

If a woman declines the option of Women’s Care Center, sidewalk advocates have brochures listing other close but cheaper alternatives for ultrasounds and pregnancy tests.

“From a national standpoint, Planned Parenthood’s main source of funding is from abortions,” says Larry Kunkel, one of Schmitz’s fellow sidewalk advocates. “So, we want to steer women away from them and the evil they represent.

“And if a woman says she’s there for birth control, we give her literature to understand how birth control can affect them physically and emotionally.”

Less pressure, but ‘just as important’

Kunkel is now in his eighth year of volunteering as a sidewalk advocate. As a member of the Knights of Columbus—he is currently Life Director at the state level, and Vocations and Life Director for his local council—Kunkel is passionate about helping women and saving babies.

But he admits he was “surprised” that those pulling into the Planned Parenthood drive were willing to speak with him.

“Originally, I thought I wouldn’t be a good fit [as a sidewalk advocate] because I’m a man,” says Kunkel, a member of Our Lady of Grace Parish in Noblesville, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese. “Actually, they’re pretty open to me. And often there are men bringing the women, so they relate to other men. It’s just really not been an obstacle.”

And without abortions being performed at facilities like Planned Parenthood in Indiana, there is a decrease in stress when trying to share information with those who pull into the drive.

“It’s less of a pressured situation when that client arrives,” says Yeomans. “There’s a difference in the feeling at that sidewalk when it’s an abortion day versus when they’re just seeking information. People are generally more open to our information because they’re not feeling that pressure as they go in.

“Yet that role [of sidewalk advocate] is still essential and just as important. Connecting them with help before they go out of state [for an abortion] is so important. So is letting the community know where their pregnancy care center is and what it offers.”

Information about post-abortion healing is among the literature sidewalk advocates offer, Yeomans adds.

“That piece is so significant and so important, too,” she notes. “They have no idea there is help to walk them through the grieving process after losing a child. That’s another important part of our role.”

Outside the Planned Parenthood facility in Indianapolis, sidewalk advocates also offer blessing bags with a Pro-Life Action Ministries brochure, small treats, a personal item like lotion or lip balm, and the name and number of Gabriel Project president and director Linda Kile.

“We’ve had women who have taken the bag but refused to speak with us, who later called seeking help,” says Sheryl Dye, Sidewalk Advocates for Life program leader in Indianapolis. “Those little bags are so valuable.”

No break ‘in doing God’s work’

Yeomans says there is still a great need for both men and women to maintain a presence at centers that offer abortion referrals.

“There’s just a need for advocates to stay motivated, to be present even though numbers have gone down,” she says. “Because there are still those abortion-vulnerable women seeking abortion across state lines.”

In fact, there’s a need for more sidewalk advocates. Kunkel notes that currently there are not enough volunteers to cover the Indianapolis Planned Parenthood facility’s Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. hours.

There is only one requirement to be a sidewalk advocate, says Yeomans: “You have to have a heart to reach women with lifegiving and lifesaving resources.”

Age is not a factor, she adds, saying she knows advocates in their 80s (Schmitz is 81), “and the youngest I met is 14.”

Some advocates, like Schmitz and Kunkel, interact with those seeking services from a non-life-affirming center. Others serve with them silently as prayer partners, standing if they can, or sitting in a chair if they have physical limitations.

“We have one volunteer who couldn’t go to the sidewalk but serves behind the scenes,” says Yeomans. “God will take your unique gift and use it to save lives.”

Volunteers attend a one-day training and take a pledge “to be peaceful and law-abiding” when serving, she explains, noting, “We want everyone to do everything above reproach and pleasing to Christ.”

For those unconvinced of the continued need for sidewalk advocates in Indiana, Yeomans suggests driving to an active abortion center across the state line—like one in Illinois deceptively named The Hope Center.

“It’s impactful to see what we’re up against and who we’re for and why it matters to stay on the ground and visible,” she says.

Abortion bans can lead to “a false sense of ‘we can take a break,’ ” Yeomans adds. “We don’t take a break in doing God’s work.

“When we look at the precious moms and babies we show up for, yeah, there’s no big abortion clinic in Indiana now. But abortion is an option being given to someone who is vulnerable. It’s just as important to care for that mom and her baby now.”

(A Sidewalk Advocates for Life training for volunteers to serve at the Planned Parenthood facility at 8590 Georgetown Road in Indianapolis will take place from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. on April 20. The location will be disclosed upon registering. The $10 cost includes materials. Trainees must be available to volunteer for time slots as a sidewalk advocate or prayer partner during normal business hours Mon.-Fri. Register by April 11. For more information or to register, contact Sheryl Dye at or 317-407-6881. For more information about serving as a Sidewalk Advocate for Life at the Planned Parenthood center at 421 S. College Ave. in Bloomington, send an e-mail to

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