Twenty-year-old Amanda Phillips is an example of what a young woman can accomplish when she sets her heart on serving Canada’s unborn. She is an office assistant with Alberta Pro-Life, which describes itself as “a province-wide group which works to educate and motivate Albertans on life issues, most notably abortion and euthanasia.” She is also the ministry co-ordinator for The Back Porch, an 11th hour ministry to pregnant women and their partners considering an abortion in Edmonton.
She first became active within the pro-life movement at the age of 12. “She was very active with Rock for Life for five years,” says Joanne Byfield, a well-known Alberta pro-life activist. Byfield notes that many of Amanda’s friends from Rock for Life have also become active pro-life activists as they became young adults. “This is indicative of why we need to get them young.”
Amanda’s main ministry is to other young adults through The Back Porch. The ministry derives its name from the large back porch behind the house where the ministry is hosted. The porch is directly across the street from Henry Morgentaler’s Edmonton abortuary. The porch is where Amanda and her co-workers will first encounter men and women contemplating abortion.
“We call it an 11th hour ministry because it’s a last-chance ministry,” Amanda tells The Interim. “It’s a last chance, but also a first hope for these men and women. These men and women have already booked an appointment for an abortion. They usually come in without knowing there are other options besides abortion.”
The Back Porch offers men and women a last chance to change their mind before actually going through with the abortion. Amanda and her co-workers will listen to their story, hoping for an opening that will allow them to explore options other than abortion. “We have volunteers who try and be here between the same hours the clinic is open,” Amanda says. “Their first priority is to listen for the doorbell. When the doorbell rings, the first priority becomes to listen to the people.”
Educating people about the dangers of abortion begins with listening to their story, Amanda says. People contemplating abortion have usually spent the past three or four weeks psyching themselves up for it. “The only thing they’re looking at right now is abortion,” Amanda says. “They’re not looking at anything else.”
Most clients have experienced very difficult lives. Amanda and other staff keep a diary of every encounter in a special journal devoted to this purpose. Thus, a summary of every encounter is written down in a special journal. From physical and sexual abuse to unemployment and homelessness, the circumstances are horrendous for many who stand on the back porch and ring the doorbell.
It is in listening to their stories that Amanda looks for an opening to try and change their minds. First, she will offer the individual information about abortion. “I let them know that perhaps there is something they don’t know about abortion that could affect them,” Amanda says. “I educate them on what happens during an abortion procedure and abortion’s possible side-effects and complications.”
This provides a strong entry point to further discussion, because at this point, the individual’s main concern is how the baby will affect his or her own life. The individual has not yet grasped that another life is at stake. Once the individual understands what can go wrong with abortion, Amanda can then begin to explore options other than abortion.
“This is like a door open to them,” Amanda says. “Sometimes they think we’re the abortion clinic and we only have 30 seconds to reach them. So, we try and make sure they have all the information.”
Some will stay and open up. Others will bolt across the street to the abortuary. “I’ve had them come in completely freaking out, I’ve had them call in and the girl will just start to cry,” says Amanda. “I have had men come in saying they don’t know what to do because their partner/wife/girlfriend is across the street having an abortion.”
Each encounter involves balancing a sympathetic ear while maintaining an objective view of the situation. The Back Porch is not a counselling centre, but a last-minute effort to save the unborn and their parents. “Our goal is to refer these people to the already-established pregnancy centres in the city that are already equipped to deal with these people,” says Amanda. “If we can get them to open up, we can get them to seek more counselling.”
The effort has its ups and downs. It is always a joyous occasion when a woman phones back a few days later and tells Amanda she has decided to keep her baby. In contrast, it breaks Amanda’s heart when she gives an individual “all the truth about abortion but (the individual) wants to go through with the abortion” anyway. Amanda also finds it difficult to “come to work each morning knowing that countless babies are being killed across the street.”
Yet, overall, Amanda finds the experience rewarding. “I feel very fortunate to be working to save men and women and babies from abortion,” she says. “If we can save one baby by being here, all the efforts we put into it – no matter how great or how small – are worth it.”
For her part, Byfield is happy to have Amanda around to share this pro-life experience. “She’s young and she’s passionate about evangelizing the pro-life message,” says Byfield. “Most of the people she sees in her ministry are people who have already made a decision to have an abortion. Amanda’s very empathetic in taking to them. She is also very clear and direct about the pro-life message. She manages to balance both.”