The fight to protect life is, in some ways, even more challenging today than it was a year ago, Brian Westbrook says.
The Supreme Court’s June 2022 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, was a major victory for life, according to Westbrook, founder and executive director of the national sidewalk counseling organization Coalition Life.
But, he adds, “there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”
“Our opponents are not going away, and we need to be vigilant in fighting back and ensuring that we can protect mothers and protect children,”Westbrook says.
In the state of Illinois, for example, there’s a bill being pushed by pro-abortion advocates that could “shut down the 90 different [varieties] of pregnancy centers and maternity homes in Illinois,” he says.
In an effort to encourage and mobilize the pro-life movement, Coalition Life is inviting Americans to St. Louis on April 29 for a march to support women and be a voice for the unborn.
Westbrook joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss the opposition the pro-life movement is currently facing and why sidewalk counseling remains such a powerful tool in serving women facing a crisis pregnancy.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: Brian Westbrook is the executive director and founder of the national sidewalk counseling organization Coalition Life. Brian joins us now. Brian, welcome to the show.
Brian Westbrook: Oh, it’s an honor to be here. Good to see you, or hear you, I suppose.
Allen: Absolutely. You founded Coalition Life. What is your mission?
Westbrook: Well, our mission is to end abortion peacefully and prayerfully, and we do that through sidewalk counseling and going out directly to where these abortions are happening.
We understand that there’s a lot of need in the political process, but what we do is we go directly to these women. We offer them help and healing and opportunity to choose life. We also run a pregnancy center in the St. Louis area and we partner with groups around the country, specifically here in the Midwest.
We have a lot of individuals on the ground and we just are excited to be able to save lives, and we’ve had well over 3,500 turnarounds in front of these abortion facilities.
Allen: Sidewalk counseling has played such a huge role in the pro-life movement for decades, but have things changed now that we’re in a post-Roe America? Are the challenges different?
Westbrook: We prayed and we prayed for the reversal of Roe v. Wade for so many years. But on the other side of Roe v. Wade, on the other side of the Dobbs decision, my wife and I laugh about it, and a lot of other pro-life leaders laugh about it, it’s actually become that much harder to go to where abortions are happening.
We had a lot of activity in Missouri, but of course what happened is that the trigger ban was signed in Missouri about 10 minutes after the Dobbs decision happened.
A lot of our activity is in Illinois and other states that are a little more liberal, if you would call them. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done there.
For instance, in the state of Illinois, they’re opening the floodgates: Come on in. There’s a little town called Carbondale, Illinois, southern town in Illinois, where they already built two abortion facilities. A third is being built right now with plans to even bring more abortions into Southern Illinois.
Even the network [show] “Grey’s Anatomy” even talks specifically in their sitcom about how important Carbondale and Southern Illinois are to the abortion battle.
A lot of the landscape is changing. If you look in New Mexico, a place called Las Cruces, New Mexico, a lot of abortions and abortionists are flooding to New Mexico from Mississippi and from Texas and around the country. We have to go where abortions happen.
Allen: Considering that and how the landscape has changed in a post-Roe America, what are the greatest challenges, would you say, within the next, I don’t know, maybe two or three years? What is at stake when we talk about the pro-life movement and we look at various legislation that’s being pushed?
Westbrook: Again, we’ll talk about my two favorite states, Illinois and Missouri. In Illinois, there’s a bill already moving through that state level, which is called SB 1909. 1909, in a sense, its goal is to shut down the 90 different [varieties] of pregnancy centers and maternity homes in Illinois.
Basically, what it does is it gives the attorney general full jurisdiction over whether or not the pregnancy centers are using factual data. If the attorney general doesn’t like the data or believes that we’re omitting data about abortions and where they could get abortions and we’re not referring back to an abortion facility, in fact, then we could be sanctioned with $50,000 fines and all of our assets could be seized as well.
This is a real threat in the state of Illinois. I’ll be in Springfield, Illinois, here in the next week or so pushing back on that.
In Missouri, of course, we are a pro-life state, yet a referendum vote, a change to the Constitution only requires a 50% vote. A lot of states are like this. A complete change to the Constitution requires just a simple majority.
There are already ballot initiatives that are moving forward that would remove any and all restrictions on abortion in the state of Missouri, even threatening the pregnancy centers and how they would operate. We need to understand that they are not going away, our opponents are not going away, and we need to be vigilant in fighting back and ensuring that we can protect mothers and protect children.
Allen: When you-all talk to those mothers outside abortion clinics, what are usually the reasons that they give for why they’re there and why they feel like abortion is the option that they have in front of them?
Westbrook: Yeah, absolutely. It really comes down to one major reason, which is they feel like they have no choice, which is really quite ironic because the so-called pro-choice movement keeps talking about “this is about choice, this is about the woman empowerment.” But I haven’t talked to a woman in front of the abortion facility where she says, “I want to be empowered and I want to exercise my rights.” They all talk about having no other choice, and they feel stuck and pressured and coerced into having this abortion.
It really comes down to, beyond that, the financial means to be able to care for a child and then the relationships that they have with other individuals.
The financial needs is actually the best reason that I love hearing because we can do so much for these women. … There was a client we worked with, we provided a car for her, and we worked with a lot of other agencies to provide both medical—I’m sorry, bills that we had helped her pay and also a lot of the other variety of bills that she had.
One of the clients I was able to meet on the sidewalk in front of the abortion facility, she was an interesting young lady. She was stripping, or dancing, at a local place. She had tattoos. Her housing, it had all kinds of rodents and other things. And she already had children of her own. Her reason was that if she was pregnant and needed to dance, if you will, she would get fired.
It’s a few words of encouragement and also working with our local pregnancy centers. There is help. With this young lady, we were not only able to help her find a job, but we were also able to help her get out of the housing situation she was in, into a maternity home, and then eventually into a long-term housing situation.
We see these stories over and over again. We serve over 700 clients each year, and in a month’s time we see about 30 turnarounds every single month out in front of these abortion facilities.
These are real women, these are real conversations that we’re having, and it’s really important that we both go to the abortion facilities anywhere in the country and also provide that backbone of support, which is our pregnancy centers. It’s the backbone of the pro-life movement and it’s incredibly important that we continue to support them.
Allen: Of course, we know that more than half of all abortions in the United States are conducted using the abortion pill.
Mifepristone is the pill that’s really being up for debate right now and we’ve watched this case move first in Texas, a judge ruled that the Food and Drug Administration was wrong to, back in the year 2000, approve the drug. Of course, that decision was appealed and now the Supreme Court has an opportunity to weigh in.
As this case is moving through the legal system, what’s really at stake here when we talk about the possibility of the abortion pill being banned across America?
Westbrook: We talk about the abortion pill mess specifically, but what I think is the deeper at stake moment is the Comstock laws.
Comstock laws were passed in 1873 and they’ve been whittled down over the years. They went so far as to outlaw notes that you would pass to your wife or send through the mail if they’re a little more obscene or pornography. But the Comstock laws specifically outlaw the movement of abortion-causing drugs, abortion-causing paraphernalia, and things that would help an abortion.
The Comstock laws are law of the land. But in 1973, 100 years later, abortion became a “fundamental right.”
With the Dobbs decision, about 50 years later, we see the reversal of this so-called fundamental right, which makes the Comstock laws still in effect.
Any attorney general today and any local municipality can point to these Comstock laws and say, “Look, you cannot move any abortion-causing drugs or abortion-causing paraphernalia, including the abortion pill, throughout the country.”
In a sense, we already have an abortion ban on the books at the federal level. We just need judges and attorneys general and other prosecuting attorneys to move these things forward. I think that’s really what’s at stake. It’s not just the abortion pill, but it’s abortion nationwide.
Allen: I know that, as things continue to move along and we’re watching legislation being debated, you-all have purposed that you want to bring encouragement to the pro-life movement. One of the ways that you-all are doing that is through a march here coming up very soon at the end of April, April 29. Talk a little bit about this march and the purpose.
Westbrook: Yeah, absolutely. March on the Arch, stlmarch.com. We invite everyone around the country to fly into the gateway of the west where we were the first state to sign a trigger law after the Dobbs decision.
We ask you, come join us in St. Louis. It’s really the battleground between Illinois and Missouri, and it’s really important for us to move this forward. We have huge crowds out there smack dab in the middle of the city, in the middle of the country, and so we invite you-all to come out. That’s April 29 at 11 a.m.
We have a whole variety of speakers, really top-notch speakers, and then at noon we have a march from Union Station all the way down to the Gateway Arch. Just register and get all the information at stlmarch.com.
Allen: Brian Westbrook of Coalition Life. Brian, thank you for your time today. We really appreciate you joining.
Westbrook: Well, it’s an honor. Thanks for the time.
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