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'It's a mandate' - After 'Dobbs,' sidewalk counselors get back to the pavement

Clifton Powell and Floyd Jenkins outside a Planned Parenthood facility in Denver, Colorado, June 24, 2022. Credit: JD Flynn/The Pillar

When the Supreme Court on Friday overturned 50 years of federal abortion protections, demonstrators for and against chanted and waved signs in the streets outside the Court building.

When Dobbs v. Jackson was announced, some people took to prayer, perhaps. Others had more prosaic responses: Talking heads on cable news began pontificating almost immediately, while pro and anti abortion lobbying groups blasted fundraising emails to their supporters

But more than 1,600 miles from Washington, D.C., on a dead-end street in north Denver, Clifton Powell and Floyd Jenkins stood patient and quiet, at the end of a driveway leading into the Planned Parenthood Park Hill Health Center, one of the largest abortion clinics in America.

It’s where Floyd and Clifton always stand on Friday mornings.

Clifton, 66, an Air Force veteran, held a battered sign, promoting the Abortion Pill Reversal Network — a strategic choice, given that 68% of Colorado abortions in 2021 were pill-induced.

Floyd stood by Clifton’s side, across the street from men working construction, while a few cops eyed a homeless encampment at the end of the block.

Clifton told The Pillar he’s been standing outside Planned Parenthood since the early 1990s. Floyd, 50, said he’s been there since 2004.

Clifton and Floyd are sidewalk counselors at the busiest abortion clinic in Colorado, a state which codified permissive abortion laws just two months ago, with the state’s legislature anticipating that Roe v. Wade could be overturned.

They come to the clinic Tuesday through Saturdays, Powell told The Pillar, “‘cause that’s when they do abortions.”

Powell said their presence makes a difference.

“Almost every day we see turnarounds,” he told The Pillar — women inclined toward abortion who leave the clinic before procuring one.

“As long as we have a presence we see people turn around,” he said.

“And, thank God, we’ve had a really good solid presence, thanks to my brothers and sisters in the Lord.”

Neither Powell nor Jenkins is a Catholic. But Powell emphasized to The Pillar that “the Catholic brothers and sisters have been awesome, coming out almost every day.”

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Clifton Powell’s pickup truck, parked across the street from a Denver Planned Parenthood June 24. Credit: JD Flynn/The Pillar.

While the men celebrated Friday’s Supreme Court ruling, Powell and Jenkins said Dobbs v. Jackson will have no impact on their presence at the abortion clinic.

“I do think [Dobbs] is important,” Powell told The Pillar June 24. “I mean, I haven’t read the Court’s decision yet, and I thought it would be sooner, but I’m glad it’s happening.”

“But really I just hope that Colorado would step up and overturn our state law.”

Colorado is one of 20 states unlikely to ban abortion, which means the clinic in Denver could soon see an increase in patients from other states.

The Colorado Sun reported this week that after Texas prohibited nearly all abortions last September, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains has seen more than 1,200 Texas women seeking abortions.

That’s why prominent pro-life campaigner Lauren Handy said that sidewalk counselors like Powell and Jenkins are so important.

In fact, Handy said men and women praying outside abortion clinics and talking with women intending abortion, are central to the efforts that overturned Roe.

“There’s these people all across the country who have been in the movement since the beginning of Roe, and people doing this for 30 plus years. And who we are as a movement could be nothing without their foundational support, guidance, and wisdom. So I’m thankful for their work,” Handy said.

“I think of Mr. Newman down in Louisiana, in Baton Rouge, who has been sidewalk counseling since 1977, who was a rescuer during the ‘Rescue’ days who started a crisis pregnancy center, who has saved many babies and helped so many families.”

“Or Mr. Christopher, also in Louisiana, who has been sidewalk counseling longer than I have been alive. I want to honor and uplift their work.”

“And I also want to uplift and honor the work of the people for whom not much will change with  Roe being overturned,” Handy, director of activism for Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising, told The Pillar.

“Blue states have been codifying and expanding abortion access, because while [Dobbs] is a big win because it's the expansion of human rights to our pre-born neighbors, there is still, you know, mass exploitation and slaughter in California, in Maine, in New York, in D.C. and Maryland and Virginia,” she added.

“I mean, Maryland is going up a new all-trimester - through all nine months of pregnancy - abortion facility that’s being crowdfunded on GoFundMe. So it’s just like — we need our foundational backbone of the pro-life movement.”

“And [sidewalk counselors] are often overlooked, they’re often dismissed, or they’re just viewed as Boomers or something … And yet I truly view them as the backbone of the pro-life movement and our core foundation.”

“Our pro-life work manifests in many ways, engaging the culture on the streets, or helping families who are facing crisis pregnancies. And the work never ends. It probably won't end until Jesus returns, ‘cause we live in a fallen world,” Handy said.

For Powell and Jenkins, and sidewalk counselors like them across the country, the work has not come to an end.

In Denver, Colorado, Clifton Powell and Floyd Jenkins wait June 24 at a break in the mesh covered fence which surrounds one of the largest Planned Parenthood facilities in the country. Credit: JD Flynn/The Pillar.

Jenkins said he’s not optimistic things in his state will change soon.

“It seems like in Colorado, nothing ever changes. It’s like the more things change, the more they stay the same,” he lamented.

If things stay the same, Powell and Jenkins will keep heading to the clinic five days a week, hoping for a chance to encourage men and women at Planned Parenthood to choose life.

“We have an obligation to try to save the unborn,” Jenkins told The Pillar.

“I think it’s a mandate,” Powell added. “God tells us — I think it’s a commandment from God to speak out for these babies.”

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