Opinion | Sexuality

Changing Minds on Abortion

5 former abortion advocates speak out
Changing Minds on Abortion

Abortion is an issue that, undoubtedly, impacts both men and women. Yet, as Katelyn Beaty writes in “The Power of Pro-Life Women,” “Abortion is not a ‘women’s issue’; rather, it is a human issue that affects women uniquely.” In this sense, the perspectives of pro-life women are uniquely important to the movement. And women who were once pro-choice but are now pro-life offer some of the most unique and compelling voices within a movement whose reach extends far beyond the unborn. It extends to all lives, rescuing not only bodies but transforming hearts and souls too.

Five women who have been deeply touched by the pro-life cause testify to the life-transforming power of this movement.

The One Man Who Offered Help

January 22 is the birthday of Dr. Alveda King, author of King Rules and director of African American Outreach with Priests for Life. January 22 is also the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 US Supreme Court ruling that struck down most state laws prohibiting abortion, effectively legalizing abortion in all 50 states.

Each year, King celebrates her birthday, along with that of her late uncle, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (whose birthday is January 15), by participating in the March for Life. King’s efforts to promote the sanctity of life carry on her uncle’s dream, she said in a recent phone interview, because he believed that every human life is valuable.

Alveda King was not always pro-life. In her early years, she strayed from the Christian beliefs she held from childhood and “fell into pro-abortion propaganda,” she said. As a young woman in the throes of marital distress, King underwent two abortions, the first without her knowledge when a doctor performed a D & C procedure without informing her that she was pregnant, the second under pressure from her husband.

When King became pregnant again, after the breakup of her marriage, she intended to have a third abortion. However, her grandfather, Martin Luther King Sr., urged her to spare the life of his great-grandchild. Even more important, he backed up his plea with an offer of help. King had the baby, and the course of her life changed.

Even so, King remained pro-choice until her reconciliation with Christ in 1983. After that, “God’s Word caused me to value the sanctity of life,” she told me.

Embraced by Pro-Lifers

Norma McCorvey is the once-anonymous woman behind the Roe v. Wade ruling. McCorvey was assigned the pseudonym Jane Roe in the case that began when she filed suit against her home state of Texas after being denied an abortion in 1969. She was 21.

By the time McCorvey’s case made its way to the Supreme Court, she had long since given birth and placed the child for adoption. McCorvey has since publicly stated that she didn’t then understand what abortion entailed and was barely involved in the suit her activist lawyers took to the Supreme Court, a case based on a number of fabrications.

McCorvey explains in Reversing Roe: The Story of Norma McCorvey that she eventually began to speak out in support of abortion rights in order to justify her conduct and became a national figure for the pro-choice movement.

After she went to work at an abortion clinic in the 1990s, the gentle and persistent witness of pro-lifers who were protesting there helped break the hard shell she had formed to protect her fragile and broken sense of self. Over time, her animosity toward the protesters developed into fondness. She began to consider questions about abortion that she had long been ignoring.

McCorvey writes in her book Won by Love that she found herself gazing at a poster depicting fetal development, and the truth struck her:

The progression was so obvious, the eyes were so sweet. It hurt my heart, just looking at them. I ran outside and finally, it dawned on me. Norma, I said to myself, They’re right. I had worked with pregnant women for years. I had been through three pregnancies and deliveries myself. I should have known. Yet something in that poster made me lose my breath. I kept seeing the picture of that tiny, ten-week-old embryo, and I said to myself, That’s a baby! It’s as if blinders just fell off my eyes and I suddenly understood the truth—that’s a baby!

Influenced by the witness of the pro-life activists she regularly encountered, McCorvey professed faith in Christ. In 1995 she was baptized in the backyard pool of one of the men who had protested at the abortion clinic where she had been working.

Eyes Finally Opened

Like McCorvey, Carol Everett was deeply entrenched in abortion advocacy. She estimates that she oversaw 35,000 abortion procedures while operating four abortion clinics in Texas from 1977 to 1983. Everett brought home a goodly sum for each procedure, she confesses in Blood Money: Getting Rich Off a Woman’s Right to Choose. Although the money was a significant motivator, it wasn’t the true root of her abortion advocacy. Everett’s first encounter with abortion was personal, not professional.

In The Scarlet Lady: Confessions of a Successful Abortionist, Everett relates that in 1973, just weeks after Roe v. Wade, both her husband and her doctor encouraged her to abort her third pregnancy. She had borne two children already. Shortly after the abortion, Everett’s life spiraled downward: She began an extramarital affair, started to abuse alcohol, and separated from her husband. Throwing herself into her work at a medical supply business, she eventually came to work for a chain of abortion clinics, where her business skills and financial acumen soon had the clinics doubling the number of abortions sold each month. Hoping to expand operations, she met with a business consultant she hoped would assist her. Instead, the man introduced Everett to Jesus Christ.

Upon her return to the clinic, Everett saw everything with new eyes—especially the crying women and girls seated inside, according to her testimony published at Priests for Life. She finally faced the reality of her own abortion—and the thousands she had helped bring about. Today Everett is a vocal pro-life advocate who exposes the business side of the abortion industry while appealing for the value of human life as a speaker and author, and she leads a resource network that supports crisis pregnancy centers.

A Better Way to Help Women

Everett’s story—along with exposés like the undercover videos released last year by the Center for Medical Progress in which Planned Parenthood employees describe the abortion business—makes it tempting to assume that everyone involved in the abortion business is callous and uncaring. But many, including Everett, who profited financially from abortion, have deeper, more personal reasons for advocating abortion. And others, probably most, believe they are actually doing good. This is true of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director and author of Unplanned.

In her book, Johnson explains that she and “nearly all of my colleagues worked in the clinic because of a sincere desire to help women—and many, like me, were drawn in spite of, not because of, abortion.” Johnson thought she was working to reduce the incidence of abortion when she first volunteered at a Planned Parenthood clinic as a college student. Eventually working her way up to clinic director, Johnson also convinced herself that by limiting the clinic’s abortions to those performed earlier in pregnancy, the staff was not really involved in killing babies. Having had two abortions herself made it even more important for her to cling to this view.

Only later, “after the scales had begun to fall from my eyes,” Johnson writes, did she realize that her approach “abandoned God’s standards of living” as she “struck out on my own to save the needy” rather than doing things God’s way. Such thinking demonstrates the truth of Proverbs 14:12: “There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.” Ironically, Johnson now realizes, “By aligning myself with an organization that performed abortions, I had condemned myself to be part of the very thing I’d said I wanted to decrease.”

Two things helped open Johnson’s eyes: Her employer increased pressure on her to improve her clinic’s finances by doing more abortions; and she was asked to assist in one of the procedures, where she witnessed, by means of ultrasound, an unborn baby, just weeks along, flailing, unsuccessfully against the suction tube that whisked the tiny body away.

The day she decided to leave Planned Parenthood, Johnson drove immediately to the office of the pro-lifers who had both prayed outside her clinic all the years she worked there and shown genuine kindness and concern for her personally. She was, Johnson writes in Unplanned, “loved from one side onto the other.”

Loved into Truth

It is exciting when women with dramatic conversion stories like King, Everett, McCorvey, and Johnson join the pro-life cause. But perhaps even more important for cultivating a pro-life ethic are ordinary women who have grown in understanding and conviction and, consequently, live out their pro-life philosophy quietly within their own sphere of influence. Barbara Ogg, a retired child and adolescent therapist from Michigan, is one such woman.

Ogg remembers the furor that erupted in the news when Roe v. Wade was handed down. She recalls Christians being “in an upheaval” for a time. But then things settled down, and most people, like Ogg, seemed to accept the view that abortion is about a woman’s right to choose. As a college student Ogg was assigned to give a presentation on Planned Parenthood. She visited the clinic and interviewed the director. “Everything was nice and clean,” she said, and the director “was so friendly,” offering her literature, free condoms, and a convincing rationalization for abortion. “I was sold!” she said. She got an A on her presentation.

Looking back now, Ogg explains, “Though I had attended church growing up and was taught that abortion was wrong and even believed it was wrong, I had been won over to the popular belief system that taught us not to judge others and that these were hard choices but none of my business.”

A few years later, Ogg became a Christian. But she didn’t embrace the pro-life view right away. In fact, when a Bible study leader showed a pro-life video, she grew angry, telling the leader the video was “all lies.” The leader didn’t return anger for anger but instead prayed for Ogg.

Two years later, Ogg had the chance to ask another pro-life friend hard questions about abortion and received good answers. Ogg’s mind began to open. One question she asked stands out: “What about child abuse? Isn’t it better for a woman to abort a baby she doesn’t want than to keep the child and abuse him or her?”

Her friend answered, “Abortion does not prevent child abuse; abortion is child abuse.”

Then, Ogg says, “The truth finally hit me. My eyes were opened. These really were babies being killed.” Soon afterward, she began to volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center.

Ogg’s experience of a Christian community that bore with her patiently while she grew into her pro-life beliefs is not everyone’s story.

When Johnson worked at Planned Parenthood, she began attending a church that had a strong pro-life commitment. But after the church learned about her work, she was rejected for membership because of her pro-choice beliefs. As a result, Johnson says, the church “lost any opportunity to influence my outlook.” She wishes the church had instead “offered to dialogue with me about why they were so committed to their pro-life position.”

Johnson moved on to a church that was pro-choice, only to be ostracized again when she became pro-life. Like McCorvey, Johnson turned to the pro-life activists who had offered help and friendship to her and her clients from outside the clinic all those years. “I appreciate . . . and encourage churches and other organizations to consider their example,” Johnson writes in Unplanned.

I asked Johnson what main misconception pro-lifers harbor about those who work in the abortion business. “I frequently hear pro-lifers make comments like, ‘Abortion workers hate children.’ That is far from the truth,” she told me in a recent email. “Most of the people I worked with were mothers and loved children. There is simply a belief that women should only have children if they are ‘wanted.’ What they fail to see is that truly every child is wanted by someone.”

Pro-lifers can make a similar error, Johnson observed. “Pro-lifers accuse abortion workers of dehumanizing the unborn child. Ironically, the pro-life movement has done the exact same thing to the abortion workers,” she said. “We are in a cycle of dehumanization. The goal of our ministry is to bring some humanity and dignity back into the pro-life movement.”

As Johnson’s story and the stories of King, McCorvey, and many others illustrate, when those in the pro-life movement embody both love and truth, they can work not only to save unborn babies but change minds and offer the saving grace of Christ to all.

Karen Swallow Prior is professor of English at Liberty University, Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States, and a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics. Her most recent book is Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist.

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