The shocking undercover videos made by the Center for Medical Progress, revealing the sale of aborted babies, have stirred up deep emotions on both sides of the issue. But for those who have had abortions, the videos are painfully personal.
Four post-abortive women and one man talked with the Register about the abortions they regret and their heartbreaking reactions to the videos.
“When I saw the tiny little limbs held up, I screamed,” said Nancy Tanner, a regional coordinator in Virginia with Silent No More Awareness. “I wanted to look away, but I forced myself to watch so I can be informed.”
Tanner was a teacher with two young children when she had an abortion in 1984. She was separated from her husband but in a relationship with another man. “Everyone told me to have an abortion and said I’d get over it, but they were wrong,” she said.
Although Tanner remarried, had two more children and returned to her Catholic faith, she said the memory of her abortion is still painful.
‘I Wanted to Die’
Even before the abortion was completed, she regretted her decision: “I wanted to get up and leave, but was pushed back down on the table and told it was too late to change my mind.”
The abortionist did not speak to her, other than to say there would be pressure as the baby was vacuumed from her womb. “Right next to me, at eye level, was a jar connected to the vacuum, and I saw it fill up,” Tanner said. “It was the remains of my baby. I wanted to die.”
The “contents” were dumped onto a tray as the doctor sifted through, checking for all of the parts (missing parts necessitated a second vacuuming, and those contents were left for a nurse to sift through).
“When I saw that baby in the video, whose remains were poured into a dish, I remember that’s what my baby looked like,” she said.
After a short time on a recovery-room cot amid other crying women, Tanner asked for the consent form she had signed to donate her baby’s body so she could rip it up. She was told it was too late. “To know that Planned Parenthood is still getting away with this makes me so angry,” Tanner said.
Getting Rid of the Evidence
Tricia Powell had an abortion 29 years ago, at age 17. Her own mother was only 15 when Powell was born, and her mother raised her in a cult that taught that babies were not human until their first breath. “Since sexual abuse was rampant, it was the way they got rid of the evidence,” Powell explained.
On three occasions, she was sexually molested as a child. When she became pregnant by her boyfriend, she said her ideology was to do whatever was pleasurable and get rid of inconveniences. “There was a hardness to me,” she said. “I didn’t want to feel anything.”
At 19, Powell married the father of the baby, but she divorced at 21 due to domestic abuse. “Because I had been molested and abused, I began to identify myself as a sexual object, as all I was good for,” she said. After the divorce, Powell became a stripper, which lowered her self-esteem more.
Eventually, Powell sought out Christ and turned her life around. It was not until she was happily married with a toddler and pregnant again, however, that the reality of her abortion hit her. “I had a miscarriage and went in for an ultrasound before getting a D and C [dilation and curettage],” she explained. “But there, on the screen, my little girl was dancing!”
It is believed that Powell was pregnant with twins, and one had survived. Seeing her daughter on the screen brought home the realization that her first baby had also been alive before the abortion.
Powell participated in a healing program and said that repenting and accepting God’s mercy brought her peace. “If I had still been in bondage to my abortion, I would not have been able to look at those videos,” she said.
The seeming insensitivity of Planned Parenthood employees in the videos especially got her attention. “I understand how they can be desensitized,” she said. “We are looking evil in the face, but even so, as Christians, we need to pray for their hearts.”
Powell said the videos are “our Wilberforce moment,” referring to the end of slavery in England after abolitionist William Wilberforce showed people the inhumane conditions of the ships that transported slaves. He had told them: “Now, you can never say again that you did not know.”
When Deacon R. David Russell, a permanent deacon for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M., looked at the videos, he wondered, “Did they cut up my son too?”
In 1982, he tried unsuccessfully to convince his girlfriend not to abort their child. He sat in the waiting room during the procedure. “It was a numbing experience,” he explained. “No one spoke to me. It was as if I was invisible.”
Afterwards, Deacon Russell said, “It was like all the joy was sucked out of the world, and it was never going to be the same again.”
The relationship soon ended, and he stuffed the abortion experience away.
His conversion to the Catholic Church seven years ago began his healing, starting with the sacrament of reconciliation and the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of life.
Deacon Russell is now 62 and happily married with one daughter and two grandchildren. He has written a book for post-abortive fathers titled, Through My Father’s Eyes, which will be released later this year. “Men are programed to protect and lead the next generation,” he said. “Abortion violates those instincts.”
Watching the videos, Deacon Russell said, “It is one of the saddest things I have ever looked at. I found myself grieving profoundly for the people doing that. Sooner or later, it’s likely going to come home to them.”
As Leslie Davis Blackwell watched the videos, she saw her past as a radical feminist who once lobbied against life issues.
She had two abortions by the time she graduated from college. The second one, in 1980, was done so she could accept a job as a morning TV talk-show host. Blackwell eventually began working in marketing and public relations, got married and had two children.
“I drove the kids in a car with a ‘pro-family, pro-choice and pro-women’ bumper sticker,” she said. After the death of her beloved father, a dear aunt comforted her and led her back to the Catholic faith. Then, one night, Blackwell heard what she believes was the voice of God say: “I am the Creator of life; I am the Word.” That was the moment she realized that she had taken two lives. At a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat in 2008, she vowed to fight for the unborn and was transformed from a New Age feminist to a pro-life Catholic. She is now a regional coordinator for Silent No More.
Blackwell said that despite being a strong person, the videos deeply disturbed her. “I had a couple weepy days,” she said. “It’s like having a scab come off again.” However, Blackwell said the videos have stirred up a productive anger that is being used to fight against abortion, such as the protest against Planned Parenthood that drew tens of thousands on Aug. 22.
‘I Cried for the Baby’
Suzanne Marcy from Oregon is happily married, but was never able to have children after her two abortions. She wanted both babies but was aggressively pressured to abort. The first time, her parents called her selfish and said they would not help her. The second time, the man she was living with told her the same thing.
The seventh video from the Center for Medical Progress, revealing that babies have been cut up while their hearts are still beating, made her cry. “I cried for the baby, and I cried for the horror of what she [former StemExpress employee] was compelled to do, and I thanked God that she is no longer doing that,” Marcy said. “It all came back: the pain and the feeling of guilt. I just prayed and sat on my husband’s lap and cried. He comforted me and told me not to watch anymore, but I said I had to watch and to share them so others will know.”
Marcy said she posts the videos online and talks to people about them. “I am so thankful that they have done this,” she said. “It has opened up the eyes of millions.”
Register correspondent Patti Armstrong writes from North Dakota.