COLLEGE STATION, Texas — When 40 Days for Life launched its 11th national peaceful, prayerful campaign outside a record number of abortion businesses on Sept. 26, the hope was to change not only the hearts and minds of women considering abortion, but also the hearts and minds of the workers inside who are engaged in the destructive business of abortion.
Over the past five years, a growing number of abortion workers across the country have had a change of heart and left their jobs. It’s a trend that is leading others to do the same.
"It does seem to be snowballing," said Jewels Green, a former abortion worker just outside Philadelphia. Green started speaking out in 2011.
40 Days for Life is aware of 69 abortion workers who have left the abortion industry since 40 Days’ first nationally coordinated campaign was held in the fall of 2007.
"When we launched 40 Days for Life, this is one statistic we wouldn’t have predicted," said Shawn Carney, campaign director for 40 Days for Life. "We hoped that mothers would choose life and that abortion facilities would close. The abortion workers were another story. They are the ones who, on paper, are supposed to be our enemies, and yet the difference has been that the prayer and the peacefulness of our campaigns really wears on the workers."
This fall, 314 campaigns that began at the end of September will end on Nov. 4.
Carney said that of all the workers who have left, the majority do so in the final two weeks of the campaign or at the very end.
"The first week they don’t like us. … They’re agitated, and we sense hostility," said Carney. "During the second week, that escalates. They mock us or laugh at us."
As time goes on, Carney explains, a relationship of sorts develops.
"The workers see a lot of the same volunteers. They notice that they’re praying before they get there, and they’re there as they leave," said Carney.
"They can’t ignore the presence — how long they’re there, through the rain and the heat. There’s a seed of respect that is sown. By week three or four, they stop looking at these people as the enemy and have to refocus on the reality of what’s going on inside their walls," said Carney. "I think it’s the peaceful nature of the vigil that gives the workers the avenue to leave when they have a moment of conscience, and they choose to leave."
Such has been the case for some of the recent abortion workers who have left, such as Ramona Trevino or Abby Johnson.
In 2009, after being asked to assist with and witnessing an ultrasound-guided abortion, Abby Johnson realized she could no longer work at the Texas Planned Parenthood where she had worked for the previous eight years.
"I didn’t know where to go or what to do," explained Johnson. "All of my friends were involved in the abortion movement."
Yet, says Johnson, she felt she could trust the people praying on the other side of the fence.
"They had always told me, ‘If you ever want to leave, we’ll be here for you,’" said Johnson. "I decided to put them to the test."
A week and two days after she assisted with the abortion — in the midst of a 40 Days for Life campaign — Johnson approached those praying outside of her business.
"I broke down and told them, ‘I know what I’ve been doing is wrong, and I want out,’" recalled Johnson. "They just looked at me and said, ‘We’re here to help you.’"
The turning point is different for each worker.
For Jewels Green, that point occurred when she became aware of the abortion of a child who tested positive for Down syndrome.
But that was long after her own abortion and work in the industry.
"I was coerced into having an abortion I didn’t want when I was 17," said Green. "Weeks later, I tried to take my own life. Within months after recovering in an adolescent-treatment unit, I marched in a pro-abortion walk and began volunteering as an escort. I was trying to reconcile my guilt."
Green shared that she was always intuitively pro-life. However, after hearing the story of a gestational surrogate, a woman who carries a child for another couple, and learning of the abortion of that child after a genetic test came back positive for Down syndrome, Green made the decision to self-identify as pro-life.
In 2011, Green spoke out publicly, sharing her testimony on what would have been her own aborted child’s 23rd birthday.
For Sue Thayer, her conversion came when the Planned Parenthood business she managed decided to start doing "telemed" abortions. A telemed abortion involves an offsite doctor meeting with a patient via webcam and a locked drawer with medication being opened. The woman takes the first set of pills at the abortion business, and then she goes home to take a second set of pills. She then awaits the contractions that expel the baby.
Thayer began working at Planned Parenthood in Storm Lake, Iowa, in April 1991. She worked there until she was fired in December 2008.
"Our business didn’t do surgical abortions, and I felt I was doing my part to prevent the need for abortion," said Thayer.
That changed in mid-2008, when Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa announced that they would begin offering telemed/webcam abortions.
"I was being asked to perform invasive vaginal ultrasounds, to stock the drawer with abortifacients, to watch the patient take the first set of pills, and supervise and train others to do that," explained Thayer.
When she became vocal about her concerns and her reticence, she lost her job.
Planned Parenthood, however, didn’t have the final word.
In the fall of 2011, Thayer headed up a 40 Days for Life campaign outside of her former employer. On March 1, 2012, the Storm Lake, Iowa, Planned Parenthood business closed.
Catherine Adair, a former Boston Planned Parenthood worker, said she was converted because of the undercover work of Lila Rose’s organization Live Action.
"I was present when young girls came in with their abusers and Planned Parenthood performed their abortions," said Adair. "When Live Action came out with their videos, I felt vindicated. I knew it to be true, and they showed it to be true. That allowed me, for the first time, to tell others what I had experienced."
Green said that "deception" is one of the biggest hurdles for abortion workers to overcome in leaving the industry.
"The veil of lies is so thick," said Green. "The euphemisms that surround the culture of death make this psychologically accessible."
"The 40 Days for Life movement has changed the hearts and minds of not just those outside the clinic, but inside as well," said Green. "For those who work inside, they feel what’s going on outside the door. That makes it easier to leave — if you know that you’ll be accepted into open, forgiving and loving arms outside."
Johnson, who entered the Catholic Church this past Easter along with her husband, went on to write the book Unplanned about her experiences, and she has founded the organization And Then There Were None to assist other abortion workers interested in leaving the industry.
"When I looked at the pro-life movement, I couldn’t believe that there were no ministries for [former] abortion workers," said Johnson. "This is the missing gap."
Initially contacted by 17 abortion workers who wanted to leave the industry, Johnson and her husband financially supported those individuals so that they could make a transition from the abortion industry. Since the official launch of her ministry this summer, 13 additional abortion workers have left.
"Former abortion workers have seen and heard and experienced things that people cannot imagine," explained Johnson. "Our first goal is to provide stability, so they can get out of where they’re working and have families that are healthy and happy. Our second goal is recovery, so that they feel mentally and physically healthy."
In addition, the organization offers spiritual healing and legal assistance.
"People are finally starting to come forward because they realize that if someone else has done it, they can do it," said Johnson. "I hope it’s not just a trend, but that there’s permanence to it. The more who go public with their stories — it will be like a domino effect."
Johnson said there are currently four pending lawsuits against Planned Parenthood over fraudulent billing.
"Former abortion workers have real stories to tell about real clients," she added. "Workers coming out could be the beginning of the end for the abortion industry."