Real change is so hard. Witness any one of our daily lives. How hard it is to change even our diet or to change the way we respond to one of our children's most nerve-touching behaviors. How hard it is to keep our oft-repeated promise to pray daily. But real change is possible. Recently, in the abortion arena, there have been a number of nearly breathtaking changes reported. In some cases, the names alone tell the story — Nathanson, and McCorvey. The New York abortion-ist and the poster child of the abortion lobby — now, pro-life and Catholic or soon to be. In other cases, the names are new to us but will soon become familiar. Eric Harrah, abortionist and co-owner of 26 abortion clinics nationwide, has declared himself a Christian, and out of the abortion business. He is about to write an exposè of the abortion industry in which he played such a large part.
The distance these people have traveled is hard to fathom by reason alone. The lives they've lived. The things they've seen. The company they've kept. But less and less is being left to our imaginations. An extraordinary array of details about the day-to-day life of the abortion industry and the abortion lobby is recently appearing in the newspapers.
In Atlanta, Georgia state health authorities are working to close an abortion clinic (one featured as a high quality provider on the web-site of the National Abortion Federation), after two years of investigations turned up health conditions which bring to mind a few levels of Dante's rings of hell. Women prepped for abortion surgery delivering their babies in waiting rooms and dirty bathrooms with no doctors or nurses present. Screaming and sobbing. Surgeries conducted with filthy instruments. Women wearing only flimsy hospital shirts waiting for surgery on cracked, blood soaked vinyl chairs.
And from Arizona comes the news that a doctor with a horrid history of maiming and killing his female abortion patients is finally getting a good hard look from state health authorities for lacerating, then delivering, a six and one-half month baby in the course of what he thought was a partial-birth abortion of a much younger unborn. He had a history of faking ultrasounds to achieve the look of earlier gestational ages.
Also from Arizona, an abortionist who waxed eloquent during a radio interview a few weeks ago about how “esthetically pleasing” it feels to deliver an intact (albeit completely burnt and asphyxiated) baby in the course of a saline abortion. When challenged by a nearly speechless caller, he only repeated himself.
Not only abortionists, but abortion activists also, exist in an environment of belief and pronouncements that is truly amazing. Betty Friedan argued with me in a television debate about abortion that disabled children are “monsters” whom pro-lifers would force upon their unwilling mothers. When I challenged her, she used the “monster” word again.
A Planned Parenthood official justifies sex-selective abortions in a national magazine on the grounds that they are better than the alternative: a baby unwanted on account of her sex.
Jane Fonda at a National Press Club briefing responds to a question about forced abortions in China with an exhortation not to harshly judge a country with such massive population problems.
After living in a world where such is the collective “wisdom” and experience, how does an abortion advocate begin to think and act in favor of life? There is a way. “With man, this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.” (Mt. 19:26).
Or in the words of Dr. Harrah: “God changed me -because if it was up to me, and left to my own devices, I can't save myself and I can't change my way of thinking. The old me wouldn't have walked away from thousands upon thousands of dollars a week and millions of dollars in the bank — for what? To go out and get $400- $1000 to speak at a CPC [crisis pregnancy center] banquet when I was making a hundred times that a week? It's not about me, it's about God. And that's what I want people to understand.”
Lest you begin to believe, however, that you and I have no role to play in helping turn abortionists and activists away from the culture of death they inhabit, consider another reflection from Dr. Harrah: Pro-life groups “need to know that their efforts have made a difference.” According to a recent interview with Harrah, the first time he returned to a Christian church “he was extremely nervous, but the congregation made him feel welcome. Hundreds of members of the congregation had been praying for him, and they had held an all-night prayer meeting for him the night he became a Christian.”
Considering what's possible, considering the long, hard road traveled by former abortionists like Eric Harrah, and by Norma McCorvey, it seems only right that we should commit to some changes ourselves. Most important among them: Making sincere prayer a regular part of our pro-life work.
Helen Alvaré is director of planning and information, Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, National Conference of Catholic Bishops.