Culture of Life
Inside the Mind of an Abortion Provider
A New York City conference offers a glance at the thinking-or lack thereof- of doctors and nurses formerly involved in the practice
BY Brian Caulfield
November 30-December 6, 1997 Issue | Posted 11/30/97 at 1:00 PM
NEW YORK—In a talk that bordered on begging sympathy for the devil, a former abortion nurse Joan Appleton told a gathering of New York City pro-life activists to “adopt” abortionists in an attempt to bring about their conversion through prayer, correspondence, and friendship.
The main reason abortion doctors and clinic employees remain in the business, even after they have become disgusted with the practice, is the fear of being rejected by their pro-abortion friends and reviled by pro-lifers whom they seek to join, said the nurse. She spoke at a “Meet The Abortion Providers” conference, which also featured former abortionists Dr. Bernard Nathanson and Dr. Anthony Levatino. Both doctors told of dramatic events that turned their minds and hearts to the pro-life camp and keep them speaking out and working for the cause.
The conference, held Nov. 15 in Holy Innocents Church in Manhattan's Garment District, was sponsored by the Pro-Life Action League, headed by Joe Scheidler, who organized five previous events with former abortionists in Chicago. The local sponsor was the Legal Center for Defense of Life, directed by Christopher Slattery, who operates two crisis pregnancy centers in New York. The all-day event attracted more than 160 people, most of them active as sidewalk counselors, prayer supporters, or past participants in Operation Rescue.
More than a dozen screaming pro-abortion demonstrators marched in front of the church for two hours in the morning, carrying signs and hurling insults at anyone passing by. It was standard fare though, for savvy New York pro-lifers.
A New Abortion Era
Nathanson predicted that a generic version of the RU-486 abortion pill will be approved for medical use by this time next year and will radically change the nature of the abortion controversy. The site of abortion will move from free-standing clinics to the private offices of doctors, he noted, and the number of abortion providers will skyrocket as doctors who refuse to use invasive methods will readily write a prescription for abortion drugs.
In an effort to make abortion doctors more accountable, Nathanson is lobbying the Federal Drug Administration to classify abortion drugs under Schedule 2 prescriptions, which must be written on a triplicate form and reported to the government. Otherwise, he said, the abortion industry will become even more unregulated than it is and medical data on fetal deaths and side effects on women will be difficult to gather.
Levatino performed some 2,000 abortions in an upstate New York facility but never saw the humanity of the babies until a child he and his wife had adopted was killed in a car accident. Afterward, while reassembling the parts of an aborted baby to be sure the procedure was complete, he imagined the face of his departed daughter and vowed never to perform another late-term abortion. Later, he renounced all abortions on the urging of his wife, Cecelia, a nurse who had always been against abortion.
He said he performed abortions willingly because he saw the procedure as a great service to women and society. He approached abortion as he would any “family planning” operation such as tubal ligations or vasectomies. The “choice” of the person was paramount in his mind, he said. Yet when he and his wife failed to conceive a child after years of marriage, and desired to adopt, his thoughts about unborn babies slowly began to change.
“Here I was, killing the babies of these women by day, and at night I'd rush home to my wife and make phone calls trying frantically to locate a mother who was looking for an adopting couple,” he said. “I began to see the irony of the situation, but even then it didn't get me to stop doing abortions.”
Part of his blindness to the unborn was self interest, he admitted.
“I was afraid of losing the income, and of what my colleagues would say.”
Joan Appleton plans to start a program for former abortion workers next year. She said that if abortion workers know that they will be helped and accepted by pro-lifers, they will leave the industry. The former abortion nurse gave two presentations. One was a dramatic portrayal of her conversion, in which she and pro-lifer Debra Braun read from letters they had written to each other during a five-year period. Braun had “adopted” and later befriended Appleton, who at the time was head nurse at Commonwealth Clinic outside Washington, D.C.
Readings from the letters showed that Appleton slowly struggled with her radical feminist views and her role in 2,000 abortions a year, and that Braun remained charitable and non-judgmental while condemning abortion in the strongest terms. Their friendship grew so close that on the morning of an Operation Rescue action in 1989, the abortion nurse drove the pro-life activist to the sidewalk in front of the clinic before walking across the parking lot to plan defenses against the rescuers.
During one rescue, Appleton confessed, she shamelessly staged a scene to win the sympathy of the press and the public. Knowing that no abortion-bound women would be able to get through the Operation Rescue lines, Appleton called the local National Organization for Women (NOW) chapter and asked officials to send a group of young women to the clinic in a car. The car was blocked in the clinic parking lot by the rescuers and the women made a loud scene as they got out of the car and fell over the bodies of the peaceful demonstrators. Camera crews eagerly filmed the incident, which was flashed across the nation's TV screens that evening as evidence of dangerous pro-life tactics. The same footage was later used in a court case that created a 15-foot bubble zone around a clinic entrance, Appleton said.
In another talk Appleton challenged pro-life advocates to “adopt” an abortionist and keep after him as Braun had done in her case. Prayer outside an abortion facility can be effective for the unborn baby even if the child in the womb is not saved, she said. By being present, pro-lifers bestow a gift of love upon the children and do them justice by recognizing their value and humanity.
Scheidler touched on the same theme in a brief talk. Calling the abortion facility a modern day Calvary, he said “Mary, the Mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and John the Apostle didn't go to Calvary to save Jesus from Crucifixion. They went as witnesses against the injustice.”
He said that, hard as it is to believe at times, abortionists do have souls and consciences. If pro-lifers think that they do not they dehumanize the abortionists and make their conversion more difficult.
Breaking Ties with the Trade
Appleton left abortion practice in 1989, mainly through the prayers and friendship of Braun. She cut the strings with the radical feminist movement that year when she was keynote speaker at a Washington NOWconvention. She began her talk by announcing that she could no longer assist in abortion because she believed that the procedure actually hurt women, and she could no longer belong to an organization that promoted abortion as a social good. The microphone was promptly taken from her by a NOWofficial and she was asked to leave the meeting. It was then that she realized how unforgiving the pro-abortion movement is.
“I lost all my friends,” she said.
Appleton is a member of the Society of Centurions, for former abortion clinic employees who wish to proclaim the humanity of the unborn. The society is named after the soldier at the foot of the Cross who recognized Jesus as the Son of God. Members go through an intensive period of reflection and remembering and are urged not only to repent of their sin of abortion but to go the extra step and make reparation by speaking about the horror, donating time and money to pregnancy centers, or praying outside clinics.
One exercise Appleton performed requires a participant to imagine himself as a baby in the womb with a sense of euphoria, then imagine that a suction machine enters to destroy the calm world and pull his body limb from limb. The practice sounds harsh, she explained, but it is part of coming to terms with the depth of the destruction involved in abortion.
Appleton's daily exercise is to draw a picture of a child, give the child a name and pray that God will take this child quickly into heaven. It is a way of bestowing humanity on the child and recovering her own humanity. To assist in thousands of abortions, said Appleton, she had to dehumanize the babies, the women seeking abortion, and herself. The process of regaining a sense of humanity and of belonging to the human race can be long and difficult, she explained.
Much is done today for women with post-abortion syndrome, she noted, but the problems of a person who has left the industry are rarely recognized. After giving up abortion she fell into depression, tried alcohol and drugs, and attempted suicide before seeking help. Many former abortionists go through the same cycle, she stated. The Centurions are there to help them make the transition from the vicious world of abortion to normal medical practice.
Dr. Marie Peeters Ney, a Canadian physician who works with the Centurions, gave a presentation on what abortion does to the medical industry and society.
Now that a whole generation has grown up under abortion on demand, the medical profession is beginning to see a version of “survivor's syndrome,” she said. Countless young people have grown up in families in which a brother or sister was aborted and the surviving siblings are struck with a “why-not-me” guilt complex comparable to that experienced by Nazi Holocaust survivors, or those who live through an accident that killed others. Children of a mother who has gone through abortion will feel insecure, unloved, and displaced, she said. They always will be haunted with the feeling that their mothers are willing to kill to get what they want.
The medical industry has been corrupted by the practice and acceptance of abortion, said Ney, and the profession has returned morally to pre-Hippocratic Oath days, when a doctor was as likely to intend harm as healing. The Hippocratic Oath has been rewritten to exclude abortion and the whole language of medicine has been nuanced to hide the slaughter of millions of innocent human beings. Doctors know from a simple study of biology that life begins at conception, she said; efforts to deny this have led to a pattern of denial and dishonesty among physicians, scientists, and researchers. The practice of changing the language to support a desired result has invaded medical research to a frightening degree, she said. Researches think nothing of “cooking” the data to fit their theories-and medical research has become more political than scientific, she concluded
Slattery, the conference's cosponsor, told the Register that with the impending approval of RU-486, pro-life methods must be expanded. The success of the movement must begin to be measured not only in congressional votes and the change of laws, but in the conversion of hearts. The latter will come about through loving, prayerful action, sacrifice, and fasting. Significant legal and political progress will only come about by a widespread conversion, he said.
Brian Caulfield is based in New York.
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