From Planned Parenthood to Pro-Life

Linda Couri brings firsthand knowledge of the tragedy of abortion to her work for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Linda Couri of Libertyville, Ill., 42, is a Catholic wife and mother who works hard to maintain a deep prayer life, and strongly supports the Church’s teachings on the gospel of life. She serves as the director of lay ministry for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

It’s hard to believe that, just a decade ago, Couri was agnostic and contemptuous of Catholicism — and was a staunch advocate of legalized abortion who worked as a volunteer and employee for Planned Parenthood. In fact, she herself once had an abortion.

“I’ve come a long way,” Couri acknowledged. “And God has supported me through this process.”

Couri was born in Chicago and attended Catholic schools. She stopped going to Mass when she was 18 and clung to her newly acquired agnostic beliefs until she was 32, surrounding herself with like-minded people.

Single and Pregnant

In her early 20s, Couri became pregnant. Initially, she planned to have the child: It was a human being, she believed, and caring for the baby was her responsibility. 

But she was single and had little money. The thought of having a child stirred a deep sense of anxiety. Before long, abortion seemed to offer a “quick and easy” end to her problem.

Brushing aside the voice of her conscience, she made an appointment at a Planned Parenthood. Before the procedure, she was offered drugs to let her sleep, but she declined, wanting to remain fully awake.

She sat in a waiting room in a hospital gown, among six other young patients each waiting her turn to be called. No one made eye contact. Bette Midler’s Wind Beneath My Wings played over the PA system.

Then Couri’s name was called, and she went to have her abortion. She lay down and saw a painting by artist Henri Rousseau on the ceiling. It was put there to distract the women, she thought. She made a point of not looking at it. The nurse held her hand during the procedure.

Afterward, she asked the abortionist to show her the aborted fetus. He was surprised, but agreed. He held up a bowl with the remains of her child. Couri recalled, “It was gruesome and sad.”
For Couri, her abortion at the Planned Parenthood business revealed that “there is nothing joyful about abortion. Some women are complacent, but most just bare-knuckle their way through it.”

Throughout the next decade, she thought little about the abortion and her complicity in ending the life of her unborn child, “tucking it away in a comfortable, intellectual place.” Like many post-abortive women, the experience led her to get involved in pro-abortion political activism. Indeed, Couri contends that the movement to defend legal abortion is fueled by post-abortive women.

Couri became a volunteer, and later an employee, of Planned Parenthood. She worked in Champaign, Ill., about a three-hour drive from Chicago, and she presented sex-education classes in schools.

As the only mental-health professional on staff, she also counseled girls seeking abortions. But, according to Couri, she actually focused on preparing these young women for their abortions by reviewing the steps of the procedure. The counseling part of the interview mostly consisted of her asking patients: “Do you know what you’re doing?” “Is this what you want to do?”

Memories culled from those “counseling” sessions still haunt Couri. One woman, a married university professor with three children, was clearly struggling with the decision. She could have gone either way. In the end, she had the abortion, and Couri never saw her again.

Now, Couri expresses “a lot of regret when I think of her. I could have dissuaded her from having an abortion, and I didn’t.”

Truth be told, while working at there, Couri had become conflicted about the morality of abortion: She supported Roe v. Wade, but she also believed the unborn child was a human being and that abortion destroyed the child’s life.

During one counseling session with an unmarried 16-year-old, Couri offered a range of options: Keep the child and rear him herself, put the baby up for adoption, or have an abortion.

Then the girl asked, “If I have an abortion, am I killing my baby?”

Couri responded, “‘Kill’ is a strong word, and so is ‘baby.’ You’re terminating the product of conception.”

Yet, in her heart, Couri knew better, and she later shared her concerns with her supervisor.

Most Planned Parenthood staffers are women, Couri noted, and many, like her, will privately concede that they have mixed feelings about abortion: “You can’t be a woman and not be conflicted about it.”

Her supervisor suggested that the 16-year-old’s choice for abortion would be the lesser of two evils. For Couri, the telling point was that abortion was acknowledged as an “evil.”

Returning to Church

In 2003, yearning for spirituality in her life, Couri went back to church. Although she had scorned at Catholicism, it was the faith of her childhood, so it was a starting point.

The decision to begin attending Mass was difficult; her friends and co-workers were thoroughly secular and did not support her decision. An ex-boyfriend ridiculed her: “I hear you’re going to be a nun.”

She joined a daily Mass group at St. Patrick’s Church in Urbana, Ill. She was still pro-abortion, however, and wore her Planned Parenthood name badge to Mass. She got to know her fellow worshippers, but no one ever asked her about the badge.

Curious to learn more about the faith, Couri began to meet with her pastor, Father George Remm. Couri recalled, “I’d ask him about who Jesus was, what sin was, and any number of other questions. He’d listen to me and seemed to really like me.”

One day, however, Father Remm asked, “Linda, how can you be who you are and still be pro-choice?”

“Don’t go there” was Couri’s uncomfortable response. Her pastor dropped the subject.

Sometime later, while on retreat, Couri decided it was time to leave Planned Parenthood. She trained her replacement, left Champaign and returned to Chicago. She stayed with her mother as she re-established herself in the city.

But she was not yet pro-life: That change would not come until Nov. 11, 2004.

Message to Myself

For years, Couri had been recording video diaries. Sitting alone in her mother’s basement on that Nov. 11, she came across a tape she had made just before she went in for her abortion 10 years before. She played the tape: “It was the saddest thing I ever saw.”

She saw herself, 10 years younger, talking about the abortion she was about to have. She apologized to her baby, and, although an unbeliever, hoped they would meet some day.

“It was horrible to watch,” she recalled later.

Couri then experienced what she described as a psychological breakdown. There were panic attacks, and she had trouble thinking clearly.

She turned to the Church for help, contacting Margie Breen, who coordinated the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Project Rachel Ministry. The ministry is a confidential experience that helps women recover from abortion. Often, as in the case of Couri, that involves bringing them back to the practice of their faith.

Breen remembers that first meeting with Couri and recalled her surprise to learn that she had recently worked for Planned Parenthood.

But Breen was ready to help: “Without compromising Church teaching, I tried to meet Linda where she was.”

Couri appreciated the support Project Rachel offered: “Defining abortion as an objective wrong that is forgivable was very helpful. Margie did it in a way that was graceful and tender, the way any post-abortive woman should be treated.”

When talking to post-abortive women, Couri believes, counselors should stress that they are brave for confronting their sin, rather than following the example of those who live in a state of “passive denial that can be soul-crushing.” 

While women must accept that what they’ve done is seriously sinful, they must also remember that Jesus came to forgive sins, Couri said: “Indeed, this is the very reason he died on the cross for us.”

Couri’s former pastor, Father Remm, now retired after 18 years at St. Patrick’s, recalled his sense of joy when he received a letter from her announcing her change of heart.

“She appreciated that I would listen to her without judging her. You have to take a person where they’re at and gently lead them,” he said. “As I look back, I can see that there was a movement of grace going on within her.”

A New Life

Couri’s conversion and recovery led to a desire to work in the Church. When a position in the archdiocese opened, she jumped at the chance. In 2006, she married Robert Couri. They have two children.

Couri is now a sought-after pro-life speaker.

“Not only is she post-abortive, but she has worked on the other side of the abortion issue. She can share a perspective that most pro-life people don’t have,” said Breen.

Decades after that fateful decision to end the life of her unborn child, Couri expresses a deep sense of joy for her newfound sense of hope: “I’m grateful I’m not living in the midst of a soul-crippling relativism which was once intellectually, psychologically and spiritually devastating to me. I thank God for all he has done in my life.”

Register correspondent Jim Graves writes from Newport Beach, California.