The Abortion Wars: Abortion Worker Conversions and Modeling Christ

Some of the most committed pro lifers are former abortion workers.

Only people who have walked the other way can really know how horrific abortion is. That makes their dedication stronger and their testimony more compelling. They are among the most effective pro life warriors that we have.

Most pro life people are familiar with Abby Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood Director who just got up from her desk at Planned Parenthood one day, went to the 40 Days for Life headquarters and sobbed, “I want out!”

What many of us don’t know is that in the past five years at least 70 abortion workers have experienced similar conversions. That may not sound like a lot of people, but each one of them is a miracle of God’s grace; a Saul on the Road to Damascus reversal of life direction. These people gave up their jobs, friends, maybe their family, because, in Abby Johnson’s words they “want out.”

What drives them to step out and take the risks involved in this huge reversal of the trajectory of their lives? I believe that it is the Holy Spirit, Who does not want any of God’s children to be lost. But I don’t believe that the Holy Spirit is acting on the abortion workers alone. I think that pro life people are responding to grace and changing their tactics, as well. This combination is what is leading to these conversions.

In a Catholic World Report article, Shawn Carney, Campaign Director of 40 Days for life, says

In recent years, however, the exodus from the abortion industry has increased. Over the past five years alone, at least 70 abortion workers have had a change of heart and mind and left the industry.

“That is one statistic we wouldn’t have predicted,” said Shawn Carney, campaign director for 40 Days for Life, which has kept track of the abortion-industry departures.

“We hoped that mothers would choose life and that abortion businesses would close, but the abortion workers were another story,” said Carney. “They’re 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.”

We have come a distance from the bad old days when pro-life people competed with one another in insulting and attacking pro choice, or pro abortion people. Somewhere along the line, the Holy Spirit helped pro life people figure out that they couldn’t convert people by slandering them.

There is still plenty of that type of pro-lifer around. I encounter some of them right here on this blog; people who denounce me because I distinguish between those who are genuinely (if confusedly) pro choice in their thinking and those who are just plain pro abortion. But better ways are taking hold within the movement, and they are bearing fruit.

I doubt if Abby Johnson would have left her office that day if she hadn’t felt there was a chance that the people at 40 Days for Life would welcome her. If she had felt that by leaving Planned Parenthood she was jumping directly into a volcano of hate, I daresay she would have toughened up and stifled her reservations until callouses formed around her heart and the opportunity to save her had passed.

I think that this change in us is part of the reason why we’ve begun, after all these decades, to see a rise in the number of abortion worker defections to the pro life camp. We have changed, and for the better. We’ve begun to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and model Christ for them.

There is a lesson in this for the Year of Faith for all of us. Faith is doing what God wants, using God’s tactics, not our own.

I’ve said that you can’t fight the devil with the devil’s weapons. That is true in all arenas, including this one.

  • Ted Seeber

    EVERY strong pro-lifer I know (that is, stronger than me, which isn’t saying much) has had their lives touched by abortion in some way.

    I’m weak by comparison- in that I’m a consistent ethic of lifer who sees conception, abortion, divorce, war, euthanasia, disability, mental illness, extreme involuntary poverty, and the death penalty as all just different viewpoints on the exact same sin. Much as the Magisterium says that abortion and euthanasia are more important, the only way I see them as more important is that their victims can be described as truly innocent (there are those who blame the victim for all the rest).

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Actually Ted, I am a consistent ethic of life person. In fact, I think that people who are only against abortion and ignore everything else are not pro life; they are anti-abortion. I think oppose euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, egg harvesting of women’s bodies, animal/human hybrids, the death penalty, unjust war (which is most war), extreme poverty, etc, as well as the unjust discrimination and the exploitation of people. I also am very concerned about violence against women and misogyny, which I see as one of the forerunners of abortion and a great number of other brutalities.

      • Mr. V.

        I am with you on all of those, except that I have a hard time with the issue of the death penalty. I know our Church strongly advocates against it. The Catholic Church doesn’t completely condemn it, but she does take a strong stance against capital punishment.

        At the same time, I struggle with it greatly. I don’t oppose the Church’s stance. I believe as a Catholic, I must hold to all the teachings, not just those that are easy or convenient for me to follow, but I struggle.

        My difficulty is this: If we do not at least have capital punishment as a definite potential punishment for the taking of life, are we in a sense lessening the value of human life by giving potential offenders the idea that taking a life is not that bad? By saying this, I am not trying to argue with you about the subject. Rather, I am expressing what is probably my greatest challenge and struggle with Catholic teaching. This might not be the forum, but I could use a good and honest discussion of the topic, as it’s an area where I am still struggling to establish my beliefs.

        • Rebecca Hamilton

          My take on the death penalty is entirely as a legislator. From time to time, I have to cast votes on various nuances of it, which pushes me to understand what I think in a way that most people don’t have to. I’m going to take you on a quick trip through my reasoning.

          First, I reason from the premise that a just and stable government is always the greater good. What I mean by that is that no issue is as important as a just and stable government. My reason for that is simply the lessons of great harm and great good that we see from government all over the world and throughout history.
          Second, a basic requirement of a just and stable government is that the citizenry feel safe enough to conduct their lives without fear of random violence.
          Third, the death penalty is warranted, in my opinion, if it is necessary to provide for the safety of the citizenry.
          Fourth, I do not believe that the death penalty is necessary to provide for the safety of the citizenry of the United States. In fact, I would go a step further and say that honest police and courts and a good penal system are where we should put our emphasis if the goal is the safety of the citizenry. NOtice I said honest police and courts. Corrupt police and courts are far more dangerous than any one criminal.
          Fifth, some people should not ever be allowed to walk the streets. The only way to not have a death penalty is to have a sentence of life without parole that means what it says. That’s why I authored a bill to create life without parole many years ago.

          Based on this logic, and with these caveats, I oppose the death penalty.

          • Mr. V.

            Where I most strongly support the idea of the death penalty is with murderers like the D.C. sniper from several years ago. There’s a great amount of difference in the evil between someone who gets in a drunken bar fight and ends up killing someone, and someone who randomly shoots and kills people he doesn’t know.

            Having said that, I could get on board with the life sentence, if as you say, there was no chance of parole, for murder. And no frills, either, such as video games and other electronic entertainment. Reading material would be allowed, but within a narrow parameter. The prisoner could have books based in the religion of his choice, or choose from a selection of books that focus on morals, ethics, and the consequences of crime and how awful crime is for the victims. Nothing of an entertainment nature. And the prisoner would be in solitary, so he can spend the rest of his natural born life reflecting on why he’s in prison.

            Murder aside, I think one of the problems with our penal system is the amount of people who, in my opinion, don’t belong there. I think murderers and rapists, and related crimes, should be locked up. Tax evaders, thieves, and the like should, in my opinion be punished by having to pay back what was stolen, or in the case of the tax crimes, pay what was not paid. Perhaps, depending on the specific crime, they should have to pay a double amount, to replace what was stolen and to suffer a punishment for doing the crime. But keep them out of jail.

            • Rebecca Hamilton

              I think you’re right that we lock people up for trivial crimes. We also don’t keep people locked up long enough for serious crimes.

              A lot of what we can do in a prison is determined by court decisions. For instance, we have to provide access to a law library. What gets me is that we’re not required to keep prisoners safe. I think that when the state takes charge of someone as a prisoner, there is a responsibility to do more than just stand by while they are beaten, raped and murdered by other prisoners. This is so widespread, we joke about it in our society.

              As for the death penalty, my best argument in favor of it is Ted Bundy. My reason is that he escaped from prison — twice — and killed a large number of people while he was escaped. If we can’t keep the monsters among us locked up, then we have no choice than to move to the death penalty for the simple reason that we must be able to provide for public safety.

              Fortunately, Ted Bundy is more of an exception than a rule. I think that his escapes were at least as much a reflection of bad procedures and cavalier attitudes on the part of the jail personnel (as well as some shoddy construction) as Bundy’s supposed genius. He was relentless about trying to escape. When he was finally executed, they found that he had been sawing through the bars of his cell.

              That, for me, is the salient issue: Can we provide for the public safety without a death penalty? If we can — and I think we can, if we have the will — then I oppose the death penalty.

              • Mr. V.

                “What gets me is that we’re not required to keep prisoners safe. I think that when the state takes charge of someone as a prisoner, there is a responsibility to do more than just stand by while they are beaten, raped and murdered by other prisoners.”

                I agree. As far as prison goes, I think prison should be strictly for those who are a definite physical danger to society. Once in prison, I don’t think there should be public gathering areas for the prisoners. I think if you’re in prison, you’re in your cell, period. I think cells should be for individual occupants, with enough space for a bed, a toilet and a small sink, and just enough space for the prisoner to do some basic exercise, i.e., pushups, jumping jacks, running in place, situps, etc. His life is his cell, period. No worries of being abused by the other prisoners, cause no prisoner is allowed out of his cell.

        • Ted Seeber

          Here’s my problem with the death penalty: it directly teaches that killing is not that bad.

          I’m for “public fate worse than death” punishment for murder. The incredible horror of life in solitary on webcam, for instance, where anybody in the world can verify that you’re still in your cell, as your lack of human contact robs you of every last ounce of sanity or thought. The science fiction (soon to be able to be science fact) of Death of Personality, where drugs rob you of all of your long term memory and you are put to work at menial, repetitive tasks to pay restitution to the family of your victim for the rest of your life. Even the Islamic amputation of the limb you used to commit your crime, is both kinder and more terrifying to future criminals than the Death Penalty.

          There are many options we could use that are equivalent, given enough technology.

          • Rebecca Hamilton

            Ted, I agree with your assessment that the death penalty directly teaches the killing is not bad. However, I flinch from the punishment you suggest. That really would be more like a form of torture than incarceration.

            I don’t see imprisonment as punishment, and I certainly don’t see it as revenge. Some of the people we incarcerate have committed crimes so horrible that there is nothing we can do that would exact a fitting revenge and still remain decent human being ourselves. We shouldn’t, and don’t need to, become monsters ourselves to control the monsters in our society.

            We need to focus on the issue of public safety. That’s what prisons and prison sentences should be for: To ensure the public safety. If we can do that, then we will have accomplished the best that prisons can give us for our society.

            We should also remember that many of the people who go to prison are more stupid and unlucky than anything else. A judge friend of mine once told me that she saw a lot of stupid and unlucky in her courtroom, and she saw a lot of evil. Stupid and unlucky are the people we have a real chance of retrieving. All we can do with the evil ones is lock them away.

            • Ted Seeber

              I wasn’t thinking so much punishment, as deterrence. After all, that’s one of the big arguments for the death penalty- deterrence.

              Stupid and unlucky people don’t deserve to be separated from society- they deserve to be embraced by society. In the same science fiction show I drew the Death of Personality idea from, the episode had a convicted murderer becoming a monk and remanded to the care of a religious order for his job.

              But the truly evil- like your Ted Bundy example above- need to be placed in a situation where they *can’t* even begin to escape. And ideally, on public display in such a way that public school teachers can catch kids early and say “Here’s an example of where you might end up if you keep going down this road”.

              They also serve who only stand and wait- even if it’s slowly going mad in a solitary confinement cell for 23 hours a day.

  • Rob Barkman

    “There is a lesson in this for the Year of Faith for all of us. Faith is doing what God wants, using God’s tactics, not our own. ” How true!

  • Imelda

    This post reminded me of the parables about the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, respectively. There was a lot of rejoicing when the lost sheep/coin was found. There is much rejoicing when one soul converts to God. I read in a book about St. Catherine of Sienna (by her spiritual director whose name escapes me now) how God favored her with a vision of a soul in glory. According to the book, St. Catherine would have fainted at the indescribable beauty before her.

    Praise and thanks be to God for returning the workers to His fold.

  • Bill S


    The more I search your website for interesting topics, the more amazed I am. Where do you find the time and the energy to keep all these balls in the air? I put Public Catholic on my favorites list and I look at it every day.

    I believe that a good birth control program is the best means of reducing abortions in this country. I know that the HHS mandate does not respect the church’s stand on birth-control, but you have to admit that it at least solves one problem while creating another. I understand that the problem that it creates is a significant one and I don’t want to argue that point. I just think that Paul VI made a big mistake when he wrote his encyclical condemning birth control and the church has been stuck defending that stand ever since. That being said, it is what it is, and the government should respect the church’s stand on the issue.

    I agree with your stand on the death penalty. It’s a tough one, but necessary. Keep up the good work.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Bill, I don’t think the HHS Mandate solves any problems. Birth control is available. If it isn’t available enough, there are lots of ways to address this without trashing the Bill of Rights.

      As for what Pope Paul VI said, lots of people agree with you in disagreeing with him. That doesn’t mean that the government should step in and force the Church to violate those teachings. The use of government force to coerce the largest denomination in this country to bend to its will has frightening ramifications for all of us — including atheists. The same Bill of Rights that protects the Catholic Church’s right to practice what you think is a wrong-headed belief about birth control, protects you and your freedom to think the belief is wrong-headed and to advocate against FOR birth control.

      Do not be so eager to tear down the structures of our America to get at your wants Bill. We have so much freedom, that is never necessary.