Every now and then the Lord just has you look at something in depth and experience it to the top. It was that sort of weekend for me and the Lord was clear that he wanted me to meditate deeply and experience personally the tragedy of the taking of  human life.  Put more positively, the Lord wanted me to see the dignity of human life and grieve it’s loss. My lesson came in three stages.

Stage One: At the Abortion Facility - Early on Saturday morning I went to St. Matthews Cathedral here in DC to celebrate the 8:00 am Mass. The Mass was sponsored by the Archdiocese and was a “Witness To Life Mass.” After the Mass, thirty of us walked several blocks and stopped to pray in front the Planned Parenthood Abortion “Facility” (I will not call it a clinic), just up the street from the White House on 16th Street. It was a cold and snowy morning but we prayed and prayed. Twenty decades of the Rosary and over twenty hymns were sung.  Sadly, despite the snow, it was a brisk business at Planned Parenthood. I saw over a dozen women enter the facility in just over an hour.

It really is a devastating experience to pray in front of abortion facilities. I have done it many times before and always leave drained and deeply sad. Most of the “women” were not really women at all. Most of them were young girls and very young women, most were minorities,  and most of them were scared. Most of them were also led there by a parent or a “boyfriend.” Pro-Choice “escorts” would surround them and lead them to the door. Our presence was one last attempt to beg them to consider adoption and to not give up on life.  What a tragedy this steady procession was, for both mother and child. Yes, most of them look very scared. And why not? Something awful was about to happen, something awful. Deep down they know.

And so we prayed. We prayed for a last minute change of heart. And even if the worse did happen it was somehow important for us to pray for the children who were lost. Perhaps somehow they will know, and the Lord will reveal to them that someone was praying for them as they lost their life. Someone knew, someone wept, someone prayed.  

For those young women we also prayed. They may not have understood that. In fact, we may have seemed like their worst nightmare. Perhaps they hoped to slip into the facility unnoticed, but  there we were. But though we seemed like a bad dream, I pray that one day they will know that we prayed for them too. We prayed in love, prayed for their strength to choose life.  And those pro-choice escorts may have seemed friends, but true friends don’t lead friends into abortion facilities. Yes, we prayed that these young women will know that, long after Planned Parenthood has collected its money, and the escorts have gone home, the Church will remain to offer healing and acceptance as  the weight of what took place Saturday morning remains.  Yes we prayed for them and Project Rachel waits for them.

The most difficult moment came for me when one mother, after having left her daughter behind for the abortion, came back out and rebuked us saying that “My daughter has a future career to think about, forget you!” I doubt she knew that the final line of the epistle at Mass said  Children, be on your guard against idols (1 John 5:21). It echoed eerily in my mind as she breezed by and I prayed for her too. 

A Sacrifice of pain – Yes, praying in front of an abortion facility is devastating and difficult. But just as the prayers had their effect, so too does the Lord allow us to suffer and to offer that suffering in sacrifice. The pain is deep, but surely no deeper than the pain of Jesus as he beheld our sins and died for us.

Stage Two: Agony in ArizonaThe rest of the morning featured parish meetings. But the morning took its toll and a nap was necessary before the evening Mass. Yet I awoke depressed, and soon found out why. It was not just the morning, that was awful enough, but my radio had been on during my brief nap and it broadcast news of the terrible shootings in Arizona. Surely this news had entered my dreams for I awoke knowing something awful had happened. Indeed it had, six were dead, twelve critically injured. A crazed killer, more death, more disregard for human life. It was like two bookends to a bloody Saturday.

Stage Three: Bomb ThreatAnd yet, if all lessons are perfect in threes, the Lord gave me a final lesson today. Mass was wonderful and as the last of the parishioners prepared to leave the police ordered us back into the building. A bomb threat was received in a building near the parish and it was not safe to leave the Church. Two members of Congress live in the building and this would seem the likely cause for the threat. The Arizona carnage had reached East Capitol Street. Human life again, under threat and many more lives disrupted. After an hour and a half the all clear was sounded. No further information was available.

I can only tell you what I told the faithful this weekend. Human life is sacred. No one on this planet is a mistake, no one is an accident. All of us are directly intended and willed by God. We exist because He thought of us, loved us, and personally created us. Every attack or threat on human life is an attack on us all for,  if one life can be disregarded or thought to have no worth, then any human life can be considered in this way. Even the troublesome among us are loved by God.

The Catechism has this to say:

The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society or the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.

 The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . . As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child’s rights.” (CCC # 2273)

Change begins with me: We live in times in which human live is seriously threatened by huge numbers of abortion, by violence, unjust war, and euthanasia. We may, as individuals feel powerless to stop it. But, truth be told, the conversion of this world has to start with us. We cannot simply lament. We must pray and act. The conversion of the whole world begins with me as I learn to be less reactive and violent, less anger-prone, less ridiculing, less bigoted, less fearful. The conversion of the world begins when I ask God for the miracle to help me to deeply love everyone, even the difficult people in my life. The conversion of the whole world begins when I ask God for the miracle to forgive people who have harmed or hurt me. The conversion of the world starts when I begin to more deeply experience the dignity of every person, especially the most vulnerable, the poor and the troubled.

No, I can’t change the world, But I can change myself by God’s grace. And when I get better, others get better too.

A bloody weekend for this pastor. But a newfound commitment to ask God for a deeper love and reverence for every human person.

Here’s a video I put together some time ago. The song text is Psalm 139 and focuses especially on the love of God despite even our sins. The photos use 3D imagery to show the stages of development in the womb.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:13-16).

50 Responses

  1. Katherine G ERT says:

    I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about bad things of the world. One of the things I struggle with the most is forgiving those who have wronged me and others (I’ve mentioned this before). It’s very hard for me to pray to God for good things to happen to these people or that they find peace, especially because what I want most is justice, and for them to suffer for their sins to others. Your post was timely, as I’ve been thinking about all of this, and I, too, get saddened when I see things that I feel are beyond my control. I’m glad that you are preaching about these issues and talking about them – so many people in so many fields today skirt around the important issues. I’m a big believer in facing the demons head-on. God only gives us as much as we can handle, right? If we’ve been through a lot, I guess that means we are strong, and meant to help somehow in this world.

  2. Alan says:

    God bless you Father. This weekend you were both priest and victim.

  3. Vijaya says:

    Love will conquer. God bless you for the work you do.

  4. Bender says:

    re: “pro-choice” escorts

    There is nothing authentically pro-choice about them, either the thugs employed by the abortionists or the boyfriends who take women/girls to these places. The only acceptable “choice” for them is death. (On a related note, see how nuts they go over “Choose Life” license plates. If they really were “pro-choice,” and not simply pro-abortion, they should welcome them since they expressly involve “choice.”)

    All too often, the abortion is contrary to the woman’s true will and desire. The “escorts” are there to prevent the making of any decisions, or any choices, and to ensure one thing and one thing only — the abortion (and getting paid for it). And the “boyfriends” most especially are there to be sure of the death of their unborn children — no child support obligations for them, thank you.

  5. Lizzy S Falnikar says:

    In a pre-dominantly non-christian country like India, I run into a lot of trouble with doctors while taking up tough issues like Abortion,Euthenasia, Stem-cell research, IVF and a galore of such pro-life issues. While we talk of this issues, the last part of your post of I myself being converted first struck a chord with me. In fact, I cried. When we intimidate someone with our angry outbursts, sharp tongue and dominating nature, we are unknowingly causing so much of pain to others, which goes against the very principles of life. Life has to be preserved,nurtured and cared for at every step – firstly in small ways. That begins in our home,families and small christian communities and parishes. I wonder Father, how hurt you must have been when that mother screamed back at you. Most of us perceive prayer as being a passive act while I feel it is the most active of all the actvities that we can think of. It can move mountains because it is the highest manifestation of faith. You cannot pray if you lack faith. And I am sure, you have sowed the seeds of pro-life thorough your act of prayer. Jesus will do the rest. A prayer rose from my heart for that lady too and all those frightened human beings who were either shaken up or were shaking up others for their own selfish needs.

  6. Caeli Francisco says:

    ABORTION

    When my son, was your soul
    taken to reside with God; his heaven your goal?

    Was it when, deep in your mother’s womb
    you heard the verdict and felt the numb
    acquiescence of my spineless soul
    unable to keep you whole?

    Vibrations of the judge’s hammer spelled
    our doom, my son.
    And you, for me did redeem my life
    with your blood, my son.

    You had to die so I could live.

    Could it but be the other way around?
    I cannot even whisper this by the mound
    of your grave, for there is none.
    Your remains have turned to ashes
    and long ago were they strewn
    to the wind
    by someone kind.”
     
    “Upon the hammer’s rap
    my spirit Jesus did commend
    to God, my mother!”

  7. anonymous, for today says:

    Almost four years ago, a young woman came to me, pregnant after a drunken evening by a man she barely knew. She instinctively wanted to keep the child, but was struggling over how she might manage. I did my best to convince her that she could manage, and if she couldn’t, that adoption would be a great gift to her, the child, and the adoptive family. When she left, I was fairly confident that she would carry to term. Then her mother got to her.

    From the venom that spewed from her mother to me over the phone, I can only imagine what was said to this young woman to convince her to abort her child. I strongly believe that her parents were afraid of what people would say should they see her walking around town pregnant. I pray for her, her parents, and the three-year-old who is not.

    While I understand that as a Church and as a society we cannot encourage pregnancy outside of marriage, we must find a way to make it easier socially for these women to carry to term. Health and economics were not factors in this case, just stigma and fear. We must all seek a change of heart – not just for the women who would choose abortion, but for those of us who see those who choose life and think anything other than ‘hero.’

  8. Lorraine says:

    Msgr Pope,
    I also experienced a similar weekend but from the inside of a crisis pregnancy center. I am a pregnancy consultant and last week I had met with a young 17 yr old who is pregnant and does not want an abortion. She did not want to tell her mom about the pregnancy because she knew that her mother would make her have an abortion. However she cannot get health care without her mother’s knowledge in our state (being underage) and so we scheduled a ultrasound for Saturday at our clinic. Her mother watched the ultrasound as the baby’s heart was beating and little flickering motions of the baby occurred on the screen. She made no comments. Later on when the scan was completed we had an opportunity to talk. The mother was angry that her daughter had gotten pregnant just like she did with her. She had taken her to a Planned Parenthood facility where they explained to her that it was not a human being inside of her and that that there was little risk to her if she had an abortion (in fact, they said, pregnancy was more dangerous). She told us that no children should be brought into this world because of its difficulties and if she had it to do over again she wouldn’t have had any children at all (she has 3). She added that she herself had aborted her 4th child and it has had no impact on her at all. At that she stormed out of the room and left me with the client. My first question to her daughter was if she thought that her mother’s abortion impacted her relationship with her children. She had been told for so long that death is the answer to life’s problems and not life. So we looked at ways that this young lady could move forward with positive hopes and dreams for her future. She said that she wanted to give this baby a chance of a childhood that she never had – one where he felt loved by a mother and father and was not abandoned. She recognized that the 16 yr old father of the baby would probably not be a support to her and was thinking of placing for adoption. The mother’s comments were a stinging reminder how a society that values money, career, and individualism above life itself continues to be sucked into a vortex of death. Please continue to pray for the women who come to the crisis pregnancy centers so that they can get a glimpse of the love that our Lord has to offer to them and to the hope and promise of a better future for themselves and their children. Life without Jesus Christ has no meaning and only leads to death. Life with Jesus leads one to true happiness and to eternal life. May we all choose Life.

    • God bless you for your work. Your story also illustrates how planned parenthood sells abortion. It’s a sales pitch. I know your work at the Crisis preganancy center is hard. But please know that God is well pleased at your work.

  9. Pegofmar1 says:

    Thank you for the reminder that change begins with me and it can be more challenging as we get older (I’m 69 now). I have to remember that my children and grandchildren are watching me and my words and actions, too. Peg

  10. Nick says:

    Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us!

  11. Patricia Cornell says:

    We are not able to convince people to come and pray with us….that people praying make a big, big difference whether people stop and take our literature which gives them real choices. They say….oh, that is not MY thing…..I will pray for you at home. That is your thing, not mine.

    Some do come and are amazed that their presence makes a big, big difference.

    I am 71 years young. I moved CA so I could go to the killing center in downtown St. Louis, MO and hand out literature…..well for other reasons, as well. What a blessing…..I have been cursed out by a husband who had just killed his twin children…the mother….well non-mother, was inside recuperating…..the end of little lives…..God had a plan for each of them. Things do not get done in our society….and why…..we aborted the ones who could do them.

    Never doubt that you standing and praying with others at a killing site…makes a big, big difference.
    In St. Louis, MO Patricia

    • You are right. It is hard to get people to do this work. It is amazing to think that there are 72 million catholics in this country and if only 10% did regular pro-life work there would be 7,200,000 prolife workers!

  12. Tim H says:

    Contraception as the root cause of abortion. See http://catholicexchange.com/2010/08/27/133737/

    We should be praying outside of Walmart’s Pharmacy and outside of the office of the urologist who put up billboards advertising vasectomies. When will we learn?

    I sometimes want to shrug my shoulders and just pray for a new car or something instead.

    -Tim-

  13. John says:

    Mgr Pope: takes me back a long way ,in 1972 before Roe are group put together a collage on the “”Joy of Life ” We opened it with music by the Carpenters “We’ve Only just Begun” and followed that with a newborn cry –tough to get a recorder in a delivery room but we did and it travelled the United States on retreats courtesy of one Retreat Master -Fr Albert O.F.M. of the Franciscan Heald Press. Thank you for your u tube like i said ,it replays it in my mind after all these years now 38 thank you Sincerly John S.F.O.

  14. Jeanne Borrman says:

    This touched my heart deeply. I remember going to an abortionists place with our Bishop and just simply praying the rosary. Our Bishop would kneel when a woman entered . I felt pride to be there but great sadness too. Just once, goto these places with your Diocese.

  15. John says:

    Once again Msgr Pope; My friend Gene who drives me to church with family works in his office in Germantown which is now famous as his Drywall is approx 10 feet away from Dr Carhart — .a late term abortionist . Pray for him and the Doctor too………….Sincerly John S.F.O….

  16. Ricky Vines says:

    The way the Church is limiting itself to respect choice in legalized abortion makes it a passive supporter of this genocide. Would Jesus sit by and watch the babies get slaughtered even if Caeser says, “It’s the woman’s right.” I think not. Church leaders have to examine their consciences, their identities and mission. God’s will would have not put them as ordained leaders if God’s grace could not sustain them. It appears that others squander these graces like free loading bachelors doing the bare minimum to stay employed by the people of God. To those I say repent because if they don’t, then much would be required to those whom much is given.

    And Arizona is being blamed on the Conservatives. But it is the Liberals starting from Obama who speaks of violent measures and goad his followers into aggressive action. Cfr. http://divine-ripples.blogspot.com/2011/01/obamas-responsible-for-us-culture-of.html Yet, I seldom hear Church leaders acting like the prophets of old when denouncing these corrupt and unjust rulers.

    • i am not sure I understand your point about the Church

      • Ricky Vines says:

        Some ordained ministers and religious live a leisurely life while others die. After ‘fulfilling’ their duty of saying their office, celebrating Mass, teaching a class and doing their dissertation plus some racket ball for exercise and a beer for comaraderie, they call it a day – like a 9 to 5 job. Others don’t even want to stay in the rectory anymore and seek to have their privacy. The point is that in the struggle against violence to the unborn and other Church problems, God has called and equipped priests and religious to be the tip of the spear, the bleeding edge in the spiritual warfare. So, the lay folks look at these consecrated and ordained members as models, inspirtation and leaders even in their personal spirituality. If a pastor is holy, it rubs off to the parishioners. (I am not indicting your personally. You and diocesan priests in general have it rough. The joke is, “While the religious make the vows, the diocesan keep them.”)

  17. Deacon Clayton N. says:

    Dear Msgr Pope,

    Thank you for your post…. I was there too.
    I shared your sense of devastation, and sadness and being drained, of being emptied this Saturday.

    The news from Tucson, came as a shock. With a personal twist, my father lives 1.5 miles from the site of this terrible act of violence- hence even more worry.

    And then in addition we learned about the terminal illness of my father’s sister my aunt, yesterday.

    A draining weekend to be sure……

    As I read your post about the mother’s comment, I recalled your homily, that we should not be surprised at the anger that some may speak to us, because the truth resonates, deep within. For deep down they know.

    Furthermore your exhortations of how powerful prayer is, remains the bookend of hope— that has stayed with me, throughout these last 2 days.

    Yes the weekend was draining…. because it was an exercise in humility; an exercise being emptied even more, of letting go. Of letting go and letting God.

    Instead of action, or acts and deeds, the Lord wanted something else; he wanted my prayer, my love.

    All I could offer was my prayer. His love speaking through my prayer.

    Thank you for being ” Always be ready [in your blogs] to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for the reason for your hope.” 1 Peter 3:15

    IN the Diakonia of Christ

  18. Rica says:

    In his own defense during a murder trial, Dr. Kevorkian pleaded innocence, arguing that he just wanted to terminate the patient’s pain and suffering, not his life. Is this case similar to that of a woman where she took a pill to correct a medical pathology but also induced an unintended abortion? The principle of double effect is invoked in both cases: justifying the second act that resulted in abortion but not the first that effected euthanasia.

    The principle involves, among other things, a human act, (actus humanus) done knowingly and willfully, [as contrasted with an act of a man (actus hominis), like sleepwalking or digesting food]. A human act can produce two effects that are simultaneous and independent of each other. Euthanasia by injection, a human act, is morally unjustified because death, one effect, terminates pain and suffering; the other effect: death, the first effect, was the cause of the other, pain relief.

    Intent is another element in the principle. No matter how noble and compassionate it is, the bad effect was used to reach the good end. The good end does not justify the bad means. (A bank robber cannot justify killing the security guard,by claiming his intention was just robbery. Unless you believe in the right-to-die and in the Hemlock Society, but that is another premise, another question, another principle). Of course a bad intent vitiates a human act from the start or ab initio whether death follows or not, in euthanasia or abortion.

    Abortion suffers from the same “good intention” argument when an abortifacient pill or medicine terminates a pregnancy by terminating a baby’s life. Invasion of privacy, a constitutional protection, preventing the use of hangers in dark alleys make good rhetoric but bad excuses for the application of the principles of double effect and/or causality.

    Hence the need to pray for the grace that allows us to value human life and make a stand against abortion, and the senseless taking of human life.

  19. Tantumblogo says:

    Providence was quite active this past weekend in regard to experiencing the end of human life. My family and I assisted at Mass at a parish about 40 miles from our home, because the priest celebrates a very reverent, beautiful Novus Ordo Mass in Latin. Here in North Texas, we had a rare snow day yesterday, and where we were at, to the northeast of the Dallas area, the snow was much heavier than in the metroplex. On our way back from Mass, we were the first upon a very bad 2 car accident. My wife has EMT-Basic training, and we went to help. The man in the pickup who lost control was fine. The people in the small car he hit were not. They both died while we tried to assist them. There was little we could do, even though the ambulance and fire trucks were at the accident site in 5-6 minutes. We prayed a Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet, and prayers for those in Purgatory, for the repose of their souls. They were both probably in their early 30s. We had to wash the blood from our hands when we go home.

    I had never seen anyone give up their soul right in front of me before.

    • Oh my! God bless you. This was surely a trauma for both of you and I pray you will have others nearby to help your through. Death is a very great mystery but sudden and tragic death is a trauma. My they rest in peace and my that peace extend to you and your wife.

  20. Regine says:

    I have observed that with the introduction of the sophisticated technologies like e-mails, texting and internet, people have become isolated from each other. Children, for instance, when they arrive from school, turn on the TV sets, do texting, twitter and other stuff, but the personal touch, the presence of another is gone. People, I think, without realizing it, have become lonely and angry because of the isolation. E-mails have taken over verbal communications; the telephone is almost obsolete.The familiar voice and innocuous and healing touch of a friend is gone, as everyone is guarded lest their actions be misconstrued and could lead to serious repercussions. The interaction has become impersonal and devoid of feelings, and if there are feelings that come across, it is mostly hostile. I have seen this kind of an attitude in so many respondents in the blogs. Even those in the religious ministries, I feel, are so guarded that they almost come out cold with their business-as-usual attitude in their dealings with people . And at times, I am left to wonder if Jesus’ spontaneity and directness, when he moved around the hillside of Judea, would have a place in our country today.

    People also have become non-committal. Where they see that a thing is wrong, they turn their heads the other way simply because it is none of their business. No wonder that with this I-will-do-my-own thing attitude, nothing is sacred anymore. Everything has almost become dispensable. If the marriage does not work, there is divorce; if a baby is the result of promiscuity, there is abortion; if I do not agree with my parents and others, I’ll shoot them; if I want to ease my loneliness and anger, there are the drugs; if there are homeless in the streets, it is their choice. Is this the effect of relativistic and tolerant attitudes? Do we become hardened when we shut God out of our lives? Does one find fulfillment in being uncaring and unfeeling?

    I am glad that there is still hope for us. God is not dead. He is still very much alive! There are still some caring people who manifest him in their acts of charity. There are still people who understand that prayer is not mere words but action as by Jesus in Calvary. There are still people who have experienced that with God, there is no isolation and that they are one with the whole of creation, and therefore, stand as stewards of all the blessedness afforded them. There are still people who reach out to others. People still value the dignity of every person, whether infants, teenagers or adults . And above all, people are still provided with opportunities to learn and discover their real self and their responsiubilty as God’s people. Despite the horrors of some unspeakable crimes, God is still very much present in the world and will forever be the victor over evil.

  21. Anita says:

    The taking of innocent lives is never easy to watch, to read or to hear. We can never grow immune to listening and watching horrific events unfolding in our world. We must continue using the powerful tool that God gave us – praying and praying some more. God Bless you, Msgr, for all your good works. You had it a little rough this past weekend.

  22. Peggy Smith says:

    Fr. Pope,
    I am teaching a Pro Life class to the Seniors in our parish on the 23rd. I would like to use your article if it is ok with you. I don’t know if I can read it without crying, but it needs to be shared.

  23. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    Monsignor Pope, I think God would want you to take a rejuvenating retreat after some of the assaults I’ve read on the blog responses the past few days concerning your sincere humble motives. Even Christ and his apostles had to get away and recharge from the onslaughts of there followers and critics. You have given much but obviously much more will be required. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with God. Love ya man.

  24. esiul says:

    Dear Msgr. Pope,
    I too have been praying at the “Abortion Facility”. I would see the mothers bringing their teenage daughters.
    Or the boyfriends not even opening the car doors after the abortion to their girlfriend and letting the girl drive home. How she ever got home I don’t know, getting out of the parking lot was a nightmare. It got so bad I could not bear to go in the mornings anymore. I’d go in the afternoon to pray the rosary.
    Every day, rain or shine we would stand there and pray during the 40 Days for Life. If a priest or brothers joined us it was a day for rejoicing for it happened so very seldom. So thank you for your participation in Washington.
    I hope there are celebrations in heaven with every little angel who arrives.
    See you somewhere on the 24th.

  25. Deacon Clayton N. says:

    Deep down they know……

    Abby Johnson is the former director of the Planned Parenthood abortion business in Bryan, Texas.

    She had a change of heart in 2009 after agreeing to a request to assist in an abortion procedure and has now converted to the pro-life position.

    CHERYL POKED HER HEAD INTO MY OFFICE. “Abby, they need an extra person back in the exam room. Are you free?”

    I looked up from my paperwork, surprised. “Sure.”

    Though I’d been with Planned Parenthood for eight years, I had never been called into the exam room to help the medical team during an abortion, and I had no idea why I was needed now. Nurse-practitioners were the ones who assisted in abortions, not the other clinic staff. As director of this clinic in Bryan, Texas, I was able to fill in for any position in a pinch, except, of course, for doctors or nurses performing medical procedures. I had, on a few occasions, agreed at a patient’s request to stay with her and even hold her hand during the procedure, but only when I’d been the counselor who’d worked with her during intake and counseling. That was not the case today. So why did they need me?

    Today’s visiting abortionist had been here at the Bryan clinic only two or three times before. He had a private abortion practice about 100 miles away. When I’d talked with him about the job several weeks before, he had explained that at his own facility he did only ultrasound-guided abortions — the abortion procedure with the least risk of complications for the woman. Because this method allows the doctor to see exactly what is going on inside the uterus, there is less chance of perforating the uterine wall, one of the risks of abortion. I respected that about him. The more that could be done to keep women safe and healthy, the better, as far as I was concerned. However, I’d explained to him that this practice wasn’t the protocol at our clinic. He understood and said he’d follow our typical procedures, though we agreed he’d be free to use ultrasound if he felt a particular situation warranted it.

    To my knowledge, we’d never done ultrasound-guided abortions at our facility. We did abortions only every other Saturday, and the assigned goal from our Planned Parenthood affiliate was to perform 25 to 35 procedures on those days. We liked to wrap them up by around 2 p.m. Our typical procedure took about 10 minutes, but an ultrasound added about five minutes, and when you’re trying to schedule up to 35 abortions in a day, those extra minutes add up.

    I felt a moment’s reluctance outside the exam room. I never liked entering this room during an abortion procedure — never welcomed what happened behind this door. But since we all had to be ready at any time to pitch in and get the job done, I pushed the door open and stepped in.

    The patient was already sedated, still conscious but groggy, the doctor’s brilliant light beaming down on her. She was in position, the instruments were laid out neatly on the tray next to the doctor, and the nurse-practitioner was positioning the ultrasound machine next to the operating table.

    “I’m going to perform an ultrasound-guided abortion on this patient. I need you to hold the ultrasound probe,” the doctor explained.

    As I took the ultrasound probe in hand and adjusted the settings on the machine, I argued with myself, I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to take part in an abortion. No, wrong attitude — I needed to psych myself up for this task. I took a deep breath and tried to tune in to the music from the radio playing softly in the background. It’s a good learning experience — I’ve never seen an ultrasound-guided abortion before, I told myself. Maybe this will help me when I counsel women. I’ll learn firsthand about this safer procedure. Besides, it will be over in just a few minutes.

    I could not have imagined how the next 10 minutes would shake the foundation of my values and change the course of my life.

    I had occasionally performed diagnostic ultrasounds for clients before. It was one of the services we offered to confirm pregnancies and estimate how far along they were. The familiarity of preparing for an ultrasound soothed my uneasiness at being in this room. I applied the lubricant to the patient’s belly, then maneuvered the ultrasound probe until her uterus was displayed on the screen and adjusted the probe’s position to capture the image of the fetus.

    I was expecting to see what I had seen in past ultrasounds. Usually, depending on how far along the pregnancy was and how the fetus was turned, I’d first see a leg, or the head, or some partial image of the torso, and would need to maneuver a bit to get the best possible image. But this time, the image was complete. I could see the entire, perfect profile of a baby.

    It looks just like Grace at 12 weeks, I thought, surprised, remembering my very first peek at my daughter, three years before, snuggled securely inside my womb. The image now before me looked the same, only clearer, sharper. The detail startled me. I could clearly see the profile of the head, both arms, legs, and even tiny fingers and toes. Perfect.

    And just that quickly, the flutter of the warm memory of Grace was replaced with a surge of anxiety. What am I about to see? My stomach tightened. I don’t want to watch what is about to happen.

    I suppose that sounds odd coming from a professional who’d been running a Planned Parenthood clinic for two years, counseling women in crisis, scheduling abortions, reviewing the clinic’s monthly budget reports, hiring and training staff. But odd or not, the simple fact is, I had never been interested in promoting abortion. I’d come to Planned Parenthood eight years before, believing that its purpose was primarily to prevent unwanted pregnancies, thereby reducing the number of abortions. That had certainly been my goal. And I believed that Planned Parenthood saved lives — the lives of women who, without the services provided by this organization, might resort to some back-alley butcher. All of this sped through my mind as I carefully held the probe in place.

    “Thirteen weeks,” I heard the nurse say after taking measurements to determine the fetus’s age.

    “Okay,” the doctor said, looking at me, “just hold the probe in place during the procedure so I can see what I’m doing.”

    The cool air of the exam room left me feeling chilled. My eyes still glued to the image of this perfectly formed baby, I watched as a new image entered the video screen. The cannula — a strawshaped instrument attached to the end of the suction tube — had been inserted into the uterus and was nearing the baby’s side. It looked like an invader on the screen, out of place. Wrong. It just looked wrong.

    My heart sped up. Time slowed. I didn’t want to look, but I didn’t want to stop looking either. I couldn’t not watch. I was horrified, but fascinated at the same time, like a gawker slowing as he drives past some horrific automobile wreck — not wanting to see a mangled body, but looking all the same.

    My eyes flew to the patient’s face; tears flowed from the corners of her eyes. I could see she was in pain. The nurse dabbed the woman’s face with a tissue.

    “Just breathe,” the nurse gently coached her. “Breathe.”

    “It’s almost over,” I whispered. I wanted to stay focused on her, but my eyes shot back to the image on the screen.

    At first, the baby didn’t seem aware of the cannula. It gently probed the baby’s side, and for a quick second I felt relief. Of course, I thought. The fetus doesn’t feel pain. I had reassured countless women of this as I’d been taught by Planned Parenthood. The fetal tissue feels nothing as it is removed. Get a grip, Abby. This is a simple, quick medical procedure. My head was working hard to control my responses, but I couldn’t shake an inner disquiet that was quickly mounting to horror as I watched the screen.

    The next movement was the sudden jerk of a tiny foot as the baby started kicking, as if it were trying to move away from the probing invader. As the cannula pressed its side, the baby began struggling to turn and twist away. It seemed clear to me that it could feel the cannula, and it did not like what it was feeling. And then the doctor’s voice broke through, startling me.

    “Beam me up, Scotty,” he said lightheartedly to the nurse. He was telling her to turn on the suction — in an abortion the suction isn’t turned on until the doctor feels he has the cannula in exactly the right place.

    I had a sudden urge to yell, “Stop!” To shake the woman and say, “Look at what is happening to your baby! Wake up! Hurry! Stop them!”

    But even as I thought those words, I looked at my own hand holding the probe. I was one of “them” performing this act. My eyes shot back to the screen again. The cannula was already being rotated by the doctor, and now I could see the tiny body violently twisting with it. For the briefest moment the baby looked as if it were being wrung like a dishcloth, twirled and squeezed. And then it crumpled and began disappearing into the cannula before my eyes. The last thing I saw was the tiny, perfectly formed backbone sucked into the tube, and then it was gone. And the uterus was empty. Totally empty.

    I was frozen in disbelief. Without realizing it, I let go of the probe. It slipped off the patient’s tummy and slid onto her leg. I could feel my heart pounding — pounding so hard my neck throbbed. I tried to get a deep breath but couldn’t seem to breathe in or out. I still stared at the screen, even though it was black now because I’d lost the image. But nothing was registering to me. I felt too stunned and shaken to move. I was aware of the doctor and nurse casually chatting as they worked, but it sounded distant, like vague background noise, hard to hear over the pounding of my own blood in my ears.

    The image of the tiny body, mangled and sucked away, was replaying in my mind, and with it the image of Grace’s first ultrasound — how she’d been about the same size. And I could hear in my memory one of the many arguments I’d had with my husband, Doug, about abortion.

    “When you were pregnant with Grace, it wasn’t a fetus; it was a baby,” Doug had said. And now it hit me like a lightning bolt: He was right! What was in this woman’s womb just a moment ago was alive. It wasn’t just tissue, just cells. It was a human baby. And it was fighting for its life! A battle it lost in the blink of an eye. What I have told people for years, what I’ve believed and taught and defended, is a lie.

    Suddenly I felt the eyes of the doctor and nurse on me. It shook me out of my thoughts. I noticed the probe lying on the woman’s leg and fumbled to get it back into place. But my hands were shaking now.

    “Abby, are you OK?” the doctor asked. The nurse’s eyes searched my face with concern.

    “Yeah, I’m OK.” I still didn’t have the probe correctly positioned, and now I was worried because the doctor couldn’t see inside the uterus. My right hand held the probe, and my left hand rested gingerly on the woman’s warm belly. I glanced at her face — more tears and a grimace of pain. I moved the probe until I’d recaptured the image of her now-empty uterus. My eyes traveled back to my hands. I looked at them as if they weren’t even my own.

    How much damage have these hands done over the past eight years? How many lives have been taken because of them? Not just because of my hands, but because of my words. What if I’d known the truth, and what if I’d told all those women?

    What if?

    I had believed a lie! I had blindly promoted the “company line” for so long. Why? Why hadn’t I searched out the truth for myself? Why had I closed my ears to the arguments I’d heard? Oh, dear God, what had I done?

    My hand was still on the patient’s belly, and I had the sense that I had just taken something away from her with that hand. I’d robbed her. And my hand started to hurt — I felt an actual physical pain. And right there, standing beside the table, my hand on the weeping woman’s belly, this thought came from deep within me:

    Never again! Never again.

    I went into autopilot. As the nurse cleaned up the woman, I put away the ultrasound machine, then gently roused the patient, who was limp and groggy. I helped her sit up, coaxed her into a wheelchair, and took her to the recovery room. I tucked a light blanket around her. Like so many patients I’d seen before, she continued to cry, in obvious emotional and physical pain. I did my best to make her more comfortable.

    Ten minutes, maybe 15 at most, had passed since Cheryl had asked me to go help in the exam room. And in those few minutes, everything had changed. Drastically. The image of that tiny baby twisting and struggling kept replaying in my mind. And the patient. I felt so guilty. I’d taken something precious from her, and she didn’t even know it.

    How had it come to this? How had I let this happen? I had invested myself, my heart, my career in Planned Parenthood because I cared about women in crisis. And now I faced a crisis of my own.

    Looking back now on that late September day of 2009, I realize how wise God is for not revealing our future to us. Had I known then the firestorm I was about to endure, I might not have had the courage to move forward. As it was, since I didn’t know, I wasn’t yet looking for courage. I was, however, looking to understand how I found myself in this place — living a lie, spreading a lie, and hurting the very women I so wanted to help.

    And I desperately needed to know what to do next.

    This is my story.

    see this link

Leave a Reply