At current rates, the Guttmacher Institute estimates that close to one-third of American women will have an abortion in their lifetime. For each of these women, there is also the man who impregnated her and the family or friends who may have pressured her to abort. The end result is a huge cross-section of people with a direct and intimate connection to abortion. Almost all of them have a vested interest in rationalizing its necessity–making an objective analysis of the issue almost impossible to come by. For any of them to finally conclude that abortion is immoral and unjust, they must be willing to first condemn themselves.
While it can be difficult for those who have already had an abortion to rationally consider the case against abortion, it is even harder for those who work in an abortion clinic. They’ve staked their vocational lives to the moral legitimacy of abortion. Doubts may arise, but what length wouldn’t a person go to before publicly conceding their complicity in the violent destruction of hundreds or thousands of innocent human beings? Add to that the loss of livelihood, the potential for public humiliation, and the scorn or former colleagues. Only then do you begin to see what’s at stake. The barriers to walking out are daunting–which makes such departures nothing short of miraculous.
The case against abortion does not depend upon the testimony of former abortion-insiders, but their stories should not be overlooked. They give us access to the inner-workings of the abortion industry, showing us things the public was never intended to see. These are men and women with more reasons than anyone else in the world to affirm the moral necessity of abortion, but who found themselves unable to deny the truth any longer. It’s one thing for a foot soldier to leave the ranks, but quite another when an officer hands in their sword. This page examines the stories of four former abortion providers: Bernard Nathanson, Norma McCorvey, Carol Everett, and Abby Johnson. They are certainly not the only individuals to have left the abortion industry, but they are the ones who have spoken the most openly of their experiences.
The stories of Bernard Nathanson and Norma McCorvey are particularly remarkable since both were central players in the legalization of abortion in America–one as a well-educated and articulate physician, the other as a brusque and contentious high school dropout. Dr. Bernard Nathanson, who passed away in February 2011, was one of the three co-founders of NARAL (then known as the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws) and was the only physician among a group of activists desperate for credibility. Norma McCorvey, is Jane Roe from the landmark Supreme Court verdict that bears her name and made abortion a constitutionally protected act (Roe vs. Wade). Dr. Nathanson’s involvement began on the heels of a medical residency in Chicago that included numerous midnight surgeries on poor, minority women who’d been maimed by abortion. Without giving much thought to the ethics of abortion, he quickly concluded that it must be made legal and regulated. He would go on to become the medical director of the largest abortion clinic in the country. In 1969, Norma McCorvey became pregnant with her third child. In 1970, she became the named challenger to Texas’ anti-abortion laws. Though McCorvey was little more than a pawn in the hands of opportunistic activist-lawyers, she would go on to work at multiple abortion clinics until 1985.
Carol Everett was a business-woman who saw an opportunity to grow rich off abortion. Her clinics performed roughly 35,000 abortions under her watch, and her main ambition was to be the “leading lady” of abortion. Abby Johnson was recruited by Planned Parenthood while still in college and had much more altruistic ambitions than Ms. Everett. She spent eight years in the employ of Planned Parenthood, believing she was helping reduce the overall frequency of abortion. For the last three years, she directed one of Planned Parenthood’s Texas abortion clinics. By the time she left, she “no longer saw Planned Parenthood as a benevolent charitable organization with the goal of decreasing unwanted pregnancies,” but rather as “an abortion machine in the business of killing unborn babies and meeting revenue goals.” 1
Though the experiences of these four individuals are not exhaustive, they do seem representative. Reading their accounts in succession, it’s almost impossible to miss the similar themes that develop–despite the varied backgrounds, expertise, and expectations of the authors. Their joint revelations consistently show us five things about the abortion industry. First, it is an institution built on deception. Second, it is plagued by cover-ups and dangerous medical practices. Third, it is populated by unethical characters. Fourth, it is largely driven by greed. Fifth, it is an unquestionably grisly business. We’ll look at each category in turn.
At some level, all four individuals were deceived into entering the abortion business, but none more so than Abby Johnson. She wasn’t in it for the money. She never saw abortion as anything other than a necessary evil–an option of last resort, and she honestly believed Planned Parenthood’s main intent was to help women avoid unplanned pregnancy. For almost a decade, she suppressed the doubt that sprang up on her first day as a volunteer, when she privately wondered, “If we are pro-choice… why do we feel we need to protect clients from conversations about their choices?”2 During that whole time, she managed to isolate herself from the physical act of abortion until she was finally needed to assist in an ultrasound-guided abortion. She writes:
It wasn’t just tissue, just cells. That was a human baby–fighting for life! A battle that was 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… I had blindly promoted the “company line” for so long. Why? Why hadn’t I searched out the truth for myself?3
Later she declares, “if everyone who works there saw what I saw today, half of them would quit in an instant… Eight years I’ve been there, and until today I never truly saw what we do.”4 Some 25 years earlier, Dr. Nathanson had a remarkably similar experience when he saw an ultrasound-guided abortion for the first time. He describes the experience this way:
By 1984, however, I had begun to ask myself more questions about abortion: What actually goes on in an abortion? I had done many, but abortion is a blind procedure. The doctor does not see what he is doing. He puts an instrument into a uterus and he turns on a motor, and a suction machine goes on and something is vacuumed out; it ends up as a little pile of meat in a gauze bag. I wanted to know what happened, so in 1984 I said to a friend of mine, who was doing fifteen or maybe twenty abortions a day, “Look, do me a favor, Jay. Next Saturday, when you are doing all these abortions, put an ultrasound device on the mother and tape it for me.”
He did, and when he looked at the tapes with me in an editing studio, he was so affected that he never did another abortion. I, though I had not done an abortion in five years, was shaken to the very roots of my soul by what I saw.5
Beyond the personal deception that often plagues those selling abortion, all four accounts tell of the more systematic, institutionalized deception taking place in the counseling room. Carol Everett experienced it first from the outside–as a pregnant woman questioning her doctor about the possibility of abortion. Expecting she’d have to go out of state for an illegal abortion, she was “shocked beyond words” when her doctor told her, “You don’t have to go anywhere; I do them all the time.” He then assured her “It’s not a baby yet; it’s only a glob of tissue.”6 Fast forward a couple years and Everett would go from deceived to deceiver, as evidenced by her following remarks:
An immediate problem concerned Barbara, [a] young medical assistant who did not like abortions. She actually had a fetal development book in the clinic and often showed women how developed their babies were at various stages inside the womb. I stopped that practice immediately. Although Barbara was a good employee, if she could not sell abortions, she had to go.7
Norma McCorvey declares that after each abortion, “we handed out their prescriptions, assured them that they had ‘done the right thing’ and that ‘of course it wasn’t really a baby; it was just a missed period.'”8 Describing their operating procedure, she writes, “at least 80 percent of the women would try to look down at the end of the table, wondering if they could see anything, which is why our doctor always went in with the scalpel first. Once the baby was already cut up, there was nothing but blood and torn-up tissue for the woman to see.”9 Dr. Nathanson describes his own practice this way:
My preoperative counseling consisted of a brief description of the procedure… and a perfunctory assurance that the “procedure” (those of us who practiced it never spoke of it as an abortion, but rather used the term “termination of pregnancy” or “procedure”) would have no effect on future fertility or on general health. We spoke with such confidence regarding these matters then, in the mid-sixties and the seventies; now it turns out there may be a relationship between abortion and breast cancer; thousands of women have indeed been rendered sterile in the aftermath of a botched abortion; and the death rate of women seeking abortion after the thirteenth week exceeds that of childbirth. The arrogance of those practicing medicine has always been recognized as an ugly appendage of the profession, but the massive hubris of the abortionist was and continues to be astonishing.10
Both Norma McCorvey and Abby Johnson credit their departure from the abortion business to the persistent prayer and kindness of their ideological opponents, and both talk of the deceptive ways they were trained to talk about such people. McCorvey writes that, “there has never been a single instance of a member of Operation Rescue who used violence during a protest; but we spent so much time describing them as violent radicals, we had begun to convince ourselves that they really were dangerous fanatics.11 Johnson says they “were taught to refer to them–and think of them–as anti-choice extremists who would do and say anything to take away the rights of women and harass our clients. I find it disturbing now to look back and see how easily I adopted and used the talking points I was given.”12
In light of the layered deception that seems to permeate the industry, it should come as no surprise that the origins of legal abortion were no less clouded in deceit. Norma McCorvey reveals that the prosecution’s claim that she’d been impregnated through a gang rape was fabricated to elicit greater public sympathy for her case. As such, she notes that, “the abortion case that destroyed every state law protecting the unborn was based on a lie.”13 Bernard Nathanson admits that “the basics [of prenatal development] were well-known to human embryology at the time the U.S. Supreme Court issued its 1973 rulings, even though the rulings made no use of them.”14 Though he was pleased with the conclusions of the Roe decision, he declared it to have been “propped up on a misreading of obstetrics, gynecology, and embryology.”15 Long before the verdict was passed, Dr. Nathanson and his colleagues at NARAL were quietly working behind the scenes to help make such a sweeping victory possible. He says, “The manipulation of the media was crucial, but easy with clever public relations, especially a steady drumfire of press releases disclosing the dubious results of surveys and polls that were in effect self-fulfilling prophecies.”16 He goes on to state, “There were perhaps three hundred or so deaths from criminal abortions annually in the United States in the sixties, but NARAL in its press releases claimed to have data that supported a figure of five thousand.”17
According to Dr. Nathanson, “The attack (against existing abortion laws) had to be made in the weakest area, the psychiatric indication, which was inexact, unmeasurable, yet sufficiently threatening. Once a breach was made in that area, once a few precedent-setting cases got by, then we could pour them through in unlimited number.”18 It didn’t take long to find “a squad of complaisant psychiatrists” willing to form a “a rubber-stamp operation”19 that would individually certify anyone denied an abortion to be suicidal. He called their charade “The Psychiatric Harlequinade of 1969,”20 though he once angrily noted, “There are no ——- psychiatric indications for abortion.”21“Having approved the first few abortions on psychiatric grounds, they could hardly reject the next hundred when the letters came from the same staff psychiatrists, couched in the same ominous though opaque psycho-jargon,”22 Dr. Nathanson wryly notes. Reflecting on how he could have been roped into such sordid affairs, he writes:
When one is caught up in revolutionary fervor, one simply does not want to hear the other side and filters out evidence without realizing it. Until 1973 I was sold a bill of goods. No–let me be honest–I was selling a bill of goods. I had been terribly disturbed by the injustice and hypocrisy of the ’60’s, the disparity between rich and poor, East Side and West Side. I had seen the victims of self-abortion and hack abortionists. After the fever of activity had cooled, I found myself reflecting on the seeds of our revolution.23
COVER-UPS & BAD PRACTICES
Carol Everett has the most to say about the frequency in which botched abortions are covered-up (often at the expense of injured women), though all four authors testify of an industry-wide tendency to cut corners. When it became obvious to Everett that the heavy drinking of her medical director rendered him incompetent to perform late-term abortions, she reminded herself that “he was the one we needed when a major complication occurred; his help was vital in all facets of the cover-up.”24 It didn’t take her long to realize that “a successful abortion clinic needs doctors willing to put their license on the line in the cover-up of botched abortions.”25 When her medical director killed a women by perforating her uterus and then discharging her so he could go on a date, he instructed Everett the next day to “change the blood pressure readings on Sheryl’s chart to normal.” He told her it would “be easy to cut along the lines, recopy it, and no one will ever know the difference.”26 It was standard procedure for Everett to take the victims of botched abortions to the emergency room in her own car because “an ambulance is terrible publicity in front of an abortion clinic.”27 She summarizes her experience this way:
Painful as it was to admit, I knew we were not helping women have safe abortions; instead, we were maiming and even killing them. How had this happened? Over the past five months, we had experienced too many botched abortions. We were maiming at least one woman a month; one out of every five hundred had to have major surgery…28
The only reason Abby Johnson was exposed to the grisly reality of abortion in the first place is because she had hired an out-of-town abortionist to temporarily fill in for the clinic–one who preferred to perform ultrasound-guided abortions. She writes:
Ultrasound-guided abortions [have] the least risk of complications for the woman… there is less chance of perforating the uterine wall… this practice wasn’t the protocol at our clinic… we’d never done ultrasound-guided abortions at our facility… our typical procedure took about ten minutes, but an ultrasound added about five minutes, and when you’re trying to schedule up to thirty-five abortions in a day, those extra minutes add up.29
Because of the extra five minutes it added to the procedure, and because of the impact that would have on their daily totals, Planned Parenthood opted against what is clearly a safer procedure for the woman. Later Johnson writes of her concern “about the number of medication abortion patients who had to return for a surgical abortion because the medication abortion didn’t completely work.”30 Dr. Nathanson tells us that even though “a first-trimester abortion is a relatively undemanding technical procedure,” major malpractice insurance carriers report that “abortion is one of the three or four most frequently litigated malpractice actions in the United States.”31 Malpractice carriers classify it as “major surgery.”32
Norma McCorvey reveals that though she had received “no medical training,” she routinely performed medical duties like giving anesthesia or drawing blood since “most abortionists do not want to spend the money to pay a specialist.”33 She says, “Most people do not realize how unregulated abortion clinics are. The legal-abortion movement has hidden behind the slogan, ‘Keep abortion safe and legal,’ but the truth is, the only thing we fought for was legal abortion, not safe abortion.”34
Bernard Nathanson does not paint a flattering picture of the people who are drawn to the abortion industry–nor of his younger self. He describes himself in those days as a “monster (who) recognized nothing but utility, respected nothing but strength of purpose, craved love–and then perverted it.”35 Twice he demanded that his pregnant girlfriends abort and even performed the second abortion himself. After aborting his own child, he declares to have had no feelings “aside from the sense of accomplishment, the pride of expertise.”36 But compared to the rest of the industry, this self-described, “amoral” reprobate almost looked like a choirboy. When he became the medical director for the largest abortion clinic in the nation, he called the staff abortionists he’d inherited a collection of “drunks, incompetents, sex maniacs, thieves, butchers, and lunatics”37–”as picturesque and venal a band of scoundrels as had been collected [in the history of surgical medicine].”38 It was only later that he was able to connect the dubious character of the providers to the dubious character of the practice:
As I look back across the twenty-five years separating me from that revolting extravaganza playing itself out on the bodies of pregnant women and their slaughtered babies, I am struck by the uncritical nature of the task we had set for ourselves, by the moral and spiritual vacuum at the core of this fantastic operation, by our unquestioned certainty of the high level of moral rectitude on which we operated. And yet, the thing was so obviously sordid. Why couldn’t we make the link between the ethical and the moral, between the shoddy practices and the shabby practitioners, the evident greed and callous motives, between the crassness of the enterprise and those involved in it, between all these ethical indicators and the grotesque immorality of the act itself?39
Dr. Nathanson concludes by venturing to say that “the deliberate destruction of a living, demonstrably human, being is a practice anathema to all but the most morally insouciant physicians, and can justifiably be described as bearing ‘low prestige’ in the medical community.”40 Carol Everett picks up on this theme when she says, “The abortionist is not just a practitioner practicing his/her trade but a practitioner trained to do good and using the training to do evil. I was one of them–evil to the core.”41 She admits that her clinic regularly performed abortions “on women who were not pregnant,” and tells us that “[no] abortionist who works on a straight commission is going to tell a woman who has signed her consent form and has already paid in full that she is not pregnant.”42 She further reveals that most of the instruments used in their abortion clinics were stolen. Her medical director employed a “slippery, sleight-of-hand routine” to secure the necessary equipment from the hospital where he worked.43 She and her medical director “would do anything to keep [botched abortions] out of the news and reduce the risk of a lawsuit.”44Privately, she wondered how many women he’d “had affairs with to keep them from suing him.”45
Norma McCorvey tells us why drugs, alcohol, and coarse jokes were so popular inside the abortion clinics she worked at, a practice Dr Nathanson also noted as being “endemic to this curious institution.”46 McCorvey says, “If we had stayed sober and not laughed at ourselves, we would have begun to think of ourselves as hideous monsters preying on little babies.”47 They even used drugs with their patients, she reports,48 and once called the Operation Rescue offices to request a recipe for barbecuing “baby boys and girls.” She explains such behavior by noting: “Abortions are an inherently dehumanizing business.”49 Describing the moral character of the last abortionist she worked for, she writes:
[Arnie] really was a worm of a man. When [his] wife was stricken with breast cancer, he kept her in one room of the house as she lay dying, and at the other end of the house he kept his girlfriend. Yet if he were the one dying, the abortion movement would hail him as a “visionary,” a “man of integrity and courage,” and a “hero for our time.” In the minds of some, abortionists can do no wrong–provided they keep doing abortions.50
Looking back on her relationship with Sarah Weddington, the attorney who took her case to the Supreme Court, McCorvey writes that, “Sarah had all the time in the world for me before I signed up as her plaintiff; but once she had my signature, I was a blue-collar, rough-talking embarrassment.”51 Weddington had promised to help McCorvey secure an abortion, knowing full-well the case would never be decided in time. She didn’t even call McCorvey back until four months after her child was born. According to McCorvey, “she had said everything was going to be okay and that she would be there, but she wasn’t.”52 McCorvey later asks:
If Sarah Weddington was so interested in abortion, why didn’t she tell me where she got hers? Because I was of no use to her unless I was pregnant. She needed a pregnant woman who would sign the affidavit. If she told me how and where to get an abortion, she wouldn’t have a plaintiff. And without a plaintiff, somebody else might get their case before the Supreme Court first… Debbie Nathan, a pro-abortion writer, wrote in the Texas Observer (September 25, 1995): “By not effectively informing [Norma] of [where she could get an abortion], the feminists who put together Roe v. Wade turned McCorvey into Choice’s sacrificial lamb–a necessary one, perhaps, but a sacrifice even so.”53
Abby Johnson’s abortion experience was by far the most “professional” of the four. Her clinic seems to have been devoid of the more crass abuses chronicled by the others, but after eight years of believing she was in the business of serving women, she walked away from Planned Parenthood feeling they had “duped” and “used” her as “a pawn in [their] game.”54 The more clinical working environment, which may largely have owed to her own good intentions, did not change her final conclusion. No matter what kind of face it wears, the industry itself is driven by a corrupt and unscrupulous agenda.
Of the four characters in this survey, only Carol Everett was motivated by unmitigated greed, or as she describes it: “an insatiable desire to make more money.”55 Forty thousand abortions was her magic number. Making $25 per abortion, she would make $1 million a year if her clinics could do 40,000 abortions annually.56 Everything she did had that end in mind. Even the free pregnancy tests they offered at off-site facilities were only fronts to “funnel [women] into our abortion clinics.”57 Everett says she “loved money and what it could do for [her] so much [she] would continue to sell abortions, including big ones, knowing some of them would be botched, and consequently some women would be maimed for life or die.”58
Bernard Nathanson’s commitment to abortion was an ideological one that actually “cost [him] heavily in lost income”59. But he still has plenty to disclose about the financial interests of those around him. At the clinic he ran in New York City, just prior to the passage of Roe vs. Wade, doctors made $1,000 for an an eight-hour shift, and some worked two shifts a day to double their income. He notes that, “Physicians would fight for the paying cases, find reasons not to do patients whom the clergy had sent with a request for reduced rates, and disappear altogether when asked to do the free cases.”60 Such rates were necessary, he argued, because “what reputable gynecologist, without inducement, would work in an abortion clinic…?”61 Looking back, he notes the following:
With a combination of money and an appeal to political duty… I had replaced a gaggle of medical rogues and ruffians with a spotless, respectable collection of superbly trained, highly competent physicians–and these new recruits continued to carry out the same grisly task with no medical indication or excuse at all. The rusting, failing medical machinery had been replaced with a shiny, new, massive apparatus–but the morality of what we were engaged in was altogether unchanged.62
He cites the fraudulent abuses of a laboratory they contracted with as being one of the straws that finally broke the camels back. Suspecting that the tissue specimens they sent out were never being examined, a colleague replaced aborted pregnancy tissue with a piece of liver from the morgue. Just as before, it came back months later with a bogus pathology report verifying it as “PREGNANCY TISSUE.” Besides being “flagrantly dishonest” and “dangerous,” Dr. Nathanson saw this as another example of the “cavalier disregard” for something deserving far more respect than “an appendix or gall bladder”–and all in the name of an easy dollar.63
Norma McCorvey essentially defaulted to a career in abortion after determining her life wasn’t much use for anything else. The industry was never willing to make her privy to their inner workings, but she has much to tell about the clinics she worked in. She states that “it’s a closely guarded fact that a disproportionate number of abortion doctors are actually from other countries–foreigners who perceive that our lax abortion laws create a tremendous moneymaking opportunity.”64 She further notes that “though [abortionists] made a very good living, the money was not passed down.”65 The willingness of support staff to work “more out of a sense of duty than financial gain,” makes it much easier for abortionists to hoard their earnings.66 In her experience, “Abortionists routinely jack up the estimate of a baby’s age because most women simply won’t argue about it–and even fewer would dare to solicit a second, more informed opinion.”67 The higher the age, the higher the cost of the abortion.
Though Abby Johnson never indicates that the abortionists she worked with were outwardly driven by greed, she has the most to reveal about the underlying agenda of the entire industry. Remarkably, her experience with the ultrasound-guided abortion came just days after she had been mandated by Planned Parenthood “to increase the abortion revenue at [her] clinic.”68 Abby had been recruited by Planned Parenthood with the assurance that they “wanted to make abortion rare,”69 but her assurance on that point became much less certain when they announced plans for a 78,000-square-foot clinic in Houston. She writes:
I understood that it could be the largest abortion clinic in the nation, and that plans were in place to seek an ambulatory surgical license, which would qualify the facility to perform late-term abortions, possibly up to twenty-four weeks… I could only conjecture, of course, but in light of the budget discussions, I couldn’t help but do the math. The later the abortion, the higher the cost. A late-term abortion, I knew, could cost between $3,000 and $4,000. There was big money to be made. Could this be driving Planned Parenthood? The question haunted me.70
The budget expectations that had heretofore been implied soon became much more explicit. Though “client goals related to family planning hadn’t changed much… the client goals under abortion services had increased significantly.”71 Abby left her final round of corporate meetings “with the clear and distinct understanding that I was to get my priorities straight, that abortion was where my priorities needed to be because that was where the revenue was.”72 She had always viewed patients as vulnerable, easily swayed individuals. But she now believed that to Planned Parenthood, “they were dollar signs.”73
Having already looked at the systematic, industry-wide attempts to underplay both the severity of the abortion procedure and the development of the embryos and fetuses being destroyed, we’ll end with the often gruesome descriptions of abortion itself. These comments make it evident that no matter what each of the four said to their clients, abortion is an undeniably grisly business. Here is the more complete description of what Abby Johnson experienced on that fateful day when she was asked to assist the doctor perform an ultrasound-guided abortion:
I was expecting to see what I had seen in past ultrasounds… a leg, or the head, or some partial image of the torso… But this time, the image was complete. I could see the entire, perfect profile of a baby… I couldn’t shake an inner disquiet that was quickly mounting to horror as I watched the screen… It seemed clear to me that the fetus could feel the cannula and did not like the feeling… I could see the tiny body violently twisting with it. For the briefest moment it looked as if the baby were being wrung like a dishcloth… And then the little body 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 everything was gone.74
The fact that Abby Johnson could work at an abortion clinic for eight years without ever seeing what abortion actually does is all the more remarkable in light of what we hear from Norma McCorvey and Carol Everett. McCorvey writes:
The “Parts Room,” where we kept the aborted babies, was particularly heinous. No one liked to be in there to do their business, much less to clean the place, and since no patients were allowed back there, it was pretty much left to ruin. If a baby didn’t make it into a bucket, that was too bad; it was left to lay there. Other babies were stacked like cordwood once every body part had been accounted for.75
After McCorvey walked away from the abortion industry, she reports that six others soon followed her out. For her friend Connie, “it happened when she was assisting in an abortion and, as she puts it, ‘a baby fell into my hands. I had thought it was just a muscle until then. I almost lost it. It tore my insides out.'”76 Carol Everett compares the post-operative, disposal process to grinding meat (a topic she can speak with authority on, since she once owned a butcher shop). The blades of their “commercial, heavy-duty garbage disposal… shredded the head, body, arms, legs, hand and feet.”77 For many years, Everett required her daughter to help her at the clinic, starting when she was just fourteen. Her daughter would later testify: “There is no denial anymore about what I saw–I saw body parts in there. Sometimes I think I’ve had millions of abortions, although I’ve never personally had one.”78 Everett describes one particularly traumatic abortion this way:
Using local anesthesia and a small dosage of Valium, Harvey started the abortion, but he discovered the baby was too far advanced. Its muscle structure was so strong that the baby would not come apart. After almost an hour on the table with six nurses holding and pulling the woman away from Harvey, the baby’s body finally separated form the head and came out. Then Harvey worked and worked to crush the head and remove it. It was a very long ordeal for both the woman and Dr. Johnson… The baby’s body was too large to go down the garbage disposal, so Harvey suggested I take it to our competitor’s trash receptacle so that if it were found, it would be in his trash–not ours. Dutifully, I wrapped the baby in a paper drape, put it in a brown paper sack, and planted it in the other clinic’s trash that night.79
In the case of Bernard Nathanson, though he’d long had a technical understanding of prenatal development, it wasn’t until the arrival of a new piece of equipment that he found himself “bonding with the unborn.”80 He writes:
When I left the clinic and became chief of obstetrical services at St Luke’s Hospital, I had for the first time in years a little time and space to think. I am sure it was no coincidence–the hand of God was present–that at the very same time we began moving a marvelous new technology into the hospital. It was ultrasound, which for the first time threw open a window in to the womb. We also began to observe the fetal heart on electronic fetal heart monitors. For the first time, I began to think about what we really had been doing at the clinic.81
At one point, Dr. Nathanson references an article from the New England Journal of Medicine which reports that “when ten pregnant women came to an abortion clinic and were shown ultrasound pictures of the fetus before the abortion, only one went through with the abortion. Nine left the clinic pregnant.”82 The same thing which makes ultrasound images so remarkable is the thing that makes abortion so dreadful. It’s fairly easy to defend abortion in the abstract, but when you see the tiny bodies up close and realize the violence abortion does to them, the conclusion is fairly obvious. Abortion is a grisly business.
Norma McCorvey once told a reporter that she regretted not having “the privilege of aborting a baby.”83 Within this group of four, she is the only one who didn’t lose a son or daughter to abortion. The other three were each wounded by this “privilege” long before they made a vocation of the practice. Abby Johnson managed to suppress her grief for a number of years by not sharing her secret with anyone (beyond the father who pressured her into aborting), but the shadow was there. She writes of all the women who called the clinic after their abortion, “thinking they were dying because the cramping or bleeding was so intense.”84 She privately wondered, “how many other women, like me, never called, choosing instead to suffer in silence.”85 Carol Everett says of her abortion that “depression overwhelmed me; guilt engulfed me; tears were everywhere. I felt too ashamed to call my mother… for comfort.”86She further elaborates:
What is it with me; why do I hurt so badly? I was told abortion is not supposed to be this painful or bother me this much. Why do I fell so depressed now that I have liberated myself from motherhood–no 2:00 A.M. feedings, no dirty diapers. I thought the “freedom to choose, the right to choose” was supposed to make me feel better, even make me feel more like a woman. Why do I feel raped?87
Dr. Nathanson says that on the night before his first child was aborted, he and his girlfriend wept in each other’s arms, both “for the baby we were about to lose, and for the love we both knew would be irreparably damaged by what we were about to do. It would never be the same for us.”88 He goes on to reflect:
I am some fifty years older now, but the experience is as fresh and quick in my mind as [if it happened this morning]. Although for a brief period in the immediate aftermath we huddled together as co-conspirators in an unnameable crime, eventually we drifted apart. I am sure–despite her brave face, her loyalty and love, her pragmatic evaluation of the whole sorrowful gestalt–I am sure that in some melancholy corridor of her mind lurked the questions: Why didn’t he marry me? Why couldn’t we have had this baby? Why should I have had to imperil my life and my future children for the sake of his convenience and academic schedule?… And even at this remove–fifty-one years and counting–I am aware that I could have had grandchildren by now with this loving, beautiful woman. Lessons? Too many and too sad to rehash here. Suffice to to say that it served as my introductory excursion into the satanic world of abortion.89
Hearing their anguish, it’s easy to wonder how these three could have ever pursued a career in something that brought so much personal grief. At some level, it was no doubt a therapeutic attempt to justify the cruel choice they’d already made. Since critics often suggest that their dramatic, ideological turnarounds are nothing more than elaborately staged publicity-stunts, it should be noted that all four individuals had once harbored extreme antagonism towards their ideological opponents. None were courting their favor or anxious to join their ranks. For years, Dr. Nathanson made it clear that he did not count himself among “pro-lifers.” He writes in his first book:
Even though I end up agreeing with the Right-to-Lifers at many points, I do not think of myself as part of their ranks. I have come to my views wholly independently, based upon my extensive experience in abortion, which the Right-to-Lifers will never share. I have reached my conclusions very reluctantly, after six years of self-examination, but that makes the conclusions no less certain. On the contrary, it makes them much more certain. Let me state once again that this is a humanistic philosophy drawn from modern biological data, not from religious creeds.90
Carol Everett adds, “I was afraid of becoming a pro-lifer because I had viewed pro-lifers as angry, violent people–not because I knew any of them but because of the press.”91 According to Norma McCorvey, “we always assumed that Christians were mean-spirited, judgmental, pleasure-hating radicals,” and her book gives numerous accounts of the hatred she harbored for them.92 Nevertheless, she reports to have “received more positive mail in two weeks of being a pro-life Christian than… in two decades of being abortion’s poster child.”93 She finally concludes, that “it was those in the abortion movement who were ruled by hatred and spite.”94 Abby Johnson grieves for the friends who turned away from her when she left Planned Parenthood but has now discovered “a very different brand of friendship”–one exhibited by the “people who befriended me and stood by me for years even though they did not agree with what I did… even though they do not believe in abortion.”95
Convincing the average citizen that abortion is wrong is one thing. Convincing someone in the industry that abortion is wrong is quite another. In light of the myriad obstacles to concession, it would be a mistake to overlook the dramatic testimony of the former abortion-insiders highlighted on this page. It is no small thing that even one of them reversed their vocational course, admitted their own guilt, and publicly condemned abortion. Taken all together, their stories are more remarkable still.