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Clinicians Who Got Sick of Killing
Imagine that one day you begin to realize that your life — your job, your friends, your political beliefs, even your religious convictions — is based on a lie. A lie that caused you to harm others and yourself for years.
Joan Appleton remembers that day.
A client had come in for the usual procedure, but there were some complications, and Appleton, the head nurse at the clinic, was asked to run the ultrasound machine to make it easier to see what was going on during the operation. Appleton set up the machine and began to give instructions.
Then the abortion began.
Appleton, a firmly pro-abortion member of the National Organization for Women at the time, watched the ultrasound screen as the 17-week-old child in the womb jerked in shock and began to struggle. "I saw the baby fight for his life," she said. "I saw him pull away from the suction tube" as it sought to tear him apart.
"It left me shaking for about six hours after that," she said. None of the other workers at the Northern Virginia abortion business noticed her distress.
After a long struggle with her conscience, she quit her job and joined the Centurions in Minneapolis. Founded 10 years ago by Dr. Philip Ney, the Centurions is an international support group for former workers in the abortion industry and for people in the process of leaving it. It was named for the centurion who watched over Christ's crucifixion, but at Christ's death repented and proclaimed, "Surely he was the Son of God!" Two years ago, Appleton started the American Centurions.
The program stresses reconciliation with Christ and reparation for the wrongs the members have committed, including acts like praying for the unborn or trying to persuade others to leave the abortion business. This year, the American group has helped 22 people leave. It also helps former abortion workers find new jobs.
That such a group exists is natural, given the current situation in the abortion business. The Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood, found that between 1982 and 1996 the number of abortion practitioners in the United States dropped by 30%.
Appleton's change was motivated by compassion for the unborn, but also for the mothers. "I was getting very upset over the number of young teen-agers that were coming back, getting pregnant again," she said. "Each time they came back, their self-esteem was lower than the time before."
In her view, the staffers in many abortion businesses are "pretty cold and pretty hard to the women, especially once they've had the abortion. If they're in pain," she said, staffers often act like "they deserve it." Appleton couldn't offer the women help if they wanted to keep their babies; instead, she had to refer them to a pro-life crisis pregnancy center.
Said Appleton, "[I] was not pro-life when I left" in November 1989. But she began to feel that she had been doing "the dirty work for choice." She said that, of the people she knew in the abortion business, "Every one of us left our God. Even if we are active in our denominations, it's a lie." Appleton, who was raised Catholic, returned to the Church after 30 years once she left the abortion business.
THE 'HYPOCRITE FACTOR'
In the late 1970s, Diane Evert worked at a Minnesota clinic called the Family Tree. The clinic did not perform surgical abortions, but made referrals for them. She performed pregnancy tests and distributed abortifacient contraceptives. But in April 1986, Evert had a miscarriage — "the saddest day of my life," she said. She was able to support abortion "until I lost [an unborn child]. Then I knew they were human."
Like Appleton, she took several years to become pro-life after that. But Evert eventually entered the Centurions.
Her experience differed from Appleton's in two respects: She was able to keep a few friends from her pro-abortion days, while still trying to bring them into the Centurions. And she said the staff at the Family Tree clinic respected women, even though they were unwittingly harming their clients.
But Evert, a Lutheran, echoed Appleton's statements on faith. "I was a hypocrite Christian," she said. She "didn't truly believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God" until she quit the Family Tree.
Stephanie Mueller, a spokeswoman for the National Abortion Federation, said, "The vast majority of abortion providers remain committed to what they do because they know that legal abortion protects women's health and saves women's lives." She pointed to the low cost of abortion as a sign that abortionists do not enter the business to make money.
But Appleton and Evert both emphasized that many people who perform and assist with abortions suffer. Appleton said that recurring nightmares of dead or screaming babies are common among abortionists. She also said that many people in the business turn to alcohol, drug abuse or unhealthy relationships.
Mary Jo Faustgen, the Centurions' program director, added that people who worked in the abortion business "also feel that they're unforgivable, that what they've done is so terrible that no one can [forgive them], not even God."
What can pro-lifers do to help people leave the abortion business? Appleton counseled, "Befriend them; love them; be there when they're ready to come out." She also recommended handing out her brochure "About Your Choice."
Faustgen said that workers in the clinics told her that they could hear pro-life prayers and counseling going on outside. "Some are angry that they're out there," she said, "but most have told me that they go home at night and they think about those pro-life people out there and they wonder, 'Are they right? Am I wrong?' It gets them thinking."
She added, "If the abortion worker sees disrespect in the clinic, and sees respect for women and life outside from pro-lifers, that's very powerful."
Eve Tushnet. "Clinicians Who Got Sick of Killing." National Catholic Register. (March 11 - March 17, 2001).
Reprinted by permission of the National Catholic Register. To subscribe to the National Catholic Register call 1-800-421-3230.
Eve Tushnet is a staff writer for the National Catholic Register.
Copyright © 2001 National Catholic Register