They come from different religious, geographical and occupational backgrounds, but the seven people profiled on the following pages have one thing in common — they were once pro-choice.
While their transformations to being pro-life differed — some changes were dramatic, others occurred gradually — they each offer insight on how to change the minds and hearts of those who believe in the “right” to end an innocent life.
Jennifer Fulwiler | Austin, Texas
Jennifer Fulwiler was an atheist when her son was born six years ago, and because of his existence, she went looking for evidence that God existed.
“I started to think of what my son was and what life was,” she said. “When I was looking at this child, I saw something eternal. I couldn’t believe that he was random.”
After Fulwiler found “a compelling case for Jesus,” she told Our Sunday Visitor, “I couldn’t figure out the doctrines. Then I realized that it was Catholic or nothing.”
That was about the same time that she developed a deep vein thrombosis in her leg and needed to take potent drugs for a blood-clotting disorder. She was eight months into her second pregnancy and doctors advised her to not become pregnant again. But she and her husband, Joe, accepted the Catholic Church’s “truth on abortion and contraception” and trusted in God to “work it out” through her third pregnancy.
Fulwiler, 33, and her husband came into the Church in 2007. They are expecting their fifth child in June. She chronicles her faith, pro-life and maternal journeys at her blog, conversiondiary.com, and is writing a book about her conversion.
“I always thought that abortion was the key to a woman’s freedom,” said Fulwiler, who has confessed on her blog that she was “vehemently” pro-choice both before and after college. “I knew it wasn’t a pleasant thing for a woman to have, but many women had unexpected pregnancies, and I figured it would be cruel to go through nine months that they never signed up for.”
But the real freedom, she added, is in rejecting the mentality that accepts irresponsible sex and considers abortion a remedy to crisis pregnancies.
“In theory, we all know where babies come from,” she said. “We have been beaten down that sex is about pleasure. That’s when we as women ceded our freedom over our own bodies.”
To learn more about how Jennifer Fulwiler went from pro-choice to pro-life, see her blog entry www.conversiondiary.com/2008/01/how-i-became-pro-life.html. Fulwiler has also spoken about her conversion from pro-choice to pro-life. You can hear her story by visiting http://bit.ly/gPazCj.
Dr. Tony Levatino | New Las Cruces, N.M.
In the 1970s, Dr. Tony Levatino was an obstetrician and gynecologist who also performed abortions.
“If this woman wants to have her baby and this one doesn’t, you take care of her and do what she wants,” he said about his feelings then of pro-choice and pro-life.
The first time he had any qualms about abortion was when he and his wife, Cecelia, were unable to conceive and discovered how difficult it was to adopt.
“I realized that abortion was part of that very problem,” he told Our Sunday Visitor, but he continued performing them.
The couple eventually adopted a little girl, Heather, then had a biological child who was conceived a month after Heather was adopted.
In 1984, Heather, almost 6, was hit and killed by a car.
It was that terrible event that gave Levatino a new appreciation of the sanctity of life. In a testimonial he gave at a conference of former abortion providers, Levatino said: “When you lose a child, your child, life is very different. Everything changes. All of a sudden, the idea of a person’s life becomes very real. It is not an embryology course anymore. It’s not just a couple of hundred dollars. It’s the real thing. It’s your child you buried.”
“I took a couple of weeks off, and when I went back, as I was starting a second-trimester abortion, I realized that I was literally tearing a child apart with instruments,” he told OSV. “That just sickened me. It was never easy, but I couldn’t do that anymore.”
Levatino, 58, has a practice as a gynecologist and is the medical director for Priests For Life and for a pregnancy center that he and his wife helped found. They speak at pro-life events, and twice he has testified before Congress on pro-life issues.
“At one time, I had hopes that Roe v. Wade would be overturned, but I’m not convinced it’s going to happen in my lifetime,” Levatino said. “If you are going to make an impact in changing minds and hearts, in getting people to see the value of life, you are going to have to do it one person at a time. Look what it took for me to open my eyes and get a serious look. I had to lose my daughter.”
Jeannie Alexander | Nashville, Tenn.
Jeannie Alexander always had strong human rights values.
“I was anti-war, against the death penalty, and when I was in Dallas, I was involved with survivors of torture in African nations,” she said. “It seemed to me that there was something very wrong with our society, that there was a real lack of concern for other people. But I was pro-choice.”
She had a “deep gnawing sense” that her law practice was not where she was supposed to be, and one weekend she reread the Gospels, then reread them again.
“It rocked my world,” Alexander told OSV. “What if Jesus meant this, that he means everything he is saying? I realized that if we took Jesus seriously, it changes everything.”
She went back to where she grew up in Atlanta and, although a Baptist, she spent hours a day praying at a Trappist monastery.
“One day a very audible voice said, ‘On your knees,’ and that was it,” Alexander said. “I hit the kneeler and everything inside that I was holding back was gone. I really had this clarity of what it meant to submit to God. Something spiritual happened to me. It occurred to me that you can’t be anti-war, anti-death penalty, pro-housing and universal health care — all these things that really affirm life — and still think that abortion is OK.”
Alexander, 39, changed her mind about abortion, converted to Catholicism and moved to Nashville in 2007. There she became involved in the Catholic Worker Movement and cofounded Amos House, a multiple-site ministry that engages in daily works of mercy and worship.
“Pro-life is not just about babies,” Alexander said. “It’s not about politics. It’s about Jesus Christ.”
Karen Mitchell | Overland Park, Kan.
Karen Mitchell’s pastor preached against abortion, but she didn’t think that it was a problem in the black community. Then one day she went with members of the nondenominational church to observe their prayers and sidewalk counseling at an abortion clinic.
Mitchell, now 62, had a social-work background and “the persuasion that women had a right to do what they wanted with their bodies.” Her husband had been telling her that she was wrong.
“I sat across the street and I was shocked when I saw so many black women going into the clinic,” she said. “I saw what looked like a grandmother taking a very young girl, like a granddaughter, and that provoked me because I lived with my grandmother and she helped raise me. I decided to look up the statistics, and when I did, I was shocked that there was an alarming number of abortions in the black community.”
Still, she leaned toward pro-choice until a few years later when she experienced “an awakening with God” and a baptism in the Holy Spirit.
“The light came on about a lot of things, and abortion was one of them,” she said. “I could see that it was not just a woman’s body, but a baby who lives inside a woman’s body.”
She felt it herself when the preacher was preaching and the child inside her was “jumping up and down.”
“He was trying to tell me that he was alive and that I had been deceived,” she said.
Mitchell was a founder of Black Americans For Life, based in Raytown, Mo., 25 years ago, and recently completed a long tenure as president.
“Blacks have not heard the truth about abortion and how it affects our community,” she said.
Carol Everett | Austin, Texas
Carol Everett was 28 when she had to choose between her third child or her second husband, who didn’t want children.
“I made the wrong choice,” she said years later about her abortion and subsequent divorce. “My life fell apart.”
But she remained pro-choice and for six years ran an abortion clinic, praying daily “for no deaths and no injuries,” though one woman died and 19 needed major surgery.
In 1983, a pastor came to her clinic and prayed.
“I thought I was going to cry,” she told Our Sunday Visitor. “I fell to my knees and said, ‘Lord, if there is a Lord, if this is not where you want me, hit me over the head with a two-by-four.”
At the end of the day, she talked women out of having abortions and she walked out.
“I hid for two years, wondering who the Lord was and wondering who I was,” Everett said.
She started speaking in support of life, then worked in the movement for a Baptist minister who led her to Christ.
“I thought I was a Christian, but I was not,” she said. “I was playing with God.”
In the healing process, Everett, now 66, named her aborted child Heidi. In 1995, she founded The Heidi Group to help women and their families who are facing crisis pregnancies. In 2008, The Heidi Group’s charity prenatal clinic served 1,115 mothers and delivered 1,115 healthy babies. Many women also enrolled in educational programs.
“We in pro-life are the ones who are really helping women, who are protecting and helping their lives,” she said. “We are the ones saying ‘yes, you can.’”
Patty Skain | Jefferson City, Mo.
Patty Skain was a lapsed Catholic when, at age 29, she married a practicing Catholic and returned to the sacraments. She saw no conflict with her support of abortion.
“I believed that in order to be concerned about women’s rights, you have to be pro-choice,” she said.
Out of work in 1989, she went for a walk and asked God to show her what to do. She passed a “cemetery of the innocents,” a memorial for aborted babies, and, she said, “I came back home pro-life.”
She applied for and was offered a job with Missouri Right to Life, making less than half of what she earned in her previous state job.
“What do you do when you pray to God? Do you say, ‘Sorry, not enough money?’” she said. “I took the job and never regretted it. God sent me to do this work.”
Skain, 57, is now executive director of the organization.
“Abortion is morally and ethically wrong, and it’s not good for people and for the human society,” she said. “It’s certainly a problem for a woman to deal with an unplanned pregnancy, but selling her an abortion is going to cause more damage. Abortion isn’t the answer.”
Her years of being pro-choice gave her a compassion for people “who are so confused” by circumstances that they choose abortion.
“There are many people in the Church who are post-abortive,” she said. “I have talked to them, and they have testified for us. But you don’t bring up that issue to condemn anybody. If you do, they will never heal, and that’s the saddest part of it. It has to be addressed without judgment so that they can seek healing. God forgives us, but they have to be able to forgive themselves.”
Jeanne Finger | Kansas City, Mo.
Politically, it made sense to Jeanne Finger to support a woman’s right to choose an abortion.
“I found the message of the pro-choice feminists on campus liberating,” Finger told Our Sunday Visitor. “Then after college I met somebody who became my husband, and he was strongly pro-life. We used to have bitter arguments.”
He is Catholic, she is Presbyterian, and there was additional conflict over natural family planning. Then Finger and her husband were faced with infertility.
“I came to see that when I wanted to become pregnant, I considered it a baby and a life,” she said. “If I could have that regard for that life and myself, then how could it not be God’s creation for anybody else? I started to see that there was a conflict. You couldn’t be a Christian who believes that God is the author and creator of all life and in the same breath say that it’s OK for women, for personal or political reasons, to choose to end that life. When I couldn’t get pregnant at first, I began to see that this wasn’t about me. It wasn’t about choice. It was about a life.”
Finger, 44, and her husband, Steve, have three daughters and one son. A fifth child was miscarried.
“It was God working in my life,” Finger told OSV. “It was the power of prayer and God using the experience of infertility to change my heart.”
Although not formally active with pro-life groups, Finger is outspoken.
“I believe that through my experiences of being on the other side, I can convince a person that pro-choice is an impractical position to hold,” she told OSV.
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.
Notable Names (sidebar)
Nat Hentoff: The noted jazz critic and columnist, formerly of the Village Voice, has declared himself to be a “Jewish, atheist, civil libertarian, left-wing pro-lifer.” In an interview with OSV in 2008, he explained that he hadn’t given abortion much thought, until he heard about a baby born with a disability whose parents wanted to decline life-saving treatment. Once he declared himself pro-life, he faced alienation from some colleagues at the Village Voice. He has been a frequent contributor to Human Life Review, a pro-life journal.
Norma McCorvey: Better known for a long time as “Jane Roe,” the plaintiff in the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, McCorvey is now a prominent pro-life activist. She joined the Catholic Church in 1998 and started a pro-life ministry, Roe No More. She is the author of “Won by Love: Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe of Roe V. Wade, Speaks Out for the Unborn as She Shares Her New Conviction for Life” (Thomas Nelson, 1998). In 2005, the Supreme Court rejected a petition by McCorvey to reverse Roe v. Wade. In May 2009, she was among the protesters arrested on the campus of the University of Notre Dame during President Barack Obama’s commencement address at the school.
Sandra Cano: The “Mary Doe” in the Doe v. Bolton case that was the companion case to Roe v. Wade, Cano, like McCorvey, is now an outspoken opponent of abortion and has also sought to reverse the landmark ruling. She is the founder of a pro-life ministry, Wonderfully Made Ministry (www.wonderfullymadeministry.com).
Dr. Bernard Nathanson: Once an abortion provider — he has acknowledged he was personally responsible for 75,000 abortions — who cofounded NARAL in 1968, Nathanson experienced a transformation in the late 1970s, becoming a pro-life advocate. He is the author of “The Hand of God: A Journey from Death to Life by the Abortion Doctor Who Changed His Mind” (Regnery, $16.95) and narrator of “The Silent Scream,” which documents the abortion of an 11-week-old child.
Jennifer O’Neill: The model and actress, who starred in 1970s movies “Rio Lobo” and “Summer of ’42” suffered mental anguish after an abortion and is now a pro-life activist, telling of her experiences at speaking arrangements around the country.