Catherine Adair once worked as a medical assistant at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Boston. She vividly recalls the day, years ago, when she was asked to clean up a procedure room used for second-trimester abortions. Her year-and-a-half of working for Planned Parenthood had brought her a lot of exposure to the remains of aborted babies, but she wasn’t prepared for what she saw that day. In a jar, inadvertently left behind, were “a baby’s arms and legs, quite large, well-formed and obviously human. I realized they had to go into the mother’s uterus and rip that baby apart.”
Adair was in shock. In the nights afterward, she had nightmares of “baby parts floating around.” She wanted to talk about it, but all of her fellow employees were “rabidly pro-choice.” She quit, saying she had decided to return to grad school.
As 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision striking down the nation’s abortion laws, polls show Americans with sharply divergent opinions on the issue. Yet few have shared Adair’s experience working day-to-day in an abortion clinic and observing in vivid detail what abortion entails. The experience not only led Adair to return to the Catholic faith, but to embrace the pro-life cause.
Adair grew up in a staunchly liberal Boston-area family. They were nominally Catholic, but soon formally abandoned the Faith.
Adair described herself as a strongly ideological feminist, even pursuing a women’s studies degree in college. She went to work for Planned Parenthood, believing it to be the ideal “pro-woman, progressive” workplace.
She soon soured on the job.
“Planned Parenthood was not pro-women; they treated women terribly. It was, ‘Get them in for an abortion, then get them out,’” she told Our Sunday Visitor. “We’d tell them, ‘The doctor will gently extract the contents of the uterus,’ but we didn’t talk to them about fetal development or suggest alternatives to abortion. And, we didn’t help them after the abortion.”
Adair said racist attitudes were commonplace. Black women, for example, were viewed as promiscuous, and staff would only prescribe certain types of birth control “because they were too dumb to remember to take the pill.” Latino women were thought of as emotional, and “we had a paternalist way of treating them.”
Pro-life demonstrators regularly appeared in front of her Boston clinic; however, a “bubble zone” law kept them far from the clinic’s doors. The staff was told not to talk to them; the clinic itself had armed guards, bullet-proof glass, a bomb-proof garage and metal detectors at the entrances. Adair said, “I thought pro-life people were insane. I was afraid of them.”
While Adair found the abortionists themselves to be unpleasant, the other clinic employees were likeable and wanted to help women. However, she opined, most were “post-abortive” like herself. Adair had an abortion at age 19, which led to her militant pro-abortion viewpoint. It was a common story with her fellow employees, she told OSV.
Change of heart
After spending 20 years “hating the Catholic Church,” Adair started going to Mass at the suggestion of her husband, Ron. Ron was the father of the child the couple had aborted; they have since had three children with a fourth on the way.
As the years passed, Adair “came to terms with working in the abortion industry and participating in atrocities against children.” She had a “wonderful” experience in confession, during which the priest suggested she begin praying the Rosary daily and accept that God loved her, and that she was lovable. She began reading Church documents that discussed abortion, including Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae (“Gospel of Life”).
In college, she thought the Church was misogynistic; she began to believe she was wrong.
One day about three years ago, after receiving holy Communion, she thought she “heard Jesus whisper in my ear, ‘These are babies, these are children.’”
She said, “I was so entrenched in the feminist, pro-choice mentality, that I was finally able to give up that piece of me that wouldn’t surrender to the truth. And, after more than 20 years, I could mourn my aborted child, feel the sadness and realize that he was every bit as much a human being as the children I have now.”
Adair, now 44, has since become an active member of the pro-life movement. She participates in 40 Days for Life (www.40daysforlife.com), a group which prays in front of abortion clinics, and shares her testimony in front of pro-life groups.
Sandra Kucharski, communications director for 40 Days in Worcester, Mass., recalled how Adair told her story at a 40 Days dinner: “She spoke to a group of hard core pro-life people, many of whom had been fighting abortion for 30 years, and you could have heard a pin drop. It was so powerful to hear someone speak who had worked ‘behind the doors’ of an abortion clinic.”
Adair also shared her story with older students at St. Benedict Center in Still River, Mass., where she attends Mass and where her children attend school. Sister Marie Jean, the pro-life coordinator at the Center, noted her ability to connect with audiences: “Adair is on fire with the love of God. She has a real zeal for the Faith.” Sister Marie Jean has joined with Adair in prayer in front of abortion clinics, recalling a recent visit in which Adair was visibly pregnant, rosary in hand, “gutsy but compassionate.”
Adair’s conversion has come at a price: Many family and former friends will no longer speak to her, especially upon learning that she is working with pro-life groups.
“There is a love among pro-life people that does not exist on the other side. I share my story with pro-choice people, and I’m mocked, judged and cut out of their lives. They believe many stereotypes about pro-life people, and are intolerant of opposing viewpoints,” she told OSV.
Today, Adair is delighted to be a mom, noting, “When I worked at Planned Parenthood, I said I’d never be one. I didn’t think I was worthy, because I’d killed my own child.”
Besides her own children, she and Ron are fostering a fifth child, whose birth mother had previously intended to abort her. They hope to adopt her soon. Adair said, “I feel so blessed. God has given me back a child in place of the one I lost. I’m profoundly grateful to God for his love and forgiveness, and for his Catholic Church.”
Jim Graves writes from California.