Looking into the vast crowd at my very first March for Life 12 years ago was terrifying. I had left my job as a Planned Parenthood clinic director only three months earlier and basically became overnight famous within the pro-life community.
I had just undergone a radical conversion after witnessing the destruction of a 13-week-old fetus during an ultrasound-guided abortion. At the March for Life in Washington, D.C., there will be several former abortion workers in that big crowd, people who dispensed abortion pills to women maybe in that same crowd or held their hand as they laid on the table or coerced them into something they knew was wrong.
I was wary heading to that first March for Life because I was on the opposing side of these people for years. I had angrily protested against them. I had said mean things to them, especially the people who prayed on the sidewalk outside my clinic. Would they judge me? Would they shove everything I had said back in my face? Even worse, would they say I wasn’t worthy of redemption, that abortion workers should be hated and despised for what they did?
It didn’t exactly go the way I had expected. At that first March for Life, many people had heard my story of seeing the ultrasound and walking out of the clinic. Women were coming up to me and they were literally falling on me crying and sharing their stories of abortion regret.
Yet I did hear that abortion workers don’t deserve love, that we are despicable human beings for working in abortion clinics. This was especially prevalent in the early years after I left Planned Parenthood and began to put a face to the people who worked in the clinics. We are human, too. We make mistakes, some bigger than others. But so many of us have had the courage to walk away and recognize the destruction we were causing to women, to their children, and to their families.
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I believe it is the stories of these abortion workers, stories of heartache and pain and redemption, that need to be told. Why? Because of my experiences, and those of many former abortion workers who have come with me to the March for Life, I’ve learned our stories of repentance have the power to heal those affected by the tragedy of abortion.
Both men and women who have been hurt in some way by abortion needed to see our repentance because we represented so much to them. We represented those doctors who ended the lives of their babies. We represented the nurses that held their hands and told them, “It would all be over soon,” or in some cases, the nurses who physically held them down on the table when they screamed out in pain. We represented the clinic workers who lied and told them that their babies were “just tissue” and that they wouldn’t regret their abortion. And really, we represented a society that had regrettably normalized abortion – and these women didn’t even realize how much they needed to see a repentant abortion clinic worker until they saw me.
It wasn’t even me necessarily. But seeing someone who had a hand in their pain cooled a burning spot of anger in their lives that maybe they had been holding onto for many years. Some of them didn’t even recognize the anger until they realized that it was gone.
Most of the former abortion workers we help get out of the industry and then who attend the March for Life feel like they will be judged by the attendees. But they aren’t. Many people come up to them and thank them for their bravery and courage. Others offer to pray with them. It’s an incredibly humbling experience.
Then there are the protesters, those who appear along the route or at the Supreme Court. They have shouted down former abortion workers, including those who speak about the regret they have of their own abortion. It breaks my heart to watch this happen because I used to be on that side. I used to be screaming at pro-lifers. I was so, so angry. But at every March for Life, I get the opportunity to say I’m sorry to the women who have abortions, that I’m so sorry for my work in the abortion clinic. And afterwards, I see the peace in the faces of the women listening. They just want someone to acknowledge their pain and see them. And I do. All of us former abortion workers walking in the March for Life do.
We’ll be there at the March, holding our signs that say we are “Quitters.” Our stories are different but we, too, have our place in the movement. It’s a special feeling to have walked away from our work at the abortion clinic and to now walk in solidarity with other pro-lifers who want to end abortion. It feels good to know we are finally on the right side.
LifeNews Note: Abby Johnson is the CEO and Founder of And Then There Were None, which helps abortion workers leave their jobs and find life-affirming ones. She’s also the author of “Unplanned“, which has been made into a feature film of the same name.