“We find the tables we need to be sitting at”

Second in a series of reports from the 2018 Pro-Life Women’s Conference. Part one is here

My first look at the long list of speakers for the third annual Pro-Life Women’s Conference (PLWC) told me that there weren’t enough hours on the clock for me to be able to hear all of them. And then at the very first gathering – a Friday night dinner – the organizers threw an unscheduled speaker into the already-full program. I had never heard of her.

Art contest entries at PLWC 2018
Montage of entries in art contest at 2018 Pro-Life Women’s Conference

I thought Really? Sticking someone right after Serrin Foster? That’s just unkind. The longtime leader of Feminists for Life had keynoted the gathering with a challenging talk. She’s a tough act to follow.

I needn’t have been concerned. Savannah Marten could take care of herself.

Revolutionizing the Conversation

Conference emcee Abby Johnson introduced Marten, who’s the director of The Pregnancy Center of Greater Toledo (Ohio). “She is someone who is willing to build bridges. What Savannah has done has absolutely revolutionized the conversation about what it means to be pro-life.”

What she’s done is push past her comfort zone, into working relationships with unconventional allies. That theme was to come up again and again during the conference.

Savannah said that three days into her job as The Pregnancy Center’s director, she was asked by a community leader what the Center was doing about infant mortality. “I said ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ I was mortified that I had been in the pro-life community for seven years and hadn’t heard one person talking about infant mortality.”

I later looked up figures from the Centers for Disease Control: in 2016, New Hampshire’s infant mortality rate was 3.7 (deaths per 1,000 live births). Nationwide, the rate was 5.9. In Savannah’s state, Ohio, the rate was 7.4. “In my state, the state of Ohio, we are 49th out of 50 for African-American babies dying before their first birthday.

“The pro-life community should be number one in the community showing up for this topic. My life motto is…’what table do I need to be at to be able to use my voice of influence?’ We find the tables we need to be sitting at in order to effectively advance this cause. Where tables do not exist, we build them, and we invite our community to those tables.”

This is when I started taking notes. I knew I was about to hear a story worth sharing.

“I knocked on every door”

She began to educate herself by reaching out to people already working with at-risk women. “I knocked on every door I possibly could in my community. I said ‘I’m not here to talk about abortion. I’m not here to talk about politics. I’m not here to talk to you about anything other than why black babies are not making it to their first birthdays in our community.’ And they invited me to the table.

“These are people who have even stood outside of my pregnancy center with signs in protest. Now all of a sudden they’re welcoming me to the table.”

Faith leaders with whom Savannah had never spoken before were critical to the conversation. “We began to interact with the African-American faith community. Our center had existed for 32 years, and not one predominantly African-American church had any sort of partnership [with us]. I simply said ‘walk me through your neighborhood and talk to me about what is going on in your neighborhood. Talk to me about the babies.’

“And suddenly they began to talk. They began to want to sit down and hear about what we were doing at the pregnancy center.” Over time, mutual trust and respect developed.

Working with a hospital

Savannah’s next step was to approach the major hospital in her area, on behalf of her pregnancy center. “[Hospital representatives] learned that women come to my pregnancy center, at five or six weeks gestation, and they are the number one women at risk for infant mortality and low birth weight. [Later in pregnancy] this hospital cannot even get them to show up for their appointments. Most of them show up at the emergency room and deliver their children there. And we wonder why [children] are not making it to their first birthday.”

Meeting after meeting followed, progress coming by inches. Eventually, a breakthrough: “the largest hospital in northwest Ohio…gave us access to their scheduler.”

Now, “every woman who comes in [to The Pregnancy Center] for an ultrasound leaves our facility with an OB/GYN appointment scheduled for them. If they leave our center and they wait another six weeks to call [the hospital for an appointment], they’re not going to get in.

“We cannot be satisfied with handing these women pamphlet after pamphlet, and referral after referral.  Women who are in poverty, women who are in crisis, need more than referrals. They need a life raft. That’s what we’re committed to do.”

Anyone who has been involved in interagency collaborations knows that conflicts arise, some of them irreconcilable. Savannah was faced with one shortly after the scheduling breakthrough with the hospital. “The same week that this hospital gave us access to their scheduler, they signed a transfer agreement with our city’s last abortion facility. I was plagued with this question: do we back out from providing thousands of women health care, because a hospital didn’t make a church decision? Or do we live by our core principle that says we come to the table to effect change and influence those in our community?”

She made a decision that brought her criticism from some pro-life allies. I think her experience is instructive. “Among unpopular opinion, we chose to continue our partnership with this hospital. If the abortion facility is going to enter into a partnership and influence our hospital, then the pro-life community should be at that same table advocating [for] what women in our community need.”

And by the way, that hospital has just accepted Savannah Marten’s application for a board position.

“This is how we effect change. We go to the tables we’re not comfortable in, the tables we’re not invited to, the tables that cause us to think differently and look at things differently.”

“We need Esthers”

Savannah Marten is Christian, and she used a Biblical reference to challenge her listeners at the conference. “We need Esthers to arise. We need Esthers who will stand up and catch the ear of the men and women of influence in our community. But we haven’t done that. We hide in our little pro-life communities. There’s no excuse. There’s no reason for us to hide. Because I have been crucified with Christ, and no longer I who live but he who lives in me. You have nothing to be afraid of. We already have the victory. Be joyful. Stay hopeful. ”

(The PLWC is a non-sectarian gathering, but that doesn’t mean any speaker is bashful about expressing her beliefs.)

She spoke about a community leader, a big-time Democrat, whom she has come to know during her tenure at the Pregnancy Center of Greater Toledo. One day he said to her, “I  am now proudly pro-life, because you’ve shown me what true pro-life looks like.”

Savannah Marten could have dismissed as a distraction that long-ago question about infant mortality. She could have discounted it because it came from someone not supportive of her Center’s work. Instead, she had enough humility to acknowledge that she had something to learn. She had the guts to walk up to people she didn’t know and say “please show me around.” She had the patience to work to gain trust from hospital representatives.

And now, she wants to see more of us going out and finding, or building, those tables where conversations can take place.

Blogger at work: greetings from PLWC 2018!



Weekend views & reading: voices to trust

As the “women’s marches” are winding down, I’m glad to hear from some pro-life women that their experience at the Washington March has been peaceful.


Abby Johnson, expecting twins and having contractions at the march, describes the excitement and encouragement of her fellow marchers – including those who, without apparent irony, support abortion.

Aimee Murphy of Life Matters Journal was interviewed by MSNBC. Aimee, like me, is a Trump skeptic. Possibly a very different political outlook from yours, but pro-life for sure.

Remembering some Voices to Trust

While pro-life women are peacefully nudging their way into the spotlight this weekend, this is a good time to look back on this blog’s Voices to Trust series. The women profiled in the series have stories of their own, the likes of which are not being featured in most coverage of today’s marches.

“9 Days for Life” kicks off today

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has launched a 9 Days for Life project, based on the Catholic tradition of a novena, or nine-day prayer effort for a special intention. People of all faiths are welcome to join. Read more about the project and get some good ideas for social media work over the next nine days.


“Love wins, over and over.”

Abby Johnson Facebook May 2016

If you’re a Facebook regular, I recommend adding something to your feed if it’s not there already. Go “like” AbbyJohnson: ProWoman, ProChild, ProLife. As you probably know, Abby works with people who choose to leave the abortion industry and seek help making the transition to what is pretty much a new life.

This morning’s post struck me, particularly how it ended. Abby describes a former abortion worker’s first public speaking event since her departure from her former employer. Abby wrote,

“I have to tell you that it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced. I know this may not be something you think about, but leaving the abortion industry is very lonely. When you work in the industry, all of your friends works [sic] in the industry, too. So when you leave, you leave all of your friends behind…the only support system you have. You feel very isolated.”

Read the Facebook post in full. It can be tough to envision the kind of outcome Abby describes when I encounter an abortion provider or other worker who promotes abortion – but just such an outcome is possible, even in a state like ours with an abortion-friendly culture. “Love wins, over and over.”

Norma McCorvey and Sandra Cano

Last in the Voices to Trust series. 

Norma McCorvey and Sandra Cano rejected the Supreme Court decisions that were supposedly made in their favor. Their identities obscured in the 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton cases, they ultimately went public with their dissent from those decisions, reclaiming their own names and proclaiming their support of the right to life.


McCorvey was “Jane Roe,” the plaintiff in a challenge to Texas abortion law that culminated in Roe v. Wade, overturning most abortion restrictions and regulations nationwide. Cano was the anonymous plaintiff in Doe v. Bolton, an abortion case decided the same day as Roe, which resulted in an expansive definition of “health of the mother” as justification for abortion on demand. Ironically, neither woman had an abortion pursuant to the decisions.

McCorvey supported the Roe decision for about twenty years before renouncing it and becoming pro-life. In a one-minute 2010 video, she summarized her position. “I realized that my case, which legalized abortion on demand, was the biggest mistake of my life….but now I’m dedicated to spreading the truth about preserving the dignity of all human life from natural conception to natural death.”

Asked in a 1997 interview what she thought people could do to stop abortion, McCorvey said,  “[I]t doesn’t make any difference what religion you are, or how young you are or how old you are, I think if they get up and go to these abortion mills, and stand there – and they don’t have to do anything, they can just stand there and pray, I think that would make a lot of difference. We have to be seen in numbers.”

Sandra Cano (Photo from wonderfullymadeministry.com)
Sandra Cano (Photo from wonderfullymadeministry.com)

Sandra Cano came to be the Supreme Court’s “Doe” after she went to an attorney for help with matters relating to divorce and child custody. As she told a Congressional committee in 2005,

“I was very vulnerable: poor and pregnant with my fourth child, but abortion never crossed my mind. Although it apparently was utmost in the mind of the attorney from whom I sought help….Please understand even though I have lived what many would consider an unstable life and overcome many devastating circumstances, at no time did I ever have an abortion. l did not seek an abortion nor do I believe in abortion. Yet my name and life is now forever linked with the slaughter of 40-50 million babies.
“…I feel like my name, life, and identity have been stolen and put on this case without my knowledge and against my wishes….One of the Justices of the Supreme Court said during oral argument in my case ‘What does it matter if she is real or not.’ Well, I am real and it does matter.”

Cano died in 2014, with Doe v. Bolton still standing. To the end of her life, she told her story far and wide. She knew that the truth and her experience were too important to hide.

McCorvey has noted how as with Doe, disregard for truth played an important part in the Roe decision. “I was persuaded by feminist attorneys to lie; to say that I was raped, and needed an abortion. It was all a lie. Since then, over 50 million babies have been murdered. I will take this burden to my grave. Please, don’t follow in my mistakes.”


Share the words of these women who moved beyond abortion to embrace respect for life: McCorvey and Cano, who lost their identities in court and then reclaimed them; the women who ran abortion facilities and now help people leave the industry; women who survived efforts to abort them; women who reject being called “exceptions“; post-abortive women like Catherine, Karen, Susan and Julia. If ever the words “trust women” are used in an effort to squelch pro-lifers – not mention when they’re used to imply that men have no right to speak up about human rights – bring these women’s words into the discussion.

Catherine Adair

Catherine Adair (photo: harvestisabundant.blogspot.com)
Catherine Adair (photo: harvestisabundant.blogspot.com)

The first former abortion worker I met was Catherine Adair. Through a convergence of odd circumstances I’ve related elsewhere, she came to New Hampshire in 2011 when Planned Parenthood funding first became a state issue. With no financial incentive, on her own time and in her own words, she came to a Concord press conference to talk about what she had seen as a PP employee. Listening to her then, and speaking with her privately over the years since, brought home to me how much courage it takes for PP ex-employees as well as post-abortive women to go public.

As I listened to Catherine, there was no filter. In our later private conversations, that didn’t change. She’s always been honest and clear with me. Her concern for the women she met at PP remains authentic and urgent.

She has her own blog, The Harvest is Abundant. Her post in response to the Center for Medical Progress videos is about how participating in a second-trimester abortion when she was working at PP set off her decision to leave.

“For many of us, the former clinic workers and post-abortive women, the recent videos of Planned Parenthood executives are a nightmare. Reliving the horror of our abortions, reliving the gruesome work of the clinic, we feel alone. Who can understand our pain? We can’t even comprehend it. The callousness of those profiting from our pain is sickening, almost too much to bear. It is compounded when the media refuses to investigate the truth of what we see on those videos. It is compounded when the supporters of Planned Parenthood call us liars.”

I’ve heard Catherine speak at several public events since our first meeting. What follows are some of her own words from those presentations, with a link to video where available.

Catherine in Concord, 7/15/11 

“I was a clinic worker in the late 1990s in a large Planned Parenthood clinic in Boston. I was not a manager. I was not involved in corporate decision-making. I didn’t have an office. I was a simple clinic worker. I was a young, idealistic college woman, like other ones who go to Planned Parenthood who believe the carefully orchestrated facade that Planned Parenthood presents. I believed I would be helping women, that access to affordable reproductive health care was the core of their mission, and that they cared about reducing the number of abortions and reducing the need for abortions.

“But I discovered that all was not as it seemed. I was a pro-choice feminist dedicated to the cause, and I became more and more disillusioned, until I left feeling completely betrayed. There is a party line with Planned Parenthood, and questioning the system automatically brands you as a woman-hating bigoted religious extremist – and they are very good at shutting down any opposition.

“When Live Action exposed the truth about Planned Parenthood, I finally felt vindicated. Yes, Planned Parenthood covers up the sexual abuse of minors. I’ll never forget a young girl, she might have been 14 years old, was brought in by her abuser. He was even allowed to come into the counseling room, where he answered questions for her and insisted that we give her an abortion. She sat there looking at the floor the entire time. I couldn’t question my manager because she was the person who allowed this man into the counseling room, against all supposed protocol. I’ll never forget her face, and I never even heard her voice.

“Women who can’t speak English often are not given translators, and often their only translator is the person pressuring them into the abortion. I remember a Somali woman who came. She spoke no English. Three men were allowed into the counseling room: her husband, her brother, and her brother’s friend who spoke some English. Her husband would not allow her to speak, but he angrily insisted that we give her the abortion. My manager told me we had to be aware of cultural differences – and pushed her into the abortion room. Again, I never heard her speak.

“…Untrained staff such as myself take medical histories, take blood pressure and pulse, and assist during the medical procedure. I was receptionist, appointment-maker, counselor, and medical assistant rolled into one. There is no real counseling, because there is only one right answer: have an abortion. Counseling for any option other than abortion does not exist.

“Sometimes it is difficult to hear that what we think is true and what we really believe in is simply a lie. No one wants to believe they could be deceived. We can either confront the truth or ignore it and call whistleblowers like Lila Rose [of Live Action] liars.

“…[PP] target[s] younger and younger audiences to establish dependency and to develop their clientele. Planned Parenthood is not about choice. In fact, over 96% of women who are pregnant who receive services at Planned Parenthood end up having an abortion. That is a staggering statistic. It is the Walmarting of women’s health care. Planned Parenthood expands its reach and receives taxpayer funds at the expense of other independent women’s health care centers, which focus on health care rather than abortion.

 “…There is no reason Planned Parenthood should be receiving the federal and state funding that could go to other health care centers that are actually concerned with women’s health. But the abortion industry wields political muscle. It has millions at their disposal to lobby, advertise, and keep politicians on a short leash.”

Catherine on 10/28/11 in Manchester:

“To me Republicans, Christians, conservatives, were all crazy. They were selfish people who hated women and would do anything they could to undermine women’s progress. But what’s crazy is living in a world of lies but not being able to see it.

“In my world, when I became pregnant when I was 19, abortion was presented as the only choice. I was told that it would fix everything – that everything would be taken care of, that it was safe, that it was legal, that it was easy. But nobody told me it was killing a baby. And nobody told me that I would endure decades of shame, regret, depression, anxiety. Nobody told me that I wouldn’t be able to speak about it because the shame and guilt and pain would be too much to bear.

“So what I did is I became the world’s greatest feminist. I was a women’s studies major in college, I marched in Washington for pro-choice. After I graduated from college, I went to work with Planned Parenthood, because Planned Parenthood to me was this great feminist organization that was working really hard to help women. I went to work at their big abortion clinic in Boston. And I really did believe that Planned Parenthood was helping women.

“But as I worked in the clinic, first as a receptionist, then as a counselor, then as a medical assistant, I became increasingly disillusioned. It really wasn’t helping women at all. It was an abortion-driven, for-profit business…. It was a place where women even til their fifth month of pregnancy were assured that abortion was just an emptying of the contents of the uterus.

“…As I struggled to reconcile all I believed in with the reality of the lie being perpetrated against women at Planned Parenthood, I had no one to talk to, nowhere to turn. You know, Planned Parenthood is very effective at making itself the martyr, making itself the victim of these women-hating conservatives. And anyone who doesn’t agree with them is a woman-hater, a misogynist.

“But you see, the truth is that abortion hurts women. And who are you really helping by pushing abortion on women? [PP is] helping their bottom line. Almost 40% of their revenue comes from abortion, and I’m sure you’ve heard abortion leaves one killed, the other wounded. Planned Parenthood doesn’t want people to talk about that….

“We know that Planned Parenthood tells people that abortion is a common medical procedure, and unfortunately that’s true. It’s estimated that one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime, and some will have multiple abortions. They want us to believe that abortion is normal. But it’s not. It is not normal. It is not natural for a woman to kill the child in her womb. What kind of society have we become that we accept the killing of children simply by choice? An impoverished nation.

“Thirty-eight years of living under Roe v. Wade have eaten away at the soul of this country. But there are some who are willing to fight…. What if someone had told me that I had other choices? What if someone had cared enough to work to end abortions so that this never would have happened? What if abortion were unthinkable? Can you imagine that?

“It is possible. …Abortion hurts women. It hurts families. It doesn’t go away. …A year ago, I never would have imagined saying this out loud to anybody, because the shame and pain of it was so great. … I’m privileged hopefully to give a voice to all those children who were aborted while I stood by and watched. They really were people. They were children. I am honored by the mercy and forgiveness and love of Our Lord, and of those who have helped me to find my voice and have given me the courage and strength to speak the truth.”

Catherine at the 2015 March for Life in Concord:

“The worst thing we can do [when meeting abortion workers] is be confrontational, antagonistic. I think the best thing we can do is smile, say hello – just be that peaceful, kind, loving presence they need. Please, pray for the people working in the clinic. Nobody is beyond redemption. Nobody is beyond conversion. Embrace every life there is, wherever it is.

“…If someone had been there [on the sidewalk] the day I was there [for her own abortion], if I’d had the courage to talk to somebody, maybe I’d have made a different decision. You just never know how what you’ll say will affect somebody.”

[On working at Planned Parenthood in Boston]: “I thought ‘oh, that’s great. Planned Parenthood is really pro-woman.’ …All we did was abortions, all day every day, Monday through Saturday….The first thing – the first thing – that happens in an abortion clinic is the money changes hands. You’re not getting anywhere until you pay for that abortion….I would describe the abortion procedure to the woman: ‘the doctor will gently extract the contents of your uterus.’ That’s it, because in abortion clinics you never talk about the humanity of the child. It’s all about dehumanizing the child. We didn’t even say ’embryo.’ That’s too close to ‘fetus’ which is a little too close to ‘baby.’

“…You know, I had counseled for second-trimester abortions. I had said ‘the doctor will gently extract the contents of your uterus.’ I didn’t know that he was going to go into her uterus with forceps and just grab at that baby….[I had] nightmares. Most people who work in abortion clinics do. You’d think I’d go running out of the clinic and say to the nearest person ‘D’you know what they’re doing in there? They’re killing babies!’ But I didn’t….My whole world was filled with people telling me that what I was doing was good, it was right, it was for the cause, it was pro-woman, and that all those crazy pro-lifers out there on the street wanted to kill me. And I believed it.”

[After leaving PP] “This wonderful priest said to me, ‘Catherine, don’t you know that God loves you?’ I just started to cry, because of course I didn’t believe that God loved me. I had murdered my own child. I had participated in the murder of thousands of children. But this priest, he told me to say the Rosary. As I prayed on the Mysteries, something just clicked for me. The grace that God can give, the forgiveness that He can give….One day at Mass, Jesus said to me, ‘Catherine, those are babies.’ Finally, the scales fell from my eyes. I was so afraid of going to that place of pain from my own abortion that I hadn’t been able to really think about it, how much each life is sacred and worth living. Finally, I was able to go to that place of pain and self-hatred and turn that into love. I look at my children, the children God has given me, and I am so grateful.

 “…Honestly, seeing everybody walking in front of the clinic with love in your heart really gives me strength and makes me realize that no person is beyond God’s love. No person is beyond redemption. Nobody. This is why they fear you – because you expose the lies. That’s why they have to say ‘oh, you hate women’ – because they don’t know what to do with that love.”