Loving them out of the abortion clinic
And Then There Were None (ATTWN) — founded by Abby Johnson, a former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas — is providing those who work for abortion clinics with the opportunity to devote their careers to life.
Since the ministry was started in 2012, ATTWN has helped more than 442 abortion clinic workers leave their jobs. Shelley Guillory and Annette Lancaster — who share remarkably similar stories — are among those workers who have turned their lives around because of ATTWN.
Guillory kept the true nature of her job a secret
From 2011–2013, Guillory, 45, worked as a registered nurse at Delta Clinic in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. When she accepted the job, she didn’t realize the clinic offered abortions and she would be assisting with the procedure.
Guillory had never considered herself to be either pro-life or pro-choice. She told Catholic Digest that once she started helping perform abortions, “I just made myself believe that I was pro-choice — that women had the right to do what they wanted with their bodies.”
Even so, she was never OK with abortion. “Helping with the abortions was disheartening for me. I had to become stone; I had to desensitize myself from the situation and what I was doing,” explained Guillory, a cradle Catholic and mother of three children.
“I became a different person — someone that was dehumanizing. The other workers and I would make jokes that were humiliating to women. We treated them like they weren’t even human and what was happening didn’t matter.”
I became a different person — someone that was dehumanizing.
Guillory was so ashamed of what she was doing that she hid the true nature of her job from her family, but she couldn’t hide how her work was impacting her personality. “I had changed so much, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I went through this pretense that everything was great, but I’d have these snappy, dark moments.”
Her husband was worried about how dark and unhappy Guillory had become. Wanting to get to the bottom of why she had changed, one morning he secretly followed Guillory to her job and asked for her at the front desk.
“I had never been so embarrassed and humiliated in my life for him to know what I had been doing,” she admitted.
Guillory’s husband wanted to help her, and he convinced her to tell her parents. “Strangely enough, my parents weren’t judgmental, and they helped me. They said, ‘Through every mistake, there’s a testimony.’”
Son’s death woke her up
When Guillory’s 20-year-old son died in his sleep on Jan. 17, 2013, it caused her to take a fresh look at the meaning of life.
“I thought, ‘You’re grieving this child; you can’t even begin to imagine life without him. Do you think for five minutes when these women walk out of this clinic that they don’t have second thoughts and grieving issues?’ I couldn’t see myself inflicting that on anyone anymore. I knew that — for the rest of their lives — there was no way that they’d be OK with what they did.”
Still, she felt obligated to return to work at the end of her three-month bereavement leave. On her way into the clinic, a couple of young sidewalk advocates greeted Guillory. “They handed me Johnson’s card, so I went into work, and I called ATTWN. I couldn’t believe someone cared about us.”
After the call, Guillory picked up her purse and left, never to return. “For the first time in my life, I felt proud about something I was doing,” she said.
I couldn’t believe someone cared about us.
Lancaster’s husband asked her every day to quit
Thirteen hours away from Guillory lives Annette Lancaster of Burlington, North Carolina. Like Guillory, Lancaster’s husband noticed a dramatic change in her during the nine months she worked at Planned Parenthood’s Chapel Hill Health Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Lancaster, 40, told Catholic Digest, “My husband started telling me that my spirit and my whole nature was starting a demise. He asked me to leave. I was like, ‘No, no, no, I can do this.’ Then I noticed that I had become indifferent to my children, my husband, and even with myself.”
Though hired as administrator, Lancaster was required to help perform abortions. Lancaster said when a woman was unsure whether she wanted an abortion, she would always send her away. Before taking the job, she was neither pro-life nor pro-choice. “Abortion’s not something that I thought of or had ever affected me,” explained Lancaster, who attended a Pentecostal church while she was working in the abortion facility.
ATTWN’s calling card
In her purse, Lancaster carried around a resignation letter. She wanted to quit, but she was working up the courage to do so. She was the primary breadwinner in her family, so quitting would financially impact her husband and two young children.
In May 2016 Lancaster went out to her car and saw a bunch of ATTWN business cards placed on the windows around her vehicle. Her regional manager said, “You’re going to throw those away, right?”
Lancaster, out of defiance, kept one of those cards.
When her clinic temporarily closed for a remodel, the human resources department called Lancaster into the office to tell her that she no longer fit in there. “I said, ‘Oh, OK, here’s my resignation.”’
On her last day at the clinic, Lancaster called and emailed ATTWN for help. Because of her example, eight other workers also left abortion work — and seven of them sought help from ATTWN.
God put it on her heart
Abby Johnson left abortion work in 2009 after realizing the horror of abortion when she was asked to assist with an ultrasound-guided abortion of a 13-week baby boy.
A convert to Catholicism and author of The Walls Are Talking: Former Abortion Clinic Workers Tell Their Stories (Ignatius Press, 2018), Johnson told Catholic Digest, “I knew that there had to be other people like me in the abortion industry who wanted to leave, but that they didn’t know where to go. I prayed and said, ‘You know God, you should put that on somebody’s heart to create that organization.’ He said, ‘I did.’”
No one will come
When Johnson started ATTWN, she was excited about the potential of what her ministry might accomplish. She thought, “We’re going to have these workers leave, and we’re going to get them jobs. They’re going to come to Christ, and they’re going to go through healing. It will be amazing.”
However, many people tried to dampen her enthusiasm, telling her, “Nobody’s ever going to come through that ministry. You’re one of a kind. These workers, they know what they are doing, and they like it,” Johnson recalled. “[It was] as if these people were too far beyond the grace of God, but I knew better. I said, ‘You know what? That’s fine; we are going to move forward.’”
Johnson hoped at least 12 workers a year would come through ATTWN. Her goals were way too low. In just five years, more than 442 people have been helped to leave abortion work. “Don’t underestimate God!” she exclaimed. “His hand has guided this ministry from the beginning.”
As both Guillory and Lancaster can attest, ATTWN provides a safety net for workers on their way out of abortion work. The help includes financial assistance, employment services, job recruitment, and legal, emotional, and spiritual support.
“It was a pleasant experience from the beginning,” Guillory shared. “The girl that was my intake manager drove two hours to meet with me. ATTWN got me the resources I needed to find a new job, called and checked up with me regularly, and got me ready for my first retreat.” [ATTWN has yearly retreats.]
ATTWN has an experienced team of job searchers on staff who have connections all over the country with doctors and medical providers that will hire skilled workers, and now these former abortion workers’ skills are being redirected to life-giving services.
Reaching the abortion workers
To spread the word about their ministry, Johnson and her ATTWN employees and volunteers are proactive.
“We stand on the sidewalk outside of abortion clinics and talk to the workers, telling them they have another option, that we can help them leave. We also put up billboards across the country with information about ATTWN, and we send flowers and handwritten cards into abortion clinics,” Johnson explained.
Escaping abortion work is often difficult — even for those who want to leave — because of large salaries, relationships with coworkers, and the dark nature of the job.
“[I]n the industry, death is a constant, which can dig into your soul and take you captive or push you out of there. We need a lot of prayer for abortion workers,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s mission is to love the worker out of the abortion clinic. It was a sidewalk counselor’s love and kindness that helped Johnson herself leave the business.
“But I had many, many other people in the pro-life movement scream and yell at me and threaten my family. I didn’t leave because of them. I left because someone cared enough to love me out of Planned Parenthood, and that’s what we do at ATTWN. We love abortion workers so much and strive to put the love of Christ into action through this ministry, which is magnetic. That’s how we are going to end abortion: through love.”
Guillory wants abortion workers to know that “ATTWN is an organization that truly knows our feelings, knows and respects us as people, and one that helps abortion workers get back into society as honorable people.”
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EDITOR’S NOTE: The article first appeared in the October 2018 issue of Catholic Digest.