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The ultrasound that changed my life - Abby Johnson’s pro-life conversion in her own words

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By Abby Johnson
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Note: The following is the first chapter of Abby Johnson’s forthcoming book. To find out more about the book, which will be released January 11, click here.

January 10, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - CHERYL POKED HER HEAD INTO MY OFFICE. “Abby, they need an extra person back in the exam room. Are you free?”

I looked up from my paperwork, surprised. “Sure.”

Though I’d been with Planned Parenthood for eight years, I had never been called into the exam room to help the medical team during an abortion, and I had no idea why I was needed now. Nurse-practitioners were the ones who assisted in abortions, not the other clinic staff. As director of this clinic in Bryan, Texas, I was able to fill in for any position in a pinch, except, of course, for doctors or nurses performing medical procedures. I had, on a few occasions, agreed at a patient’s request to stay with her and even hold her hand during the procedure, but only when I’d been the counselor who’d worked with her during intake and counseling. That was not the case today. So why did they need me?

Today’s visiting abortionist had been here at the Bryan clinic only two or three times before. He had a private abortion practice about 100 miles away. When I’d talked with him about the job several weeks before, he had explained that at his own facility he did only ultrasound-guided abortions — the abortion procedure with the least risk of complications for the woman. Because this method allows the doctor to see exactly what is going on inside the uterus, there is less chance of perforating the uterine wall, one of the risks of abortion. I respected that about him. The more that could be done to keep women safe and healthy, the better, as far as I was concerned. However, I’d explained to him that this practice wasn’t the protocol at our clinic. He understood and said he’d follow our typical procedures, though we agreed he’d be free to use ultrasound if he felt a particular situation warranted it.

To my knowledge, we’d never done ultrasound-guided abortions at our facility. We did abortions only every other Saturday, and the assigned goal from our Planned Parenthood affiliate was to perform 25 to 35 procedures on those days. We liked to wrap them up by around 2 p.m. Our typical procedure took about 10 minutes, but an ultrasound added about five minutes, and when you’re trying to schedule up to 35 abortions in a day, those extra minutes add up.

I felt a moment’s reluctance outside the exam room. I never liked entering this room during an abortion procedure — never welcomed what happened behind this door. But since we all had to be ready at any time to pitch in and get the job done, I pushed the door open and stepped in.

The patient was already sedated, still conscious but groggy, the doctor’s brilliant light beaming down on her. She was in position, the instruments were laid out neatly on the tray next to the doctor, and the nurse-practitioner was positioning the ultrasound machine next to the operating table.

“I’m going to perform an ultrasound-guided abortion on this patient. I need you to hold the ultrasound probe,” the doctor explained.

As I took the ultrasound probe in hand and adjusted the settings on the machine, I argued with myself, I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to take part in an abortion. No, wrong attitude — I needed to psych myself up for this task. I took a deep breath and tried to tune in to the music from the radio playing softly in the background. It’s a good learning experience — I’ve never seen an ultrasound-guided abortion before, I told myself. Maybe this will help me when I counsel women. I’ll learn firsthand about this safer procedure. Besides, it will be over in just a few minutes.

I could not have imagined how the next 10 minutes would shake the foundation of my values and change the course of my life.

I had occasionally performed diagnostic ultrasounds for clients before. It was one of the services we offered to confirm pregnancies and estimate how far along they were. The familiarity of preparing for an ultrasound soothed my uneasiness at being in this room. I applied the lubricant to the patient’s belly, then maneuvered the ultrasound probe until her uterus was displayed on the screen and adjusted the probe’s position to capture the image of the fetus.

I was expecting to see what I had seen in past ultrasounds. Usually, depending on how far along the pregnancy was and how the fetus was turned, I’d first see a leg, or the head, or some partial image of the torso, and would need to maneuver a bit to get the best possible image. But this time, the image was complete. I could see the entire, perfect profile of a baby.

It looks just like Grace at 12 weeks, I thought, surprised, remembering my very first peek at my daughter, three years before, snuggled securely inside my womb. The image now before me looked the same, only clearer, sharper. The detail startled me. I could clearly see the profile of the head, both arms, legs, and even tiny fingers and toes. Perfect.

And just that quickly, the flutter of the warm memory of Grace was replaced with a surge of anxiety. What am I about to see? My stomach tightened. I don’t want to watch what is about to happen.

I suppose that sounds odd coming from a professional who’d been running a Planned Parenthood clinic for two years, counseling women in crisis, scheduling abortions, reviewing the clinic’s monthly budget reports, hiring and training staff. But odd or not, the simple fact is, I had never been interested in promoting abortion. I’d come to Planned Parenthood eight years before, believing that its purpose was primarily to prevent unwanted pregnancies, thereby reducing the number of abortions. That had certainly been my goal. And I believed that Planned Parenthood saved lives — the lives of women who, without the services provided by this organization, might resort to some back-alley butcher. All of this sped through my mind as I carefully held the probe in place.

“Thirteen weeks,” I heard the nurse say after taking measurements to determine the fetus’s age.

“Okay,” the doctor said, looking at me, “just hold the probe in place during the procedure so I can see what I’m doing.”

The cool air of the exam room left me feeling chilled. My eyes still glued to the image of this perfectly formed baby, I watched as a new image entered the video screen. The cannula — a strawshaped instrument attached to the end of the suction tube — had been inserted into the uterus and was nearing the baby’s side. It looked like an invader on the screen, out of place. Wrong. It just looked wrong.

My heart sped up. Time slowed. I didn’t want to look, but I didn’t want to stop looking either. I couldn’t not watch. I was horrified, but fascinated at the same time, like a gawker slowing as he drives past some horrific automobile wreck — not wanting to see a mangled body, but looking all the same.

My eyes flew to the patient’s face; tears flowed from the corners of her eyes. I could see she was in pain. The nurse dabbed the woman’s face with a tissue.

“Just breathe,” the nurse gently coached her. “Breathe.”

“It’s almost over,” I whispered. I wanted to stay focused on her, but my eyes shot back to the image on the screen.

At first, the baby didn’t seem aware of the cannula. It gently probed the baby’s side, and for a quick second I felt relief. Of course, I thought. The fetus doesn’t feel pain. I had reassured countless women of this as I’d been taught by Planned Parenthood. The fetal tissue feels nothing as it is removed. Get a grip, Abby. This is a simple, quick medical procedure. My head was working hard to control my responses, but I couldn’t shake an inner disquiet that was quickly mounting to horror as I watched the screen.

The next movement was the sudden jerk of a tiny foot as the baby started kicking, as if it were trying to move away from the probing invader. As the cannula pressed its side, the baby began struggling to turn and twist away. It seemed clear to me that it could feel the cannula, and it did not like what it was feeling. And then the doctor’s voice broke through, startling me.

“Beam me up, Scotty,” he said lightheartedly to the nurse. He was telling her to turn on the suction — in an abortion the suction isn’t turned on until the doctor feels he has the cannula in exactly the right place.

I had a sudden urge to yell, “Stop!” To shake the woman and say, “Look at what is happening to your baby! Wake up! Hurry! Stop them!”

But even as I thought those words, I looked at my own hand holding the probe. I was one of “them” performing this act. My eyes shot back to the screen again. The cannula was already being rotated by the doctor, and now I could see the tiny body violently twisting with it. For the briefest moment the baby looked as if it were being wrung like a dishcloth, twirled and squeezed. And then it crumpled and began disappearing into the cannula before my eyes. The last thing I saw was the tiny, perfectly formed backbone sucked into the tube, and then it was gone. And the uterus was empty. Totally empty.

I was frozen in disbelief. Without realizing it, I let go of the probe. It slipped off the patient’s tummy and slid onto her leg. I could feel my heart pounding — pounding so hard my neck throbbed. I tried to get a deep breath but couldn’t seem to breathe in or out. I still stared at the screen, even though it was black now because I’d lost the image. But nothing was registering to me. I felt too stunned and shaken to move. I was aware of the doctor and nurse casually chatting as they worked, but it sounded distant, like vague background noise, hard to hear over the pounding of my own blood in my ears.

The image of the tiny body, mangled and sucked away, was replaying in my mind, and with it the image of Grace’s first ultrasound — how she’d been about the same size. And I could hear in my memory one of the many arguments I’d had with my husband, Doug, about abortion.

“When you were pregnant with Grace, it wasn’t a fetus; it was a baby,” Doug had said. And now it hit me like a lightning bolt: He was right! What was in this woman’s womb just a moment ago was alive. It wasn’t just tissue, just cells. It was a human baby. And it was fighting for its life! A battle it lost in the blink of an eye. What I have told people for years, what I’ve believed and taught and defended, is a lie.

Suddenly I felt the eyes of the doctor and nurse on me. It shook me out of my thoughts. I noticed the probe lying on the woman’s leg and fumbled to get it back into place. But my hands were shaking now.

“Abby, are you OK?” the doctor asked. The nurse’s eyes searched my face with concern.

“Yeah, I’m OK.” I still didn’t have the probe correctly positioned, and now I was worried because the doctor couldn’t see inside the uterus. My right hand held the probe, and my left hand rested gingerly on the woman’s warm belly. I glanced at her face — more tears and a grimace of pain. I moved the probe until I’d recaptured the image of her now-empty uterus. My eyes traveled back to my hands. I looked at them as if they weren’t even my own.

How much damage have these hands done over the past eight years? How many lives have been taken because of them? Not just because of my hands, but because of my words. What if I’d known the truth, and what if I’d told all those women?

What if?

I had believed a lie! I had blindly promoted the “company line” for so long. Why? Why hadn’t I searched out the truth for myself? Why had I closed my ears to the arguments I’d heard? Oh, dear God, what had I done?

My hand was still on the patient’s belly, and I had the sense that I had just taken something away from her with that hand. I’d robbed her. And my hand started to hurt — I felt an actual physical pain. And right there, standing beside the table, my hand on the weeping woman’s belly, this thought came from deep within me:

Never again! Never again.

I went into autopilot. As the nurse cleaned up the woman, I put away the ultrasound machine, then gently roused the patient, who was limp and groggy. I helped her sit up, coaxed her into a wheelchair, and took her to the recovery room. I tucked a light blanket around her. Like so many patients I’d seen before, she continued to cry, in obvious emotional and physical pain. I did my best to make her more comfortable.

Ten minutes, maybe 15 at most, had passed since Cheryl had asked me to go help in the exam room. And in those few minutes, everything had changed. Drastically. The image of that tiny baby twisting and struggling kept replaying in my mind. And the patient. I felt so guilty. I’d taken something precious from her, and she didn’t even know it.

How had it come to this? How had I let this happen? I had invested myself, my heart, my career in Planned Parenthood because I cared about women in crisis. And now I faced a crisis of my own.

Looking back now on that late September day of 2009, I realize how wise God is for not revealing our future to us. Had I known then the firestorm I was about to endure, I might not have had the courage to move forward. As it was, since I didn’t know, I wasn’t yet looking for courage. I was, however, looking to understand how I found myself in this place — living a lie, spreading a lie, and hurting the very women I so wanted to help.

And I desperately needed to know what to do next.

This is my story.

To read the rest of the book, click here.

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Bishop Nunzio Galantino, secretary general of the Italian Bishops' Conference http://chiesacattolica.it
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Church ‘discriminates’ against ‘unconventional couples’: leader of Italian Bishops’ Conference

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By Hilary White

The secretary general of the Italian Bishops’ Conference has said that “unconventional couples” suffer “discrimination” and “prejudice” from the Church.

Speaking at a conference on the liturgy in Orvieto organized by the Liturgical Renewal Centre, Bishop Nunzio Galantino gave a clear signal when he said, “The burden of exclusion from the sacraments is an unjustified price to pay, in addition to de facto discrimination.”

“Couples in irregular matrimonial situations are also Christians, but they are sometimes looked upon with prejudice,” he said, according to the Italian bishops' newspaper, Avvenire.

Bishop Galantino stopped short of openly advocating that the prohibition be dropped, saying, “With sincerity, we should also recognize that other believers perceive the discipline of the Church as an exclusion of these brothers and sisters, and, at times, observe them with a look of injury,” an attitude he called “de facto discrimination.” Although, he added, “they cannot receive Eucharistic communion.”

LifeSiteNews contacted Bishop Galantino's office for clarification by phone and e-mail but did not hear back by press time.

A number of prominent clerics have recently placed themselves in a growing camp of supporters for the suggestion that the Church should simply drop its prohibition on distributing Communion to Catholics 'remarried' outside the Church. At February’s consistory of cardinals, German Cardinal Walter Kasper argued the Church should allow Communion for those who have undertaken a “period of penance” but who have no intention of regularizing their situations. The cardinal claims that this would have no impact on Church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.

The Catholic Church, taking its foundation from the words of Christ in the Gospels, teaches that divorce is impossible and that a person who undertakes a civil divorce and then “remarries” is in reality committing adultery. Adultery being a grave, or “mortal” sin, those in such situations cannot receive Communion until they have been sacramentally absolved and have changed their living situations.

According to Galantino, “Eucharistic celebration should be ‘a place where everyone feels at home,’ including migrants, faithful in irregular marriage situations, the disabled, the sick, the poor, the elderly and children.” 

Paraphrasing the title of one of Pope Benedict’s encyclicals, Caritas in Veritate, Bishop Galantino said that the key was an “attitude of charity in truth.” In dealing with those in irregular marital situations, he said that in the Church “we must honestly admit that we have no longer insisted on the truth when we haven’t exercised charity.”

“I speak of that pastoral charity,” he said, “which is the primary responsibility of the pastors of the Church, but also other members and the Christian community as a whole, that pastoral charity which for people facing marriage and family difficulties means acceptance, understanding, accompanying and support.” 

He said that those who live in such “irregular” situations “live their condition with great suffering” and “perceive the discipline of the Church as very strict, not inclusive, if not punitive.” 

Zenit news service also noted that Galantino said the Christians should follow the example of Pope Francis and adopt the attitude of a Church that “goes out” and “takes the initiative” to be “friendly” and “close the gap.” He held up Cardinal Kasper and the Dominican priest Yves Congar as theological leaders, saying that in the past the Church has looked up on people who were divorced and civilly remarried as “adulterers,” but added that the world has moved on from such opinions.

Cardinal Kasper’s suggestion immediately unleashed a storm of controversy after he presented in February. His keynote address at the consistory received scorching criticism both from lay commentators and high-ranking clerics who have said that such a practice would be “impossible.” Kasper’s speech was intended as a prelude to the deliberations on the various issues surrounding the family at the upcoming Synod of Bishops, set for the Vatican in October.

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Kasper, a prominent and very public theological opponent of Pope Benedict XVI, has given interviews in the US and elsewhere promoting his idea of allowing Communion for divorced and remarried people as a matter of “compassion.” The issue has long been a “hot button” one for the Catholic Church in Germany, whose bishops have spearheaded the movement in the face of falling Church revenues.

Bishop Galantino was hand picked by Pope Francis to fill the position of secretary of the powerful Italian Conference of Catholic Bishops in a country where the Church still wields considerable influence in secular politics.

In May this year, Galantino angered pro-life advocates around the world when he told an interviewer that he does not “identify” with those Catholics who pray the Rosary outside abortion facilities.

“I do not identify with the expressionless faces of those who recite the Rosary outside the clinics who practice interruption of pregnancy,  [‘l’interruzione della gravidanza’] but with those young people who are opposed to this practice and strive for the quality of life of the people, for their right to health, to work,” he said.

He added, “In the past we have concentrated too much on abortion and euthanasia. It mustn’t be this way because in the middle there’s real life which is constantly changing.”

His comments were strongly criticized by Fr. Frank Pavone, the head of Priests for Life in the US, and by John Smeaton, the head of the UK’s Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. Fr. Pavone responded, “When somebody says that the Church has ‘concentrated too much on abortion and euthanasia,’ I take it as a compliment for the success of ministries like Priests for Life, which have called and will call upon the clergy, and indeed the entire Church, to sound the alarm about these atrocities more loudly and clearly than ever. Nor will we stop calling for that until the killing stops.”

John Smeaton, in an open letter addressed to Galantino, said, “I thought I would let you know that I do identify with the person outside the abortion clinic praying their rosary, whether or not the person is expressionless.”

“It’s probably fair to say that tens of thousands of unborn children, each one made in the image and likeness of God, are killed every day throughout the world. For example, there are 500 killed daily in Britain, thousands in the US, thousands upon thousands in China, to name just three of the world’s 193 countries.”

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Julie Ralph

My 7-year-old son found porn on his iPod, even with a filter

Julie Ralph
By Julie Ralph

A few weeks ago an article went viral on my Facebook feed entitled “The Day My 10-Year-Old Discovered Hardcore Porn on his iPhone.”  As one Mom after another shared and commented about how frightening and horrible it was and wondered what do we do to prevent it, I commented on several of those shares (perhaps a little smugly and proudly) that WE had installed an excellent filtering program on all of our devices that even filters YouTube.  I most likely left the impression that WE have no worries in this house, that our kids can watch their iPods and kindles, even those annoying Minecraft how to videos on YouTube, and WE don’t have to worry about them seeing filth. 

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG.

I could have entitled this blog post “The Day My 7-Year-Old Discovered Porn on His iPod” but it might look like I’m trying to one-up that other Mom.  Which I’m not.  Because, trust me, this is one Mom competition I’d rather lose. 

This is no longer a battle friends, it’s an all-out war.  It’s a war we’re fighting for the minds and futures of our children.

So YES we have this supposedly great and awesome filter on all of our devices and we pay about $70 a year for it.   Look, I’ve been on my computer trying to shop for a swimsuit at Lands End and the filter blocked me.  Annoying, yes.  But assuring.  I remember thinking wow….if I can’t even get on here and see the tummy-sucking-miracle-fat-hiding-mawmaw-swimsuits, my boys will NEVER be able to discover Victoria or her Secret.   And I’ve been on YouTube trying to see how to quickly defrost CHICKEN breasts, and it blocked several videos AND ads that probably had nothing to do with fowl or a thawing method.  Again I remember thinking, good.  This is really good.  Nothing to worry about.

Then last night happened.

My youngest son was visibly shaken as he was getting ready for bed.  I knew something was wrong when I saw he was wearing his flannel pajamas with the mountain bears printed all over them on one of the hottest August nights this month.   He seemed almost disoriented and I asked him if he was sick as he was trying to quickly crawl into bed and pull the covers over his head.   He then reached over to the bedside table, grabbed his little iPod, and tossed it to me saying he doesn’t deserve it anymore because he is bad.  “I’m bad, so bad….I saw bad things.”  My heart started racing and I felt like I had been punched in the gut.  Because I knew where this was going.  Very calmly and quietly I assured him he was not bad and there was nothing in the world he could ever tell me that would make me think he was bad.  “What did you see, sweetheart?” I asked.  After about ten minutes of me coaxing it out of him, with a wobbly still-tiny-smidge-of-baby-left voice he told me he was searching for a word he had heard and he spelled it for me.  T-t-i-s.  (I quickly unscrambled and knew what he meant).  He went on to tell me he searched for this on YouTube (the app is not even on his iPod….he must go through the “filter” app to access it!).   He told me he saw pictures and videos.

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My stomach turned.  I ran through all the “How To” files I’d stored away in my mind.  You know those files….situations you’ve thought about as a Mom and how you’d handle…you file them away for another day.  Usually one you hope will never come.   Turns out I didn’t have a file for this.  Because I honestly thought we had done everything on the front end to keep it from happening. 

I ran my fingers through his hair and pulled him close and started talking to him from my broken heart.  I asked him if he knew what that word meant before he searched for it.  He said no.  I told him it is a very crude and ugly word for something that is not crude and ugly.  I told him what the proper word is and I asked him if he knew why God made them like that on women?  He said no.  I told him it was the miraculous and wonderful way that God made women able to feed their babies.  I told him how every woman who has those is made to feed a baby, and those women in those pictures and videos are either already someone’s Mommy or they will be one day.  And what God meant for a beautiful purpose is twisted and made into something very wrong and ugly by those pictures and videos.

Don’t trust some computer geek working for a software company to care a flip for or protect your kids.

We continued to talk and then we prayed together and I left him to sleep as I walked back to my room for a sleepless night.  I cried for the ugly, messed up, twisted, and sick world out there that I can’t protect my children from.  I cried for what he had seen that I couldn’t un-see for him.  I cried because I had abdicated MY parenting duties to some stupid computer software that I thought would protect my children.  I cried because I can never get back that bit of innocence he lost way, way too early.  I cried as I went onto YouTube, put in that same search and saw just the thumbnails of what he had to have seen.  I just can’t bring myself to actually click on the videos.  I cried because, when I went in to check on him later, he was curled up with Big Bear in one arm and his little blue and white checked blanket in the other.  He’s still a baby. 

I’m mad now.  And I really hope my anger continues to burn because I need it to fuel my diligence.   I need my guard to be up and to stay up.  This is no longer a battle friends, it’s an all-out war.  It’s a war we’re fighting for the minds and futures of our children.  I know there are those who would say I’m being overly dramatic, that I can’t put my children in a bubble, blah blah blah.  I don’t care.  I will do whatever it takes to protect my children until their minds, bodies and emotions are better prepared to grasp, filter, and sort through the warped and ugly parts of our world that are pulling on them.  I will continue to pull back and hold on for dear life.   Don’t do as I did, friends.  Don’t trust some computer geek working for a software company to care a flip for or protect your kids.  Do as I am doing now.  Uninstall any and all browsers or video apps on your kids’ personal devices and set the restrictions where they can’t install apps anymore without asking you first.   Have one central computer in a public area of your home that they may use, with permission, and still with filter software installed.  But remember that’s not the first line of defense in this war.

You are.

Julie Ralph blogs at Mommy, Esquire, where this piece was originally published.

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Sen. Ted Cruz's wife douses him with water as part of the Ice Bucket challenge for ALS research. Youtube
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Sen. Ted Cruz: Do the ALS challenge, donate to pro-life institute

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By Dustin Siggins

One of the nation's most prominent senators is doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge -- but encouraging donations to a pro-life ALS research institute.

In the last month, the ALS Ice Bucket challenge, sponsored by the ALS Association, has raised tens of millions of dollars for research for the disease, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. However, in mid-August pro-life leaders raised awareness that the Association supports embryonic stem-cell research.

Embryonic stem-cell research includes the destruction of a human embryo, and is thus condemned by pro-life advocates as an abortion. The Association has said it currently has one project that uses embryonic stem cells, funded by an outside donor.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Cruz -- who took the challenge last week -- said that he and his wife "are proud to personally support the John Paul II Medical Research Institute the Home of Give Cures (http://jp2mri.org), which conducts groundbreaking research into curing this terrible disease, without using embryonic stem cells."

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"The JPII Institute respects human life, and is working to improve the lives of all of us," said Cruz. 

The ALS Association has said donors may specify their dollars not be used to fund embryonic stem-cell research. However, critics note that donated funds are fungible, meaning they potentially free up funds the Association can then direct to illicit research.

At least two Catholic dioceses have encouraged Ice Bucket Challenge participants to donate to the JPII Medical Institute.

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