John-Henry Westen


Joan Appleton dies: Abortion nurse turned pro-life activist

John-Henry Westen

ST PAUL, MN, August 22, 2012 ( - A former abortion worker whose conversion to the pro-life movement helped many in the abortion industry leave their deadly practice died Monday August 20. 

Before her 1989 conversion, Joan Appleton worked as the head nurse at Commonwealth Women’s Clinic in Washington, D.C., and was an active member of the radically pro-abortion National Organization for Women (NOW).

In a testimony about her conversion, Appleton described witnessing an ultrasound guided abortion and how the experience was instrumental in changing her mind on the issue.

“I handled the ultrasound while the doctor performed the procedure and I directed him while I was watching the screen,” she wrote. “I saw the baby pull away. I saw the baby open his mouth. I had seen Silent Scream a number of times, but it didn’t effect me. To me it was just more pro-life propaganda. But I couldn’t deny what I saw on the screen. After that procedure I was shaking, literally, but managed to pull it together and continue on with the day.”

Appleton was later to announce her departure from the pro-abortion movement in a dramatic fashion.

“My way of getting out of NOW was that I was a guest speaker at a Virginia NOW dinner,” she recalled in her testimony. “I got up to the podium and I said, ‘Folks, I can’t do this anymore. There is something wrong here and I can no longer be a part of the abortion industry or a part of the pro-choice movement and so I can no longer be a part of NOW.”

“I was asked to leave immediately,” she recalls.


Brian Gibson, the Executive Director of Pro-Life Action Ministries and long-time friend of Joan Appleton, recalled when he first met the former abortion nurse in 1989. 

“We were in the middle of leading operation-rescue type activities and working under extreme pro-life paranoia,” recalled Gibson laughingly.  Appleton was brought into Gibson’s office and was introduced as a nurse who was still working inside an abortion center in DC and was involved in NOW. 

“I was on pins and needles so concerned that she was there to spy on us,” he said. But in later conversation about their first meeting Appleton said, much to Gibson’s relief, that she was was grateful for the warm welcome and did not detect any suspicion.

Appleton came to work at Pro-Life Action Ministries in January 1993. She held various positions with the ministry, the most significant of which was to create and lead the Society of Centurions of America. The Centurions was an outreach to former abortion workers focused on three areas of help: spiritual healing, psychological counseling and financial aid.

“The Centurions program helped many leave the abortion industry at a time when few in the pro-life movement knew of such efforts and helped many former abortion workers come to proper terms with their prior work,” said Gibson.

Appleton retired from Pro-Life Action Ministries in August 2002 yet continued to volunteer on a weekly basis.  Gibson last encountered Appleton at the office “a couple of weeks ago.”

Her pro-life testimony shared before many, was a shocking glimpse of the inner workings of the abortion industry.

After her conversion to the pro-life position, said Gibson, Appleton returned to her Catholic roots and became a very faithful member of her church.

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