Before her tragic death in 2012, former abortion clinic nurse Joan Appleton traveled the country speaking out against abortion. She gave her testimony at different events, and her speeches were recorded and distributed. Her journey from abortion worker to pro-life activist has some similarities to that of well-known clinic worker-turned-pro-lifer Abby Johnson.
Appleton was a member of the National Organization for women, a pro-abortion feminist group, and when she took the job at the Commonwealth Abortion Clinic, she was happy to be working there. As she explained:
I thought that I had a wonderful opportunity as a nurse and as a firm believer in choice to be able to actually practice my political beliefs.
I looked at it as a gift, so I went about working hard at the (Abortion) Clinic for four years and remained active within NOW.
Appleton believed that abortion was good for women – that it helped them pursue their goals and dreams and allowed them to lead fulfilling lives. But as former abortion patients came through the doors of the clinic with emotional problems caused by their previous abortions, she began to realize that her lofty goal of helping women was falling far short of reality.
I often saw women who were injured emotionally by abortion. However, my supervisor told me, “if she’s having a problem after her abortion, it’s because she was having a problem before her abortion.”
She was also struck by how much trouble women had with making the decision, how much they agonized over it.
One of the things that kept bothering me even while I was head nurse in the clinic, was why it was such an emotional trauma for a woman and such a difficult decision for a woman to make, if if it was a natural thing to do. If it was right, why was it so difficult? I had to ask myself that all the time. I asked myself too, I counseled these women so well, they were so sure of their decision, why are they coming back after me now, months and years later, psychological wrecks.
Even though Appleton counseled the women very carefully, making sure they were satisfied with their decisions before they went in for the operation, they were expressing guilt and regret. Despite her best efforts, women were coming back emotionally hurt. Appleton says:
I thought when I was counseling women, I was preparing them. I was preparing them, I was helping them through a difficult situation so they could go on with their lives. I told them that they were the most important person on this earth, that nothing was more important than them. And once we see you through this difficult situation, once this is over you can go about your life, you now have the freedom, you can go to college. Guess what folks, it didn’t happen. And I had to stop and say, what’s going on? Why isn’t this happening? Instead you’re going out, you’re getting pregnant again, you’re getting diseases, how am I helping you? And those are the questions that were gnawing, gnawing, and gnawing on me.
Discussions about the emotional harm of abortion were taboo at the clinic and at the pro-choice events Appleton went to:
We deny, we in the pro-choice movement and in the abortion industry, deny that there is anything like postabortion syndrome, yet it is real, and they do come back, and I couldn’t deny their presence, and the numbers were increasing, and I kept asking, why?
Appleton also became disillusioned with the doctors who worked at the clinic:
The doctors that we used were primarily physicians who were starting out in practice and would do abortions until they had enough money to open their own private practice. Or they were physicians who didn’t have such a hot practice and did abortions to pay for their medical malpractice insurance.
I never, ever had a doctor in the five years I was there who did abortions because he believed it was the right of the woman. It was not what was foremost in his mind. I’m not saying that they don’t exist, but you certainly can’t prove it by me or by my clinic.
She came to the conclusion that the clinic was run more like a business and less like an altruistic organization dedicated to helping women.
Then Appleton had an experience that shook her deeply – she saw an abortion performed on an ultrasound screen.
It was, we did first trimester, this was late first trimester, probably early second trimester, really … 13.7 weeks. Give or take. I can’t remember offhand what the specific problem was, but we wanted to do the abortion by ultrasound, to make sure that we did indeed get the entire, all the baby. The terminology was that we wanted to make sure we had the entire pregnancy. I handled the ultrasound while the doctor performed the procedure, and I directed him while I was watching the screen. 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 affect 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.
But her days in the abortion business were numbered. She could not block the image of that child being torn apart from her mind. She could no longer believe the lie that the abortion industry was dedicated to helping women, and that she was doing good in her job. She left the abortion business behind and never looked back.
Remembering her years at the clinic, Appleton would say:
What have we done? We created a monster, and that we don’t know what to do with it. We created a monster so that we could now be pawns to the abortion industry, those of us women who really, really still believe in women’s rights. Those of us who still believe in care and are pro-woman, who still believe that we are worth something, we are intelligent, we aren’t doormats, we aren’t something to be used, and we used ourselves. We abused ourselves. And most of us won’t accept it, most of us can’t accept it. Most of the people, those who work in the abortion industry, those who really care and believe, can’t accept the bad part, can’t accept the flaws.
Appleton started out as an abortion clinic worker, but she died a pro-life hero. She broke away from the exploitation and cruelty of the abortion industry to become a powerful voice for women and children.
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