Human Interest

Her abortion later led to committed activism for the preborn: ‘I’m in this for the long haul’


Saving babies from the horror of abortion is Leslee Unruh’s mission. As co-founder of Alpha Center, she’s a formidable pro-life crusader. But she wasn’t always that way. Diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White, a congenital heart defect, her first pregnancy ended by abortion.

Unruh told Live Action News that when she learned she was pregnant, “My doctor insisted I get an abortion, claiming it was medically necessary. No other option was presented to me.” She added, “As a member of the American Baptist church, I sought counseling at the Sioux Falls seminary to get another opinion. The counselors there supported women’s ‘right to choose’. So, I traveled to Minneapolis accompanied by a counselor to get the abortion.”

Afterward, Unruh went into cardiac arrest and was given a paper bag in which to breathe. Fortunately, she recovered quickly but later learned about an ablation procedure that could resolve her condition.

“The ablation surgery wasn’t an easy one, but it corrected the defect,” Unruh said. “Yet, not one of the doctors ever recommended it as a solution. Instead, I was told not to get pregnant again or another abortion would be advised.”

While Unruh’s husband was pro-life, Unruh considered herself pro-choice. Before her abortion, she felt disgusted with sidewalk counselors, whom she thought didn’t do enough to help women and their babies. Later, she struggled with judging women who chose abortion because she, too, had an abortion — despite experiencing a “checklist” of trauma symptoms that are characteristic among many post-abortive women.

Unruh said, “I just didn’t have anyone to talk to about my pain. There were no resources I could tap into to help me heal.”

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A new beginning in the pro-life movement

One evening, Unruh’s husband, Dr. Allen Unruh, spontaneously attended a Right to Life meeting. As he heard about the atrocities committed on the preborn, an idea took hold. Collaborating with an inventor friend, he devised an educational telephone system he called “Tel-Med” that played pre-recorded pro-life messages for callers responding to an ad he placed in the Yellow Pages titled “Abortion Information.”  

“Almost immediately, a deluge of calls came in from young women seeking appointments for abortions.” Unruh said. “My husband asked me for assistance in fielding these calls. We received more than 150 in the first month.”

A busy mother of five, Unruh was reluctant to involve herself in her husband’s new ministry. But she agreed to invite these women into her home, turning her basement into a makeshift pregnancy support center offering counseling and free pregnancy tests. 

Still, Unruh wasn’t convinced pro-life activism was her calling. Then, one day, her toddler son scurried among the dozens of rose bushes she had painstakingly planted, and chopped off the budding flowers. Frustrated and overwhelmed, Unruh informed her husband she could no longer assist him.

Unruh said, “My husband just looked at me and said he couldn’t understand why I was so upset about a rose not given a chance to bloom but not bothered about a child in the womb who may never have a chance to grow.”

The next day Unruh walked outside and noticed a solitary rose beginning to unfold. Realizing the rose symbolized life, she saw it as a sign God was speaking to her.

“I thought to myself, if not you, then who?” Unruh said. “That night I told my husband about the abortion I had hidden for so long. He wrapped me in a loving embrace and told me he now understood why I was so effective in counseling the women we were seeing, because I had walked in their shoes.”

Formation of Alpha Center

With renewed passion, Unruh and her husband partnered with another agency to find a location where they could expand their services. In 1984, the ministry was named Alpha Center to signify a new beginning for women, men, and their children. The center offers a spectrum of services and educational classes for pregnant women, and care for those who are post-abortive. 

Unruh said, “Abortion is forever. Women who regret their abortions provide the best testimonies for other women in similar situations. Many women beat up on themselves and some, like me, have never been able to talk about their abortions or don’t understand the circumstances that led to their decisions. We come up alongside them and offer restoration.”

Soon, Unruh noticed many women would repeatedly return for yet another pregnancy test. She recognized an opportunity to address an issue that was largely ignored.

“I didn’t want to see these women keep coming back until their pregnancy test was positive,” Unruh said. “It appeared nobody was approaching women about abstinence and teaching them what true intimacy was. I wanted to fill that gap and inspire women to learn self-love and respect.”

Abstinence key to preventing unplanned pregnancies

Unruh created a presentation she entitled “Take Charge of Your Life” to equip parents and grandparents to talk about love versus lust. She challenged pregnancy support centers to raise the bar by talking about abstinence.

“Parents need to be the primary sex educators, not the schools; otherwise, there’s a risk of the message being watered down,” Unruh said. “Sex education as opposed to sexual integrity will not encourage abstinence.”

Her desire to provide educational tools about purity until marriage on a national and global scale gave birth to the idea for the National Abstinence Clearinghouse.

Unruh said, “By partnering with parents and abstinence advocates to offer engaging, age-appropriate, and medically accurate information, we can inspire young women and men to uphold a vow of purity until marriage.”

It’s important, points out Unruh, to talk with women who have been sexually active about chastity in a nonjudgmental way.

“I tell them that past mistakes don’t define them,” Unruh said. “And that they were created for better things.  I encourage them to make wise decisions and let them know we are here to help them do that.”

It’s clear Unruh has fully embraced pro-life activism. She never shies away from taking a bold stand for women and their babies. As if she’s not hard-working enough, she’s taken on a new role: serving as co-chair for Life Defense Fund, a ballot-question committee formed to prevent an abortion-to-birth amendment from being codified into the South Dakota state constitution. Life Defense Fund’s goal is to ensure the initiative never makes it on the ballot.

Unruh said, “It’s easy to get discouraged when we lose a battle or two but we’re in this to win the war. I see miracles happen all the time. And for me, that stokes the fire to keep fighting. I’m in this for the long haul and I won’t back down.”

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