Licensed clinical social worker Linda Couri formerly worked at the Planned Parenthood in Champaign, Illinois. She experienced a change of heart on the abortion issue, and now travels the country speaking about her experiences inside Planned Parenthood and what ultimately led her to leave the company and then to become pro-life. Linda recently told her powerful story on a podcast from weDignify, an Illinois-based organization that seeks to build a culture of life on college campuses.
She was motivated by “compassion and a deep sense of justice”
Linda first encountered Planned Parenthood when she went away to college and found herself “very sympathetic to a lot of the things that Planned Parenthood was doing for the culture, for society,” such as their student sex-ed programs. She personally had a positive experience when she was uninsured and visited a PP for her first gynecologic exam. She says “compassion and a deep sense of justice” led her to later choose to work there. She also believed at the time that women needed access to abortion, believing it was sometimes a necessary option for pregnant women in difficult situations.
Linda experienced her own unplanned pregnancy at 24. While she personally believed abortion was the killing of a human person, she also felt overwhelming anxiety and other psychosomatic symptoms when she thought of how having the baby would change her life, how she did not want to be with the baby’s father forever, etc. The idea of having an abortion filled her with so much relief as a potential resolution to all of her problems, and she ultimately chose to have an abortion. She says she felt very little emotional response afterward, and “tucked away” any sort of qualms about the abortion in her heart.
She once considered abortion as the ‘best option’ for every woman
After her abortion, Linda became a Planned Parenthood volunteer for several years, and eventually took a paycut to work there for one year. She was a sexual educator, speaking primarily to high school teens, but she also occasionally counseled abortion-minded patients. She noted that Planned Parenthood had a prenatal clinic at the time she worked there, and that they also had connections in the community to facilitate adoption. But, she recalls, she earnestly believed that abortion was the best option for each woman she counseled.
One particular patient asked her point-blank, “If I have an abortion, will I be killing my baby?” Linda responded, “You will be terminating the product of your conception.” Afterwards, emotionally distressed, she told her manager she had “just lied” to the young woman. Linda also recalled how a compassionate nurse approached her after an abortion procedure, upset because she had just seen a tiny baby hand. Both of these experiences highlighted a kind of cognitive dissonance, but she and her coworkers ultimately accepted abortion as a necessary evil and encouraged each other to soldier on.
She had repercussions from her own abortion… 11 years later
Linda’s decision to leave Planned Parenthood happened gradually. One unsettling experience started the wheels turning in her head, as she reviewed as part of research for a doctoral program some journals written by women immediately after their abortions. She felt genuine confusion when she read accounts of sheer panic in some of the journals as the women realized that they had just taken a life. She also feared that these same women had been released out into the public by the facility without resources to process their experiences. Another part of her journey was coming to “visit the God/religious question” for the first time in a long time. She had been raised Catholic and drifted away over time. Ultimately, she read her way back to faith, and left Planned Parenthood when she realized she was not helping women by promoting abortion as their best option.
It took 11 years for Linda to “confront” herself about her abortion, to cut through the tangle of denial and justification. On that day, she was in her mom’s kitchen and suddenly realized what she had done, and had a panic attack. “It’s rather psychologically unbearable to just all of a sudden admit to yourself, ‘I killed my baby.’ You can’t deal with that. How can you deal with that?” Fortunately, she was able to reach out to several resources to begin the healing process.
She hopes pro-lifers will listen more to the ‘other side’ and engage them in conversation
One thing that kept Linda from being pro-life for a long time was her belief that pro-life people were “out of touch.” She felt uninterested in listening to what pro-lifers were saying because they seemed to live in an “unilateral” and “one-issue-minded” universe that was neither integrated nor able to take in the complexity of what a woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy would be dealing with. Linda stressed that pregnancy is always life-changing, and especially so in the case of an unplanned pregnancy. She believes asking a woman to carry her baby to term is a massive thing, and downplaying that reality does a disservice to the pro-life cause. Pro-life compassion must — as most pro-lifers realize — extend beyond birth, she says, to assist the mother as the child is growing up by coming alongside her and her child(ren).
Linda also emphasized the importance of building relationships and engaging in dialogue with those with whom we disagree. She encouraged pro-lifers to engage with the good intentions behind statements like, “I could never have an abortion, but I wouldn’t tell someone else what to do with their own body” by probing further into why they wouldn’t have an abortion personally.
By acknowledging pro-choicers as humans and not “the enemy,” we can achieve the best outcomes for both mothers and their preborn children.
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