WARNING: This post contains information that may be disturbing to readers.
At five years old, Marlene Downing loved visiting her paternal grandfather’s house where she often went when her parents were out partying. She especially enjoyed the frothy root beer floats he concocted with creamy ice cream. One night, suffering from an upset stomach after consuming too much ice cream, she rapped on her grandfather’s bedroom door. That night Downing’s grandfather stole her innocence.
Downing told Live Action News, “He started to rub my stomach to make me feel better, then asked me if I’d take off my underwear. From then on until I was seven, he tried to groom me by exposing me to pornography. He was careful never to complete the sexual act, but my childhood had been ripped away forever.”
The molestations continued until Downing innocently revealed to her stepmother a kiss she and her grandfather had shared. At the time, he was living with the family. When Downing’s stepmother learned about the incest, she insisted Downing tell her father.
“My grandfather had leveraged scare tactics to keep me quiet,” Downing said. “When I told my father what had been occurring all those years, his mouth gaped open, and the potato salad he was eating dropped onto his plate. I’ll never forget seeing him sitting at the table crying.”
Downing’s grandfather was sent away, and she never saw him again. He eventually died after a battle with colon cancer. Downing tried to forgive him and move on, but the childhood trauma had inflicted deep emotional wounds. After graduating high school, Downing enrolled at Temple University.
Risky behavior results in unplanned pregnancies
Downing said she began drinking at parties and had sexual relationships with multiple partners. “I found out I was pregnant during the middle of my freshman year. The boy who fathered my child made it clear he didn’t want anything to do with the baby. Going into denial about my pregnancy was the only way I could cope.”
She continued drinking heavily and one day, at three months pregnant, began experiencing severe cramps and bleeding. She went into the bathroom where she miscarried.
“I saw the remnants of my baby in the toilet,” Downing said. “I fell on the bathroom floor weeping until somebody found me.”
Distraught, Downing dropped out of school and later developed complications from the unsuccessful dilation & curettage (D&C) she underwent after her miscarriage.
Downing said, “I had been lying in bed for a week, bleeding. Unbeknownst to me, there were still baby parts left inside me. I went back to the hospital, had laparoscopic surgery, and was given antibiotics for the infection.”
Now living with her aunt, Downing went to work in a restaurant and resumed the dysfunctional lifestyle she had temporarily abandoned, resulting in another pregnancy.
“The man I’d been seeing gave me money to have an abortion,” Downing said. “Like my previous situation, he was adamant he wanted nothing to do with fatherhood.”
Believing the abortion lie
Having an abortion was the answer to her dilemma, Downing thought. She was not financially stable, and a baby would be just a “burden” to a young, single woman.
Downing said, “I was pro-choice; having an abortion wasn’t a big deal. But during the procedure, I remember clutching tightly to the nurse’s hand and screaming. Afterward, I cried. I thought I’d feel relieved, but I didn’t.”
When she met a man at a nightclub a short time later and became pregnant a third time, she resolved not to have an abortion, prompting her boyfriend to flee from the responsibility of parenthood.
“He didn’t want to be part of my daughter’s life,” Downing said. “It was tough, juggling motherhood without help. I started attending church, making faith the centerpiece of my life. For the first time, I felt a peace that I desperately wanted to hold onto.”
Vowing to surrender her life to God, Downing’s circumstances eventually improved, and she secured a position with a large insurance company. Then she was offered a position with another company with a better salary.
Downing said, “That’s when things took an unexpected turn. The company downsized and I got laid off. I lost everything: my nice home and my car. I couldn’t afford my daughter’s private school tuition and had to send her to live with my brother until I could get back on my feet.”
For a while, Downing “couch surfed” with friends, refusing to go live with her parents. A friend offered her a place to stay in exchange for a minimal amount of rent.
“I had some tax refund money I could use to pay him, so I moved in with him,” Downing said. “He made me feel comfortable and cooked for me. I felt so relaxed that I started drinking with him. Eventually, I began having relations with him, then I found out he was sleeping with other women as well.”
Life spiraling out-of-control
When Downing discovered she was pregnant, she was concerned about being a single mother again. Without telling her boyfriend, she had a friend take her to the abortion facility. Not long after her abortion, Downing learned she was once again pregnant — this made five unplanned pregnancies, one miscarriage, and two abortions. Downing’s life was spiraling out of control.
Downing said, “I told my pastor I didn’t want another abortion but was afraid of the responsibility of another child when I had no assistance. I couldn’t even support the daughter I had. He told me my baby had a father in Heaven and that I wasn’t alone.”
During her six-month prenatal checkup, she was required to get an HIV test. Terrified to learn of the results, the nurse, sensing Downing’s distress, told her she was playing Russian roulette with her life.
“She said I could do all things through Christ,” Downing said. “I lifted my head up and prayed for grace. I moved to West Philadelphia and lived on welfare for a bit after my second daughter was born. I later landed a good job with a national bank where I worked for 10 years.”
From pro-choice to pro-life activist
While Downing wasn’t a pro-life activist, she knew having the two abortions was wrong. After reading the book, “Heaven is for Real,” she was inspired to grow in her faith.
When her pro-life pastor organized a march in Philadelphia, Downing knew she needed to participate. It was during that march that her pastor told her he was looking for a new director for a pregnancy support center and wanted her to fill that role.
Downing said, “I didn’t think he was serious, and I didn’t think I was worthy.”
But she accepted the director position with The Hope Center where she remained for many years, helping hundreds of women grappling with circumstances like her own. She now works for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. She has also written the book, “Strange Fruit Since 1973: Personhood Rejected from a Family Tree,” which chronicles the threat to the “fruit of the womb” posed by abortion.
“My life has turned around 180 degrees,” Downing said. “If not for the grace of God, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I have experienced such love and mercy from a Father in Heaven. I hope my work in the pro-life movement helps other women to realize their value in the eyes of a loving God who wants better for them than abortion.”