By now, most members of the pro-life community have heard the story of Abby Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood administrator who became pro-life after watching a 13-week-old baby fight for his life during an abortion. (Read her testimony here.) Johnson watched the sonogram screen and saw the little boy pulling away from the instruments. The experience permanently changed her, and led to her dedicating her life to stopping abortion.
What fewer pro-lifers know is that Abby Johnson was not the first abortion provider to be affected by seeing an ultrasound. Dr. Joseph Randall was an abortionist who practiced for many years before leaving and becoming pro-life. The reasons why he left the abortion business were varied, but he mentioned that seeing the baby on the ultrasound affected him very deeply. He says:
I think the greatest thing that got to us was the ultrasound. At that time, the ultrasound, or soundwave picture which was moving, called a “real-time ultrasound,” showed the baby on TV. The baby really came alive on TV and was moving. And that picture, that picture of the baby on ultrasound bothered me more than anything else… We lost two nurses. They couldn’t take looking at.
These two nurses quit when they realized that the baby was a living being who reacted and struggled during the abortion process. They were able to see the unborn child in his full humanity, in real time, and to identify him as a victim of the abortion.
Joan Appleton was the head nurse at an abortion clinic in Washington, D.C. She was also the head of a chapter of NOW, and was completely dedicated to promoting and providing abortions.
In her testimony, Appleton describes how she began to question her role in the abortion clinic when she realized that so many women suffered psychological problems after their abortions. She wondered why, if abortion was such a good thing for women, it was so damaging to them emotionally. But she was also shaken by watching a baby aborted on the ultrasound screen:
And I too had seen an ultrasound abortion. It was, we did first trimester, this was late first trimester, probably early second trimester, really, we could look to 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.
(This quote comes from a speech that can be found here.)
Unlike Abby Johnson, Appleton did not immediately leave the clinic. However, the process of her leaving was initiated by both the visual evidence of the ultrasound and her growing concern for the emotional well-being of her patients.
Appleton became a pro-life speaker and participated in a number of events with the Pro-Life Action League, where she shared her testimony publicly in the video Meet the Abortion Providers. Sadly, Appleton died in 2012.
In 1984, the late Dr. Bernard Nathanson created the groundbreaking video “The Silent Scream,” which showed a baby being aborted via ultrasound. In the late ’70s, Nathanson, who was the founder of NARAL and had an active role in making abortion legal in New York City, was beginning to have qualms about abortion. He stopped doing them but had not committed to the pro-life movement. According to Nathanson:
By 1984, however, I had begun to ask myself more questions about abortion: what actually goes on in an abortion? I had done many, but abortion is a blind procedure. The doctor does not see what he’s doing. He puts an instrument into a uterus and he turns on a motor, and the suction machine goes on and something is vacuumed out; it ends up as a little pile of meat in a gauze bag. I wanted to know what happened, so in 1984 I said to a friend of mine, who was doing 15 or maybe 20 abortions a day, “Look, do me a favor, Jay. Next Saturday, when you doing all these abortions, put an ultrasound device on the mother and tape it for me.”
He did, and when he looked at the tapes with me in an editing studio, he was so affected that he never did another abortion. I, though I had not done an abortion in five years, was shaken to the very roots of my soul by what I saw. (1)
“The Silent Scream” was widely criticized and condemned as a fraud by many pro-choicers, prompting some pro-lifers to issue the challenge to Planned Parenthood or other pro-choice groups to record a baby being aborted on an ultrasound themselves and see if they could discredit the video. As far as we know, no pro-choice group ever took them up on that challenge.
Even medical professionals acknowledge the power of ultrasounds to prick the consciences of abortion providers. An article in ObGyn News that was aimed at abortion providers said the following:
Staff members also may be affected by sonographic images and may need opportunities for venting their feelings and reconfirming their priorities… (2)
The ultrasound is a powerful tool for the pro-life movement. Pictures of unborn children, available now to anyone who wants to see them, make it very difficult for pro-abortion activists to lie about the development of the unborn baby. They have a powerful effect for the pro-life cause. They have convinced-abortion minded women to let their children live, convinced pro-choicers to become pro-life, and, in the cases we’ve seen, contributed to the conversion of abortion providers.
1. Nathanson, Bernard N, M.D The Hand of God: a Journey from Death to Life by the Abortion Doctor Who Changed His Mind (Washington DC: Regnery Publishing Inc, 1996) 140 – 141
2. cited in Rachel M MacNair, PhD. Achieving Peace in the Abortion War (New York: iUniverse, 2009) page 59