Catherine Adair: “No person is beyond redemption”

Catherine Adair speaking outside New Hampshire State House
Catherine on State House Plaza, defying the chill: “Embrace every life there is.”

This is a fan letter. It’s my blog and I can rant or rave however I want. Today, it’s rave. It’s my thank-you to Catherine Adair. She has a life full of blessings; she and her husband are rearing five children. My husband and I brought up five children, too, and we know that’s a pro-life ministry in itself (and it never ends). Catherine, with support from her family, goes above and beyond. She has a story to tell about her own experiences and about women in crisis who didn’t get the help they needed. Her story is also about pro-life conversion.

Catherine came to pro-life commitment by a route different from mine. I’ve learned from that. She makes me think in fresh ways about what it means and takes to be pro-life.

About Catherine: New Hampshire Right to Life scored a coup this year by bringing Massachusetts neighbor Catherine to Concord for the state’s biggest annual outdoor pro-life rally and march. Catherine’s description of herself, from her blog The Harvest is Abundant: “I used to be pro-choice and worked for Planned Parenthood. Now I speak about the horror of working in an abortion clinic, and my personal experience with abortion. I hope to be able to bring more people to the truth.” She does that with charity and clarity, which can be hard to come by some days in the pro-life movement. She speaks out knowing that she could perfectly well say “enough already” to public witness. But she persists, bringing not just truth but also encouragement to her listeners.

Ellen Kolb, Shannon McGinley, Catherine Adair after 2011 press conference (photo courtesy Cornerstone Policy Research)
l-r: Ellen Kolb, Shannon McGinley, Catherine Adair after 2011 press conference (photo courtesy Cornerstone Policy Research)

How I met her:  For a brief time a few years ago, a majority of New Hampshire Executive Councilors thought that with ten other Title X providers in the state, they could afford to say no to a contract with the eleventh provider – which happened to be Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, New Hampshire’s #1 abortion provider. All political hell broke loose. I helped organize a press conference to stand up for one of the Councilors who voted against the PP contract and who was being targeted for particular abuse by PP supporters. A colleague of mine, Shannon McGinley, called me up to discuss arrangements. She said, “You’re not going to believe this. There’s a woman from Massachusetts who used to work for PP and wants to come help.” It was Catherine. So how did Shannon meet her? “You’re not going to believe this” (again) – “I came across her on Facebook.” Well, God bless Facebook.

Catherine’s presence at the podium turned out to be the most powerful and memorable part of the press conference. Her words about her time at PP made the idea of “abortion provider” into something concrete. She spoke with authority about the primacy of abortion in PP’s work despite PP’s insistence that abortion is only 3% of its business. She spoke briefly about her own long-ago abortion. She had nothing whatsoever to gain from making the trip to Concord. She did it because the truth mattered and because she knew some good people were suffering for challenging PP’s access to public money.

Stand Up for Religious Freedom rally, Concord, 2012
from Stand Up for Religious Freedom rally, Concord, 2012

We meet again: When the Obama Administration and the federal Department of Health and Human Services imposed their Obamacare contraceptive mandate, they did so knowing that some Americans have religiously-based objections to helping pay for contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs and devices. Too bad, said the President and his HHS Secretary. In over a hundred cities nationwide, Americans responded with religious freedom rallies to say “not so fast.” I was one of many New Hampshire residents who gathered outside the federal courthouse in Concord for a Stand Up for Religious Freedom rally. And who came to stand with us? None other than Catherine, with her family. Again, she had nothing to gain by doing this. She came anyway.

Taking it to D.C.: This year, Catherine traveled to the March for Life in Washington and did something extraordinary: with support from other post-abortive women and former abortion workers, she gave her testimony in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. That’s hardly her natural habitat, but there she was. Abortion advocates are always on the sidewalk in front of the Court on the day of the March, as if to defend the judicial branch from exposure to pro-lifers. Catherine was speaking to the abortion advocates as well as to the marchers. Her message is for all.

Catherine Adair with Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, outside the U.S. Supreme Court building, 22 January 2015
From Facebook: Catherine Adair outside the U.S. Supreme Court building 22 January 2015

All I can say about that is that while she’s hit the big time, New Hampshire saw her first. Well, maybe second, after Massachusetts.

Excerpts from her remarks at New Hampshire’s March for Life

As a former abortion worker, what does she recommend to pro-lifers who encounter workers at abortion facilities? “The worst thing we can do is be confrontational, antagonistic. I think the best thing we can do is smile, say hello – just be that peaceful, kind, loving presence they need. Please, pray for the people working in the clinic. Nobody is beyond redemption. Nobody is beyond conversion. Embrace every life there is, wherever it is.”

On her own abortion and its immediate aftermath: “If someone had been there [on the sidewalk] the day I was there, if I’d had the courage to talk to somebody, maybe I’d have made a different decision. You just never know how what you’ll say will affect somebody.”

On working at Planned Parenthood in Boston: “[At first] I thought ‘oh, that’s great. Planned Parenthood is really pro-woman.’ …All we did was abortions, all day every day, Monday through Saturday….The first thing – the first thing – that happens in an abortion clinic is the money changes hands. You’re not getting anywhere until you pay for that abortion….I would describe the abortion procedure to the woman: ‘the doctor will gently extract the contents of your uterus.’ That’s it, because in abortion clinics you never talk about the humanity of the child. It’s all about dehumanizing the child. We didn’t even say ’embryo.’ That’s too close to ‘fetus’ which is a little too close to ‘baby.'”

“…Nowhere in there did we ever talk about real options for her. What brought you into the clinic today? What’s making you think abortion is your best option? What’s going on in your life? How can we help you? Never, because my job was to sell that abortion.”

Assisting patients having first- and second-trimester abortions, and cleaning up “procedure rooms,” took a toll. “You know, I had counseled for second-trimester abortions. I had said ‘the doctor will gently extract the contents of your uterus.’ I didn’t know that he was going to go into her uterus with forceps and just grab at that baby….[I had] nightmares. Most people who work in abortion clinics do. You’d think I’d go running out of the clinic and say to the nearest person ‘D’you know what they’re doing in there? They’re killing babies!’ But I didn’t….My whole world was filled with people telling me that what I was doing was good, it was right, it was for the cause, it was pro-woman, and that all those crazy pro-lifers out there on the street wanted to kill me. And I believed it.”

Finally, she had enough of seeing abortion up close, and she left the clinic – “there’s a lot of turnover” – but becoming pro-life was a years-long process. What led to that conversion of heart and mind? “Basically, it was because I had children. I got married, I had children, and that really does change your perspective on things. My husband wanted to start going to church. He said ‘we really have to do something about the kids. I want the kids to go to Mass.’ So we went to church. And the first time we went, it was just like ‘I’m home.'”

“This wonderful priest said to me, ‘Catherine, don’t you know that God loves you?’ I just started to cry, because of course I didn’t believe that God loved me. I had murdered my own child. I had participated in the murder of thousands of children. But this priest, he told me to say the Rosary. As I prayed on the Mysteries, something just clicked for me. The grace that God can give, the forgiveness that He can give….One day at Mass, Jesus said to me, ‘Catherine, those are babies.’ Finally, the scales fell from my eyes. I was so afraid of going to that place of pain from my own abortion that I hadn’t been able to really think about it, how much each life is sacred and worth living. Finally, I was able to go to that place of pain and self-hatred and turn that into love. I look at my children, the children God has given me, and I am so grateful.”

It’s that love and gratitude of which Catherine speaks that really touches me. She gives me hope that even when I’m not feeling loving and grateful, even when I’m discouraged or angry over something politically life-related, even when I’m praying outside a facility and feeling very awkward, the choice to love and to be grateful is always there for me to make. Pro-life work is not about what I’m feeling. Anger isn’t final. Awkward isn’t forever. Spiritual exhaustion isn’t terminal.

Catherine has never scolded me for not being steadfast enough, although she could if she wanted to. She has never preached at me. She could (and possibly should) tell me to back away from the mic or the keyboard and just do something else. Instead, she’s set me an example of honesty and compassion. Rely on the grace of God, choose love, choose gratitude, even when it’s not easy: if she does it, maybe I can, too. Maybe.

Her final words in Concord echoed what she had said to us before the march. “Honestly, seeing everybody walking in front of the clinic with love in your heart really gives me strength and makes me realize that no person is beyond God’s love. No person is beyond redemption. Nobody. This is why they fear you – because you expose the lies. That’s why they have to say ‘oh, you hate women’ – because they don’t know what to do with that love.”