WASHINGTON – As he walked up Pennsylvania Avenue on the northeast side of the Capitol Thursday afternoon, Dr. Anthony Levatino looked back at thousands of people behind him in the bright sunshine and felt a jaunty solidarity with his fellow marchers.
“They never judged anyone. They never judged anyone with a deformity,” Levatino said, standing a few feet from the white marble steps of the Supreme Court. Forgive the overstatement. Levatino’s life has undergone a 180-degree change. Levatino was an abortion doctor. Now he is a pro-life gynecologist.
Levatino said he is at peace with the transformation. Standing on a makeshift podium at a rally after the March for Life, he acted like a man at peace with his fellow pro-lifers, especially those who once were pro-choice. When people in back got too close and jostled him, he looked at them, stuck out his elbows playfully, and laughed. When a female speaker who said her name was Tammy told the crowd about her “private prison of torment” after undergoing three abortions and ended her speech, Levatino told her “Good job, Tammy.” When another woman told an emotional story of undergoing an abortion and started saying the Lord’s Prayer, Levatino closed his eyes and chanted the words with them. When other speakers addressed the crowd, Levatino clutched a 2×3 foot placard that said, “I regret performing abortions.”
Levatino has walked in the March for Life before, but until Thursday he had not been a featured speaker. “This is really a different experience for me. It was healing,” he said minutes after he stepped down from the podium. On the podium, wearing a ginger-colored long overcoat and black turtleneck, the silver-haired Levatino was reminded of his past and perhaps his future. Thirty or 40 feet ahead of him were marchers holding a 6×8 foot salmon-colored placard of the late Bernard Nathanson.
In the late 1960 and 1970s, Nathanson performed or oversaw the performing of 75,000 abortions. Nathanson said seeing images of an unborn child via fetoscopy and ultrasound helped change his mind and heart. In the late 1970s and ‘80s, Nathanson wrote a best-selling book, Aborting America, about his late-in-life change of heart and mind and narrated “The Silent Scream,” a controversial and seminal 28-minute anti-abortion film released in 1985.
Although less dramatic, Levatino’s story is similar. Levatino reckoned that from 1981 to 1985 he performed nearly 1,200 abortions. At the same time, his attitude to life changed. He and his wife were unable to conceive and their adopted daughter, Heather, died in a car accident in 1985. Now a gynecologist in New Mexico, Levatino is active in the pro-life movement. He appeared in a pro-life film released in 2011, “The Gift of Life,” and serves on the medical board of advisors for Priests for Life, whose leaders asked him to speak for their “Silent No More” and “Shockwaves” campaigns at the March for Life this year.
Nathanson and Levatino are not the only physicians who have stopped performing abortions. In 2008, the country had nearly two in five fewer abortion providers than its peak in 1982, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research organization. (In California, nurses too can perform abortions).
For some progressives and abortion-rights spokespeople, anti-choicers’ harassment of providers is to blame for the decline. For some conservatives and a few progressives, Gosnell-style corruption is to blame. But for some would-be and former abortion providers, the brutality and destructiveness of the procedure, especially after the first 11 weeks of pregnancy, is the reason to exit the business.