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Dr. Antony Levatino Converts from Abortionist to Pro-Life Leader

Courtesy of the Knights of ColumbusKen Stinnett

The pain of the procedure became overwhelming

In 2012, Levatino testified to Congress that performing an abortion on a 24-week unborn child was painful not only for the child but also the doctor. “(I)f you think that doesn’t hurt, if you believe that that isn’t an agony for this child, please think again,” Levatino told a House Judiciary subcommittee, speaking in support of the bill dubbed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

Abortion-rights bloggers jumped on Levatino’s remarks. “This is incredibly offensive to anyone who has ever had an abortion, especially later in her pregnancy,” Alesa Mackool wrote for RH Reality Check, a website that supports reproductive rights. “Anti-choice activists like Levatino are most successful when they have us all cringing instead of thinking rationally.”

Yet some abortion-rights leaders have made remarks similar to Levatino’s.

In a Washington Post Magazine profile in 2008, a former medical director for Planned Parenthood of Maryland warned medical students at Johns Hopkins University Medical School to prepare for emotionally and morally jarring moments as an abortion provider. “What’s your limit with birth defects? Beth Meyers asked. "Would you do an abortion at 28 weeks if the baby had a club foot? How about hemophilia? … How are you going to feel about a patient who admits she has picketed the clinic in the past? What about the woman who comes in for her third abortion and doesn’t want to hear about birth control? How are you going to feel about that?”

Meyers warned the students that the circumstances of abortion, such as birth defects, may pose a moral dilemma, but other abortion providers emphasize that performing abortions after the first trimester is difficult. In a 2008 article for Reproductive Health Matters, Lisa H Harris, an assistant professor in the departments of obstetrics and gynecology and women’s studies at the University of Michigan, described being 18 weeks pregnant while terminating the pregnancy of a woman who was 18 weeks pregnant. Harris described the incident this way:

With my first pass of the forceps, I grasped an extremity and began to pull it down. I could see a small foot hanging from the teeth of my forceps. With a quick tug, I separated the leg. Precisely at that moment, I felt a kick – a fluttery ‘‘thump, thump’’ in my own uterus. It was one of the first times I felt fetal movement. There was a leg and foot in my forceps, and a ‘‘thump, thump’’ in my abdomen. Instantly, tears were streaming from my eyes – without me – meaning my conscious brain – even being aware of what was going on. I felt as if my response had come entirely from my body, bypassing my usual cognitive processing completely. A message seemed to travel from my hand and my uterus to my tear ducts. It was an overwhelming feeling – a brutally visceral response – heartfelt and unmediated by my training or my feminist pro-choice politics. It was one of the more raw moments in my life. Doing second trimester abortions did not get easier after my pregnancy; in fact, dealing with little infant parts of my born baby only made dealing with dismembered fetal parts sadder.

Harris did not say if she stopped performing abortions, but Lesley Wojick, the medical student portrayed in the Washington Post Magazine, changed her mind and decided not to terminate any pregnancies.

For some pro-life activists, getting former abortion doctors to tell their stories helps the cause. Father Frank Pavone, the head of Priests for Life, told an audience at a session on media at the March for Life Conference and Expo on Wednesday that Levatino would speak and stood in the front row of the crowd as he spoke Thursday.

After coming down from the podium Thursday, Levatino did not echo Pavone’s talking points, though. Levatino said he talked with a female black police officer at the march after she asked him why the people were demonstrating. "I said, ‘Do you know some people are treated as property just like blacks used to be? She had no idea at all. ;I said, Do you know you can get an abortion at any time?’ She had no idea. People don’t get that it’s a right."

Mark Stricherz covers Washington for He is the author of Why the Democrats are Blue: Secular Liberalism and the Decline of the People’s Party (Encounter Books). Follow him on Twitter at @MarkStricherz.

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