As a manager at the Planned Parenthood in Chapel Hill, N.C., Annette Lancaster had a conversion moment when she participated in an abortion.
She was placed in charge of operating the ultrasound for the doctor performing the abortion that day. Her other role was to offer words of encouragement to the patient.
“It was almost like an abortion doula,” she said. “I said what we were taught to say: ‘You are wonderful. You are great. You are a strong woman for being able to do this.’ I’m repeating this like a parrot, but in the back of my mind, I’m like, ‘I’m feeding this woman a bunch of lies. I don’t even believe what I am saying.’”
Lancaster, who left after nine months at the clinic, is now among nearly 400 people who have left the abortion industry through the work of ‘And Then There Were ,’ a nonprofit organization founded by former Planned Parenthood clinic director turned pro-life advocate Abby Johnson. The organization seeks to end abortion from inside these clinics.
And Then There Were and the Alice Paul Group hosted the third annual Pro-Life Women’s Conference, held June 22-24 at the St. Charles Convention Center. The event, which drew people from across the United States, was aimed at empowering women and affirming their voices within the pro-life movement. Breakout sessions included best practices for communication on the sidewalk in front of an abortion clinic, tips on empowering single mothers, finding common ground with those who have opposite views on abortion, adoption, pro-life laws and self-care.
Lancaster, along with former abortion workers Shelley Guillory and Noemi Padilla, said that it was the unconditional kindness from people standing on the sidewalk outside their clinics that made a difference in their decisions to quit.
“It was a constant unconditionalness from them — they never judged,” said Noemi Padilla, who worked at an abortion clinic in Tampa, Fla. “If they can stand there for all these years and be loving to us and be understanding — they would offer me rides home when I didn’t have a car.”
Padilla helped lead seven co-workers to leave the clinic before she quit. Through And Then There Were , they received access to financial and legal assistance as well as resources to help find new employment.
Abortion remains one of the most divisive social topics in the United States, according to research from Gallup, which noted in a 2018 survey that as many Americans personally identify as pro-life on the issue as say they are pro-choice (48 percent). Additionally, slightly more said that abortion is morally wrong than it is morally acceptable. (See related results on abortion views by gender.)
The divisiveness is a reason why sidewalk advocates who don’t show compassion and kindness are detrimental to those seeking abortion or working in the industry, Padilla said. “That’s a make or break. It doesn’t even take a word — sometimes just one wrong look validates what we’re being told on the inside.”
At one of the breakout sessions, Joanna Hyatt, director of strategic partnerships with Live Action, a nonprofit organization that educates on abortion and the humanity of the unborn, explained that all women, no matter their stage in life, have an important voice in the pro-life movement.
“Every season is an opportunity for impact” and growth, Hyatt said. “God has given you that passion. It is that passion that qualifies you to be involved. God might be waiting to call you into something where there’s going to be an opportunity for you to speak, for you to step into that place.” Women also need to address the “lies” that they’re not enough or too much, Hyatt said.
Jessie and Jennifer Wade and Jessica Rhoades drove from Memphis to attend the conference. Jessie Wade attended last year’s conference in Orlando and was inspired to become involved in sidewalk advocacy. That grew into her forming a Coalition for Life in her area.
“I came last year thinking I want to do more in the pro-life community, but I can’t do any of the big things,” said Jessie Wade, a mother of three and homeschooler. “I found there are little ways we can get our foot in the door and that can grow into more. Last year God didn’t ask me to start an organization — He asked me to learn how to become a sidewalk advocate and that grew. If He would have asked me to (start Coalition for Life) I would have said no.”