Why We Need to Listen if “The Walls are Talking” {my January column @TheCatholicPost }

Some concepts, good or bad, are timeless. More than two millennia ago, Sophocles wrote in the Greek tragedy, Antigone, “No one loves the messenger who brings bad news.”

Today, we know that as the phrase “don’t shoot the messenger,” but in reality, it’s much easier and far more common to “shoot” the messenger than to work against this natural inclination.

Part of the human condition has been to recoil against not just bad or ugly news, but the person who brings the news. This can be small, as in half-jokingly cursing the people behind those calorie counts on menus at your favorite restaurants. Not that I have any experience with that.

But it can also loom large, and impair our ability to see a situation clearly.

Here’s one example:

I was with a group of young people at the 40 Days for Life last year in October to witness outside the local abortion clinic. Several of the teens felt deeply uncomfortable because another person was holding a sign with a photo of an aborted child. (the person was not with the 40 Days for Life, which forbids such images in its prayerful witness to life). I understand that discomfort, and share in it. A graphic photo held up in such a circumstance hurts the cause of life rather than helps it.

At the same time, I felt the need to point out gently, “But she is against what she is showing, and she didn’t create this reality. An abortion clinic did.”

Reading, or even a cursory glance at The Walls are Talking: Former Abortion Clinic Workers Tell Their Stories by Abby Johnson with Kristin Detrow, can stimulate strong “shoot the messenger” emotions. We recoil at details of abortion, or even knowing how horrible it is.

We might be thinking, “Ugh. Why do we have to focus on this?”

Here’s why: to understand our need to work to end abortion, not just for the unborn children whose lives are ended, not just for the women hurt, but for those workers at all levels involved in this industry.

The Walls Are Talking by Abby Johnson with Kristin Detrow is actually a pretty short read. It’s the story of 17 former abortion workers and what they experienced, and how they found a path towards healing, in leaving that work. It has graphic content, as you might imagine, but it’s not overly so, and overall it’s more about the workers, and how their lives and perspectives changed.

Abby Johnson wrote the best-selling, Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line, about her conversion from Planned Parenthood abortion clinic director to pro-life activist.  In this book, she’s interviewed other workers who have left the industry, and shares their stories in first-person format. Today, Johnson now runs the non-profit, And Then There Were None, (ATTN), which provides financial and other assistance for workers who want to leave the abortion business.

Three common elements that ran through many of the stories stand out:

*the devastation of the products of conception (POC) lab. All abortion clinics have a POC lab, where it is the job of the technicians to piece back together the parts of the baby. This is to ensure that a woman will not have after-abortion complications such as infection if there are any human limbs or other body parts left behind. Just hearing about how routine it was, and how abortion workers found ways to live with it, is heart-wrenching.

*coping strategies: abortion clinic workers have adopted strategies to avoid the reality of what they are doing. There is an obvious cognitive dissonance between sincerely wanting to help women, which is how many workers get into the abortion industry, and also actively participating in the death of human life. Abortion workers can shield patients, but they are forced to confront the reality of abortion themselves on a regular basis.

*advice for those involved in pro-life work. Some of the clinic workers give genuinely helpful advice for those who work in the pro-life movement about what to say and do, and more importantly, what not to say or do, to help change hearts.

Abortion is a great and terrible evil.

The people who are involved in this industry are not evil.

They may be broken, blinded, and far from truth and love, despite their sincerely held beliefs. All the more reason they need our prayers rather than our condemnation, and our sacrifices rather than our shouting.

Reading The Walls Are Talking helps people understand the depth of the evil that is abortion, and some ideas about how specifically to pray for and reach those in this industry.

As St. Paul said in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not be weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

It’s so, so easy to give up, and to forget the important work that is involved in ending abortion. Let us not grow weary.

You might also be interested in:

*Here is a link to my review several years back of Unplanned.  

*I also did a Q&A with Abby Johnson at the time.

*And Then There Were None has a well-designed and beautiful website outlining the services the group provides to workers who want to leave the abortion industry.