I happened to be reading The Scalpel and the Soul by Haywood Robinson and his late wife, Noreen Johnson, when former President Trump disparaged the heartbeat law for the protection of unborn children in the womb as “stupid” and “a terrible mistake.” His later offer to pardon the pro-life protesters who have been arrested because of the FACE law and his vague words about a federal law limiting abortion (as if he could get something like that through Congress and get around the various state constitutional amendments proclaiming a “right” to abortion) cannot make up for a tacit consent/approval to the destruction of the unborn baby whose heart has already begun to beat. Freeing pro-lifers is a good thing; tolerating abortion at any time, but especially after the baby has a heartbeat, is just plain wrong.
It reminded me of John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem “Ichabod” about Daniel Webster’s betrayal of the abolitionists regarding the Missouri Compromise: “So fallen! so lost…Revile him not, the Tempter hath/ a snare for all;/ And pitying tears, not scorn and wrath, / Befit his fall!”
The architect of overturning Roe v. Wade now wants to change laws protecting unborn human life. Obviously, this is a political gambit. His rival, Governor DeSantis, is in favor of the heartbeat laws, ergo, Trump is against. He is probably listening to the commentary of the liberals who saw that pro-life, anti-abortion is a loser issue for Republicans. So, he is willing to jettison the sanctity of life for whose votes, exactly? Are the suburban women going to rush to him now that he has “moderated” his position on life?
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While president, Donald Trump achieved many pro-life goals. But now he hides in ambiguity, trying to sound ethical while opening a loophole for abortion that should outrage many of his supporters. As Whittier wrote, “Then, pay the reverence of old days/ To his dead fame;/ Walk backward, with averted gaze, / And hide the shame!” Pro-lifers should be outraged.
It was a coincidence, perhaps, that I was reading this book, which is a searing mea culpa about abortion that includes tragic family details—like the fact that Noreen aborted her sister’s child and her sister ended up without children—at the same time Trump waffled on life. But it was providence which made me open the book two days before a man walked in my rectory pleading to talk to me about his guilt for participating in an abortion over forty years ago. He said he could not believe that he had consented to his future wife’s abortion because it came before their wedding date. “My pride destroyed my child,” he said. Tears were in his eyes, and I saw that he was not only repentant but disgusted with himself.
I told him that God is merciful and that we are not our mistakes. We are different from them and learn from them. When we repent, God gives us a new life. I said that Jesus even indicated that those forgiven more will love the one who forgives more (Luke 7:37-43). I showed him the book, which happened to be on my kneeler in the chapel, and he was moved to know that abortion providers also repented. He was especially interested in the remark by Noreen Johnson that she learned never to look at the face of the woman getting the abortion in order to de-personalize what she was doing into a mere medical procedure.
The authors of The Scalpel and the Soul, Doctors Robinson and Johnson, were abortionists who came to the pro-life movement by a conversion inspired by evangelical faith and then wrote a book searing in its honesty. Noreen Johnson has died, but her husband, Haywood, continues working with the 40 Days for Life organization. The book’s pages alternate between his story and her story. From the desensitizing method their medical training followed to make new doctors accept abortion in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade, to their personal conversions, by stages, that led them to a ministry to help other former abortion providers, their inspirational story should be read by all church leaders.
The authors of the book talk about the money motivation that led them to become abortionists. “I had traded my humanity for nothing more than the fee for performing abortions, just as Judas had traded his for thirty pieces of silver to betray Jesus. My heart had grown cold and callous.” Noreen talks about how the doctors who dedicate themselves to ripping life out of wombs have been desensitized and dehumanized.
Part of the therapy they suggest for abortion survivors is to rehumanize the child that was lost, grieving and praying for healing. “Those babies had lost their humanity not only because we had killed them but also because we had treated each of them as nothing more than individual blobs of tissue.”
There are many ironic personal notes in the book that I found very poignant. For example, the spouses Johnson were protesting outside the gala opening of a Planned Parenthood abortuary in Bryan, Texas, when they saw their neighbor’s Jaguar pull up and found out that their friends were on the board of the local Planned Parenthood chapter.
Another story in the book tells of a former synagogue building in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that was later turned into an abortion facility where 20,000 babies were aborted. LIFE International eventually bought the property from a group of investors and pro-life people took over the place. Haywood Johnson said that as they prayed, the wind blew open a door and he was convinced the devils were exiting.
Even when a book is about conversion to Christ and repentance, the subject of abortion does not make pleasant reading. Many people, even priests, wish the problem would go away. As Dr. Robinson writes, the issue is not over: “many states are doubling down on ensuring access to abortion and protecting abortion itself, trying to make sure it stays available forever, even adding it to their state constitutions…We still have a lot of work to do.”
There are some who would like to ignore that work. A priest who voted for Biden told me he could not be concerned about only “one issue.” There are many ostriches in the Catholic Church who would rather focus their energy and public relations on topics that are approved of by CNN and the whole oligarchy of wokeness. They should read this book, and so should everybody concerned about the greatest moral issue in our society: the dignity of life. I wish somebody would give the book to Trump.
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