MOVING PICTURES by Lynn Vincent
It’s no wonder private and nonprofit funding programs such as Focus on the Family’s “Option Ultrasound” push to equip crisis pregnancy centers with sonogram technology: Eight in 10 centers report that “abortion-minded” women decide to keep their babies after seeing ultrasound images. WORLD interviewed three ultrasound converts to learn what they had in common, how they were different from each other—and why moving pictures changed their minds.
A hurricane and a heartbeat
Raised in a Bible-teaching church, Andrea Brown knew right from wrong. But a personal struggle triggered a spiritual one: “I was doubting God, questioning my faith,” said the 25-year-old Cheverly, Md., medical assistant. “I was still putting on this façade at church that I was still serious about God. But I was living a double life.”
That life included party-girl nights and a sexual relationship that Andrea knew was going nowhere. Then in September 2003, something weird happened: Eating carrots started making her really sick. Someone joked that she should take a pregnancy test. Though Andrea scoffed at the very idea, she secretly bought a home test and took it in a Taco Bell restroom. “I didn’t want to go do it at home,” where she lives with her mother and her father, a teaching elder at Jericho City of Praise in Landover, Md.
The test showed Andrea was pregnant; two more tests yielded the same result. “I was in shock,” Andrea said. “I thought, I can’t have this child. My parents will be disappointed. People at church will think I’m a hypocrite.”
Andrea called around looking for clinics that performed sedated or “twilight” abortions. “I had had girlfriends who told me how an abortion felt and I knew I couldn’t be awake through knowing they were taking the baby out of my body.”
Andrea scheduled one appointment for Sept. 19 at a clinic in Clinton, Md. But she continued paging through the phone book, randomly dialing numbers through eyes bleary with tears. One call connected her with the Bowie Crofton Pregnancy Clinic. “Do you do abortions?” Andrea asked.
No, the voice on the phone replied, but a counselor could talk to her about alternatives. That piqued Andrea’s curiosity. She also liked Bowie’s offer of a free sonogram.
Other clinics “were short with me, not polite or nice at all,” she said. “A few places I called were emotionless about the fact that I was whimpering and crying on the phone. Their attitude was ‘Do you want to make an appointment or not?’ . . . I was reaching out and asking for help and [the Bowie Crofton people] were the only ones offering it.”
Two days after calling the pregnancy center, Andrea showed up for her appointment and spoke with counselor Sharon Greenip. When Sharon asked Andrea why she was considering abortion, Andrea confided what she saw as her failure in her relationship with God. The two talked and prayed together, and scheduled a sonogram for a few days later.
Though Andrea told Sharon that day she had changed her mind about the abortion, the truth was she was still flip-flopping. And she didn’t cancel the Sept. 19 abortion appointment. “I was so distraught and so humiliated,” Andrea said. She prayed, knowing the abortion was wrong, but asking God to let her know He cared about her struggle.
Then, on the day she was supposed to have the abortion, Hurricane Isabel savaged the East Coast, knocking out power—including power to abortion vacuum-aspirators.
A series of further “coincidences” kept her in confusion, but Andrea remained undecided. That is, until she returned to Bowie Crofton for a sonogram and the nurse pointed out her baby’s heartbeat. At that moment, she said, she knew she wasn’t going through with the abortion. “The beating heart is the very essence of life itself,” she said. “The sonogram showed me that if I had had an abortion, I would’ve been murdering my child.”
Today Elora Patricia Brown lives with her mom and proud grandparents. Andrea said her parents are disappointed that she had made unwise sexual choices but are enchanted with their new granddaughter. So far Andrea has shared her story at work, on Christian radio, CNN, and in The New York Times.
She also plans to tell Elora the story someday. “I plan to be open with her and tell the truth, that it wasn’t about her. Sometimes we try to cover up one bad thing with another bad thing to make things right. But that’s not how it’s supposed to work.”
Real, growing, and alive
By January 2004, Megan Sylves and Sal Boffoli had been together for four years. Megan, 25, was a part-time elementary education student and full-time grants assistant at the University of Pittsburgh. Sal, 25, a long-term-care nurse, was studying nursing at Pitt.
Then, a perversely timed one-two punch: First, they decided to break up. Then, they learned Megan was pregnant. Surprised and panicked, the couple felt they had no choice but abortion, Megan said. “He was going to school. I figured my parents would kill me. We automatically decided to have an abortion. We didn’t even talk about anything else.”
Megan didn’t consider it a moral decision: She had long considered herself “pro-choice.” Fearing the pain of a surgical abortion, she booked an appointment for a medical abortion using RU-486. “I thought with a medical abortion all I would have to do is take a pill. . . . I didn’t know much about it,” she said. “I thought it would be simple, like taking a Tylenol to make a headache go away.”
Her subconscious knew better. After Megan made the appointment, “I got really freaked out and started second-guessing myself,” she said. Thinking about the abortion “literally made me feel sick.”
For one thing, she’d been reading more about RU-486—the severe cramping, the potential complications. She had also read stories of women who gravely regretted their abortions. Meanwhile the clock was ticking: As her appointment neared, so did her pregnancy’s seventh week. RU-486 is only an abortion option up to week nine.
Panic set in. “I felt like I had no time to think through my decision,” she said. Megan went to work, worried, went to class, worried, came home, worried. The sun rose, set, and rose again. Soon, her RU-486 appointment was only a day away. That day she took a bus to another part of the campus to deliver some paperwork. At a bus stop, she saw a sign that said simply, “Pregnant and scared?”
“I thought, well, that’s me,” Megan said. “I thought it wouldn’t hurt to talk to someone.” Megan dialed the number and connected with the Pregnancy Resource Center (PRC), a network of Pittsburgh-area crisis pregnancy facilities. After learning that the center offered abortion alternatives and free ultrasounds, but not abortion, she agreed to come in that afternoon. Then she called Sal and he agreed to go with her. It would later turn out that he was having doubts about the abortion, too. But since they were on the verge of breaking up, neither had wanted to upset the other by appearing unsure.
At the PRC, counselors explained to the couple “the pros and cons of keeping my baby, and gave me literature on the often hidden consequences of having an abortion,” Megan said. “But they wouldn’t tell me what to do, even though I wanted someone to. I wanted someone to tell me it was wrong to have the abortion.”
After initial counseling, Megan and Sal battled 45 minutes of cross-town traffic to reach PRC of South Hills, the center that offered ultrasounds. Megan said she felt the test would probably confirm her choice to have an abortion. “I didn’t think it would touch me in any way.”
She was wrong. Though it took some time for a recognizable image to appear, what the couple saw moved the pregnancy from the abstract idea of “problem” to the concrete reality of “baby.” It was a little circle that “floated and bounced around,” Megan said. “You could see that it was real and growing and alive! . . . I could picture what that little circle was going to become. I could see my baby when I was four months pregnant, then eight months pregnant. I thought, ‘That thing everyone wants to call “tissue” will eventually turn into a baby that I can hold and who will look like me.’ I had never thought about that before.”
Sal was shocked and moved by the baby’s on-screen antics. Megan remembers that they didn’t have a long conversation about whether to keep the baby. After the ultrasound, they just knew. “Abortion would be wrong—wrong for us.”
Sal and Megan stayed together, and on Sept. 23, 2004, Ava Isabel Boffoli made her debut. Now old enough to laugh, roll over, and lean from her highchair to swipe lettuce off her mother’s dinner plate, tiny Ava did what the entire pro-life movement couldn’t: She swept away Megan’s former acceptance of abortion.
“I’m absolutely against it,” Megan says now. “Women who can convince themselves to [have abortions] . . . manage to get through it because they don’t allow themselves to think that [the fetus] is going to turn into someone who’s going to laugh and talk and have feelings. I look at Ava now and think, look how she grows! Look at what wouldn’t be here! I’m glad I didn’t go through with the abortion. I’m sad that other people still do.”
An actual person
In February 2004, Mitchelle, then 21, delivered her fourth child. In October, the Richmond, Va., nursing assistant learned she was pregnant with her fifth.
“I had a mixed reaction,” said Mitchelle, who asked WORLD not to use her last name. “I wanted to keep the baby, but I also wanted to get into school and finish my degree so I could become an R.N. And the father wasn’t ready for another child.”
The father, who is also dad to two of Mitchelle’s other children, didn’t think the couple was financially ready for another baby. So he and Mitchelle agreed that she would call some abortion clinics and check out rates. She did, but made no appointments.
“I was waiting, postponing, I think because I really didn’t want to do it,” Mitchelle said. Weeks passed until the couple agreed that Mitchelle should make a few more calls. In the phone book under the heading “Abortion Alternatives” she found the Crisis Pregnancy Center of Metropolitan Richmond and dialed. The voice on the other end of the phone told her immediately that the CPC did not offer abortions, but that she could come in and have an ultrasound done for free. Mitchelle made an appointment.
When the day arrived, she first talked with a CPC counselor as expected—but then something happened that Mitchelle didn’t expect: The nurse performing the ultrasound put a portable screen on Mitchelle’s belly so she could see the baby.
“I was shocked. I wasn’t expecting to see the baby,” she said. “I was expecting to see the back of the screen.”
That’s because Mitchelle had had an ultrasound six years earlier. When she was 15 years old and pregnant for the first time, her mother took her to get an abortion. “They did an ultrasound, but they hid the screen from me so I couldn’t see what the baby looked like.”
As it turned out, Mitchelle was six months along with that child, a son, now seven and an ace second-grader whose mother sometimes shudders to think that he might not have been born. When the Richmond CPC nurse propped the sonogram screen on her tummy for a close-up view of Baby Five, “the first thought I had was, how is she able to let me see my baby, but when I went to the abortion clinic, they wouldn’t?”
After seeing the CPC ultrasound, Mitchelle knew there would be no aborting her fifth child. “When I saw it, I was pretty much in tears. I didn’t know that at [12 weeks] it was a full baby. Seeing it on the screen, realizing it was an actual person with fingers, toes, everything, I couldn’t do it. . . . I knew I would be killing a human being.”
After she told him what she saw on the ultrasound, the baby’s father agreed that the time had come to get ready to welcome their newest child, due in late May, into the world.
Through her encounter with the CPC, Mitchelle said she’s felt called to seek a closer relationship with God. Through the CPC’s “Earn While You Learn” program—where expectant moms attend parenting, birthing, and other classes while earning “mommy dollars” to spend on baby supplies—she has been reading The Purpose Driven Life.
But Mitchelle emphasizes that CPC volunteers didn’t coerce her into taking the classes, or somehow hold their services hostage, awaiting signs of spiritual growth.
“It was my choice,” she said.