By Barb Arland-Fye
In the movie “Unplanned,” two pro-life advocates demonstrate compassion in their encounters with Abby Johnson, who then worked as director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas. They tell Abby they are praying for her; they never demonstrate anger or hurt when she rebuffs them. Eventually, Abby has a change of heart and turns to the pro-life advocates as she moves from staunch supporter for abortion rights to pro-life advocate.
That is the conversion experience that pro-life advocates likely are praying for Dr. Leana Wen to have. She left her position as president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood in mid-July because of “philosophical differences over the best way to protect reproductive health,” she said in an Opinion column published in the July 19 issue of The New York Times.
Wen remains a strong supporter of the right to abortion but pleaded for both sides of the issue to sit down and talk with one another. “We need to stop treating those whose views differ from our own with scorn and suspicion, and instead work together to safeguard our health, our rights and our future.”
Students for Life of America (SFLA) President Kristan Hawkins extended an olive branch July 24, reaching out to Wen to reiterate a previous offer for dinner and a private screening of “Unplanned.” Hawkins pledged to make a $5,000 donation to Wen’s alma mater, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, in exchange for Wen’s acceptance of the offer and a small commitment of time. Although they may continue to disagree, the two women could make good use of that time articulating how pro-life advocates also value a woman’s right and access to quality health care, dignity and compassion.
We cannot dismiss Wen or any other abortion supporter without first sitting down for a conversation, perhaps many conversations, which begin with sharing and listening to each other’s stories. How did Wen come to her beliefs about abortion? How did we come to our beliefs about the value of each human life from womb to tomb? Wen suffered a miscarriage earlier this summer, which she wrote about in The Washington Post. She writes about how that tragedy impacted her. It has further strengthened her commitment to women’s health care.
Christ did not walk away from people who were unaware of or disregarded his teachings. He made time to listen to their stories – his less than perfect apostles, the tax collector, the woman at the well living with a man she was not married to.
In his 2016 apostolic letter on mercy and peace, Pope Francis referred to a passage from Paul’s letter to Timothy. Paul’s words, “make us reflect on our lives and see God’s mercy at work in changing, converting and transforming hearts.”
As Christians, we are compelled to act with the mercy that Christ grants us each day of our lives. If we want to transform the hearts of Planned Parenthood supporters — from the former CEO on down — we begin with a merciful approach, knowing that it can be painful to listen to viewpoints so contrary to God’s plan for life. So what else can we do?
• Support pro-life organizations such as the Women’s Choice Center in Bettendorf
(womenschoicecenter.org); Birthright (birthright.org/contact); Students for Life of America (studentsforlife.org); John Paul II Medical Research Institute (jp2mri.org); Pregnancy Resources Center (qcpregnancy.org).
• Attend the Black and White Gala Mass on Aug. 9 at Christ the King Chapel on the St. Ambrose University campus in Davenport. Bishop Thomas Zinkula will preside at Mass. To make reservations, contact Brad and Cheryl Merritt at (563) 529-1820 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Extend an olive branch to someone you know who supports the right to abortion. Invite that person to a coffee shop or to your home for conversation.
• Pray for Wen to accept Hawkins’ invitation to dinner and a screening of Unplanned; pray for the former Planned Parenthood CEO to have a change of heart, as Abby Johnson did.