Joan Appleton, the former head nurse of a Virginia abortuary, recalls that “it was the friendship of one pro-lifer, Debra Braun, and the prayers of many pro-lifers that got me to leave the abortion business.” And to her peers who continue to provide abortions, she says: “I invite you to leave the world of lies, anger and rage and join the rest of us in a world of peace and healing.”

The testimony of Appleton was shared as Fr. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life in the United States, proclaimed March 9, 2006 a National Day of Invitation to Abortion Providers. The new event countered the 11th annual March 10 National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers, when pro-abortion groups memorialized the 1993 murder of Florida abortionist David Gunn, and affirmed those who persist in his deadly specialty.

Pro-life groups broadly condemned that shooting and continue to support only non-violent means of opposing and obstructing abortion.

The testimony of former abortion providers is a most useful tool in the pro-life effort. Much of it has been gathered on the Pro-Life Action League’s Meet the Abortion Providers videos.

Pavone announced that Priests for Life extends “an invitation to repentance and to the healing grace of the Lord. We invite people to read the testimonies of abortionists who have converted and to write letters and make calls to media outlets in order to share these stories. It is precisely because we appreciate these people that we want to free them from the misery of being an abortionist.” Pavone considers the abortionists to be the “forgotten victims” of abortion – they “hurt themselves by their actions, throwing their lives into chaos.”

Hundreds of former participants in the abortion industry have converted to the pro-life cause – doctors, nurses, assistants and security personnel among them. Many find reconciliation and healing by attending Rachel’s Vineyard retreats. Others, like Joan Appleton, have joined the Society of Centurions, founded by Dr. Philip Ney. Ney is the author of The Centurion’s Pathway: A Description of the Difficult Transition for Ex-Abortion Providers or Facilitators (1997, Pioneer Publishing, Victoria, B.C., $15). The society’s brochure states: “The centurion who stood at the foot of the cross of Christ suddenly became horrified at the crucifixion he was ordered to carry out. When Christ died, this centurion dropped his sword and fell to his knees exclaiming, ‘Surely, this was an innocent man!’

“Those of us who have participated in the killing of unborn children are the centurions of today. We have dropped our swords against the unborn child. Now, we must recognize the depth of our guilt and deal with the ramifications … To revitalize our humanity, we need to forgive and be forgiven, to reconcile and be healed.”

To read more testimony from former abortion providers, visit the website at http://www.priestsforlife.org/testimony/formerabort.html.

New contributor Theresa Smyth, MSW, RSW, is a social worker with a clinical interest in the healing of trauma.