Ronald Reagan observed that supporters of abortion had one thing in common: They were all already born. The 40th president’s insight underscores another critical fact: Every time abortion intervenes, a voice goes missing from the human conversation.
Claire Culwell is one of a growing number of children who survived an abortion attempt and are now giving voice to that experience. Melissa Ohden, author of You Carried Me (Plough) and founder of the website Abortion Survivors Network (abortionsurvivors.org), is another.
Culwell was conceived by a 13-year-old girl named Tonya, whose mother pressured her into having an abortion. A few weeks later, Tonya discovered she was still pregnant, the abortionist having failed to notice that she was carrying twins. Her sibling was killed, but by the time it became known that Claire had survived, it was too late under Oklahoma law for Tonya to have another abortion.
Born in 1988, Claire was adopted by Warren and Barbara Culwell, an active Christian family whose desire for children had been stymied by infertility. Although she knew from childhood that she was adopted, Claire was unaware of her birth mother’s abortion until they met when she was 21 years old.
Tonya had been standoffish towards her daughter, but when they finally did meet she broke down and revealed the guilty secret she had been bearing for more than two decades: She had intended to abort her child, not once but twice.
Survivor is a gripping, personal story about how two people can reconcile despite one of them having sought the death of the other. That account itself—of how the healing power of forgiveness can make all things new—makes for compelling reading. The book, however, is also an illuminating chronicle of how Claire, who admits to never having thought too much about life issues, became a pro-life activist (and brought Tonya along with her).
Before she learned the painful details of her past, Claire had planned to become a nurse. But on returning home after meeting Tonya’s mother—the grandmother who wanted Claire aborted—she was a ball of emotions. Looking out her apartment window, she saw people across the street whom she recognized as regulars. They were doing sidewalk counseling in front of a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic—the same clinic where Abby Johnson had her pro-life road-to-Damascus moment. Out of curiosity, Claire approached the counselors, got to know them, and eventually shared her story. The rest—including her friendship with Abby Johnson—is history. Learning the circumstances of her birth mother’s abortion gave Claire insight into what many women experience silently and alone. Noticing the presence of sidewalk counselors helped Claire find her own pro-life voice. Meeting Johnson was a force multiplier for her. Slowly, Claire also got Tonya involved in making her—their—story public. And, having stopped one day to help a homeless woman who turned out to be pregnant, Claire found she could accommodate a house guest. These small encounters had enormous consequences.
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Claire Culwell has a distinct and important role to play in the struggle to restore the right to life to unborn children. But we are all called to engage in the abortion debate when opportunities present themselves to us. Steven A. Christie, both a physician and a lawyer, provides invaluable assistance in how to make the case for life in an informed and cogent way.
In Speaking for the Unborn:30-Second Pro-Life Rebuttals to Pro-Choice Arguments, Christie provides quick, pithy, 30-second responses to several common pro-abortion arguments. The ripostes are to the point, punchy, and memorable. Consider this comeback to the claim that an embryo is just part of a woman’s body:
The embryo is—in no way—a “part” of the mother’s body. Science clearly defines “body part” as a structure that shares the same genetic code as the rest of the body (like the appendix, arms, tonsils, or heart) and does not direct its own development. The unborn child has a completely unique genetic code. Half of the time it even has a different sex! It also directs its own development. So the embryo clearly is a separate living human being residing temporarily inside his or her mother. That’s the science of the matter (p. 33).
The book is replete with such jewels as “How does a six-inch journey through the birth canal magically confer life or value?” “My own personal opposition to abortion is based on science, reason, morality, social justice, and the visible evidence.” “Abortion is a human issue, not a gender issue. You didn’t have to be black to oppose slavery . . .” It also features an amusing series of mock newspaper reports parodying pro-abortion slogans, e.g., a photograph of Justice Amy Coney Barrett headlined “Without Abortion, Women Might Have to Settle for Having 7 Kids and Sitting on the Highest Court in the Land.”
In an age of shrunk attention spans and soundbite communication, Christie recognizes the need to get our points across quickly and memorably. He provides model answers that can be memorized and tailored to individual interlocutors. He also suggests using technology to back up our arguments: Can you upload pictures depicting the stages of fetal development and, where appropriate, images of actual abortions, to your phone? Christie has also made videos that demonstrate how to make important points when debating abortion (you can access them at www.SpeakingForTheUnborn.org).
Intended to invigorate and arm prolifers in the ongoing abortion battle, both Survivor and Speaking for the Unborn merit a place on every prolifer’s bookshelf.
—John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) was former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views herein are exclusively his own.