Thursday, July 20, 2006

Unable to see: Beverly McMillan's story

I was laying in bed last night, thinking about Ashli and the women like her, thinking about how many prochoicers can't even begin go grasp the anguish of losing a child to abortion because they simply can't see the child.

How, I wondered, can people care about women like Ashli if they can't see the babies these women are mourning? How can their eyes be opened?

Then I remembered Dr. Beverly McMillan. Dr. McMillan operated the first abortion clinic in Mississippi. In Jackson, Mississippi, to be specific, where the last abortion clinic in Mississippi still stands. And Dr. McMillan's story is a classic case of somebody who simply couldn't see the baby.

I'll let Dr. McMillan tell the story in her own words:
After it was all over, I would leave my patient on the table and I would go over to the suction bottle and I would take the little stockinette out and go outside the room to a sink where I would open the stockinette up, and I personally would pick through it with a forceps and I would have to identify four extremities, and a spine and a skull and the placenta. If I didn't find that, I would have to go back in that room and scrape and suction some more, or else my patients would be showing up in 48 or 72 hours, just like those women at Cook County with an infected incomplete abortion.

Standing at that sink, I guess I just started seeing these bodies for the first time. I don't know what I did before that. I think I just counted.


I remember one afternoon in particular, a very attractive young woman who was the day-to-day manager of the clinic came up to the sink one day while I was getting ready to go through my little procedure, and she said, would you let me see? I've never really seen what you look at at the sink. I said, sure, and I started showing her. And this happened to be about a 12-week abortion, and that was about the farthest along we went. That day as I was showing her, I remember very clearly seeing an arm and seeing the deltoid muscle, and it just really struck me that day how beautiful that was. The thought just flashed through my mind: What are you doing? Here is this beautiful piece of human flesh here, what are you doing? That was one of the very last ones that I did.

So here was a woman who literally had the babies right in front of her, day after day, week after week, year after year. She could look at them, count the arms and legs, identify the spine, the pelvis, the skull. And she still was unable to actually see them.

What was it that opened Dr. McMillan's eyes? The same thing that opened the eyes of many a blind man: the hand of God.

Dissatisfied with her life, but unable to identify what was wrong, she bought a copy of The Power of Positive Thinking. And though she fought against doing it, she finally did Task #7 at the end of the first chapter. She affirmed aloud, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." She felt a change. She read the rest of the book. It instructed her to read the Bible and to find Christian fellowship.

Dr. McMillan didn't own a Bible. She had to go out and buy one.
Christian fellowship was difficult, too. I thought back over my friends and acquaintances and realized there was only one person that I knew who was a Christian, a very important person, however. I had met this woman the summer before I had opened up the abortion clinic at a Childbirth Education Association tea. I was going anywhere, everywhere to meet people to build-up my practice, even Childbirth Education teas. When I met Barbara, within five minutes of talking to each other, she realized I was a heathen and I realized she was a Christian, and we decided we'd be friends anyway.

So I decided to spend more time with my friend Barbara. What I didn't know until about four or five years later was that she had been so horrified after meeting me and hearing that I was getting ready to open up an abortuary, she had gone home and called a friend of hers and they had made a covenant to pray for me, and within six months I was in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Dr. McMillan's story reminds me of the story of Carol Everett. She ran a string of abortion clinics in the Dallas area. A patient's death shocked her, but wasn't enough to move her. But the atmosphere in the clinics was deteriorating. Staff were at each other's throats. Carol hired a business consultant. He turned out to be a preacher. He told Carol that he'd been praying, and that God had told him to go to her clinic, that somebody in that clinic was going to leave within 30 days. Carol thought at first that the man was insane. But within 30 days, she had indeed left.

When the scales fell from Dr. McMillan's eyes, she was able to see the babies for the first time. When the scales fell from Carol's eyes, she was able to see -- the women:
I noticed something was different. From my point of view, women had been dancing in through the front door, singing, 'I'm pregnant...Do my abortion...' But when I got back, I saw that all the women coming in the front door were crying. I'd never noticed that before.

The point, I guess, is that talking does nothing. The blindness isn't an intellectual blindness. Beverly McMillan was able to do her job, to identify all the body parts of each baby she suctioned out. It was a spiritual blindness that kept her from seeing the reality of what was right in front of her.

With Dr. McMillan, as with Carol, it was the power of prayer, of faith, and, ultimately, of God.

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