Linda Couri of Libertyville, Illinois, age
41, is a committed Catholic. She is a wife and mother, she works hard to
maintain a deep prayer life, and she strongly supports the Church’s teachings
on the Gospel of Life. She is also a licensed clinical social worker employed
by the Archdiocese of Chicago as its associate director of lay ministry formation,
working out of the archdiocese’s Mundelein Seminary and helping train lay
ministers for the Church.
But a decade ago Couri was an agnostic
who was contemptuous of the Catholic faith as well as a staunch advocate of
legalized abortion who worked for Planned Parenthood as both a volunteer and
employee. In fact, she herself had an abortion at age 24.
“I’ve come a long way,” Couri
remarked. “And God has supported me
through this process.”
Couri was born in Chicago and attended
Catholic schools. She stopped going to Church when she was 18, and remained
agnostic until age 32. She surrounded herself with like-minded people. At age
24, she became pregnant with her boyfriend’s child.
She initially planned to have the baby.
It was a human being, she believed, and caring for the baby was her
responsibility. However, being single and having little money at the time, the
thought of having a child caused Couri much anxiety. Having an abortion seemed like
a quick and easy solution.
Her boyfriend had a hands-off approach. Couri
could have the child or get an abortion; either way was fine with him. He left
the decision to her.
“It was disappointing,” Couri said of
her boyfriend’s attitude. “He didn’t take responsibility. He washed his hands
of the whole thing. It was lonely making the decision by myself. He was a
product of our culture, however, and I think it was the best he could offer me.”
Couri reflects that even though she considered
herself a feminist and pro-choice, she wished she had the strength to stand up to
her boyfriend and say, “Let’s have this baby.” A few months later the
relationship would end.
Couri decided to have an abortion. Once
the decision was made, her stress immediately left her. “It was the best drug
you could ever have taken,” she said. But her relief came at a cost. She had to
ignore her conscience, and do what she knew was wrong.
When Couri went to the clinic, the staff
offered to drug her for the procedure. She declined, wanting to remain fully
awake. She sat in a waiting room in a hospital gown, along with six other young
women. She described the experience as surreal, with Bette Midler’s Wind Beneath My Wings playing over the
P.A. system while the women waited for their names to be called, each of them
alone and isolated. No one would even make eye contact.
“There is nothing joyful about abortion,”
Couri reflects today. “Some women are complacent, but most just bare-knuckle
their way through it.”
Her name was called, and she went into a
room to have her abortion. She lay down, and saw a painting by Henri Rousseau
on the ceiling. It was put there to distract the women, she thought. Couri made
a point of not looking at it, as she wanted to be fully aware of what was going
on. The nurse held her hand during the abortion.
Immediately after, Couri asked the
abortionist to see the aborted fetus. He was surprised, but agreed. He held up a bowl with the remains of her
child. “It was gruesome and sad,” Couri
For years after, she thought little
about what she had done and the morality of her actions. “I tucked it away in a
comfortable, intellectual place,” she said. She did allow the experience to
motivate her as she grew increasingly active in pro-choice political work.
Couri became a volunteer, and later an
employee, at Planned Parenthood. She worked in Champaign, Illinois, about a three-hour
drive from Chicago. At Planned Parenthood, she presented sex education classes
in schools, having students try on a “pregnancy suit,” a weighted-down jumper
that simulates some of the physical aspects of pregnancy. The suit was an
attempt to impress upon students the less-than-glamorous side of pregnancy so
as to encourage them to avoid it.
A licensed clinical social worker with a
master’s degree in social work, Couri was the only mental health professional
on staff at her Planned Parenthood facility and was responsible for offering pregnancy
counseling to women seeking abortions. Much of it was not, in fact, counseling,
but rather a review of the abortion procedure and a double-checking of the
patient’s intentions. Couri would ask, “Do you know what you’re doing?” and, “Is
this what you want to do?”
Couri has many sad memories of the women
with whom she spoke. One was a married university professor with three
children. Even though abortion was readily accepted in the university culture
of which she was a part, she was clearly struggling with the decision; Couri
thinks she could have gone either way. In the end she had the abortion, and
Couri never saw her again.
“I have a lot of regret when I think of
her,” Couri said. “I could have dissuaded her from having an abortion, and I
didn’t.” At the time, Couri was herself conflicted about abortion. While she supported
its legalization, she also believed the unborn child was a human being and that
abortion destroyed the child’s life.
She recalled a pregnant 16-year-old girl
she counseled. Couri told her she could keep the child and rear him herself,
put the baby up for adoption, or have an abortion.
The girl asked, “If I have an abortion,
am I killing my baby?” Couri responded, “‘Kill’ is a strong word, and so is
‘baby.’ You’re terminating the product of conception.”
In her heart, Couri knew she was playing
a semantic game.
Later, Couri shared her concerns with
her supervisor, who suggested that the 16-year-old’s choice for abortion would
be the lesser of two evils, implicitly acknowledging abortion to be an “evil.” The
supervisor’s ambivalence is not unusual among Planned Parenthood employees,
Couri says; virtually all Planned Parenthood staffers are women, and many will
privately concede that they have mixed feelings about abortion, she said. “You
can’t be a woman and not be conflicted about it,” Couri explained.
Couri offered further evidence that Planned
Parenthood staffers know that abortion kills babies. On Wednesdays, her
facility offered a pre-natal clinic for women who wanted to have their babies. The
staff put up pictures of babies around the office on that day. Afterward, when
it was time to prepare the facility for abortion procedures, the baby pictures
came down and paintings of landscapes went up.
There were also indications that the
abortionists themselves knew they were killing babies. Couri recalls the case
of one abortionist, an unpleasant man flown in from out-of-state due to the
difficulty of finding local doctors willing to perform abortions. He was about
to perform an abortion on a young woman when he recognized her as someone he
had done an abortion on before. In fact, it was the third time she had had one.
The abortionist was angry at her for getting pregnant again, and treated her coldly.
“If abortion is nothing more than, say,
removing a mole, then why get angry about it?” Couri said. “Obviously he knew
it was something more.”
In 2003, yearning for some kind of spirituality
in her life, Couri went back to church. Although she had scorned Catholicism,
it was the faith she had been reared in, so it was a starting place. Returning
to the Church was difficult, as her thoroughly secular friends and co-workers
did not support her. An ex-boyfriend ridiculed her, saying, “I hear you’re
going to be a nun.”
She joined a daily Mass group at St.
Patrick’s Church in Urbana. She was still pro-choice, however, and wore her Planned
Parenthood name badge to Mass. She got to know her fellow worshipers, but no
one ever asked her about the badge.
Curious to learn more about the Catholic
faith, she began having private meetings with the pastor at St. Patrick’s, Father
George Remm. “I’d ask him about who Jesus was, what sin was, and any number of
other questions,” Couri recalled. “He’d listen to me and seemed to really like
One day, however, Father Remm asked her,
“Linda, how can you be who you are, and still be pro-choice?”
“Don’t go there,” was Couri’s
uncomfortable response. Father Remm dropped the subject.
“She appreciated that I would listen to
her without judging her,” recalled Father Remm, now retired after 18 years at
St. Patrick’s. “You have to take a person where they’re at and gently lead
Some time after that conversation with
Father Remm, while on retreat, Couri decided it was time to leave Planned
Parenthood. Couri still considered herself pro-choice; that would change on November
MESSAGE TO MYSELF”
Couri trained her replacement at Planned
Parenthood, left Champaign, and returned to Chicago. She stayed with her mother
for a while as she re-established herself in the city.
For years, Couri had maintained a video diary.
Sitting alone in her mother’s basement on November 11, she came across a tape
she had made just before she went in for her abortion 10 years before, and
watched it. “It was the saddest thing I ever saw,” she said.
She saw herself, 10 years younger,
talking about the abortion she was just about to have. She apologized to her
baby, and, although an unbeliever, said she hoped they would meet some day.
“It was horrible to watch,” Couri said. “It
was a message to myself, from me to me. I said, ‘If you’re watching this one
day in the future, know that you love this baby.’”
Couri, a therapist herself, had what she
described as a psychological breakdown. She endured panic attacks, and had
trouble thinking clearly. She turned to the Church for help. Couri contacted
Margie Breen, coordinator of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Project Rachel program,
which offers confidential counseling and services for women recovering from
abortions. Often, as in Couri’s case, Project Rachel also helps women return to
the practice of their faith.
remembers her first meeting with Couri; she was surprised to learn Couri had
recently been an employee of Planned Parenthood. Breen was eager to help.
“Without compromising Church teaching, I tried to meet Linda where she was at,”
appreciated the support Project Rachel offered. “Defining abortion as an
objective wrong that is forgivable was very helpful,” she said. “Margie did it
in a way that was graceful and tender, the way any post-abortive woman should
talking to post-abortive women, Couri believes, counselors should stress that
the women are brave for confronting their sin, rather than following the
example of those who live in a state of “passive denial that can be soul-crushing.”
While women must accept that what they’ve done is seriously sinful, they must
also remember that Jesus came to forgive sins, Couri said.
is a process, Couri maintained, and a woman might not feel better for a long
time. “‘Feeling’ forgiven is not a prerequisite for forgiveness itself,” she
explained. “Forgiveness is an objective action by God.”
Father Remm at St. Patrick’s was
overjoyed to receive a letter from Couri stating that she had fully embraced
the faith and no longer considered herself pro-choice. “As I look back, I can
see that there was a movement of grace going on within her,” he said.
A NEW LIFE
conversion and recovery led to a desire to work in the Church, so when a job
opportunity opened in the Office of Lay Ministry Formation, she jumped at the
chance. Today she helps train lay people for ministry roles in the Church.
2006, she married Robert Couri, a technician with AT&T and a committed
Catholic. “The standards which the
Church sets came more naturally to him than to me,” Couri said of her husband. “This
is actually the life-blood of our marriage. We frequently discuss Church
teaching and how we both, in different ways, come to accept and obey it.”
The couple has been blessed
with two children, ages one and three. Couri
is now a sought-after pro-life speaker, and regularly shares her experience at
churches and other venues. Recently, she made a presentation to a group of
pro-life students at a medical school. Breen said the archdiocesan Respect Life
Office recommends Couri for presentations because her story is an effective and
only is she post-abortive, but she has worked on the other side of the abortion
issue,” Breen said. “She can share a perspective that most pro-life people
hopes her public speaking will help dissuade other young women from making the
mistakes she once did. Talking to women considering abortion is something that
must be done with great care, she says, and it must start with the counselor
establishing a relationship with the woman. This involves talking specifically
about the fears she has about having a child, and acknowledging that she has
legitimate concerns. The woman must also be given the opportunity to discuss
her relationship with the father of the child, as this can impact her feelings
about her unborn child. “I imagine that she will have conflicting feelings,”
Couri said about such a situation. “I would allow her to talk these out. In
essence, I would work with her in
choosing to have the baby. I would help her to identify her resources and support
systems, and I would tap into the times in her life when she has been brave. I
would help her to feel like a strong woman who is making the right choice; a
hero, in a sense.”
the woman about the regret she will have one day for killing her baby is often counterproductive,
Couri believes, as it can add to her stress and lead to “emotional overload.”
loves her job, and is pleased to be making a contribution to the work of the
Church and the pro-life cause.
“I’m grateful I’m not living in the midst of a
soul-crippling relativism that was once intellectually, psychologically, and
spiritually devastating to me,” she said. “I thank God for all he has done in