When Ramona Treviño was 16, she found out she was pregnant. Head-over-heels in love with her 19-year-old boyfriend, she dropped out of high school, had her baby, and got married. The marriage, however, was an abusive one, and after years of lies and deception, Treviño got a divorce. This painful experience would help set her on a path that led her through the doors of America’s largest abortion provider—and then out of those doors and into the pro-life movement.
Although she never considered herself pro-abortion, Treviño took a job as manager of a Texas Planned Parenthood clinic, hoping to help women in girls in the kind of difficult situation she had once been in herself. Since her facility did not perform abortions, she figured she could steer clear of that aspect of her employer’s operations; once it became clear that abortion referrals were among the services she was expected to provide her clients, Treviño grew increasingly uneasy about her job.
Disillusioned about Planned Parenthood’s financial and operational procedures, and concerned that she was hurting rather than helping the often frightened and vulnerable women who were coming to her facility, Treviño ultimately left her job, embraced the Catholic faith of her childhood, and found a new life for herself as a pro-life advocate and speaker.
Treviño’s dramatic story is the subject of the new book Redeemed by Grace (Ignatius Press). She recently spoke with CWR about her experiences and her conversion.
CWR: How did your experience as a teenage mom influence your work at Planned Parenthood, and your eventual decision to quit?
Ramona Treviño: I was unwed when I became pregnant with my daughter, and married two months after she was born. Because I was in such an unhappy and unhealthy relationship, I carried that experience around with me for many years after I left the “marriage.” I believe the experiences of being in a difficult marriage, a teen mom, and then a single mom with no support from my ex-husband left me jaded. Although I truly wanted to help the young women who came into Planned Parenthood, I also had feelings of indifference towards them. I experienced many complicated emotions over the years.
Eventually I could no longer look at myself and my past and continue to “sell” an ideology that said contraception and abortion are the answers to the problem. Even if I had not become pregnant as a teenager, contraception wouldn’t have changed the fact that I was in a very unhealthy relationship. Abortion would not have been the answer either; it would have made things even worse. Planned Parenthood was not doing anything to help solve the real problems these young women and men were facing.
CWR: Unlike Abby Johnson, another former Planned Parenthood employee who quit and who has become a pro-life advocate, you were never “OK” with abortion. And although your facility did refer patients for abortions, you did not perform abortions on-site. While you were working for Planned Parenthood, did you try to “ignore” the issue of abortion and your involvement in the industry?
Treviño: I washed my hands, so to speak, regarding the connection to abortion. I tried to ignore it, but it was a reality I could not avoid. Knowing I was referring for abortions and giving out information about where one could obtain an abortion did leave me unsettled, even if I didn’t want to confront those feelings head-on. In my mind, I believed we were helping to prevent abortions. I had a conversion regarding my own personal use of contraception, but it would take some time for me to piece everything together. Then it became clear that contraception and sex education were not the answer.
While working for Planned Parenthood, I had absolutely no idea how many abortions had occurred since Roe v. Wade. Once I left Planned Parenthood and discovered that millions upon millions of abortions had taken place over the course of 40 years, I could not believe it. I thought abortions were supposed to be “rare”! I was stunned, shocked, and distraught at the thought of so many babies lost, all because of a so-called “choice.”
CWR: In your book, you describe a meeting with Planned Parenthood directors in which the pro-life group Live Action’s “sting” videos were discussed. You were expecting the discussion to be about how to address the issues of abuse uncovered by Live Action—how Planned Parenthood employees should respond when faced with instances of sex trafficking, statutory rape, incest, etc.—but instead the discussion was about how to avoid getting “stung” by pro-life activists in the future. How did that meeting affect you and your attitude toward your employer?
Treviño: I attended the “training” that day with the idea that maybe, just maybe, Planned Parenthood really did care about women. Maybe they weren’t all that bad. I was disgusted with my employer and the whole organization. They showed their true colors that day. Everything I had been hearing about the organization via Catholic radio was really true.
CWR: As you returned to the Catholic Church, did you have any preconceptions of how you might be received by other Catholics, as an employee at Planned Parenthood?
Treviño: To be honest, I had no preconceptions. While I worked for Planned Parenthood, I was not devout in my faith. It wasn’t until those last few months at Planned Parenthood, and after going to Confession, that I returned fully to the Church. I know there were some Catholics who were a little perplexed by the fact that I worked at Planned Parenthood, but everyone received me with open arms.
CWR: While many people consider themselves pro-life and opposed to abortion, the Catholic Church’s view of contraception is a tough hurdle for many to overcome. Was it difficult for you to embrace that teaching?
Treviño: When I first began working for Planned Parenthood, I was using contraception. I knew the Church taught against it, but really didn’t grasp the “why.” I felt as though I was somehow exempt because I was using contraception to “treat” endometriosis, therefore I had a pass. Working for Planned Parenthood, I did struggle a bit regarding this teaching, especially because contraception was supposed to help prevent abortions. Most of the time, I never gave it much thought because I didn’t allow myself to “go there.” How could I work for Planned Parenthood and have that weighing on my conscience, too? But everything changed the moment I heard the word—and the definition of—“abortifacient.” I could no longer justify my own use of contraception, much less my role as a manager at the nation’s largest abortion provider.
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