‘Faces of all the young clients I had ‘helped’ during the past three years — pretty girls, sad girls, scared girls — flashed at me,” Ramona Treviño writes.
They had walked into our clinic looking for answers, for someone to give them some kind of hope. But I hadn’t given them that. Instead, with a smile on my face, I had handed them some brochures about safe sex and a packet of pills before sending them back into the world, vulnerable and destined to repeat the same destructive behavior that had brought them to us in the first place. I hadn’t helped them. I had only made things worse for every last one of those precious young women.
In Redeemed by Grace: A Catholic Woman’s Journey to Planned Parenthood and Back, Treviño recounts her time working at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Sherman, Texas. Below, we talk about her experience and she shares her thoughts on the recent revelations about Planned Parenthood and the selling of fetal organs from late-term abortions. — KJL
Kathryn Jean Lopez: What has been going through your head as you watch the news coverage of these undercover videos involving Planned Parenthood and the organs of children who are aborted?
Ramona Treviño: I have been watching with a wide range of emotions and thoughts. For one, I — like so many others I’m sure — have watched with a feeling of disgust and anger that we as a nation continue to support not only abortion, but an organization that continues to be exposed for its unethical and illegal practices. I often wonder, “Is this it? Is this the beginning of the end for Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry?”
Although I have had feelings of disgust, I’m also overwhelmed with feelings of hope and optimism. My hope is that these new videos will continue to help change hearts and minds. That they will continue to force us to look deeper into our own conscience and approach the sanctity of the human person with stronger conviction. I pray fervently for the conversion of hearts and, ultimately, that our nation will find its way back to our loving God.
These videos not only expose Planned Parenthood for who they really are, but they help shed light on the gruesomeness of abortion. I’m extremely heartbroken, not only over the continued loss of life, but at the idea that only when babies are dead and their body parts are “sold” do they have any real value. Do these precious babies not have value before then? While still alive in the womb?
Lopez: What’s the hope you can give women who have had abortions now, who are perhaps horrified and greatly pained by what they are seeing now on the news about what abortion is and what Planned Parenthood does?
Treviño: I want them to know that there is redemption and hope for true and total healing. God is always waiting to take us back, and it’s not about the sins of yesterday, but what you do today. Having gone through this suffering, once healed, they have even more potential to help others, to speak out on their experiences, to encourage others to not step into this dark tunnel. So, because of what they’ve experienced, the potential to bring hope to others will be great. It is in bringing hope to others that they will find their hope.
Lopez: You write about how hard it is was to hear someone on a Catholic radio station say, “Birth control is the gateway to abortion.” Questioning birth control was so personal and so fundamental. After all, you write, “I had given so much of myself to a place that believed birth control was absolutely necessary for freedom.” Well, isn’t it?
Treviño: It depends on what kind of freedom you’re talking about. If you are talking temporary freedom, the chance to have easier access to the corporate ladder, to making your life be about things and what you can acquire, of focusing on yourself and your wants, then, yes, birth control can give you that freedom, to a point. If you’re talking about long-lasting freedom, the kind that makes you feel truly free in knowing that you have followed a path that is right, that is lived for others, that focuses not on self but on self-giving, then birth control is not the answer, and will lead to darkness. It can lead to a false sense of control, of thinking you own and direct your own life, and then when something happens out of your control, then what? Birth control can also lead to temptation to abort, because of the mindset that is closed to new life, which leads to more heartache. It can make a woman feel used. Is that freedom?
Lopez: Is there really a point in having that conversation, when even the Little Sisters of the Poor are being told to get on board with insurance coverage of birth control – along with abortion and female sterilization?
Treviño: Good and evil are always present in the world. And they always will be. The world will go its own way, but that doesn’t mean we just curl up and go silent. It doesn’t mean we should give up. Those who have seen and walk in the light are obligated, by God, to stay in the light and shine it, so that others will be drawn to it. So, conversations that bring about good, bring about hope, bring about light and life are always worth having, absolutely. And the hope of being redeemed is always something our world will need to hear. When people are broken and have no place to go but into death, that light of life is the last bit of hope. That is what we’re here to do, to shine that light even when darkness is all around.
Lopez: Why did you walk away from thinking, “It’s not my place to judge. It’s not my problem. It doesn’t affect me”? Doesn’t Pope Francis himself say, “Who am I to judge”?
Getting rid of a baby conceived at the wrong time, killing it, doesn’t bring freedom to anyone. But there is money to be made from doing so, and that’s Planned Parenthood’s bottom line.
Treviño: It was never my place to judge a heart, but we are called to judge actions. That’s why we have laws in the first place. We cannot just go around doing whatever we want to whomever we want. There is an order to the world that, if honored, fosters justice, and peace. And what we do personally always affects others, no matter what we might think. If one soul is lost, that affects a whole family tree, forever. Pope Francis was referring to judgment of people’s hearts, not of actions that would bring harm to them in the end. We are called to discern and even, when necessary, highlight actions that do not bring life so that change can happen, but, of course, we must always do this with a loving heart.
Lopez: Is Planned Parenthood bad? You had the best intentions working there. You wanted to help women!
Treviño: It is based on a mindset of death, of getting rid of the problem, of that short-term freedom I mentioned earlier; a freedom that might seem good for a while but, ultimately, doesn’t bring true happiness. Getting rid of a baby conceived at the wrong time, killing it, doesn’t bring freedom to anyone. But there is money to be made from doing so, and that’s Planned Parenthood’s bottom line. Many still within the industry truly believe they are helping women. They are living with scales on their eyes, like I did. Things like this recent scandal may be what will help remove some of the scales, and make both workers and potential or past clients question the true motives.
Lopez: What is your pitch to people working at Planned Parenthood and their allies and supporters who really do think they help women and are unfairly under attack?
Treviño: If we truly want to help women in crisis, we must offer them real help and alternatives to abortion. We do not empower women by saying that they can only be successful in life if they take the live(s) of their own children. Women are strong and capable. Abortion is not healthcare, and anyone working in the abortion industry should not buy into the rhetoric.
Lopez: How is one redeemed by grace?
Treviño: By understanding that God’s love is expansive, and brings true freedom, and that by living within God’s moral world — by humbly seeking forgiveness for wrongs, and then making a commitment to change, with God’s grace; by transforming one’s life for the good and bringing life, not death, to others — we find true freedom.
Lopez: What has been your experience of Divine Mercy?
Treviño: Divine Mercy has changed my life forever. It was my experience with Divine Mercy that ultimately gave me the courage to walk out of Planned Parenthood. It is often difficult to describe something so spiritual. Something so divine can be hard to put into words. Simply put, my experience has been one of total and complete peace. I know that God has forgiven me, not only for my involvement with abortion, but for every sin I have committed in my past. I have learned to put my total and complete trust in Jesus. It’s not easy, especially when going through trying times, but in the end I always come back to the words and message of Divine Mercy: “Jesus I Trust in You.”
Lopez: What would you like anyone who has ever had an abortion or played a role in one to know about Divine Mercy?
Treviño: We serve a loving and merciful God. Jesus’s mercy is infinite and open to all who seek it. All we must do is approach him with a humble and contrite heart and all is forgiven. There is no sin that Jesus cannot heal us from. His mercy allows us to become a new creation filled with hope and total dependence upon him.
Lopez: What can you say to realistically help someone who has had an abortion who does not believe in God?
Many still within the industry truly believe they are helping women. They are living with scales on their eyes like I did.
Treviño: There are atheists who believe abortion is wrong. One does not have to be a believer in God to understand human dignity, and to realize that a beating heart indicates life, and life is to be honored. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” in that order. Does abortion honor this? Might there be other ways than death to deal with unplanned pregnancy? Might we put our efforts into those avenues rather than funding an industry that promotes the death of innocent children? We are all humanists together. And together we can come up with solutions that are more humane than death.
Lopez: One of the pro-lifers you approached one day outside your clinic said to you: “You know, the Lord provides a way for those who follow his heart.” Have you seen evidence that that’s true?
Treviño: Absolutely! If you took a peek at my life since leaving Planned Parenthood and fully embracing my faith, you would have no doubt about it: The Lord always provides a way. He may not provide it in the way the “world” thinks he should — for example, in a monetary way. But what the Lord provides is something that money cannot buy. He provides us with joy, peace, and our daily bread. In reciting the Lord’s Prayer, we ask that he “give us this day, our daily bread.” This is how he provides only what we need for the day. Anything more is an extra blessing. If we focus on the blessings we do have rather than those we don’t, it is easy to see that the Lord provides us with more than enough. It is only in following his heart that we are able to come to a deeper understanding of this.
Lopez: How can someone who does not believe in God get untangled from the abortion industry?
Treviño: At bottom, we are all inclined toward good, and all it takes is wanting good more than that which leads to death, and surrounding oneself with those who are inclined toward good, whether they believe in God or not.
Lopez: What do you say to a woman who has had an abortion or a woman or man who has had a hand in one who doesn’t feel God is near and forgiving?
Treviño: God is love, and moving toward God can be a slow process of untangling from those things that are not of love, of life. It may not all happen in a day. But it might be just as simple as a plea from the heart to get started: “Lord, I want better, I want goodness, I want life. Please show me how.” Then it’s just a matter of watching for the ways God wants to transform you and continuing to move toward those good things that bring life to you, and the people in your life who surround themselves with good things, as opposed to destructive things that tarnish the soul. God sometimes acts most of all through the people in your life, but he does want you to approach him so that you are acting independently and out of a desire for good, instead of being coerced.
Lopez: Looking back on losing your virginity as a teenager, you write:
I didn’t know my own value, of course. I had missed the memo that before I was born, even before I was conceived, God had marked me as precious. I did not realize that true love would not have demanded what Lucio wanted from me that night. If only I had been confident enough, strong enough, not to give in to my misdirected emotions.
What do you want young women to know? How can they believe this if there’s no one in their lives who seems to want to help them? Or love them?
Treviño: Somewhere deep inside we all have the smallest belief that we are loved. You may not have had that affirmed. You may have been led to believe otherwise. But God loves you with a boundless love and wants to reach you to give you a better life. And you deserve that better life, and God will lead you to it if you come to him and ask. Sometimes, until we are healed, it is hard for us to see God, to trust God. Seeking healing first can often open the doors that lead to God’s heart.
Lopez: You found yourself in a marriage where you wondered whether a husband can actually rape a wife. What is your message to anyone reading this who feels physically and emotionally imprisoned?
Treviño: This is a difficult question, because it took me so long to find the strength to get out of a painful and unhealthy marriage. Once I finally found the courage and strength, it was not as if everything just fell into place and I lived happily ever after. I think my message is one of hope. There is hope even when it seems like there is no light in the darkness. We often feel as if we are trapped forever in a world of pain and hopelessness with no way out. But there is a way out and there is hope. Always hope, but we must make the first step by loving ourselves enough to know that we deserve better and that God wants that for us as well.
Lopez: What do you hope Pope Francis’s visit to the U.S. in September for the World Meeting of Families does for marriage and family and hurting souls?
One does not have to be a believer in God to understand human dignity, and to realize that a beating heart indicates life, and life is to be honored.
Treviño: As the Vicar of Christ, the pope has a responsibility to bring hope to a broken world, to remind the world of the redeeming love of God, to put mercy in each person’s path, to remind them that they are unique and unrepeatable, that there is a purpose for their lives and it is a purpose of love and life, and no matter what has happened in their lives up to now, they deserve to begin moving toward love. Repent and believe. Freedom is on the other side of those three words. But they must be willing to let go of pride, and approach God in humility. It might be hard, but if they can move through this process, life will become exceedingly better. I am trusting Pope Francis will affirm these ideas.
Lopez: You write, “It took me so long to find healing. A damaged soul needs time.” How do you start?
Treviño: The answer is in forgiveness. We must start by forgiving those who have wronged us and caused us pain. It is in forgiving that we find forgiveness. Once we examine our own conscience and see what we have done to hurt others, we are in a better position to see the importance of forgiving those who have wronged us. Only then can we begin the process of healing. Ask for God’s help if you believe in him, or even if you’re not sure. We must surround ourselves with as many good and healthy people as possible. It helps to seek those who have healed from their past so you, too, can learn what is necessary for your own healing. It helps to know that you might fall a few times, but that’s okay — there’s always tomorrow, and it’s worth it to keep going.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online. She is co-author of the upcoming revised and updated edition of How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice.