Jim Daly: And I think given the journey you’ve been given, what do you say to that person who whispers in your ear, “I’ve done horrible things”? It may not be abortion – what – adultery, whatever it might be.
Dr. Anthony Levatino: No. It – I don’t – I don’t care what you’ve done. It cannot compare to what I’ve done.
Jim: And then how…
Anthony: And there is forgiveness if you ask for it and really repent. It won’t happen all – you know, the forgiveness comes all at once. The change in you will take time.
Jim: And that’s so awesome.
Anthony: But the day will come when you can forgive yourself.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: Dr. Anthony Levatino is our guest again today on Focus on the Family, along with his wife, Cecelia. And your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.
Jim: John, there’s a verse in the New Testament in 2 Corinthians that perfectly describes Dr. Levatino’s story. It’s in Chapter 12. And it says, “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” That’s what we heard last time. And if you missed the program last time, get a copy. Get the download. Do what you need to do. It was a powerful message about Tony, his wife, Cecelia. Tony, uh, was a abortion doctor, and he had performed many, many hundreds, if not thousands of abortions. And, uh, it’s how God worked in both of their lives to bring about an awareness and to eventually bring them into a pro-life perspective, and I’m so grateful for their courage in sharing their story.
John: If you missed any of the previous part of our conversation, uh, you can find it all at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: And John, when we ended part one last time with Tony and his wife, Cecelia, we had just heard about how their daughter, who joined their family through adoption, was tragically killed after being hit by a car.
Jim: And, you know, they began to discuss that healing process. And we’re going to pick the conversation up at about that point today.
John: Right. And this note for parents – if you’ve got younger children, this, um, a pretty mature conversation we’re having. So, have the little ones, uh, out of the way and maybe just listen in privately yourself.
Jim: Tony and Cecelia, welcome back to Focus.
Cecelia Levatino: Thank you.
Anthony: Thank you.
Jim: We’re still drying our eyes from the last time we were with you because, uh, it was a powerful story about the death of your adopted daughter, Heather, and being a physician and a ICU nurse and not having the capacity. That’s what caught my attention because doctors – you do believe you can do everything, pretty much (laughter). And to be there helplessly watching your daughter die in your arms, I – I just can’t imagine, to be honest, what that must have felt like. And then you’re picking up the pieces. Uh, Tony, you talked about how you began to mourn separately, and you were drifting. Um, Cecelia, I wanted to come back to you to fill in your perspective on that. What were you feeling? I can’t imagine the mother’s wound in that way and with Tony’s distance, not having that connection, what that isolation must have felt like.
Cecelia: It was – it was paralyzing.
Cecelia: Um, I think that’s the best description of what it’s like to lose a child. You are absolutely paralyzed in grief. Uh, it is so profound. It’s indescribable.
Jim: How did you be the caretaker for Sean? I mean, was that all normal and on auto-function? Or did Sean suffer, too, because you guys were emotionally distant and trying to figure out how to recover?
Cecelia: Um, that’s a good question. He was obviously suffering because they were more like twins. They were so close.
Cecelia: And it was – it was a horrible, um, horrible time for him.
Cecelia: I think we tried to keep things as normal as possible. Heather died in June. He started kindergarten in September. And, um, I can remember just sitting at the kitchen table all day long, I mean, just not being able to move…
Jim: Just numb.
Cecelia: …In the grief…
Cecelia: …And – and for the first time in my life, seriously having suicidal thoughts…
Jim: Oh, my goodness.
Cecelia: …Because the pain was so intense. I just didn’t want to live another minute with it.
Cecelia: And, um…
Anthony: We actually talked about that.
Cecelia: Yeah, we did talk about that.
John: In what context?
Anthony: But with Sean, there was just no way it was gonna happen.
Anthony: But we actually discussed it.
Jim: That’s how deep the despair was.
Cecelia: Oh, it was. It was – it was just indescribable.
Jim: Well, and that must have – you know, it captures the love you had for Heather, this adopted daughter. That’s profound.
Cecelia: Yeah. And it’s the little things. I mean, grieving, regardless of how many people are around you – and I – I think, even if we had had a very close relationship at that time and were able to grieve together, grieving is a very personal, lonely thing.
Cecelia: And it doesn’t matter how many people are around you. It doesn’t matter how many people are trying to help you.
Cecelia: You are alone in it. You really are.
Jim: And there’s no easy fix.
Cecelia: No, there isn’t.
Jim: You have to go through the process…
Cecelia: You have to go through the process.
Jim: …And come out the other side. Tony, uh, last time you talked about taking a few weeks off. You were back at your practice, and you were performing a D&C, I believe, and the change that had occurred at that moment. Here, you’re – you’ve lost your daughter in this terrible automobile accident. Now you’re taking the life of this viable baby, a second-trimester child – taking it limb by limb, as you described last time. What’s the process forward there? What was going through your mind after that procedure and getting home that night? Did you talk to Cecelia about it, or were you still all bound up?
Anthony: No, we were – uh, you know, we were both all bound up, and we did not talk about it. I mean, after that first abortion, you know, I – I – I wasn’t prepared for the reaction. I – I just never thought of abortion in any negative context until that day.
Jim: It’s almost like the humanity of it came back in that moment.
Anthony: It did.
Jim: That’s really interesting.
Anthony: It did, very much so. But on the other hand, I am a dedicated pro-choice physician. You know, “I know why I feel bad. I’ll get through this.” Um, so I just literally, you know – what – what do – what do so many of us do in grief? We soldier on. You know, we – especially for men, their jobs are important. You know, so, you know, we just – we’re gonna – we’re gonna just plow through this.
Jim: Yeah, I – I – let me say this and see if you connect, Cecelia. Uh, I remember Jean and I were going through a tough time, and her – her brother had taken his life. And I can remember, as a husband, being kind of lost as to what to say. But being an orphan kid, I was like, “Jean, I think we just got to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and get moving,” which was very insensitive when I look back on it now. And I remember, she just looked at me and said, “Jim, not everybody can do what you do. I’m different. I gotta grieve.” And wow. That was a wake-up call for me.
Cecelia: Yeah, it really is. And I think, um, to kind of continue what he was saying, he – he expressed it by becoming very angry at, uh, the nurses and the patients and the hospital. I always knew when he had an abortion scheduled the next day because he would just go into this rage, and he was taking it out on me and Sean. He was taking it out on our friends who were trying to comfort us.
Jim: But you noticed that.
Cecelia: I did notice it. And at that point, I was convinced that our marriage was over. And I had literally packed our suitcases for Sean and I. And one night when he went into one of the rages, I just – I just looked at him, and that was the first time we ever said anything about it. And I looked at him, and I said, “You know what? It’s not the nurse’s fault for scheduling it on your day. It’s not the hospital’s fault for allowing them. It’s not the patient’s fault for thinking she needs to do this. It’s your fault.”
Jim: Wow. And how did that hit you, Tony?
Anthony: That was the, uh – that was the opening salvo. As I said, we’d been married so many years at this point and never talked about this ever.
Jim: Yeah. Now you’re talking.
Anthony: And now, all of a sudden, she’s – you know, she hit me with, you know, both barrels and, you know, literally. And – and I didn’t know, but she had already packed a bag. She was about to walk out. This was just gonna, you know – she – self-expression is not one of Ceil’s problems. And, you know, so she finally – you know, she was gonna say something no matter what. And that opened up an hour-and-a-half conversation. For the first time, we actually talked about it. Um, and I’m happy to say she didn’t walk out at the end of the hour and a half.
Jim: Right, no. And then what was the healing process moving forward? I mean, what – how do you get up the next day?
Anthony: Uh, well…
Cecelia: Well, you know, I think…
Jim: What do you talk about?
Cecelia: …It – well, it’s interesting. And eventually, it was – it was about seven or eight months after Heather’s death that, um, he finally stopped performing abortions. And – and his – and he can talk about this. His partners understood. But we had been invited – someone had come into our church one Sunday morning and handed out, um, invitations to a pro-life potluck dinner. And, um, so I went home that night and – or that – later that day, and, uh, we start talking about it. I said, “Let’s go to this pro-life potluck dinner.” And Tony literally laughed and said, “Why would I want to go to a pro-life potluck dinner?” And, uh – and we had – we had an excuse. We had another engagement that evening. And – but (laughter) God has a wonderful sense of humor. And we had to drive by where the potluck dinner was to get to where we were going, and we were passing by it, and Tony said, “Let’s just stop in for a few minutes for giggles.” And, uh, we did. Uh, we ended up staying almost an hour there. Um, met some fabulous pro-life people. And really, they became our life vest through the grieving process and the process of leaving the abortion industry.
John: Tony, what were you thinking when you said, “Let’s just stop in”? I mean, what was your preconceived idea of what this was gonna be like?
Anthony: Well, we got a little ahead there because, you know, after our hour and a half discussion, I went back to my practice the next day and said I would no longer do the second trimester D&E abortions. It was just too difficult. Um, I would – and that was a bigger deal than it sounded because there were only two of us doing them. And it suddenly dumped the entire workload on the other physician because we were getting referrals from other physicians to do these second-trimester D&E abortions. It’s a difficult, dangerous procedure and very few physicians would do it. Uh, but they were understanding. And I – you know, but I – as I said, I was gonna soldier on through.
Anthony: So, I told them I would just do the little ones, the suction D&C abortions we did in the office. And I soldiered on for months doing them afterwards. And it was February of 1985 when I finally said, “That’s it. I’m not doing any more of these.” You know, we think of doctors as being so smart. We’re no different than anyone else. When you finally figure out that killing a baby the length of your hand for money is wrong, it doesn’t take you too long to figure out that it doesn’t matter if the baby’s even an inch tall. You know, it’s – it’s all the same. You know, I – I talk about that the way you expressed it in the other broadcast. You know, today you’re an adult. Once upon a time, you were a child. You didn’t look anything like you do today. Uh, once upon a time, you were a baby. Once upon a time, you were only one inch tall, but it was always you. Um, again, the partners were very supportive. They understood what had happened. They understood my decision. Um, you know, what was I thinking when – you know, when this invitation came? You know, everybody in the abortion industry knows that every pro-life person is a kook. And I know this because CNN tells me so, and they would never lie to me…
Anthony: …Uh, you know, but – so when – you know, when she told me we were invited to this pro-life potluck dinner, I did literally laugh. You know, it was like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Getting – you know, getting away from abortion was one thing. It was very personal. Getting involved in the pro-life movement, not a chance. I mean…
Anthony: …It just wasn’t gonna happen.
Jim: And it’s really critical for people to grab this. You became pro-life before you made a commitment to Christ.
Anthony: Oh, absolutely.
Jim: I mean, that’s – that’s really critical because most people would think the reverse would have happened…
Jim: That you had this…
Anthony: That’s – people assume…
Cecelia: We always do things backward.
Anthony: …That all the time. No, people always assume that and it’s…
Jim: But that makes for, in some ways, a more powerful testimony of what…
Cecelia: God was there, and He was working through this whole thing.
Jim: Right. He’s still drawing you.
Anthony: We didn’t recognize it but…
Cecelia: Oh, absolutely.
Jim: Sure. How long was it from the time of – of making that commitment to – to stop doing abortion and, in essence, you know, tip toward a pro-life perspective to when you became a Christian and it all kind of tied…
Cecelia: It was four years.
Anthony: It was still…
Cecelia: It was four years.
Anthony: …It was still several years. Um, I always tell a story. Um, 1983, I’m still doing abortions on a regular business. I show up my office and we’re being picketed by the local, Christian crazies. They didn’t have our names on the sign but, you know, we know they’re there for us. And people often ask us, “When we’re picketing your office, you know, what are you thinking?” I say, “Well, it gives us a siege mentality. It’s us against you kooks outside.” And it was during that time that I got a patient named Susan. She was in her mid-30s, routine OB-GYN exam and a pap smear, nothing special. When it was over, she said, “Can I talk to you?” And a lot of patients, especially women, I think, won’t tell you what’s really on their mind – especially a new patient – until they develop some level of trust. And I looked at her and, you know, professionally, look at her and say, “How can I help you?” And she blows me away when she says, “I’ve been sent here to give you a message that Jesus loves you. He cares about you. Um, this is not what He intended for your life to be an abortionist. Please stop.” And I had one overwhelming thought when she said this, because, believe me, patients – and doctors listen to their patients. And it – I had this one overwhelming thought and that was, “I got to hustle this kook out of my office as fast as I could.” And I did.
Anthony: A year later, she showed up again for her next OB-GYN exam and said, “Can I talk to you?” And I went, “Oh, no.” I guess it’s not that we never darkened the inside of a church before, but people who were very demonstrative about their faith always made me uncomfortable. Uh, and she – she said the same message again. Um, I knew what she was going to say, not only because I remembered what she said – and, believe me, I did – but in the intervening year, I had received three personal greeting cards sent to my office marked confidential with the message written on the greeting card. Once I arrived at my office in the intervening year, there was a plate of brownies waiting on my desk with the message tied to the brownies. And when I talked to people – and I said, you know, “She’s not an idiot.” She knew what I thought.
Anthony: How long would you evangelize somebody who thought you were nuts? She did it for seven years.
John: Oh my.
Jim: Seven years, faithfully?
Jim: I mean, that’s amazing. That’s a great illustration of how to help somebody change their perspective, right?
Cecelia: It really was very powerful. And – and Tony contacted her, um…
Anthony: Well, when – when we finally accepted Christ, the minister who had brought us the last bit of that journey years later, he would – you know, he didn’t know any of this story. But, you know, he was – he’d been around a long time. He said, “You know, in my experience, a lot of people help you on the road to Christ. It’d be nice to go back and thank them.” She’s the first person I called.
Anthony: Brought her out to lunch, found out she was one of those people picketing my office in 1983.
John: How did she respond when you talked to her?
Anthony: She was very happy.
Jim: I can only imagine.
John: Well, you’re listening to Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller. And our guests today are Dr. Anthony Levatino and his wife Cecelia. And, uh, we have a lot of information for you about the value of life and some of the things that we’ve talked about here. We also have caring, Christian counselors if, uh, you’re struggling with abortion, perhaps in the past or you’re contemplating one now, please call us. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Tony, I don’t want to rush by probably – yeah – the most pivotal moment in your lives, you know, when you accept Christ. Um, it’s one thing to imagine being an abortion doctor and because of the tragedy with your daughter, Heather, you come into the practice and you say, “Listen, I’m struggling with this. I can’t do second, third-trimester abortions. I’ll just do first trimester.” And they understood that. And they were accommodating of that. And they were compassionate, I would think, about that. But then you become a Christian and you lost friends. And people didn’t like so much that you had become a Christian. What a bizarre contrast.
Anthony: Well, years before we became Christians in that way, um, like I said, we were going to our church. Um, but accepting Christ personally is quite something else, as you understand.
Jim: That’s the difference.
Anthony: Um, but they were very understanding until we got involved in the pro-life movement. Then it was not so good, um, because they felt that my being pro-life and especially becoming public about it threw a spotlight on what they were doing because they continued to do abortions. And…
Jim: Right. So, it was convicting…
Anthony: It was.
Anthony: And it really opened some major rifts in our – in our practice. As – as we always say, I mean, we – we literally lost every friend we had. The, uh – the phone – you know, the phone stopped ringing. The invitations dried up. But God, really, as I said, He – He put people in front of us constantly over the years that helped guide us. And we could give a thousand examples, but the one I always give was it was August of 1990. I left my practice to go to law school, and I was still speaking – and I was still speaking publicly. And on a Saturday morning, I had – I had gone to, uh, Vermont – crossed the border into Vermont and gave a presentation. It was a high school gymnasium. About 50 people showed up. I did a presentation. And this woman, uh, came up to me afterwards – and she had to be in her 70s – chattering away at high speed, you know. “Oh, thank you so much for coming and giving a presentation. And isn’t it beautiful what Jesus has done in your life?” And I – I felt like a fraud. As I said, people who were demonstrative about their faith always made me uncomfortable.
Jim: (Laughter) Right.
Anthony: And I stammered like an idiot to this woman. And I went, “Well, ma’am, er, uh, I don’t feel about Jesus the way you do.” And I’ll never forget. She stopped chattering, looked up, got a big smile on her face. She said, “He knows you, sweetie. He’s gonna get you sooner or later.” And she walked away.
Jim: That’s so funny.
Anthony: We had lots of different encounters over time like that until he did finally get us not too long after.
Jim: And what was that moment when He finally gotcha? I mean, what was it? Was it intellectual? Was it emotional? Or was it – was it…
Anthony: We were attending a PCA – a Presbyterian, um, USA church. And as I said, I – my being an abortionist was no problem in that church. Um, we were involved in that church for years. And then suddenly when I’m not doing abortions anymore, we’re pro-life – and we have a choice. We can either leave a pro-abortion church or we can fight. So, we decided to fight. It went nowhere over time. It’s a long story. Um, and we set out – we intentionally set out – it was like we were – we were gonna find a – a Bible-based church. This was very different than the way we had searched in the past.
Anthony: We finally found ourselves a community church in Albany where, good heavens, they actually read the Bible and they pay attention to it. And – and that’s where it finally happened.
Jim: Let me ask both of you this question. Tony – um, and I’m thinking of the person listening. I mean, we have millions of people that are hearing this program, and some have done some things, I think, you know, like you that feel like there’s no way God could ever forgive me for what I’ve done. I mean, when you take a look at it, thousands of lives you terminated.
Anthony: That’s right. And…
Jim: And that’s got to be such a burden for you.
Anthony: It is. And it still is. Uh, I went to the island of Malta in – in November. I have good pro-life friends there. And Malta is now – because it’s one – the only country in Europe where abortion is still illegal and there are powerful forces trying to legalize it in Malta, and that’s why I was there. A very good friend who ran – ran the pro-life organization there – Paul Vincenti is his name – a dedicated, charismatic Catholic. We were talking one night. And he’s a very close friend. And I said, “And it does haunt me.” I mean, I know with absolute certainty that when my time comes, Heather’s going to be standing right there.
Anthony: I know that. But I told him – and I said, “But sometimes I’m afraid that those 1,200 kids are going to be there, too.”
Jim: Uh, they’ll be there.
Anthony: So, you struggle with it. Um, but you learn that there is forgiveness. But you learn something else, and we run into it in pro-life presentations all the time. You can know truly in your heart that Jesus forgives me. And that’s wonderful. But the hard part is forgiving yourself.
Jim: Oh, it’s so true. And I think given the journey you’ve been given, what do you say to that person who whispers in your ear, “I’ve done horrible things”? It may not be abortion – what – adultery, whatever it might be.
Anthony: No. It – I – I don’t care what you’ve done. It cannot compare to what I’ve done.
Jim: And then how…
Anthony: And there is forgiveness if you ask for it and really repent. It won’t happen all – you know, the forgiveness comes all at once. The change in you will take time.
Jim: And that’s so well-said.
Anthony: But the day will come when you can forgive yourself.
Jim: And that’s so well-said. I just, uh – it’s so critical that we understand that. And it is hard to forgive ourselves as we’ve done things that grieve the heart of God. Um, let’s outline some of the pro-life action steps for the listener. Cecelia, you made a very compelling statement, uh, that I’d like to elaborate on. You said that being pro-life is more than just being anti-abortion. I think you both alluded to this last time. From your heart, what does that look like, to be more, um, about life than anti-abortion?
Cecelia: Well, for me, um, it’s – it’s caring about our homeless veterans. It’s caring about, um, children in foster care. It’s caring about…
Jim: That’s for sure.
Cecelia: …People who are homeless and living in their cars. It’s about bringing the message of Christ to everyone and anyone regardless of their situation because it’s so easy to walk past somebody that’s making us uncomfortable.
Cecelia: That’s our human nature.
Jim: How do we, Tony – how do we balance that truth and grace message – I mean, you saw that raw truth as people were in your parking lot or around the sidewalk at the clinic shouting things at you, et cetera. I’ve often said, I’ve not met a person that has the testimony, which would go something like this. “You Christians were so hard and so mean to me, I decided to become one of you.” It’s just not a common testimony.
Jim: And, uh – but – but that one woman that you described who baked you brownies and sent you notes and always politely asked if she could speak to you about it.
Jim: And that – that made the impression.
Anthony: That made the impression. And I tell people a thousand times, you are not going to change someone’s mind by standing outside a clinic and yelling, “Murderer.” It isn’t going to happen. Um, you change a person’s mind over time with great patience, and you have to have some kind of relationship with them. I mean, doctor-patient is a relationship, and doctors listen to their patients. Um, it’s the people that – that came to us in love that made the difference, not the people who shouted at us. And as far as killing somebody and maybe foreclosing their chance of salvation, somebody could have killed me.
Jim: Yeah. Tony, right at the end here, let me ask you this question. Um, we have the example of Jesus with the woman caught in adultery, and we relate to that. And He so beautifully said, you know, “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” And they all dropped those rocks and walked away. If Jesus were here right now in this culture – which He is, but if He were walking the earth with us, what do you think He would say about the woman who had an abortion? What would He say to her?
Anthony: I would think that He’d say the same thing that the woman said to me. “I love you. I care about you. This is not what I intended for your life to do whatever it is you’re doing. But I’m here. No matter how long it takes, I am here, and I will keep loving you no matter what.”
John: Hmm. What a beautiful place to land our two-part conversation with Dr. Anthony Levatino, and his wife, Cecelia.
Jim: And, again, if you’re carrying that guilt that Tony mentioned. Maybe you’ve had an abortion, or maybe it’s something else you’ve done. Please, call our counselors. They’d be honored to talk to you over the phone, completely free, and help you accept the forgiveness and grace that is offered through Jesus.
John: Yeah. It’s a wonderful team and, uh, we can schedule a time for you to talk to one of those counselors when you call 800-A-FAMILY. Or there’s a counseling request form that you can fill out at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: And for those of you who are passionate about pro-life ministry, I want to invite you to join our Option Ultrasound support team. This is our ministry that equips pro-life, pregnancy resource centers with those ultrasound machines and the nurses’ training to do the role that they’re called to do. The centers have told us over and over again that when women see their babies on that screen, they are filled with hope and the knowledge that their baby is not a mistake, but perfectly made for a purpose.
John: Yeah. And we’ve got the metrics. We’ve got the numbers. It takes $60 to save a baby’s life through ultrasound technology. So, please, partner with us in this life-saving work.
Jim: And be sure to join us tomorrow evening at 8pm, eastern time, for the digital premiere of See Life 2020. This event will be hosted by March for Life president Jeannie Mancini, and former NFL player, Benjamin Watson. And we’ll feature powerful speakers and music from Danny Gokey, Meredith Andrews, and many more. And, as I mentioned before, we’ll have a 4D ultrasounds of a pre-born baby, to celebrate the value of every human life.
John: It is going to be awesome. And last year, Jim, I left our event in Times Square so full of hope and a powerful sense of God’s presence. He really met us there in New York. And I expect tomorrow night to be the same. So, join us and participate in See Life 2020. And then if you can, please, support our Option Ultrasound effort. All the details, once more, at our website. That’s focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today. Plan to be with us again on Monday as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ.