Newman also said Central Women’s Services had left behind medical records and not disconnected its phones, so Operation Rescue staff took calls from the former abortion center’s patients. Leslee Unruh, founder of the Alpha Center in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Hannah Shady of LifeCare Clinic in Creston, Iowa, also mentioned finding patient files in the former Planned Parenthood buildings they acquired.
Denise Emerine is the founder of the Greater Toledo House of Prayer, which in 2014 bought a former abortion facility in Toledo with plans to demolish it and build a memorial park for the unborn on the site. On her first day in the building, Emerine saw a hospital gown on the floor, dried blood in the examining rooms, and a basement closet full of abortion vacuum equipment: “It was like a slaughterhouse. … It wasn’t like walking into a doctor’s office with everything crisp and clean.”
TWO MONTHS AFTER THE DEMOLITION, the Greater Toledo House of Prayer hosted a three-hour worship service on the land and invited other pro-life groups to join. Other pro-life organizations have held prayer services at their new sites, and staff members in Sioux Falls, Bryan, Wichita, and Creston had Catholic priests perform exorcisms on their buildings.
On April 13, 2019, Austin LifeCare hosted 75 people with Sharpie markers at the two sand-colored buildings that had been the home of Whole Woman’s Health. LifeCare volunteers, donors, sidewalk counselors, and churchgoers prayed as they walked through each of the rooms and wrote messages and Scripture on the walls. Many cried. Many sang.
In what had been the “product of conception room”—where abortion staffers made sure they had removed from wombs all the pieces of aborted babies—the 75 Sharpie wielders covered walls with names to represent the thousands of unnamed babies who had died there. Later, redecorators needed two coats of paint to conceal the names.
Sharpies were also the tool of choice at a 2014 prayer event at the former Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas. Catholic priests and Baptist preachers, former abortion providers and local pro-life activists all wrote verses on the walls. Some wrote about their miscarriages or their own abortions. In Wichita in 2007, pro-life construction workers posted Bible verses on walls and studs.
But some women, and sometimes the men involved, find it difficult to return to the scene of their abortions. Alpha Center in Sioux Falls moved into a former Planned Parenthood in 2000 but sold the building in 2008, partly because the pregnancy center had grown but also because the building had a bad effect on women who came back for post-abortive recovery. Founder Leslee Unruh said the building, despite symbolizing redemption, wasn’t worth the extra heartache: She wishes her organization had torn it down and built a park or memorial instead.
Patti Giebink was one of the physicians who performed abortions in Sioux Falls when the building was a Planned Parenthood center. She later became a Christian and is now on the Alpha Center’s board of directors. She faced her own difficulties with the building as a post-abortive doctor. The first time Giebink stepped into the building after it became the Alpha Center, almost a decade had passed since she had last been in the building.
The old carpet was gone and the building was cleaner, but the sink in the lab room was the same. There, at that sink, she used to examine the tissue of the aborted babies. There, only two times, she had seen that a piece of the baby was missing and had returned to the mother to take out the rest. Walking to that sink, said Giebink, “was overwhelming, and I think I made a pretty quick exit.” She said she hardly spent two minutes in the building.
Pat VanderKolk works at LIFE International in Grand Rapids, headquartered in a former abortion facility. Her abortion didn’t happen in this building but in a facility two minutes down the street—and that business is still open. She said post-abortive women do not want to work in a place where abortions occurred.
“It was like a slaughterhouse. … It wasn’t like walking into a doctor’s office with everything crisp and clean.”
The executive directors of pregnancy centers in Chattanooga and Creston are also concerned that their buildings’ former connection to abortion could deter local women from seeking healing. More than two decades have gone by since Choices Chattanooga moved into one half of the former abortion facility, but executive director Carol Ann Ferguson said most women in their post-abortion therapy program had abortions 20 to 50 years ago. For them, it’s traumatic to return to the place of their loss: That’s one reason Choices is planning to relocate this summer.