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Dr. Anthony Levatino holds up a medical instrument that is typical of one used to perform abortions. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

Lifestyle

A new calling

An abortionist’s transformation to pro-life advocate

Dr. Anthony Levatino’s story is not for the fainthearted. From 1977 to 1985, he performed nearly 1,200 first- and second-trimester abortions as a routine part of his residency and later obstetrics and gynecology practice at Albany Medical Center in New York.

Personal tragedy forever changed his practice and his life. In June of 1984, as he and his wife Cecelia visited with friends in their backyard, a car struck their 5-year-old daughter, Heather, in front of their home. Despite Levatino’s CPR and treatment by paramedics, Heather died in his and Cecelia’s arms in the ambulance.

Grief overwhelmed them. “Our marriage was in crisis. We were mourning apart,” says Levatino.

He had gone back to work, but during his next second-trimester abortion, for the first time he understood what he was doing as he looked at the growing pile of baby body parts he’d pulled from the woman. No longer did he see himself as a great doctor helping a woman with her “problem”: “I didn’t see that I was supporting a woman’s right to choose. I saw that I was killing someone’s son or daughter.”

Levatino says he kept blaming everyone else for the abortions—the women for being pregnant, the hospital for allowing them—but he continued doing them for a few more months. As his marriage worsened and his conviction grew about the reality of abortion no matter the size of the baby, he stopped performing all abortions by February of 1985.

At the same time that God was changing Levatino’s mind about abortion, He was changing his heart. He and Cecelia recommitted to each other. They went from trying to fight the pro-abortion stance of their liberal Protestant church to losing all their friends and eventually finding a pro-life nondenominational evangelical church where they found Jesus and many new friends. “It was a lonely time for a while,” he remembers. “We had to start all over.”

A pastor reminded him God had used many people in Levatino’s life to bring him to salvation. Levatino sought out a woman who for seven years delivered a “Jesus loves you” message to him while he was still doing abortions. He thanked her for those messages, told her about his change, and found out she used to picket his office, praying for him.

For more than 30 years now, Levatino, age 67, and Cecelia have ardently supported pro-life causes, speaking at gatherings, conferences, medical and law schools, and colleges around the country. In 2015, Levatino testified before a U.S. congressional committee on what an unborn child at 24 weeks experiences during an abortion. The pro-life bill passed the committee but failed in the Senate when Democrats filibustered.

He testified again in 2018 before the House Judiciary Committee in efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. Congress still funds the organization through Medicaid—our taxes.

Last year, Levatino played the role of the abortionist in the pro-life movie Unplanned, and though he relished that moviemaking experience, what drives him these days is urging people to vote pro-life.

Levatino expresses frustration: “People will support pro-life clinics, picket at Planned Parenthood, and say they support unwed mothers. Then they’ll go out and vote for a pro-abortion candidate.” He also bristles when he hears congressional bills promoted that say late-term abortions are OK if the health of the mother is jeopardized.

“You never have to do an abortion to save a mother’s life,” he says. “They may have to deliver the baby early, but you don’t have to kill it … and the term ‘health’ can mean anything.”

He is outspoken on voting pro-life, whether speaking before the Catholic Medical Association, evangelical groups, or in foreign countries like Malta.

Levatino says he’ll keep talking until God lets him know he’s done. He’s grateful for his Christian faith that gives him assurance: “I know with absolute certainty that when my time comes, our daughter will be standing right there.”

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James and Louise Hodge (Handout)

Lifestyle

‘We were always together’

James and Louise Hodge enjoyed six decades of companionship, but after Louise developed dementia, James found himself alone (Sixth in a series on long marriages)

In 1953, James Hodge sat behind Louise in an economics class at Bob Jones University and noticed how beautiful she was. He asked her out, but the only dates he could afford were free campus events. To his delight, “she fell in love with me, even though I was poor as a church mouse,” he said. When Louise graduated from college, they married one Friday in June 1955. Unable to afford a honeymoon, they went back to work the following Monday. 

Money remained tight as the couple had three children and James pursued more education, but they were happy, and “we knew God would take care of us,” James said. Later, after James settled into a long career at DuPont, he traveled frequently for work and took Louise along whenever he could: “The greatest thing about marriage is companionship. … We were always together.” 

But life changed when Louise was diagnosed with dementia. A couple of years ago, the Hodges moved into a retirement community in Midlothian, Va., after Louise began developing mobility problems. There, James noticed—to his surprise—that Louise was becoming forgetful: She had forgotten how to use a telephone and remote control. 

Still, James remembers that even then she wanted to do things with him: After dinner, she would ask him to pick out a good movie for them to watch. But “step by step, dementia was taking hold,” said James. Eventually, she didn’t even want to watch movies, just go back to bed. It was much different from the days when the couple traveled together on work trips and visited their daughter and grandchildren in Colorado.

James managed to care for Louise for a year. But she found it harder and harder to walk: One day she fell three times, despite her walker. The emergency room doctor said she needed to move into the memory care unit immediately. 

The day she moved out, James returned alone to their apartment. The reality that his wife was gone hit him. “I just completely broke down,” said James, now 86. “After 60-plus years of being together, making decisions, working our way through hard spots, it’s just difficult.” 

Not long after moving into the new facility, Louise told him, “I love you, and I always have.” James looked back at her and wondered, “How in the world did she date me for a year and a half when I could never treat her to anything?” 

At this point, Louise, who is 85, has forgotten where James lives, and her memory has deteriorated to the point that they cannot maintain a conversation. He said that sometimes at church he feels overwhelmed by grief that she is no longer sitting beside him. “I have lost the companionship of the love of my life for 65 years and it hurts,” he said.

Still, he sees her for about an hour every day: “What often I do is give her a kiss and tell her I love her, and she always gives me a big smile.”

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Krieg Barrie

(Krieg Barrie)

Lifestyle

Renting for one

By choice or by chance, more New Yorkers and other Americans are living alone 

When Sarah Yim had roommates, she could barely cram her juice into an overcrowded freezer. Her new, roommate-free apartment is smaller, but the freezer has room to spare. Yim, a designer for J.P. Morgan, now pays fees and utilities alone, and groceries can be tricky: Her soy milk once turned chunky before she could drink it, and buying lettuce means eating salad for a week or watching it go bad. 

Yim, a 24-year-old resident of New York City who has lived alone for nearly a year, is like an increasing number of Americans. As young people marry later and seniors live longer, the share of single-person households has risen nationwide from 13 percent in 1960 to 28 percent in 2018. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates 33 percent of New York City households were single-person in 2017—higher than the national average, but lower than other cities.

Young city dwellers with means might downsize to escape inconsiderate roommates. Older residents might remain in an apartment as family members die or move out. Whatever the reason, living alone in New York comes with specific challenges and benefits.

New York City is expensive, and living alone can be even more so. An analysis by real estate website StreetEasy found that singles who move to New York City often live in Manhattan, in neighborhoods with plentiful one-bedroom apartments and high rents. 

Yim pays $1,800 a month plus utilities for her studio apartment, a third-floor walk-up in Lenox Hill, a wealthy neighborhood in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. According to a 2019 report from Apartment List, that’s twice the national average of $827, but just below New York’s average of $1,889 and below Lenox Hill’s median of $2,200 on StreetEasy.

But her apartment, decorated with her original paintings and filled with furniture she chose, provides peace and solitude. She’s been there almost a year, and the clerks at her local grocery store know her well enough to help find her favorite items.

On Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Art Muchow also lives alone. Muchow, 87, has lived in the same three-bedroom apartment for more than 50 years. It’s where he raised two sons with his wife, who died in 2004. 

Seniors who live alone often become lonely as their peers move in with children or into assisted living. With lower incomes and diminishing community, they may struggle to age in place. But Muchow’s building is part of a middle-class affordable housing program, and he estimates he pays a third of the market rate for his apartment. Many of his neighbors are also longtime residents, and with the help of affordable housing rates, they have been able to stay and keep their small community.

“There is something particularly excellent about growing very old with a large number of people whom you know well,” Muchow said.

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