She Had an Abortion at 19. Now She Helps Lead the Pro-Life Movement.
Catherine Glenn Foster had an abortion when she was just a teenager. Today, she’s leading the fight against abortion as president of one of the nation’s largest pro-life groups. In this episode, she sits down for an exclusive interview to share her story, what she’s doing now, and the recent achievements of the pro-life movement. Read the transcript, posted below, or listen on the podcast:
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Rachel del Guidice: We’re joined today on the Daily Signal podcast by Catherine Glenn Foster. She’s the president and CEO of Americans United for Life. Catherine, thank you so much for being with us today.
Catherine Glenn Foster: It’s a pleasure.
del Guidice: So, to start off, can you talk about Americans United for Life, its mission, and what you guys are doing right now?
Foster: Absolutely. So we were founded in 1971, two years before Roe v. Wade struck down life-affirming laws nationwide, and introduced this nationwide regime of abortion-on-demand.
And what we do is work in the state houses, in Congress, in the courts, in the public, to educate people and to pass laws relating to life—life-affirming laws—and then pushing back on some of these threats to life that we’ve seen introduced in a few states recently.
del Guidice: You guys have been busy. I know you recently conducted a poll on public opinion of late-term abortion, as well as Planned Parenthood funding—Title 10 funding—which is essentially family planning funding.
What were the findings of this poll that you guys did?
Foster: Sure, well we found out that 80% of Americans overall, and two-thirds of even self-described pro-choice Americans, oppose late-term abortion. They oppose these abortions that are taking place when the children are viable, when the children are capable of feeling pain, and when the risk to the mother is so much greater, exponentially greater risk that we’ve seen as the pregnancy progresses, and as the child is growing. A risk of death even.
And so, two-thirds of even self-described pro-choice Americans oppose that.
We have a ways to go. We have a a third of pro-choice Americans still to reach. But that already shows us that most Americans agree on some of the fundamentals about life—whether we’re talking about abortion, or the full spectrum of life issues that we deal with at Americans United for Life.
Most Americans are in agreement when you start getting down into the actual policy questions.
del Guidice: And it’s interesting, because if you were to be following Planned Parenthood on social media anywhere, you would never know numbers like that existed, that two-thirds of these Americans are actually pro-life. So, that’s interesting that you guys have found that, and I’m glad you’re sharing that.
You have your own personal story about what led you into the pro-life movement. Can you talk a little bit about your own story?
Foster: Absolutely. You know, I had never really thought much about abortion until it confronted me personally. My best friend in seventh grade was pro-life and would talk about it, and her whole family was pro life. And it was this beautiful witness.
But I didn’t really know what abortion was. It was one of those things that, it was just sort of in the background, and so I didn’t really connect with that. And it didn’t really come up in my thinking again until I was 19 years old myself, and I was a sophomore at college, and I found myself unexpectedly pregnant. Had no idea where to turn.
I didn’t know there was a pro-life movement, hadn’t been exposed to that at all. All I knew was that I had this one friend, and I didn’t even think about that really.
I’m just thinking, what do I do? Where do I go? I wish that I had felt comfortable to tell my mother. I did tell her just a few weeks later, but I just … I was sitting there struggling in the campus health clinic right after I found out. I thought, I would love to tell her. I’m afraid to tell her because I just don’t want to disappoint her.
I didn’t think she would be angry. I just, I didn’t want to disappoint her. And no one said, “Oh, let’s call your mom,” or, “Who do you need to call? What can we do to help you? Let’s hold hands. I’ll put my arm around you. We’ll find resources. You’re strong enough, you’re smart enough, you can do it.”
All of those things that, now, I know I would say to a woman, and I do say to women who are facing these situations. No one was saying that, no one pointed me toward a pregnancy center. No one helped me along that journey.
And so I was left to just Google late at night, or search, I think it was AskJeeves or something at the time. And I’m just searching on the internet: What do I do? Where do I go?
And I found abortion clinics, abortion facilities online. And so I picked the second-cheapest one I could. I’m thinking, “OK, maybe it’s a little bit safer than the absolute cheapest.” And I made an appointment for that Saturday.
I knew that it would have to be fast because I was bonding. I was walking around campus. I was wearing my boyfriend’s oversized sweatshirt, and I was actually talking with my baby as I was walking.
But I went into that facility because I didn’t know where else to turn. I didn’t feel like there was any other choice. Small Christian college, what do you do? I had no idea who to tell.
And so I walked in. And from the moment I walked in that door, nothing restored my choice, my autonomy, my sense of empowerment. It was just stripped from me over, and over, and over by everything that happened behind those closed doors.
del Guidice: Wow. So what was your journey to healing, and also talk about what had happened in your past, and your journey into the pro-life movement. What did that look like?
Foster: Yeah, so healing was tough. You know, in the facility itself, it was, again, just so dis-empowering. Asking questions, not getting answers, not being given real information.
Step one is you pay, and then all of a sudden you’re given a pill and then they’re doing the ultrasound. And I said, “Well, can I see the ultrasound? I want to see my child. I’m still trying to make a decision here.” And they said, “No, it’s against policy.”
And then going forward from there, they said that, in fact, my child wasn’t even old enough. And I said, “Well there’s my answer. OK, I’m gone, I’m out of here, keep the money.”
And they said, “Well, let’s check again,” and they check again. And they said, “Well, old enough after all.”
And then on the actual table I changed my mind. And I tried to get up, and I said, “Let me go,” again, “Just keep the money, but this is wrong for me.” And they ended up sending more people in and held me down and forcibly aborted me. So there were layers of trauma to heal from.
It wasn’t … I mean, every woman has a different path and a different journey, and it’s so difficult for so many of us. But mine, and frankly I’ve talked to so many other women, represented other women who had similar experiences of not being given information, not being allowed to see our ultrasounds, being held down, all of these aspects of it.
So I was sobbing. I was screaming. I was sobbing. They were trying to make me shut up. I was the last patient to leave the clinic alive that day.
My boyfriend drove me back to college, an hour and a half or so away. And I just, I remember lying in bed for days, not wanting to move, not knowing how to go on. It was incredibly traumatic.
And then I just sat up one day and I said, “I have to … I can’t go back to karate, I’ve got my pass for that. You can’t do quite the same things that I was planning on for this semester, but I have to pull myself together and find some way forward.”
And a few weeks later I told my mom. She was telling me about her good friend’s daughter who had gotten pregnant, and I said, “Yeah, it really, it’s happening a lot. Right?” And she said, “Catherine, is there something you want to tell me?” And I said, “Yeah, there is.”
And I told her. And she was as loving and understanding as almost every mom is, no matter how scared we are.
In fact, I was talking to someone just recently, a few months ago, and she shared this perspective. Because I had always kind of been in my own perspective in this, because there’s so much to unpack there.
And she said, “You know how much your mom must have hurt that you didn’t feel like you could go to her?”
And I said, “I’m sorry, I have to stop the conversation right now. I’m going to call my mom, give me like five minutes.” And I called my mom up in the middle of this interview. And I said, “Mom, I’m so sorry. I wish that I had done better.” And she started crying, and she just [said], “I forgive you, I do. I wish that you had just felt like you could come to me.”
Because it was not any kind of an abusive relationship. There was no reason for me to think … I just, I didn’t want to disappoint her. But so much of life is that. You find a way forward through difficult journeys, and we would have found a way.
So she helped me find counseling. I started going to counseling at a local center, a pregnancy center where my parents live, in Johnson City, Tennessee. And that was very healing in a lot of ways.
And then I just, I kept going. I graduated college. I went and got a master’s, and I started working. And it never occurred to me that I would come back here, until I just felt this calling to go to law school.
And I followed that path. And during orientation I was in this talk, this orientation talk on health care law, this introductory conversation. I’m there in the front row, very excited about it. I’m thinking like “24,” if any of your listeners ever watched “24,” Jack Bauer—I’m thinking like bio-terrorism and, I don’t know, cool things like that.
So I’m very excited about about this health care law kind of thing, and all the different ways that health care and biological issues impact people.
And all of a sudden, sitting in that talk, I just … it hit me. No, you’re going to be dealing with abortion. You’re going to be dealing with euthanasia, and the spectrum of life issues, and just protecting and valuing life, and making sure that people are able to really experience the dignity that we all have.
del Guidice: Wow. That is beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing that.
Well, House Republicans on Tuesday held a hearing to make a case for a bill to protect babies who survive abortions. And given your own personal story, I can imagine you have some heavy insight on this.
House Democrats have blocked Republicans 80 times from voting on this bill. Why do you think this legislation is so controversial?
Foster: This legislation, first of all, should not be controversial. Let’s just start there. For some reason it’s become it, but it shouldn’t be.
This is something that we all should be able to agree on, and in the past, so often we’ve seen that agreement, that consensus from both sides of the aisle.
Yeah, this is a bill that’s needed. We know that there are babies who are born alive during an abortion. We know that they are, at that point, outside the womb. We’re not talking about an abortion anymore, we’re talking about two separate human beings. Two separate individuals in two separate places, not one inside the other.
And these are people who both deserve medical care and treatment. And yet, some people seem to think that at that point it should still be a decision between a woman and her doctor.
And I think there are a lot of reasons for that, why people may think that. It’s about that commitment, you might say, to the abortion cause. Because if you draw a line, really, I think any place but conception, at that point it’s very hard to draw a line anywhere else.
Is it viability? Well, that can change. And we’re talking about percentages there. Is it heartbeat? Is it when the child has fingernails or toenails? What point is it along that line? Is it when there’s a 50% chance of survival, or an 80, or a 95 or … There’s just, there isn’t any point that really makes sense.
And so you see certain politicians get caught up, I think, in defending something that, in some cases, they don’t even necessarily want to be defending.
But when you look at their backing, when you look at the party platform, and the pressure that you’re seeing. In so many cases, the political pressure again from some elements, when again, the majority of the American public is not in favor of this—80% of people overall oppose this idea of infanticide, oppose even late-term abortions.
And when you have two thirds of self-described pro-choice Americans opposing late-term abortions, opposing infanticide, you can see how out of touch that perspective is. And you start thinking, “Well, OK, let’s track this back. Let’s figure out how we got there, and how certain people got there, to where they’re defending what seems to be utterly indefensible.”
del Guidice: Well, we’re starting to see these numbers in states across the country. There are more pro-life convictions. Nine states this year have passed laws putting restrictions on abortions.
I’m just curious what your thoughts are on what’s been happening in states like Ohio and Alabama, where they are passing pro-life legislation.
Foster: Sure, yeah. If you look nationwide, we are seeing such an incredible time for life. We’re seeing about 60 pro-life bills passed into law every single year since 2011. We’re seeing more than ever before.
In fact, in just this year alone, we’ve seen 46 states introduce life-affirming laws, and 58 bills were passed in 22 states already. If you look at the spectrum of life-affirming law, this is really where we should be.
Because what we’re looking at is a situation where people who are on both sides, introducing bills on both sides of the life issue, are looking at certain key markers. They’re looking at, first and foremost, arguably, the makeup of the Supreme Court, and the federal bench generally. And seeing shifts there, some shifts that could be very encouraging for life.
Also looking at polling—and we’ve been talking about polling, and these shifts toward life. These shifts, especially after New York, when so many people, so many folks just said, “OK, if New York, if that kind of absolutely radical law … attacking life, attacking the dignity of human life is what pro-choice looks like, then we want no part of that.
And so we saw, in one month, from just before to just after the New York bill passed into law, I saw about a 10-point swing in the percentage of Americans who call themselves pro-life. We saw a dramatic increase in the percentage of Democrats who call themselves pro-life after New York.
And it’s no surprise, when people are celebrating the death of innocent human beings, the most disenfranchised, vulnerable members of our communities. It’s no surprise, when they’re lighting up New York pink and cheering for something that is such an attack on human life.
And so when you look at the Supreme court, when you look at the polls, and most of all, when you look at the abortion rate itself, the fact that it is now the lowest it’s been since 1972, the year before Roe was passed into law … So, the abortion rate now, when abortion is generally legal in America, is now the same as it was in 1972, when it was legal in just a few states.
That is a dramatic shift. It’s down 50% since 2006. And even more than that, the rate of of abortion within the unintended pregnancies, that has dropped dramatically. And so, even women who didn’t plan to get pregnant, weren’t trying to get pregnant, may not even know how they ended up quite in this situation, they are still choosing life.
With the technology that we have, with the scientific advances and the medicine, we’re seeing more and more women choose life as they get this awareness, and they’re looking for holistic solutions, and true, life-affirming care. And they want consistency. They want authenticity. They don’t want, “OK, well these people deserve life, these don’t.”
And so the abortion rate is down. And so, with that, and the polling, and the Supreme court, both sides are looking at these markers and they’re saying, “Well, hang on, if this is going on, then before long the abortion issue may be returning to the states. Roe may be overturned, and the abortion issue may be returning to the states.”
And at that point, that’s when we can make so much more progress, even. We would expect some states, like New York, to go the direction that they are.
We’re not giving up there. We are fighting there. We were fighting back against the bad laws. We were advancing the good bills. We are doing everything that we can, but it’s predictable that some states would go that way.
Even though the abortion rate in New York is dropping as well, even though the polling in New York is just the same. But we would see, based on the politics there, we would see states going that way.
We would see other states like Alabama going the other way, and heading toward life-affirming laws. And it’s so exciting to see other states going in that direction.
And then, most of the states are in the middle. Most of the states would have some laws that would be life-affirming, some limitations on abortion, some protections for women’s health and safety. But they wouldn’t go quite so [far] as either in New York or Alabama.
And so, this is when we have this real opportunity. And so, right now we’re doing the work. We at Americans United for Life, we’re laying the groundwork so that we can get that test case to overturn Roe, so that we have the framework of laws in place for once Roe is overturned and it goes back to the states.
And so you’re seeing these conditional laws being passed, so that as soon as Roe’s overturned, that law goes into effect. The condition is that Roe’s overturned.
And then, these laws are just saving lives now. You know, right now lives are being saved, 2 million lives saved just from the Hyde Amendment, not to mention all of the pro-life laws that are getting passed.
And so that’s millions of people who are here in the world today thanks to, in large part, the life-affirming laws that we’ve been able to pass, thanks to the pregnancy centers that I wasn’t aware of when I was 19 years old. Thanks to the sidewalk counselors, thanks to all of these different aspects that are coming together to educate and to build a more life-affirming America.
del Guidice: Thank you so much for sharing that perspective. You mentioned New York, and how they’ve passed aggressive pro-abortion laws. I know Illinois is another state that has passed laws taking away some prohibitions on late-term abortions.
What do you think this says about the direction of pro-abortion advocates, and where they’re trying to go now that they’re seeing this groundswell of pro-life efforts and legislation?
Foster: Yeah, I think we’re looking at those few certain states where they think it’s, if I could say, low-hanging fruit for them, where [we] think, “OK, they have the political structure in place, they have what they need to pass these laws.” And where there are, just like in any political system, there’s so many different things that people are focusing on and thinking of.
And so in some of these states, maybe the citizens, the people who live there, they might not hold their elected officials as accountable on the life issue as on some other issues, even though, again, the polling is showing that there’s a lot of consistency nationwide.
We’re not talking about 50% of Americans, very pro-life, 50% of Americans, very pro-choice. We’re talking about most Americans agreeing on at least rolling back abortion to the end of the first trimester. You know, 75% of Americans want it rolled back at least to that point, which requires overturning Roe.
But until that point, Planned Parenthood, certain other lobbying groups [like] Planned Parenthood Action and these different groups, are looking at states like New York and Illinois, and planning for what happens once Roe is overturned.
And so they’ve targeted obviously New York, [as] we saw with with Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo. We saw what happened in Virginia with Gov. [Ralph] Northam there, and that, no real word for it, disaster, debacle, everything that went on there.
And then Delegate [Kathy] Tran there, who you could even see her discomfort when she was having to defend, really, infanticide in front in this hearing. And you could see that she was not comfortable with that, I think we could all kind of tell.
Gov. Northam saying, “Oh, well if the child is born alive, then that’s a decision between a woman and her doctor about whether to provide care for this living, breathing, separate child, not any more within the woman’s body.”
That’s what we need to be talking about, is highlighting these kinds of extreme bills that are being introduced, and sadly, at times, even passed into law. Because it is indefensible. It is indefensible.
And so I don’t think it was surprising for many of us, at least many of us who work on these issues, when just a few short days later after Gov. Northam’s interview became public, that it also became public that in fact he had worn blackface, and disenfranchised so many, so many people in the American public in our communities. [A] huge percentage of the American population that he said, “Well, [they’re] lesser. Not quite enough. Not quite the same.”
del Guidice: Such a double standard.
Foster: Exactly. Exactly. And he offended 100% of us. I mean, who wasn’t offended by what came out, with really our apparently top three Democrats in Virginia? Just absolutely appalling.
And so, it’s not surprising. When you’re willing to disenfranchise some, everyone really is at risk. And certainly that applies to the case of newborn babies, in the case of Gov. Northam.
del Guidice: Well, looking at what happened to the former CEO of Planned Parenthood in July, she was abruptly fired. And it was reportedly because she wasn’t zealous enough in pushing Planned Parenthood’s abortion agenda.
What do you think this says about the future of Planned Parenthood?
Foster: I think that, first of all, this isn’t the first time this has happened. This is not the first time that they have doubled down on abortion as a central part of their platform. It happened multiple times before, in fact.
When they had a shakeup at the top, back a few decades ago, when they said no, every single affiliate, not necessarily every facility, but every affiliate grouping would have to perform abortions, even the ones who didn’t want to. And so, all of the affiliates are trying to scramble and sometimes merge, or come up with these creative solutions to do that.
In this case, it felt even more personal. I feel like, I know here we’re talking about a physician, an accomplished physician. A woman. A woman who’s also a minority, and someone who has such experience and such depth there.
But she wasn’t pro-abortion enough for them. She wasn’t supporting abortion enough. She wasn’t political enough for them. And even though, when her tenure began, she did begin talking about abortion openly, and saying abortion is health care. Even so, that was not enough for them. They wanted someone more political, someone who was going to be pushing abortion even more.
And so, it was really tragic, because she was someone who just … she was so much more than an idealogue. She really, she brought her heart to that role, and she believed in it.
And we had some disagreements, but she was willing to reach out to the life community, to find common ground, and we did have so much common ground when it comes to issues like health care, that it was devastating.
And especially, I would say, even more so because of her experience with miscarriage, and knowing that she has lost a child and been through that experience. And then to have her ousted like that.
It was, I know it was painful for many of us. We’re just, we’re looking at this, and it’s hard to imagine it. You just, you just feel terrible for her.
del Guidice: Well Catherine, thank you so much for being with us today on The Daily Signal podcast. Where can people follow your work at AUL?
Foster: So, our website is aul.org. We are on social media, Facebook, Twitter, whatever. Go check us out there, and we will update you on everything that’s going on with pro-life bills and laws and court cases, and everything else going on in the life movement.
del Guidice: Well, thank you again and we’ll see you next time.
Foster: Pleasure to be here.