Planned Parenthood employees and anti-abortion activists share at least one thing: Compassion, said Linda Couri, a former counselor for the health organization who spoke at Converted, a daylong conference featuring former "abortion providers" talking about why they changed their views.
"The face of Planned Parenthood looks a lot like me," Couri told about 80 people Saturday in Rosemont. "These are women trying to do the right thing for women and completely believing the lie that they are helping women and helping children," she said.
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The 42-year-old Couri, who serves as director of Lay Ministry Formation for the Archdiocese of Chicago, lives in Libertyville and is a mother of two. She spoke at the event sponsored by the Pro-Life Action League of Chicago.
Couri told the story of her own journey, starting with an unplanned pregnancy and abortion in her 20s.
"It suddenly struck me -- I can have an abortion. I have to tell you to be totally honest, all my stress went away. It was liked taking a miracle drug," she said.
The thought "what about the baby" popped into her head, but "I just turned that off."
Couri said she believed her work with Planned Parenthood, which provides sex education and contraception, "was helping to prevent abortion."
But she always believed that abortion meant killing babies,
She read journals where women recorded their feelings right after abortions and was amazed that many of them were upset and said, "I've killed my baby."
Eleven years after her own abortion, she had a panic attack when struck with the thought "I've had an abortion; I've killed my child." She then obtained help through a group called Project Rachel.
Supporting abortion rights is a mindset tied with the human rights movement, she said. "We are asking them to leave an identity; to give up a lot. How do we talk to those people? How do we break through this lie?"
But despite her plea to recognize good in people on the other side of the issue, Couri praised the diversity of tactics in the anti-abortion movement.
"Creating diversity makes a good movement," she said.
A spokeswoman for the national office of Planned Parenthood issued a general statement about its services that said in part its work is "based on respect for each individual's right to make informed, independent decisions about health, sex, and family planning." She referred questions to Planned Parenthood of Illinois, which could not be reached for comment Saturday night.