By RUBY THOMAS
Special to The Record
You could easily hear a pin drop as Dr. Anthony Levatino, former abortion doctor and now a pro-life advocate, described in painfully graphic details performing an abortion on a 17-year-old patient who was 20 weeks pregnant at the time.
“Just imagine for a minute that you are a pro-choice obstetrician-gynecologist like I used to be,” he said. “Your patient today is 17 years old. She’d been feeling her baby kick for two weeks. Now she’s asleep on an operating room table and you will help her with her problem pregnancy.”
Levatino spoke to a crowd of about 600 people at the 39th annual Celebration of Life Banquet sponsored by Right to Life of Louisville April 21 at the Ramada Plaza Hotel in Louisville. As he spoke, he showed the audience examples of the devices that used to be the tools of his trade.
Levatino performed hundreds of abortions during his career and admittedly never thought much about them. He started performing abortions in the 70s during his residency at a hospital in New York. “I was pro-choice and believed abortion was a decision between a woman and her doctor and nobody, particularly the baby’s father, had anything to say about it.”
By the early 1980s he had his own practice in upstate New York and he and his partner set about finding a better way to do a particular type of abortion.
“We trained ourselves to do these abortions and we were the only doctors in our area who would do them,” he said. As a result, other doctors referred patients to them. Over the course of four years in that practice, Levatino said he performed 1,200 abortions.
“I was finally making some money and we could afford to buy a home,” he said. “Everything was just wonderful.”
It would take two deeply personal tragedies to change his mind.
A few years earlier, Levatino and his wife struggled with infertility, so they decided to adopt a child. The legal process was grueling and it caused Levatino to experience doubts about what he did for a living for the first time.
“I knew the reason I couldn’t find a child to adopt was because of guys like me doing these abortion,” he said. But one day a call came about a 15-year-old girl who’d delivered at the hospital where he worked.
She agreed to let them adopt her baby and that sliver of doubt vanished, but returned with vengeance years later after that child was killed by a vehicle in front of their home in Albany, N. Y.
“We did everything we could, but she died in our arms in the back of an ambulance,” he said, sounding as if his heart was breaking all over again.
“What do you do after a disaster?” he asked.
After a brief family leave, he returned to performing abortions.
“I don’t know how long after that my first abortion was scheduled, but I showed up. There was nothing special about this one; it was just another routine procedure,” he said. He got sick, but finished the procedure.
“For the first time after all those years … I didn’t see her wonderful right to choose; I didn’t see what a great doctor I was helping her with her problem. All I could see was somebody’s son or daughter,” he continued.
After this experience, he started scaling back by doing only first trimester abortions, but soon acknowledged that the size of the baby didn’t matter.
In 1985 he went to his partners and informed them he would no longer do any abortions. He has come to believe that the abortion issue is the “biggest human rights abuse of our times.”
Levatino and his wife have joined the pro-life group Citizens Concerned for Human Life. He was invited to the Meet the Abortion Providers Conference in the fall of 1988 where he spoke publicly for the first time about the reason he stopped doing abortions.
He’s been a strong presence in the pro-life movement ever since. Levatino is the co-founder of Heather’s Place, a nonprofit foundation which provides grants to pregnancy assistance centers worldwide. He and his wife also founded and operate Turning Point, a pregnancy center in Las Cruces, N.M., where they’ve lived for the past 10 years.