Legate Kathleen Eaton goes toe-to-toe with abortion giant Planned Parenthood . . .
She was 28, going through a divorce, and pregnant with another man’s baby. Unwilling to face her parents, Eaton opted for an abortion. The Planned Parenthood clinic she visited didn’t do an ultrasound. They said she had a “blob of tissue” inside her. The abortion itself, performed at another clinic, was the worst experience of her life.
“I had no medication and felt horrible pain,” Eaton said. “I went out the back door afterwards, sat down on a curb and cried. Part of it was the pain, and part of it was thinking, ‘What have I done?’ I began to pray to God to allow me to stop other women from doing this.”
Healing and reconciliation
Fast forward to 2012. Eaton is now the president of seven Birth Choice Health Clinics in California with another in the works. Founded in 1981 (Eaton took over in 1986), these pro-life community care clinics provide medical consultations, pregnancy tests, STD and HIV/AIDS testing, and prenatal care.
Eaton’s journey from the curb outside an abortion clinic to pro-life activist is packed with grace-filled coincidences — or as she calls them “God-instances.”
“There were many things that my abortion was supposed to save, including my job and my marriage,” she explained. “My husband saw the paperwork on the abortion and the marriage was over. I ended up walking away from my job and my parents found out.”
The year after the abortion, Eaton hit rock-bottom.
“I didn’t go back to church that whole year,” she said. “I was stumbling along, numb, all out of focus. Nothing connected. I was depressed and I drank.”
Eaton got married within that year and moved to Oklahoma. She spent the entire first night looking out the kitchen window and crying. She finally decided to pray. She looked up a Catholic Church in the phonebook and went to Mass the next morning.
“The moment I walked in, I realized this was God’s house. I felt I didn’t belong,” she said.
Eaton found herself sitting between two old ladies who refused to move throughout the Mass, not even for Communion. She couldn’t leave even if she wanted to — the first of many “God-instances.”
“At the end of the Mass, the priest announced that there was a speaker,” Eaton explained. “I was still stuck between the two ladies when a woman went up and said, ‘My name is Barbara. I work for a pregnancy care center,’ and she described her work.”
After the Mass, Eaton instinctively knew she had to meet Barbara.
“She saw my eyes and told me later that she knew. She just knew. Barbara invited me to a meeting. So two days later, I found myself at a meeting with 25 women. Pretty soon they were all praying over me, and this was my introduction to the Catholic charismatic movement,” she said.
Eaton’s healing began immediately. During the next four years, she returned to the Church and studied her faith. She had her first marriage annulled, and her second husband entered the Church. She counseled women at a local crisis pregnancy care center and prayed outside abortion mills — specifically Dr. George Tiller’s clinic in Wichita, which performed third-trimester abortions.
Passion for the unborn
When Eaton moved back to California with three children in 1986, she decided to start a packaging and labeling business for medical manufacturing companies. She loved the pro-life movement, but needed to provide for her family since her husband had been injured.
One day, Eaton found boxes on her doorstep. A woman, who had met Eaton briefly outside of Tiller’s clinic years earlier, left an envelope which explained that she was moving to St. Louis and had left Birth Choice to Eaton’s care. All calls had been forwarded to her. All the files were in the boxes.
Eaton was furious, but then she recalled that she had just returned from a Cursillo retreat which stressed that sometimes the Lord doesn’t give you options. Another “God-instance.”
Suddenly the phone rang, and a crying woman begged Eaton to help her friend’s daughter who was on her way to Tiller’s clinic for an abortion. Eaton tried to call the young girl countless times, but to no avail. She quickly rallied friends from her retreat to pray for the baby about to be aborted. They named her Mary.
“We prayed the rosary for those two children — Mary and the son I had aborted years before, Toby. They are up in heaven and they started Birth Choice. Mother Teresa once said that every child has an impact. These two children started this ministry,” Eaton said.
After her husband’s death six years ago, Eaton dropped her packaging business and dedicated herself to Birth Choice full time. The clinics are now the envy of pregnancy care centers across the country. They have 40 paid staff and over 150 volunteers.
“I’ve known her for a long time,” said Ralph Linzmeier, a member of Legatus’ Orange Coast Chapter, where Eaton is also a member. “She has this heart for the unborn, and her Birth Choice Clinics have touched so many lives. She is very well organized and has good business sense. But what she really has is vision.”
Oonagh Linzmeier, Ralph’s wife, is a member of the Birth Choice board.
“I have been involved with pregnancy care centers for 20 years,” Oonagh said. “But three years ago when I met Kathleen, I was very impressed with her vision. Of all her gifts, the most impressive is her ability to communicate her passion.”
This is no idle praise. Though Eaton isn’t a trained fundraiser, she singlehandedly raises $3 million every year for Birth Choice. Last year’s Birth Choice Clinics Gala garnered $1.7 million in a single night. And in 2009, Eaton joined President George W. Bush as a recipient of Legatus’ Cardinal John J. O’Connor Pro-Life Award.
Unlike most crisis pregnancy care centers, Birth Choice goes toe-to-toe with Planned Parenthood by opening clinics nearby and employing doctors and nurses at every location. While some states try to close crisis pregnancy centers because of the lack of medical personnel, Birth Choice is ahead of the curve.
“I can’t overturn Roe v. Wade, but I can go after Planned Parenthood’s client base and do stronger work within each community,” Eaton said. “Our vision is to reach abortion-minded couples. It’s very hard. We do it through word of mouth and social media.”
Eaton is concerned about how people use their sexuality to ruin their own lives.
“Millions of these young couples go to Planned Parenthood, who feed them drugs and teach them how to be sexually active. We have to teach them how beautifully they are made,” she said.
When she looks back on her life and the success of Birth Choice Clinics, Eaton knows why her operations thrive.
“When you put yourself out there, God will honor your faith walk. If you build it in His honor, God will honor it. God will listen. He will bless you.”
Eaton’s life is a profound testament to what can happen when you take “God-instances” seriously.
Sabrina Arena Ferrisi is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.