She stared up at the white ceiling tiles as the abortionist started the procedure. It was a suction abortion. Focusing on the white ceiling tiles above her, she did her best to not panic all the while a silent scream overtook her.
Growing up in a Baptist home, Betty Parquette of Springfield believed in the gift of life and that the marital union was solely reserved for marriage. Despite that upbringing, she admits she wasn’t well educated on life in the womb and felt detached from God.
“I was a very lonely girl who didn’t realize just how much God loved her,” Parquette said.
In college, she says that her life started to “spiral out of control.” Heavy drinking and experimenting with drugs, she dropped out of college.
“At this time in my life, feeling I had little worth, I became involved with a man for two years who was abusive to me,” Parquette said. “In December of 1981, I was on my own, laid off from my job, and found out I was pregnant.”
Feeling ashamed and fearful of losing her family’s love and having no support around her, she started to believe the lies told to her about baby development and that an abortion was only getting rid of tissue or cells. Living those years in fear ― fear of not being loved and the fear of an absence of God’s love for her, she allowed herself to be pressured into choosing an abortion.
“Going for the abortion was a completely cold experience,” Parquette said. “Even though I told myself to believe the lies, I really didn’t want this. The waiting room was full of women, sniffling and quietly suffering. When I was called in, I remember a woman, a so-called counselor who asked me if this was what I really wanted. I told her, ‘No, but I don’t have a choice.’ She never offered me any other options; just gave me a paper to sign with my consent.”
After a quick exam, she was prepped for the abortion. She was told that during the procedure, she would feel some slight cramping, but little did she know the procedure would bring her an unimaginable pain ― a pain she will never forget.
“As the abortionist began, pulling the life of my child from me, I experienced such pain; not only physically, but I felt my heart being ripped apart,” Parquette said. “I stared at the white ceiling tiles, focusing, trying not to panic with the silent scream inside me. It was horrible. How could something that was just ‘tissue’ be making me feel like dying? The procedure done, my child dead and gone, they escorted me to a back room with cots on the floor, gave me a small cup of juice and some crackers, and told me to leave as soon as I felt able. All those cots were full of women crying, mourning a child, not tissue. We left broken. The father of my child left there with me. He brought me to a botanical garden to cheer me up; like a post abortion date. That is so twisted. To this day, I can’t go into any doctor’s office and look at the white ceiling tiles without thinking of my abortions, and I can’t see a botanical garden, or even hear people speak of their beauty, without remembering. There are just so many triggers.”
After the abortion, her life continued to spiral out of control. Feeling a sense of “worthlessness,” she began to drink more than before. Then, she became pregnant again.
“I already thought I was damned,” Parquette said. “I couldn’t imagine how God could love me or forgive me. Here I was, at the same facility again. I just couldn’t believe it. How was this, how could this be happening again to me?”
As this second abortion procedure began, it was words from the abortionist that are burned into her memory forever.
“He said he couldn’t do it because I was too far along,” Parquette said. “‘What?’ I asked. I can still hear him as he said, ‘Oh no, it’s just a big baby.’ JUST A BIG BABY? This was the first time I had ever heard anyone say ‘baby’ and not ‘tissue.’ As he began the abortion that would end the life of my second child, the fog began to lift. I cried out for him to stop; that I didn’t want this! He yelled at me to shut up and to lay still and told the nurse to quiet me and hold me down. I was completely broken.”
Saying she was fearful of being “unloved,” she remained in that abusive relationship for two years before she finally ended it, but that wasn’t the end of the brokenness. She was numb, and for the next 10 years, continued in broken relationship after broken relationship. The alcohol made it worse.
Eventually seeking out counseling and admitting to the two abortions, her heart began to slowly open. She named her two children, Johnny and Ruth.
“I still had a long way to go at this point,” Parquette said. “At the root of everything was my fractured relationship with God. I longed for his forgiveness but just couldn’t see or understand why he would. I felt I didn’t deserve it.”
At this point in her life, she met her future husband, Greg, a fallen away Catholic. Greg understood that she needed to grieve, something she desperately needed, but there was still a hole in her heart and soul.
“I tried to find a church where I would fit, church jumping about every two years or so,” Parquette said. “Every church I went to, I would meet at some point with the pastor for a sort of confession. I was still Protestant at the time. There was a deep need to hear with my own ears from someone with authority that I was forgiven. Little did I know how deeply my soul yearned for the sacrament of penance.”
Greg and Betty’s marriage was then blessed with two sons, Brent and Reese. Despite the joy of motherhood, she says she felt “unworthy” and admits the guilt from her past abortions impacted her mothering. Slowly, however, she says God was using her boys as part of her healing. She also started reading her way into the Catholic Church. Greg also felt a calling to return to the faith.
“When I realized what the church teaches on confession, I nearly ran to it,” Parquette said. “This was a big turning point for me.”
Greg returned to the faith in 2004 while Betty became Catholic in 2005. They are now parishioners at St. Katharine Drexel in Springfield, where Greg is a deacon.
“Every year, the old wounds rise to the surface in profound ways,” Parquette said. “This is not a revisiting of the memories only to emotionally beat myself up again. Rather, it’s an opening of the old festering wound; letting out the infection so that God can apply the much-needed healing balm of mercy.”
The healing didn’t end there, however. The couple was then blessed with a daughter, Veronica.
“I wrote a poem during that pregnancy about all my thoughts, every question and the conclusions,” Parquette said. “This was my first publication. I wrote under a pen name as I didn’t want my children yet to know; only in God’s perfect time. Both of our sons found out at different times after attending the March for Life in Washington, D.C. They have both been so very merciful with me. Brent is now on the board of the Springfield Right to Life. Reese, born 18 years after my first abortion, released his first independent film in January of 2018, the Year of Mercy called, Mercy: Discovering God’s Love. He was 18 and it was aired on EWTN, all over the world, and it has a bit of my abortion story in it. Before this was released, I needed to tell our daughter. This was so hard. She was only 9 years old. Again, God has proven his love and mercy to me through her.”
In 2018, Parquette was asked to help with Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. These retreats are a safe place to renew, rebuild and redeem hearts broken by abortion. Saying she would help, Parquette was required to experience the retreat first. Little did she know it would bring her newfound freedom.
“Rachel’s Vineyard is an amazing ministry and asset in our diocese,” Parquette said. “My experience was so moving, so beautiful and merciful to a deeper level. The world ignores the pain of the post-abortive women and men, and we silently hold in our grief with no way to mourn in a healthy way. Rachel’s Vineyard offers the opportunity to go through a step by step grieving process, offering forgiveness and mercy, acknowledgment and dignity to our children, and the chance to let go of our heavy burdens. ‘Freeing’ is how I would best describe it. Women and men come to a retreat with a yearning and a fear in their souls, yet by the end of the weekend, they are able to leave with a joy and freedom in Christ they hadn’t known.”
Due to her newfound freedom, Parquette has no fear now. She now shares her story at churches at other pro-life organizations and will stand on the sidewalk outside Planned Parenthood in Springfield with a sign that says, “I was once in your shoes. I still miss my babies. Can I help you?”
“I would give anything to go back and change time, but since I can’t, I leave it all to God and do whatever I can to spare others the pain, and if they’ve made that awful decision, I want to bring God’s mercy to them,” Parquette said. “Rachel’s Vineyard is a tangible way that I can make a difference and experience the joy of seeing others finally be free.
“If I could say anything to someone contemplating abortion, I would say this: Don’t believe the lies and don’t give into fear. Fear compels us to make horrible decisions that impacts our entire lives. I know, I’ve been in those shoes, and I still miss my babies. Can I please help you?
“To anyone who has been scarred by abortion I would say this: Put away your fear, your heavy load you’ve carried, and let us help you grieve your child. Don’t be afraid. Rachel’s Vineyard has loving people who will be there for you every step of the way. Come to a retreat and experience God’s mercy in a way you never have. Now is the time. Please let us help you.”