From Abortionist to Pro-Life Activist: Dr. Beverly McMillan’s Story

/ Commentary

By Katherine Ranck

“I didn’t start out life wanting to be an abortionist,” Beverly McMillan tells me as we sit across from each other in the conference room of Pro-Life Mississippi’s offices. We’ve met here today to talk about Dr. McMillan’s life and the testimony of how she went from abortionist to pro-life activist. Dr. McMillan has served as both president and vice president of Pro-Life Mississippi over the years, shared her testimony at numerous events, and counseled women on the sidewalk outside of Jackson’s last remaining abortion clinic. But she didn’t start out as pro-life or a Christian.

“I was raised in a Christian home so I certainly knew all the ‘thou shalts and thou shalt nots.’ I had a pretty sheltered life. I graduated high school in the 1960s. I went off to Knoxville, Tennessee to the university to start pre-med and it was total secularism. I don’t know how long that had been creeping into academics, no one was warning us about it.”

While there she began dating her boyfriend, who she later married in 1965. He was agnostic and his worldview was completely modern and liberal. This and the environment of the college greatly influenced McMillan. By the time she went off to medical school she was totally secularized.

Abortion was not something discussed in medical school. When McMillan graduated medical school in 1966, the Pill had just come out 6 years before and was not yet a cultural norm. After graduation, McMillan and her husband moved to Rochester, Minnesota to do their residency at the Mayo Clinic. Because Rochester was too small for all 12 residents to get their Obstetrics training done, in 1969, McMillan was sent to Cook County Hospital in Chicago. There were three rotations: One was obstetrics where they delivered babies. Another was surgical where they performed cesarean sections. The third was something called “infected OB.” It was here that McMillan first encountered abortion.

“I had no idea what it was and there was no orientation. . . My first day on call, I still didn’t know what was going on until late that night. We spent the morning rounding patients who were already admitted, sending most of them home with whatever they needed. And then in the evening, I guess the emergency room decided to empty out the people they had collected during the day. That elevator just kept rolling about sundown and we would admit these ladies, 15, 25 a night. . . these patients just kept coming, you did as much of a history as you could, and stabilized everybody. They were bleeding, some ran a fever, their uterus was enlarged and tender. And nobody wanted to give you any history. You did the obvious: everybody got an IV, everybody got antibiotics, check blood counts, if they were really low, you gave them blood, you just tried to get everybody in a bed and tried to get some kind of stabilizing therapy going on.”

Around midnight things began to calm down. McMillan went to the nurses’ station to get some notes written and overheard the nurses talking, rather disparagingly, about the women who had come in. It was then that she realized these women had undergone illegal abortions.

“I just thought, well wow so this is illegal abortion right here and also I thought it was just rather deplorable how they were treated, just no dignity, you know whatever. So by the time the 6 weeks was over . . .  I had no point of view other than secular humanism at that point. I thought, ‘This needs to be better, this needs to be better.’ And the way that seemed reasonable to me was, to legalize abortion and let the medical community start taking some responsibility so that these women don’t have to go an illegal route.”

It was not out of ignorance of the unborn life that drove Dr. McMillan to her support of abortion. While she wanted to help women, she also knew that life began at conception. While sonograms did not come onto the scene until late 70s, there was no question in medical school that life began at conception. “We knew better,” McMillan states. “I compartmentalized things. My patient to me was the woman in front of me. Now if someone wanted their pregnancy, I would switch over and I had two patients.” Dr. McMillan sighs, “There’s another Scripture, you know, ‘the god of this world has blinded their eyes.’ (2 Corinthians 4:4) I just didn’t deal with it; I didn’t deal with it. You know, I was helping these women, that was my focus. I’m here to help women.”

Dr. McMillan finished her training and they moved to Lexington, Kentucky where her husband finished his. In 1972 she and a resident she had met opened their own private practice. “It was fun, you know, two girls against the world. It was fun.” Then came 1973 and the landmark decision Roe v Wade that legalized abortion across all 50 states.

“When the dust settled and we realized that it really was legal, we thought we’d start offering that also in our practice. So we started doing first trimester abortions. We were only going to do first trimester abortions because complications increase exponentially as you get further along in the pregnancy. We didn’t want to get into big troubles.”

Dr. McMillan practiced in Kentucky from 1972 until 1974 when her husband was offered a wonderful job opportunity in Jackson, Mississippi. “I came down here very angry. I had three little boys by then, I was mad at my husband, I was mad at the world. Trying to make the best of it.” Dr. McMillan opened her practice in Jackson in 1975. She also took on some work at University Medical Center since, being new in town and not knowing anyone, she was not busy at her practice. While working at the University, she was introduced to a group of people who wanted to open an abortion clinic in the state.

“This was ’75, two years after Roe and there was no abortion clinic in the state. They had everything they needed except for an abortionist. No one wanted to come forward and be identified I guess. So they asked if I was interested in it.”

Dr. McMillan knew it wouldn’t be popular, but since she had her private practice and would be able to just moonlight as an abortionist, she took the offer.

That summer, while things were getting organized to open the abortion clinic, Dr. McMillan went to a Childbirth Education Tea to meet people and build up her practice. There she met Barbara who would go on to become a dear friend.

“It didn’t take us long to figure out that she was a Christian and I was a heathen. She was just delightful. She would be a good poker player; she was asking me about my practice and when I told her that I was getting ready to open this abortion clinic she was horrified but I couldn’t tell it. But she went home after that and called up her best friend and they made a covenant over the phone to pray for me.”

Six months later, Dr. McMillan would encounter Christ.

From a worldly perspective, Dr. McMillan was very successful. She had a great house, car, and plenty of possessions. Her practice and her work at the abortion clinic were going well and she had three beautiful children. Yet she was feeling deeply depressed. Wanting to get her attitude straightened out, Dr. McMillan went to a secular bookstore and picked up a copy of Norman Vincent Peele’s The Power of Positive Thinking. She read through the list of steps and tried to put them into practice. All but one. Number seven on the list was affirming, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” “I thought, what kind of trash did I pick up in this bookstore? I thought I bought a psychology book and here’s some religious nut.” After putting it off for as long as she could, Dr. McMillan finally gave up and decided to say it, though unenthusiastically. At that moment, she felt the presence of God in the car with her. She began to cry and felt overwhelmed with emotion. That was the catalyst that led her to seek after God. At the end of the book, Peele had recommended reading the Bible every day and to find Christian fellowship. Dr. McMillan went out and bought a Bible and decided to start spending more time with the only Christian friend she could think of—Barbara. Dr. McMillan began reading the Bible every day until she knew it “upside-down and backwards” as well as other Christian books that Barbara gave her. Eventually, Dr. McMillan got up the courage to begin attending church after one of her patients invited her.

However, Dr. McMillan still wasn’t pro-life yet. It would still be two years before Dr. McMillan stopped working at the abortion clinic.

“There’s a lot of work the Lord had to do. The first thing the Lord started talking to me about after my encounter wasn’t abortion, it was my relationship with my husband, there was all kind of stuff. My life needed a total rehab.”

While she didn’t become pro-life right away, she began becoming increasingly uneasy working at the abortion clinic. What used to be easy, started to become harder and harder. One night, Dr. McMillan recounts that she was showing an employee at the abortion clinic how to count the fetal parts to make sure the abortion was complete. In the past, Dr. McMillan recalls that she just counted to make sure everything was there and the abortion was complete. Looking at the remains of the aborted 12-week old baby, Dr. McMillan saw the arm and deltoid muscle of the aborted baby laying on the table. “I think about my youngest son used to go around showing off his muscles. And it was just a God moment, a Holy Spirit moment,” She realized, “Oh! If I’d left this alone, this child would have been as beautiful as mine.” After that she stopped doing abortions, though she continued to act as the medical director of the clinic.

Dr. McMillan continued going to church and through sitting under the preaching of God’s Word and hearing the Gospel, a number of things were impressed on her heart. One, that she needed to join the church, make a public profession of faith, and be baptized; and two, she needed to leave the abortion clinic. “But I wasn’t Pro-life.” Dr. McMillan clarifies, “I just couldn’t do abortions anymore.” Something about it really bothered her, she just couldn’t tell you why. It wouldn’t be much longer before she learned why.

In 1980, Dr. McMillan was invited to hear Dr. Paul Fowler speak on his vision to create the first pro-life group in the state. Part of his vision was to get the community involved, such as “lawyers for life,” and “doctors for life,” and “nurses for life,” and “accountants for life,” etc. “I show up and that was like getting my medical education re-filtered through the scriptures and learned all the beautiful verses that God talks about life in the womb.”

Genesis 9:6

“Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.”

Jeremiah 1:4-5

Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Psalm 139:14-16

“For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

It all clicked for Dr. McMillan then and she became fully pro-life. She also realized that even though she had stopped doing abortions, she was still prescribing birth control methods like IUDs that cause “mini-abortions.” She was convicted not to do anything that would kill the human life that begins at conception [including by preventing implantation].

“And I thought, ‘Oh my goodness! Yeah, I need to quit doing abortions but now it looks like I need to quit putting in IUDs. That was harder to do in some ways than giving up the abortions. Because you know, you give up abortions and people say, ‘Oh, well, nice job! You cleaned up your act.’ And you say, ‘and I’m not going to put in IUDs.’ ‘What!? You’re nuts!’”

God has opened many doors for Dr. McMillan. She has shared her story to many people, educating them about life in the womb and the realities of abortion. She has delivered babies who have been saved from abortion. She has testified in court in favor of pro-life bills and testified against abortionists who have injured women. She has also participated in sidewalk activism—counseling women and seeking to save their babies from abortion. In 1991, Dr. McMillan and a group of doctors in her practice split off from a hospital where they had been practicing to form their own practice. Their reason and goal was to operate a clinic where at least 10% of the clients they took on would be low-income clients on Medicaid. One of the big reasons women consider abortion is financial difficulties and so Dr. McMillan and those in her practice wanted to be able to take on abortion vulnerable clients, not to perform abortions, but to deliver their babies.

God has used her mightily in her pro-life activism and as a doctor. It is amazing to see how God uses people and the opportunities He brings us to serve Him and glorify Him, no matter who we are or what we’ve done.

In mid-October of 1995, Dr. McMillan was on call, covering for one of her partners. A first-time mother began to have problems in labor and the delivery was difficult. The baby was born blue and wasn’t breathing. Dr. McMillan used her skill to do what she had been gifted to do—help bring life into the world—and saved the life of the baby girl.

That baby girl was me.

This article was originally published here and is republished at HDI with permission of the author.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Human Defense Initiative.

From Abortionist to Pro-Life Activist: Dr. Beverly McMillan’s Story
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