In the 1980s, Kathy Sparks Lesnoff found a job working at an abortion clinic in Illinois. The clinic usually only performed first-trimester abortions, but one day, it made an exception for a woman who came in for an abortion at 23 weeks of gestation.
The procedure “was the first time I had seen a 23-week abortion,” Lesnoff says.
After the nearly hourlong procedure, she realized she could no longer support abortion.
“God revealed to me in that one abortion that whether these women are six weeks, eight weeks, 10 weeks, or 23 weeks, they were all babies, and I was killing babies,” Lesnoff says.
Lesnoff is now the president and CEO of Mosaic Pregnancy & Health Centers in Illinois, an organization that provides support and resources to women facing unplanned or crisis pregnancies.
She joins “Problematic Women” to share her pro-life story and why she is standing up against Illinois legislation that would require all pregnancy centers to refer for abortions.
Also on today’s show, we discuss New York Attorney General Letitia James’ independent investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Gov. Andrew Cuomo. We also talk about Democrats’ efforts to do away with the Hyde Amendment, the federal law that prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortion except to save the life of the mother or when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.
And as always, we will be crowning our “Problematic Woman of the Week.”
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Virginia Allen: Some of my favorite stories are the ones of personal transformation of people just like you and me. And that’s why I am so excited to welcome Kathy Sparks Lesnoff to the show. Kathy is the president and CEO of Mosaic Pregnancy & Health Centers in Illinois. I’m also so excited to welcome Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Elissa Graves. Ladies, thank you so much for being here.
Kathy Sparks Lesnoff: It’s great to be here.
Elissa Graves: Thank you for having us.
Allen: So, Kathy, I want to start by just asking you to share a little bit of your own story. You actually worked at an abortion clinic back in the ’80s. Tell us a little bit about that clinic, what you were doing there, where it was, just share a bit of what you were doing at that clinic.
Lesnoff: Well, I had gotten involved in college three years into my nursing career. And during that period of time, I met and married my husband, Mike. And then we found out we were expecting a baby. And so I knew that we just had to take a break from school, and then I needed to get a job to help pay down some student debt.
So, a friend of mine told me about an opening at one of the largest abortion facilities in the Midwest. They were hiring for a medical assistant to actually assist the doctors during the abortion procedure. So, even though I didn’t have my nursing degree yet, I had three years of nursing school.
So, I was very, very pro-abortion, pro-choice. Didn’t start out that way. Grew up in a conservative home. But it took a year for me to get involved in a secular university to where I just really changed my entire opinion on the abortion issue. So, being very pro-abortion, pro-choice, they pay more money than if I would’ve had my degree. For all those reasons, I went down and applied for the position, and they hired me.
So, just moving on, they hired me to assist the doctors during the abortion procedure, but I was able to be trained in every area of the clinic. So, from answering the phone, sitting into counseling sessions, the cleanup room, recovery, everything. So, from the very beginning to the very end of what that woman would experience, I’ve witnessed it all. Though, again, I was only hired to assist them during the actual procedure.
A couple of things that I would just want to share is that even answering the telephones, we would do a minimum of 40 during the week and 60 on a Saturday. And they were only licensed to do first-trimester abortion procedures at that time, and yet would do up to 10 extra abortions every day. We didn’t want them to change their mind, their parents find out, changing their mind for them, or we didn’t want them to cross the Mississippi River into the state of Missouri and get an abortion over there. So, we would work up to 10 abortions a day.
So, it was a big, huge moneymaking business, is what it was. So, they really didn’t really care about the woman. They cared about how many abortions could they do in a day.
Allen: And for you personally, working in that environment, did you really have a sense of, “I’m helping women. I’m playing an important role here.” What was the atmosphere like within the clinic?
Lesnoff: Well, there’s a great amount of deception involved in these abortion clinics. There really is.
I think when I got involved in the abortion industry, I did believe that I would be helping women. Certainly back then, they did not have technology. Science wasn’t what it is now. So, ultrasounds weren’t included then, so we didn’t know when I got involved.
But being involved, I saw arms and legs, babies. I saw that. And yet my heart was very, very hard. The money is huge, and you’re trained a particular way. And again, I was very, very deceived. So, I think I did think I was helping women. But I also know that there were babies there in that way.
Allen: And during that season of your life, I know you talk about that there was a lot going on in your personal world as well, that it was a really challenging season for you at home. Talk a little bit about that.
Lesnoff: Well, my husband and I hadn’t been married very long, had a newborn baby, and we had a lot of marital issues. And so, Mike had actually forced me to file in for an uncontested divorce. All my friends were now graduating from college. I was still a year out.
My father had passed away. He was an alcoholic, drank himself to death. So, that was very difficult. So, I really was suffering with deep depression. Went over to my mom’s, had this great plan. The next day was the divorce. After the divorce, I would move back home with the baby and then go back to school.
But she just said, “No.” She just said, “No, Kathy, you’ve made your bed. Now you need to sleep in it.” And that was devastating for me.
So, I went back home with my little, newborn baby. And at that time, my husband was a police officer, and he was working midnights. But I made a plan that night that I would take my life. And so, I waited until Shannon was deeply in her sleep, and I literally put a gun up to my head and pulled the trigger, and the gun didn’t go off. And that was pretty devastating.
And so, I reached out to my mother-in-law and got the baby out of bed. She had me come over, and I went over to her house, and she just introduced me to the Lord and just told me, “Kathy, here you are trying to take your life. Why not give the Lord an opportunity to live his life through you?” So, I just prayed that day and repented and gave my heart to the Lord.
So, the next day, Mike did not get the divorce. He went over to his mom’s, and she gave him a Bible. Long story short, he gave his heart to the Lord three weeks later, and then we just really made a full-out commitment in our marriage.
And then, the next day, God allowed me to see a very large abortion. It was a 23-week abortion. They were only licensed to do first-trimester abortions. They did abortions 14-, 15-, 16 weeks all the time. But this was the first time I had seen a 23-week abortion. And a normal first-trimester abortion procedure would take five to eight minutes. This took, the doctor 55 minutes to finish and to complete.
And so, God revealed to me in that one abortion that whether these women are six weeks, eight weeks, 10 weeks or 23 weeks, they were all babies, and I was killing babies.
So, anyway, I went home, shared it with Mike. Next day, went into the clinic, director of the clinic came in and told me she’d had a dream that I needed to leave the abortion clinic because of my religion. And I hadn’t told anyone I’d become a Christian. So, I knew that God had given her a dream for me. And so, I left that day, never to return.
Allen: Wow! Talk about an amazing week. I mean, within that span, just the highs and the lows of you trying to take your life, the Lord sparing your life, you being led to Christ through your mother-in-law, your marriage, your husband deciding, “OK, we’re not going to pursue this divorce.” And then leaving the abortion clinic. What a significant and marking time in your life for you.
Lesnoff: It really was. It really was, Virginia. And I’m thankful. I’m really, really thankful. I feel like my life is really a Romans 8:28. The Bible says, “For we know that God uses all things together for good, for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.” So, though that was a very dark, horrible time in my life, certainly God is using it even now all these years later for my good and to bring Him glory.
Allen: So, you walk away from that job at the abortion clinic, you have this new understanding of life and what it means to live life and embrace life. What was then your journey to founding your own pro-life pregnancy center, the Mosaic? How long of a period of time went by before you started the center?
Lesnoff: Great question. Five years. Was a long time. Once we got … well, I say we, my husband and I, got out of the abortion industry, of course, I repented for everything that I had been a part of there. But I had a lot of shame, a lot of guilt. I was embarrassed. Had a very difficult time sharing with anyone that [I] had been involved with such darkness.
And so, then a friend of mine had talked to me about forgiving myself. And I realized I had a lot of unforgiveness toward myself for what I had done. So, I made a decision to forgive myself. And I happened to be in a Bible study. Someone mentioned abortion. That was a first time, five years later, that I had talked to anyone about my involvement in the abortion industry.
And so, someone in that room actually connected me with someone who asked me to share my testimony. I began speaking for a year, and then just my path was crossed with five other believers. And we began what is now known as Mosaic Pregnancy and Health Centers.
My heart was really to help the woman who would find herself in an untimely pregnancy. Certainly, my knowledge of the inside of the abortion industry, I knew that I could take that knowledge, and if we could just empower women with truth, free services, alternatives to abortion, in a loving, caring Christian environment, we felt like they’d probably choose life. And most of them do.
Allen: Oh, I love it. So, tell me a little bit more about the work that you all do. You’re based in Illinois. About how many women are you seeing on a regular basis? And then tell me a little bit more about the services that you offer those women.
Lesnoff: Sure. We are in the state of Illinois, we have two brick-and-mortar buildings, offices. And then we also have a mobile medical unit. Our mobile medical unit is actually parked right next door to the Planned Parenthood in Fairview Heights, Illinois.
So, we’re there five days a week. And it’s awesome to be able to step right in front of them almost. They see us. They come to us before they go get their abortion. And we’re so excited when they choose life instead of going through with that abortion procedure in Planned Parenthood.
The other brick-and-mortar offices, we do so much. We offer free pregnancy tests and all the community services that we possibly could. Material services. Lots of referrals so that they could get good prenatal care.
We are medical. So, we have an OB-GYN. We have five registered nurses who handle all of our medical services. We’re a Christian organization, and so we are affiliated with the state of Illinois as an educational and a religious organization. And so, we’re able to offer those medical services all free and confidential, and we also are able to share the Gospel with them as well.
Allen: And where does the name come from, Mosaic?
Lesnoff: Mosaic. Well, we did a name change many years ago, because we were offering so many services. And a mosaic picture, there are many parts, and when they come together, they make the whole picture. So, a lot of these women who are in very difficult stages of their lives, their lives seem shattered, but through Christ and through us just being vessels, we’re able to see God put all these pieces back together.
Plus, we’re diverse. We serve a great diversity of clients. We’re diverse in our Christian beliefs. We’re just all Christians. So, in many ways that mosaic, making that picture, and you stand back and look at it, it’s a beautiful thing.
Allen: I love that. That is beautiful.
Elissa, I want to get you pulled in here in this conversation. So, back in 2016, Illinois passed a law that required all pregnancy centers to refer women for abortions. Explain a little bit more about this law and its implications.
Graves: So, this law, SB 1564, requires pregnancy centers and any other pro-life medical professionals to essentially talk about the so-called benefits of abortion to every single pregnant patient. And if a woman asks about abortion, they have to be given a list of doctors that they think provide abortion.
This is against the sincerely held religious beliefs of many of these centers, and it forces them to speak a message—the government’s message—that they don’t agree with. And it’s just so clearly unconstitutional. Thankfully, for the time being, there is a court order that prohibits the government from enforcing it against anyone in the state of Illinois.
Allen: OK. So, for someone like Kathy and Mosaic Pregnancy & Health Centers, how does this law force them to have to change their practices? How does it impact them on a day-to-day basis?
Graves: So, it forces them to change their policies and procedures. That’s within the law. It says that they have to have procedures in their handbooks to essentially say what they will do if a woman comes in, and talk to every pregnant woman about abortion to tell them that it’s an option in their pregnancy, even if it’s a very wanted pregnancy, and then to also refer them for abortion.
It changes the core of what these pregnancy centers do. It makes them present a message that they don’t believe in. It makes them talk about something that they don’t think is a good option for women and makes them promote the state’s message, which is just against the free speech clause of the First Amendment.
Allen: So, this isn’t the first time that we’ve seen a debate like this in America. California passed a similar law several years ago, but the Supreme Court actually struck that down. That was a big win for pro-life centers. So, what are the differences between that debate in California and now what we’re seeing in Illinois? And why doesn’t the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of California make it so that we shouldn’t really be seeing this happen once again in a state like Illinois?
Graves: The state of Illinois’ law is even worse than the law that the Supreme Court struck down. There, it was essentially every pregnancy center had to talk about that the state of California offers free or low-cost abortions, and essentially providing free advertising to the abortion industry. Here, they’re saying any pro-life medical professional, for every pregnant patient, they have to talk about the so-called benefits of abortion. They have to refer to abortion doctors. They have to change their policies and procedures.
It’s an egregious violation of the First Amendment. And we at ADF argue that the case, the Supreme Court case, [National Institute of Family and Life Advocates] v. Becerra, does rule here. We believe it makes really clear that the state of Illinois cannot be engaging in this blatant discrimination against pregnancy centers.
But we’re still fighting this. And there’s other examples across the nation. Connecticut just passed a law restricting pregnancy centers. And there’s just this momentum to try to force centers to talk about the state’s message, which is just unconstitutional.
Allen: So, share a little bit more about Alliance Defending Freedom’s lawsuit in this case, where it stands right now. Obviously, Kathy is a part of this lawsuit, and I know this is a group lawsuit. So, who else is involved?
Graves: So, we represent Kathy’s center, Mosaic, and other pregnancy centers, as well as NIFLA, the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, which also successfully challenged the California law. There’s currently a court order in place that stops the government from enforcing it against not only our clients, but against anyone in the state of Illinois, which was a huge win.
We are currently going through the discovery phase and the fact-finding phase and hope to resolve at the district court levels sometime within the next year.
Allen: So, Kathy, for you, why did you decide, “OK, this is something that I need to take a stand on. I can’t just sit back”?
Lesnoff: Yes. You know, for two main reasons for us, Virginia. The first, as I said before, we’re licensed in the state of Illinois as a religious and an education organization. So, the first aspect of this, it was a violation directly against our freedom of religion.
This would force us to refer for abortion, which is against the very core of who we are. We believe abortion takes an innocent life. We would never refer for abortion, no matter what. But second to that was, it was a violation of our freedom of speech. So, to be able to provide the so-called benefits of abortion, we would never do that.
So, the government in essence was forcing us to lie to our clients. Being involved in the abortion industry, I can address that. There are no benefits to the abortion procedure. Abortion hurts women. It does not help women. It hurts women. So, we would never lie to our clients by providing so-called benefits of an abortion procedure.
Allen: And Elissa, are you optimistic that we’re going to see this case move forward in a positive way?
Graves: So currently, like I mentioned, we do have a court order in place that is very protective of our beliefs. And we think, we hope that the Supreme Court’s ruling in NIFLA v. Becerra in California will help us to uphold this right to free speech in this case, as well.
Allen: Yeah. That’s so, so critical. Well, Kathy, I would love to toss it back to you and just ask you to share a little bit. We heard at the beginning of our conversation about your journey, and you had your child. You chose life for your child. Share a little bit about your family now, if you would.
Lesnoff: Well, Mike and I were married 36 years. And after an 11-year cancer battle, he went home to be with the Lord. But I’m just really thankful that God gave us four more children. I have 16 grandchildren. Two years being widowed and did get married again. So very blessed to be able to experience a second happy marriage. So, that’s been really wonderful.
And I’m just really, really thankful for the work of pregnancy care centers, all across the United States. You know, Virginia, we’re just one. We’re one of 3,000 pregnancy resource centers that offer free and confidential care to women who find themselves in an untimely pregnancy.
And so, I’m just really thankful for this opportunity to be on this podcast today to be able to encourage your listeners, everyone who’ll be viewing and listening about the work of pregnancy resource centers and Alliance Defending Freedom, as well.
Allen: Yeah, both Alliance Defending Freedom and the pregnancy centers, yours, Kathy, and the many, many all over America, you all are doing such, such critical work, really being hands and feet on the ground, impacting the lives of women, supporting them.
Kathy, before I let you go, I do want to ask you one question that we love to ask all of our guests on this show. We get so many different responses, and that’s: Do you consider yourself to be a feminist? Yes or no? Why or why not?
Lesnoff: Oh, that’s a great question. I am. I’m a feminist in the fact that I’m a woman. I’m just really thankful that God created me as a woman. I embrace my femininity. And so as a woman, I would say I’m a feminist. I think that you can be a feminist, you can be pro-life, you can be pro-woman, you can be pro-work, and you can be pro-mother, and you can do it all.
And so, I’m very thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to work full time and be a mom and raise my five children and just continue to do what God’s called me to do. So, I would say, “Yes.”
Allen: I love it. Well, ladies, thank you both so much. We’re going to continue to follow this situation in Illinois, follow this case. But I really appreciate, Kathy, the work that you’re doing to impact women; Elissa, the way that you are standing for justice. You’re standing to uphold the rulings of the Supreme Court. And so, we just thank you both for your time today and for all the work that you’re doing.
Lesnoff: Thank you, Virginia.
Graves: Thank you so much for having us.
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