Moving Forward Interview with Olivia Gans

On Jul. 1, the Virginia Board of Health will start outlining new regulations for abortion clinics passed in the last legislative session. WORLD Virginia spoke with Olivia Gans, president of the Virginia Society for Human Life, about the next step for the pro-life movement in Virginia and how to reach out to women who have had an abortion.

WORLD Virginia: Pro-lifers celebrated the passage of abortion clinic regulations in the last legislative session, but the regulations haven’t been outlined. What kinds of regulations are you hoping for?

Gans: Not only is it important to require abortion clinics to alter their physical capacities; it's very important that we have strict regulations about reporting any complications that occur to the women, any violations....The only way to actually follow up on these regulations is to force the clinics to self-report and have officials actively reporting. If that does not take place, [violations] can slip under the wire and we won't know what's going on.

W: How effective do you think these regulations will be?

Gans: It’s only part of the puzzle.... Pro-lifers need to go into the discussion of the regulations eyes wide open, with a real awareness that Planned Parenthood has proved in other places that they are willing to stay in business. It will not mean that the regulations are unimportant, but they should be seen as a beginning point for a much larger conversation about protecting the unborn child.

W: What is the next challenge Virginia pro-lifers will face?

Gans: Right now, the single most important thing is this fall’s Senate elections. The pro-abortion majority in the Virginia Senate has been primarily holding up all major pro-life legislation for the past six years or more. We have to change the face of the Senate to reflect the pro-life view of the commonwealth of Virginia.

W: What is the Virginia Society for Human Life’s role in all this?

Gans: The VSHL is the nation’s oldest pro-life organization. Our history goes back to 1967, before Roe v. Wade.... During a legislative session, we have a team of 2-3 individuals who are almost daily down at the General Assembly communicating, lobbying, giving our pro-life members information, reaching out to members who might be on the fence and monitoring bills. Things change very quickly in Richmond during the legislative session. We may or may not support every pro-life bill that is put forward because we look at what kind of effort has the greatest chance of success in this session.

W: And I assume in the last session that was the abortion clinic regulations?

Gans: Actually, that was not the initial priority for us. The legislation we’re usually more keenly interested in pursuing very specifically works to protect the unborn child. We’ve started talking to legislators about passing legislation that says no abortion can be performed after a baby can feel pain. Similar legislation has already been passed in Nebraska, Kansas, Alabama and Oklahoma. That’s extraordinarily powerful because we’ve measured that the child can feel pain from 20 weeks. It may be only a matter of time, many scientists believe, until we learn more about the experience of pain for unborn children in the womb at even younger ages.

W: How did you get involved in the pro-life cause?

Gans: Very simply, I am the mother of an aborted child. Soon after I had the abortion, I went through acute post-abortion syndrome reaction. That's very rare. Most women take years before they start to struggle through the emotional difficulties of an abortion. I came to Washington, D.C., after helping to found the first women’s peer-to-peer post-abortion support group, Women Exploited by Abortion. We discovered that the pro-life movement was very compassionate, creating a safe place for us to heal and give voice to our stories. That led me to work at the National Right to Life Committee in 1985, and I’m still working for NRLC as director of another project called American Victims of Abortion. About two and a half years ago, I was asked to run for president of VSHL. The pro-life movement is famous for using all the talents of its members, even those you didn’t know you had!

W: What finally convinced you that a fetus was a human life?

It wasn’t very long after I experienced abortion that I saw the pictures of the unborn child and thought very honestly in my own heart about what had happened. I became very solidly aware that this is not something but someone, my own child, that had died. It was not in the abstract for me. It was very immediate and very intimate.

W: Many people in the pro-life movement consider themselves Christians. What role do your beliefs play in your pro-life view?

The interesting thing about my commitment to the pro-life movement is that I see the issue as the ultimate human rights question. I’ve worked with people who aren’t participating in any Judeo-Christian, or any faith. Yet they’re able to see abortion as a human rights issue. The natural law, the biological reality, is that at the moment of fertilization there is a new, unique human being, separate from their mother or their father. The initiative to have their rights protected under the law, if for no other reason, is to safeguard our rights.

There’s no doubt in my mind I came back to a place of sanity and stability in my life because of the peace that I discovered when I returned to my faith. But it is not essentially why I do what I do, and it might sound shocking to say that. Within the natural law I can see the glory of God, because, actually, that is going to help us draw other people to this truth. I do this because it is right.

W: Having been there, what would you say is the most important thing to do to reach out to women who have had abortions?

Gans: Just listen. You’ve been given a great gift if someone entrusts you, even if they do it angrily, with their life story. As the Christian and pro-life friend or member of the family, you want to make sure you say, “I hope the people that I love know that I love them beyond any sadness that they’ve experienced and that I’m always here just to listen.”

Rather than say, “Well, you’ve done something wrong,” first hear my story. You can tell them the truth that abortion is a tragic event that does involve the death of a child, and that you recognize that’s left them with questions. And you can guide people to a post-abortion counseling program, a church, a pastor who has an open heart or a Christian therapist. You can begin to get people closer to the help they’re going to need if you prove you’re willing to hear our pain.

W: Anything else you’d like to add?

Gans: Yes, I’d like to encourage people to go to the National Right to Life website ( and the website for VSHL ( It’s important for them to get involved, if only to get on the email list. In Virginia we desperately need more talent, people who are good writers, artists, people who want to learn to be speakers or do computer work. This is probably one of the most exciting things you could ever do because your efforts will be used to promote human life in Virginia.

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Published June 27, 2011