MODESTO -- When Chrissy Aguiar took over the reins at the Modesto Pregnancy Center this month, she brought with her an intimate knowledge of crisis pregnancies and abortions: She terminated two pregnancies, when she was 17 and 20.
A lifelong Modestan and a non-Christian at the time, Aguiar (pronounced "Aguire") said she was an abortion rights advocate who "believed it was a woman's body and her right to choose. I didn't have any idea of what was growing inside of me. I thought it was a mass of tissue. I did not know Psalm 139, where it talks about (children) being woven together in their mother's womb and are fearfully and wonderfully made."
At age 17, she said, she had graduated from Downey High early and was working full time for a bank when she got pregnant. The experience has given her an upfront look at teens who have unexpected pregnancies.
"What I remember the most is that for girls whoare in a crisis pregnancy situation, you act out of impulse and fear," she said. "You have to do something right now. I was a straight-A student through school. I was a cheerleader. All I could hear is that this baby would ruin my life and that my boyfriend probably wouldn't stick around. We made this choice together to terminate my pregnancy."
She had no emotional qualms.
"I thought it would be like going in to get my teeth cleaned," she said. "No big deal."
The reality was a little different. "It was a scary day for me," she said.
Aguiar went to the local abortion clinic and was put under anesthesia. When she was again awake, she said, "there was a lot of bleeding, and it was extremely painful."
She and her boyfriend, Dennis Aguiar, stayed together and became engaged a few years later in 1984, setting an October 1985 wedding. That's when she got pregnant for the second time.
"I was on the (birth control) pill at that time, but sporadically, off and on as young women do," she said. "I would take it when I thought about it, but when I didn't think about it, I wouldn't take it. There was no consistency."
This time, she said, she began thinking about the emotional toll of abortion.
"I remember thinking, 'I love this baby.' I remember standing at the sink and saying, 'I love you. I don't want to do this again.' But my husband and I had this huge wedding planned. We thought we should make this choice again. I remember asking if something would just happen so I wouldn't have to make this decision again.
"A few days later, I began to spot (blood) and have cramps. I went to the clinic and said I thought I was having a miscarriage, so I might as well have the procedure done. The woman said, 'You don't have to do this, you know. We can do a sonogram and see if there's a heartbeat.' Isn't that amazing? I've never heard an abortion person say that. I decided I would go ahead anyway. I called it a miscarriage for years. I justified it."
But later, her life took a different turn.
After their marriage, the Aguiars had two children Brandon, now 25, and Brittany, 22. Chrissy Aguiar took several years off from work until the two youngsters were in school, then began a new job at Family Connections Christian Adoptions. It was through her co-workers, she said, that she began thinking about God and hearing about Jesus.
In 2004, she and her family became Christians. Two years later, she said, God began to convince her that her abortions were wrong.
"It seemed that everywhere I turned, there was something about abortion a Focus on the Family radio program, driving down Coffee Road and seeing the people in front of the abortion clinic holding signs. One day in 2006, I turned on the radio and heard another program about abortion and how it hurts women. I pulled over to the side of the road and just broke down in my car."
She returned home.
"I just laid on the floor and poured my heart out and said, 'Lord, show me. I know you know what I've done in the past.' I heard him say, 'Chrissy, I know what you've done, but you haven't repented and confessed what you've done.' I prayed and read my Bible for a long time.
"That day, he led me to the Modesto Pregnancy Center. I looked them up in the phone book and called and said, 'I have abortion in my past, and I feel that God's calling me to help you in some way.' They called me back and invited me to come to an information night for volunteers."
At that meeting, Aguiar said, she shared her abortion story. Only her husband, parents and sister knew about it until that point. One woman invited her to join MPC's post-abortion Bible study. It was through that study, Aguiar said, that she found "healing through Jesus Christ."
Later in 2006, Aguiar was asked to speak at MPC's annual fund-raising banquet in front of 300 people. She and her husband decided that first they had to tell their children and his parents the truth. The following year, her pastor, Rick Countryman, asked her to talk about her experience at Big Valley Grace Community Church's annual Easter services, which drew about 7,000 people. Again, with her family's blessing and after praying about it, she did.
That led her to begin a post-abortion study at Big Valley, which in the past five years has reached 40 to 50 women. She also was invited to join a nationwide team of women that would teach pregnancy center and church leaders to facilitate a post-abortion study called "Surrendering the Secret," a Lifeway publication.
Meanwhile, she remained with Family Connections, beginning as a file clerk and eventually becoming the human resources director for all six California locations.
"I never dreamed in a million years that the Lord would call me in another direction. I loved my job," Aguiar said.
Then she talked with MPC Executive Director Delores Wolterstorff, who mentioned she'd be retiring at the end of 2012.
"I told her I would miss her so much, and that if I thought of someone who would be a good fit (to replace her), I would send them her way. As soon as I hung up the phone, I felt the Lord put something on my heart saying I needed to pray about applying for the position."
She did, and eventually was hired.
She knows that many people in town, including other Christians, are strong abortion rights supporters. Some are highly critical of the crisis pregnancy center, saying that the agency misleads women who would be better off terminating their pregnancies.
"I completely understand the opposition," Aguiar said. "I understand that the enemy wants the world to believe the lie about life. But I know what God says about life. I stand firm in his word."
As MPC's new director, Aguiar wants to do more community outreach. "I want people to know who we are and what we do, that we're here to help women in a crisis pregnancy situation," she said. "We care for them; we are not coercive in any way."
And she believes she will one day get to know the two children she aborted.
"I am grieved that I made that choice, but I am forgiven and I am free to share my testimony and to offer healing through God's word," she said. "Through our Bible study, you honor your (aborted) children by giving them dignity, by naming them. My son is Blake and my daughter is Annah. I know I will see them again. They come with an eternal soul, and they are in heaven with God. My children here, Brandon and Brittany, and my husband and I all look forward to seeing them one day."
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2012.
40 Years After Roe vs. Wade
Forty years ago on Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Roe v. Wade case, which was a challenge to a Texas law outlawing abortion in all cases except those in which the life of the mother was at risk. The Supreme Court affirmed a lower court's conclusions and struck down the statute by a vote of 7-2, concluding that constitutional rights to privacy and liberty protected a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy.
According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life:
Slightly more than half of the U.S. public (54 percent) thinks abortion should be legal in all or most cases, a level that has held fairly stable since the mid-1990s (hovering around 50 percent on the low end, and reaching no higher than 60 percent).
About 4 in 10 Americans say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, a level that also has been fairly stable since the mid-1990s.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Jan. 9-13 among 1,502 adults, finds that abortion is viewed as a less important issue than in the past. Currently, 53 percent say abortion "is not that important compared to other issues," up from 48 percent in 2009 and 32 percent in 2006. The percentage viewing abortion as a "critical issue facing the country" fell from 28 percent in 2006 to 15 percent in 2009 and now stands at 18 percent.
White evangelicals make up the group most opposed to abortion, with 54 percent saying they would like the Roe v. Wade case overturned and 42 percent opposing that. That compares with 38 percent and 58 percent, respectively, among Protestants overall. Catholics surveyed stand at 38 percent and 55 percent, respectively.
However, 58 percent of Catholics believe that having an abortion is morally wrong, with 9 percent rating it morally acceptable and 24 percent saying it is not a moral issue.
Overall, nearly 1 in 5 Americans (18 percent) say they personally believe that abortion is morally unacceptable, yet also oppose the Supreme Court overturning its Roe v. Wade ruling.
AT A GLANCE
NAME: Modesto Pregnancy Center
LOCATION: 2801 Coffee Road, Suite A-5
CONTACT: (209) 526-1734; www.modestopregnancycenter.com
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, noon to 4 p.m. Friday
SERVICES: Sexually transmitted disease testing, pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, community education programs, abstinence programs, men's classes, classes for parents including fetal development and chance to earn "baby bucks" for maternity clothes, diapers, formula, baby blankets, etc.