From death to life

It was a day no parent should ever have to experience.

A day in which a father and mother held their 5-year-old daughter in their arms and watched the life slowly drain from her body.

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Dr. Anthony (Tony) Levatino, a board certified obstetrician-gynecologist, and his wife, Cecelia, an intensive-care nurse, had desperately longed for a child. They tried for years to conceive on their own but were told it was not medically possible. Yet they refused to give up on their dream of starting a family.

In August 1978, the Levatinos were informed that a 15-year-old girl was in labor and wanted to give her child up for adoption. Having run into roadblock after roadblock during the adoption process, Tony and Cecelia excitedly agreed to adopt the child on the spot. And a few days later, they brought their new daughter, Heather, home. Ironically, Cecelia found out she was pregnant with their son, Sean, the very next month.

Nearly six years later, on June 23, 1984, the Levatinos were enjoying a beautiful day in Albany, New York. The family had spent the afternoon at an amusement park and had returned home to have dinner together. That evening, Tony and Cecelia’s friends arrived for cake and coffee while the children played in the yard.

It was a picture-perfect summer evening until 7:25 p.m. when the group heard the screech of brakes out in front of the house. They ran outside and found Heather lying in the road. She had been struck by a car.

Tony rushed to begin CPR, and once on the scene, paramedics did all they could to revive her, but Heather died in her parents’ arms in the ambulance en route to the hospital.

Watching their child die right before their eyes is a horror that will be forever etched in their memories.

“That’s something you never recover from,” Cecelia says.

But Tony and Cecelia eventually learned to press beyond their grief.

“What do you do after a disaster?” Tony asks. “You bury your child. Take some time off. And then you try to get back into life.”

Tony returned to work a few weeks after Heather’s death and resumed his normal routine of seeing patients. One day while performing a late-term dilation and evacuation abortion, he looked at the pile of body parts he had just ripped from his patient’s womb and it hit him—he had ended a life.

“I didn’t see that I was supporting a woman’s right to choose,” Tony says. “And I didn’t see the $800 cash I had just made in 15 minutes. All I could see was someone’s son or daughter.”

Nevertheless, Tony continued to soldier on and perform abortions.

The Levatinos had never confronted the issue of abortion in their marriage-—specifically the fact that Cecelia was pro-life while Tony routinely performed abortions as part of his OB-GYN practice.

Cecelia was in nurse’s training in 1970 when New York state legalized abortion, three years prior to Roe v. Wade. When her instructor told the class they would have to decide if they wanted to assist doctors in performing the procedure, Cecelia was one of only two students who said no.

“For me, it was instinctive,” she says. “There was something instinctively wrong with a woman being able to kill her unborn child.”

Tony had not yet come to that conviction. But now the weight of taking innocent lives was making him angry and bitter. One night, it all came to a head. Their marriage was on the rocks, and Cecelia was seriously considering leaving. Finally, she worked up the nerve to confront him.

“If this is bothering you so much, why don’t you just quit?” she asked.

That was the first time in all their years of marriage that they’d had an honest conversation about the issue.

“After we really talked about it, I went back to my partners and told them I would no longer do second-trimester abortions because they were too difficult,” Tony says. “But I was hardheaded for the next couple of months and still did some of the first-trimester abortions.”

But he couldn’t keep going against the change in his heart. In February 1985, after having performed nearly 1,200 abortions throughout his career, Tony made the decision to stop doing all abortion procedures.

“I haven’t done any since then, and I never will,” he says.

At that point, Tony and Cecelia decided they needed to attend a church that aligned with their new pro-life values. So they left the liberal Protestant church they had attended for years and became part of a nondenominational evangelical church.

“We lost virtually every friend we had,” Cecelia says. “But God was so faithful. He immediately started surrounding us with pro-life people.”

And through their new church family, they began to understand their need for Christ. After years of grief and despair, they realized that God was calling them to turn from their sin and accept His forgiveness and gift of eternal life.

“We had been craving a stronger Biblical church and a deeper relationship with God,” Cecelia says.

Today, Tony and Cecelia are fervent pro-life advocates, telling their story around the country. Tony has appeared before Congress twice in an effort to convince legislators to defund Planned Parenthood. And in 2019, he played the role of an abortionist in the movie “Unplanned,” about former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson.

Tony says many OB-GYNs are unwilling to perform abortions: “Peer review research has been done three times in the last 10 years, and the figures show that 85% of obstetricians-gynecologists will not do abortions, but there are very few willing to talk about it,” he says.

“I’ve been on both sides of the debate, and I know the abortion industry relies on people not wanting to talk about abortion in polite company and not understanding the violent reality of abortion.”

Bible-believing Christians can help protect the sanctity of human life by “supporting local crisis pregnancy centers and getting out and working politically to elect pro-life candidates,” Tony says.

And while he can never bring back the children he aborted, Tony is grateful that the Lord changed his perspective on life.

“God completely and utterly changed my heart.”

Photo: Ken Stinnett/Knights of Columbus