Life After Death
One woman brings her own tragic history to the fight to change her state’s aggressive abortion laws
obbing, Kathy Sparks jammed the loaded revolver against her head and pulled the trigger.
A “click.” Nothing else.
Another sob. “I can’t even kill myself,” she thought.
With or without the bullet, her life seemed to be at an end. Her beloved father had died, drinking himself into an early grave. Her marriage was grinding to a bitter close. Still in her early 20s, she was buried in debt, with a 2-month-old baby girl to care for. Her friends were all graduating, moving on into bright new futures, even as her own college dreams fell away, crushed by endless financial problems and responsibilities.
So Kathy put her baby to bed, pulled out her policeman husband’s off-duty revolver, and sat down to put the finish to her hapless, empty life.
“I was at the end of myself,” she remembers. But now, even the gun had failed her.
And then came one last thought: her mother-in-law.
Kathy considered her a religious fanatic, the walls of her house covered with pictures of Jesus. The two had no relationship to speak of. But the woman lived close by, and she was one last straw, amid the surging flood of despair. Kathy called her and choked out what was happening.
“Put the gun away,” her mother-in-law said. “Get the baby and come over here.”
Kathy did as she was told. Halfway into the three-block drive, a huge semi ran her car off the road and into a light pole. Kathy backed out into the street and kept going.
A few minutes later, she was sitting on her mother-in-law’s porch, listening to the woman’s kind voice. “Kathy,” she said, “here you are trying to take your own life. Why not give the Lord an opportunity to live His life through you?”
“And I thought, ‘Why not?’” Kathy remembers.
So the night that had begun with plans to end it all ended, instead, with a new beginning. An extraordinary transformation that would have far, far-reaching effects.
Forty-five years later, Kathy still marvels at the grace that found her that terrible, wonderful night … even as she finds herself, and her life’s work, once more under the gun.
lot of things changed in Kathy’s life that night. One thing, curiously, did not.
The first miracle was the revolver that didn’t go off. The second, she says, “was that the depression that led me to kill myself was instantly gone. I was so free! The heaviness of sin just completely lifted off my heart. And I was happy.”
Too happy to get divorced the next morning, she decided, as she and her husband, Mike, had planned. When he found she’d changed her mind, he went off ranting to his mother, who told him what had happened on her porch the night before — then handed him a Bible.
“You need to read this,” she said. “Every answer to your problems is in this book.”
Mike read it, believed it, gave his life to Christ, and kept reading. Studying. Learning the book inside out. The marriage — now between two believers — began to heal. And through all of this, Kathy kept cheerfully going back every day to her job …
… at the abortion clinic.
It was a curious job for a young woman who just a few years earlier, in high school, had debated ardently for the pro-life position. College changed that. She fell among feminists, at a time when Women’s Lib was dominating the culture, Roe v. Wade was transforming the laws, and the hue and cry on campus was for women’s right to control their own bodies.
“I just immersed myself in the pro-abortion culture,” Kathy says. “Embraced it. I bought the lie.”
Ironically, she was studying to be a nurse, with hopes of working with pregnant women and newborns. A stint volunteering on the obstetrics ward as a high school candy striper had left her with a sense of wonder. “It was the most exciting thing I’d ever seen,” she remembers. “I’d never seen the birthing process. I’d never even seen a dog have puppies. To see how it all happened was very, very exciting.”
None of which dissuaded Kathy from taking a well-paying job at a local abortion clinic, once the bills began accumulating in college. She and Mike, living deep in the red, now had a newborn to feed and care for. She dropped out of school and went to work.
She loved the professionalism of the abortionists. She was glad to be involved in medical work, sincerely believing she was helping young women in need. “The office was beautiful, very clean. The people were nice. I felt like I was really doing something important. I didn’t see that abortion was killing babies.”
e did abortions six days a week,” Kathy says, “a minimum of 40 a day — 60 on a Saturday. Back then, all they had was surgical abortions.” No medical abortions, no morning-after pill. Kathy was one of three medical assistants working with three doctors and their small nursing and clerical staff. “We did a lot of abortions.” She estimates that she helped kill some 700 babies.
“You had five-to-eight minutes to get your patient into your room, and on the table,” she says. “You’d take their vital signs, their blood pressure, their temperature, and chart it. You’d open up the tray, put Betadine (an antiseptic) on the cotton, and get ready for the doctor to come in. When your abortion was done — which took another five-to-eight minutes — you’d have to get her off the table and into recovery, go back in, pull your paper down over the table, get your next patient in.
“The more [abortions] they could do … it was big, big money for them. Money was a huge driving factor.”
“If you weren’t ready when the doctor came in, you were slowing him down. You’d get written up, and it would go into your employment file. It was very important that you kept it going. The more they could do … it was big, big money for them. Money was a huge driving factor.”
Kathy listened as clinic counselors convinced uncertain young women to go through with killing their babies. “We didn’t want one of three things to happen,” Kathy says — the first being that a woman might get her abortion (and pay her money) somewhere else. “Second, we didn’t want her to change her mind.” Third, “we didn’t want her parents finding out and changing her mind for her.”
The obvious greed and manipulation did weigh on Kathy a little, she remembers: “You’re trying to help these women, but they don’t look like they want to be there.”
Another troubling aspect for her was the toilet bowl, mounted to a wall in the cleanup room. While bodies of babies killed only a few weeks into pregnancy were bottled in formaldehyde and sent to a pathology lab, those killed closer to term were simply flushed down the toilet. (Abortions past the first trimester were illegal at the time, and flushing the body eliminated the evidence.)
“I remember thinking that wasn’t right,” Kathy says, “and, ‘Why aren’t they getting in trouble for this?’ Even at 16 weeks, that baby is fully formed, so you see the arms, the fingers, that little eye, everything.” Still, when one of the doctors would pick up body pieces to show her (“These are the lungs”), her medical interest pushed past the moral concerns.
“I remember thinking that wasn’t right, and ‘Why aren’t they getting in trouble for this?’”
“To me, it was like looking at an autopsy,” she says. “Not for a second, until the moment I got out, did I realize, ‘That’s a baby — and I just assisted this doctor in killing him.’ I didn’t see it.”
Mike and Kathy Sparks take part in Mosaic’s annual Walk for Life in 1993.
he opening of her eyes came three months to the day after her decision to give her life to Christ. Her husband, Mike, still reading through the Bible, had come to a well-known passage in Revelation (3:15-16). “Kathy,” he told her, “we’re lukewarm. We either have to get into this walk or out of it, but we can’t continue to be lukewarm. God would just as soon spit us out of His mouth.” The two made a heartfelt, prayerful commitment that night to cleanse their lives of anything that might be displeasing to God.
“The next day, I went into the abortion clinic … and it was a day-and-night difference,” Kathy says. “Freezing cold. A horrible smell throughout the building — and no one else could smell it.”
One of her first patients that morning was much further along than usual — at least 23 weeks. She required three times the usual sedatives, and the abortion took much longer, as the doctor aborted the child piece by piece. Kathy still remembers the “perfectly formed” baby boy’s face.
“Suddenly, not only did I know that was a baby, but I knew I was killing babies, and it didn’t matter if they were six weeks, eight weeks, 10 weeks — it didn’t matter. They were all babies.
“I took his little body into the cleanup room and I just began weeping … sobbing over everything I was doing.”
“I said, ‘I have become a Christian, and this is my last day here.’”
Someone called for the clinic director, who grabbed Kathy by the arms and began berating her. “My God, Kathy — pull yourself together! You’re a professional.” But Kathy couldn’t stop crying. She told the woman she wouldn’t be part of another abortion. The woman took the dead baby, flushed it down the toilet, and directed Kathy to rinse trays for the rest of the day.
Kathy spent most of that night praying for God’s direction. The next morning, the clinic director came in to see her again, clearly troubled. She’d had a bad, unusually vivid dream, she said, in which Kathy told her she was going to quit the clinic “because of her religion.”
“I knew that God had given her that dream,” Kathy says. “So I said, ‘I have become a Christian, and this is my last day here.’” With that, she turned and walked out, never looking back.
ime — and their new relationship in Christ — brought remarkable healing and change to Kathy and Mike. They chose to stay married, and had four more children together. The Sunday after she quit the clinic, they joined a local church and became very active there, growing in their faith and their love for God and each other.
In years to come, Kathy would even learn of others she had worked with in the clinic who left and came to know Christ — including the woman who had rebuked her after that last abortion.
“When I left the clinic, God instructed me to lift up people, by name, for salvation,” Kathy says. “Every day I prayed. Sometimes, the pro-life movement tends to look at these people as wicked, evil, mean. They’re really not. They’re people who believe that they’re helping women. They’re very deceived. But except for the grace of God, we’re all lost until we come to know Him.
“Pray for them,” she urges her fellow believers. “Pray that God will reveal the truth to them.”
For all her involvement in her church, though, Kathy was haunted by guilt about those four months working at the clinic. “I had a lot of shame,” she says. “I repented of all of it, but I just couldn’t talk about it.” Five years passed before she finally told a Christian friend what she’d done.
“Kathy, you have to forgive yourself,” the friend told her. “Jesus didn’t die for most of our sins. He died for every one of them. If you hold this against yourself, it’s like you’re saying that the work on the cross wasn’t enough.” It was the turning point that opened Kathy’s life to a whole new direction.
ike awoke one morning to tell her of a dream he’d had — “a dream that we were going to be involved in pregnancy center ministry.” Kathy didn’t even know such ministries existed. But soon after, she found herself on the radio, talking about her abortion experiences. Out of that appearance came some new acquaintances … and a shared vision that soon grew into Mosaic Pregnancy & Health Centers.
The ministry, headquartered in Granite City, Illinois (just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis), offers no-cost pregnancy testing and ultrasounds, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, post-abortion counseling, adoption referrals, classes on parenting, information on sexual relationships for teens, and a wide array of practical resources for new families, from diapers to clothes to bottles to toys.
Together, Kathy and her team have served more than 20,000 clients over the last 34 years.
Mosaic Pregnancy & Health Centers staff (from left): Ellen Atterberry, Kathy Sparks, Danae Becherer, Christy Simms, and Nikki Bland
“Our clients are all very different from each other, in terms of who they are and what’s gone on in their lives,” Kathy says. “They’re hurting, mostly overwhelmed, coming from pain — some out of great pain — and then God gives them the gift of a baby. To see God put together all those pieces to form this beautiful picture in their life … we just thought, ‘Mosaic.’
“When we began the ministry,” she says, “we had two desires. One, that babies wouldn’t be aborted. Two, that we could share the Gospel, and people would come to Christ. When you have the opportunity to lead someone into eternity, to have that personal relationship with Jesus, it’s unbelievably exciting. Then, when they choose life for their unborn babies … I love it. Love it!”
Mike’s dream became the couple’s lifelong work together: Kathy serving as president and CEO; Mike writing the newsletters, helping at planning meetings, serving on the board.
“They ran that ministry hand in hand,” says Hannah Skirball, Kathy’s middle daughter, who was born the year Mosaic came to life. A local public-school teacher, she has taken a particularly active role in many facets of Mosaic’s work since she was a teen.
“I don’t ever remember not understanding clearly what the fight was and how important the issue of life was to God.”
“I just didn’t know a day that the ministry wasn’t part of our lives,” she says. “I knew about abortion and pro-life issues as far back as I can remember. I don’t ever remember not understanding clearly what the fight was and how important the issue of life was to God. And understanding that was why we did what we did.”
Though Mike passed away from cancer nine years ago, his presence is still felt, even as Kathy’s unswerving faith in God and compassion for people continues to set the tone and work of Mosaic.
“I’m really struck by the profound love that Kathy has for the clients who come in,” says Rick Hufton, who pastors Faith Family Church in nearby Shiloh, Illinois. “It’s her grit and determination, but it’s grit with a smile and a good word. She is always upbeat, always excited about the opportunity she has to save lives and help young women in crisis.
“She’s a deeply loving person, and her approach to pro-life [work] isn’t so much in-your-face … it’s more, ‘Hey, we care about you. You’re hurting. How can we help you?’”
“People trust us,” says Hannah. “Mosaic has always been so transparent. The records, any documents that anybody wants to see, we’ve been transparent with that — people who support us have a direct line into saying where their money is going and how it’s being spent. They love what we’re doing here.”
Unfortunately, though, not everyone shares the affection.
osaic has the misfortune — and the increasing challenge — of being an outstanding pregnancy care center in a state where politicians are pushing a particularly aggressive pro-abortion agenda.
“Illinois has some of the most permissive abortion laws in the entire country,” says Elissa Graves, legal counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom Center for Life. “Very pro-abortion.” In recent years, she says, “they’ve repealed almost every restriction on abortion since the 70s, including parental consent statutes.”
None of that proved sufficient for groups like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, who continue to take aggressive exception to a 50-year-old state law that says no Illinois medical professional is obliged to provide or point patients to a service the professional doesn’t believe in.
“It’s a really broad law, based on conscience,” Graves explains. “Not just religion, but strongly held moral beliefs. Essentially, it says the state can’t force you to provide or refer for abortion.”
“Basically, every time a pregnant woman walks into a doctor’s office, the doctor has to say, ‘Hey, did you know you can get an abortion?’”
—Elissa Graves, ADF Attorney
To plug that gap in their legal offensive, abortion activists came up with a new law that requires all medical professionals, whatever their personal convictions on the issue, to promote abortion to their pregnant patients. They’re not only required to explain the purported benefits of abortion; if a patient shows interest, they must provide her with a list of abortionists.
“Basically, every time a pregnant woman walks into a doctor’s office, the doctor has to say, ‘Hey, did you know you can get an abortion?’” Graves says. The bill was signed into law five years ago, and Alliance Defending Freedom is representing a handful of pregnancy centers — including Mosaic — that are challenging it.
“We just decided to fight it,” Kathy says. “First, it’s a direct attack on and violation of our freedom of religion. It would mandate that we provide our clients with a list of doctors who do abortions, and we’d have to refer for abortion — and we never will.
“The second thing is worse. It’s a violation of and attack on our freedom of speech. We’d be mandated to provide the benefits from the abortion procedure. And there are no benefits to the abortion procedure. Abortion harms women. In essence, they’re going to mandate that we lie to our clients. And we would never do that.”
ADF attorneys secured an injunction early on that prevents state officials from enforcing the law until the lawsuit challenging its constitutionality is settled. But five years and three judges later, the case continues to inch its way through the judicial process.
“There’s a battle being waged in heaven and on earth for the lives of the unborn. And we are the people standing on the front line.”
“I didn’t know how long it was going to take for this to happen,” Kathy says. “But it didn’t matter. If it’s the last thing I do as president and CEO of this ministry, I will see this out to the end. We have the best legal team in the United States. I love Alliance Defending Freedom! I’ve come to understand the tremendous impact that they’re having in many areas — not just the life issue. And I’m thankful for what they’re doing and how they’re supporting us.”
“I remember, growing up,” Hannah says, “my mom always said that there’s a battle being waged in heaven and on earth for the lives of the unborn. And we are the people standing on the front line. With that, you come under attack. But if we don’t fight the battle, who will?”
y mom has told me all about her past, and the way she was before Christ,” Hannah says. “All I know is my mom as she is today. My parents were not perfect people, but they really authentically lived out their faith and raised us to love Christ.
“Why wouldn’t you think your mom was a superhero, when she went and saved babies every day?”
“I just remember being little and being so proud of what they did. I didn’t have any idea that it was controversial, or that some people wouldn’t like that. It just made total sense to me. Why wouldn’t you think your mom was a superhero, when she went and saved babies every day?”
Kathy Sparks shares her story at the 2021 ADF Summit on Religious Liberty. Also pictured are (from left) Kristen Waggoner, ADF General Counsel, and ADF clients Lydia Booth (with her mother, Jennifer), Scott Chin, and Jack Phillips.
But the leader of Mosaic knows who brought the shattered pieces together. “My life really is a Romans 8:28,” Kathy says. “‘God uses all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.’ He’s used that horrible time in my life for my good, and ultimately, even now, to His glory.”
“[Pro-life work] is not just about the one life that is saved, but the many, many lives that one is going to touch.”
Her team’s work, she says, “is not just about the one life that is saved, but the many, many lives that one is going to touch throughout their life.” Multiply that impact by all the babies Kathy has had a hand in delivering from the abortionists … and you have an extraordinary legacy for a woman whose darkest moment, by God’s grace, triggered a remarkable transformation.