By Valerie Schmalz
After years as a volunteer and employee, Abby Johnson walked away from her job as director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan/College Station, Texas, Oct. 6, during a prayer vigil by 40 Days for Life. Johnson, 29, first began working as a clinic escort as a student at Texas A & M University, after a Planned Parenthood employee recruited her at a college volunteer fair. But assisting with an ultrasound during an abortion in September radically changed her heart and turned her into an abortion opponent.
Before that, Johnson was so committed to Planned Parenthood that she received the affiliate’s Employee of the Year award in 2008, and as late as Sept. 20 she was interviewed on college radio station KEOS calling the 40 Days for Life “40 days of harassment,” according to RHRealitycheck.org, a pro-abortion website.
Johnson, who is married with one daughter, told Our Sunday Visitor that she left the clinic on good terms and the only items she took were personal things like photos (and her Employee of the Year plaque). She said she had no vindictive intent or plan to inform the media — ironically, it was Planned Parenthood’s attempt to have a gag order issued against her that alerted the media to her story.
“I just simply had a change of heart and wanted to get out of that business and wanted to find another job,” she said.
Our Sunday Visitor interviewed Johnson from her base, located these days at the Coalition for Life office in Texas. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
OSV: How did you end up at Planned Parenthood?
Johnson: I started as a volunteer about eight years ago escorting women from their car to the front door of the clinic. That happened primarily on the days that they were performing abortions. I did that for a couple of years and then started volunteering as their on-campus intern at Texas A & M. I did that for one year, and then as I was finishing up my undergraduate degree, I started actually working at the health center and getting paid. I then worked my way up through Planned Parenthood, becoming director of that health center, and I was director of that health center for a little over two years.
OSV: When you started out as a clinic escort, as a volunteer, what was it that motivated you?
Johnson: A lot of people have asked me that. I think I was just looking for something to get involved in. I was a student at Texas A&M. I didn’t really know a whole lot about the women’s rights movement or anything like that. It never really came up in my home growing up. I went to a volunteer fair on campus and that was where I met the woman from Planned Parenthood. We started talking — she was really nice. She got me interested in what they were doing, talking about providing contraception and protecting women’s rights and providing access to pap smears, and that sounded good, so I started volunteering there. I enjoyed the people I was volunteering with and got involved with that network of people and enjoyed it, and the more I was there, the more I bought into the mission.
OSV: When you see some of the people serving as escorts, at least in pictures, they look pretty grim. But did you feel there was a sense of camaraderie among the people working inside in the clinic? Did that keep you there?
Johnson: Yes, I felt those people were my family. There was a sense of family there, and we were very close. I think the mentality, though, that they tried to instill in you is that if you work at Planned Parenthood, you are the victim — that you have all of these outside attacks from these pro-lifers. So that’s what keeps you there, that victim mentality, and it works.
OSV: What exactly happened? This had been going on for a long time: a lot of women had been coming in and having abortions, so why did you leave at this point?
Johnson: The difference is this: Most abortion procedures are not done with ultrasound guidance. So that means that they go in, and they do the abortion. They do an ultrasound before the procedure is done. They don’t do an ultrasound during the procedure, so you don’t actually see what is going on inside the uterus during the abortion procedure. The reason they don’t do it is that it takes longer, and industries like Planned Parenthood, who are trying to pump out as many abortions as possible per day, don’t want to take the time to do a more accurate procedure. They just want to do them as quickly as possible to get more women in and out the door.
But this particular physician, for whatever reason, chose to do an ultrasound-guided procedure on this patient and called me in the room to assist, which was not something I usually did as director. But I did go in to assist, and my job was to hold the ultrasound probe on the woman’s abdomen during the procedure so he could visualize the uterus during the abortion. What I saw during the procedure was so gruesome to me, and something I had never experienced before, that I just thought, “I’ll never do this again.”
OSV: What happened next?
Johnson: I went home and was crying and told my husband about it. He was very supportive of my decision to leave. I really did not want to go back that Monday, but we are, as a lot of families are, dependent on two incomes. I decided I would have to go back until I found another job. I started looking for jobs. I was on the Internet all weekend posting applications. Finally, the first week had gone by, and that second week was approaching, and I knew that Saturday, abortion day, was coming up. I thought, “There is no way I can sit through another abortion day again.” That weekend I had really been praying about it, and thinking about it, and just dreaded going to work another week.
And so [on Monday] I’m sitting in my office, and I had my door closed, and was crying and did not know where to go. Most of my quote/unquote friends were people involved with Planned Parenthood, so I knew that I couldn’t go to them and share what was happening in my heart.
So I looked out my window, and I saw that there were two people praying outside of the clinic, and I just thought, “That’s where I need to go.” I needed to go over to their office, which just happens to be a couple doors down from the clinic, and so I did. And that’s where I went. And they, of course, welcomed me, and I’ve been here ever since.
OSV: Did you feel when you were working as director of Planned Parenthood that you had faith then?
Johnson: Yes, I did, but I think that I was always trying to rationalize my work and my faith, and I was trying to make it fit.
One thing that I’ve said throughout this whole thing is that there’s no spirituality in abortion because there really can’t be. It’s very hard to justify what you’re doing if you’re a Christian. You try to make it fit, you try to make it work, but in the end it just really doesn’t wash. So that’s why, I think, God was in this the whole time, and he is the one who led me out of there.
OSV: What does your husband think? He had to go through some transformation through all of this, right?
Johnson: Yes, he’s very excited. Of course, he supported me. He’s my husband, and he’s wonderful, but he’s never really been sold on Planned Parenthood or their mission. Both of our families, my in-laws and parents, definitely have never been [supporters of Planned Parenthood]. I was the lone wolf out there defending Planned Parenthood to my friends and family, so it feels good. It feels good to stop defending something that’s just not true. And it feels good to be on the side of truth.
Valerie Schmalz is an OSV contributing editor
After Abby Johnson quit her job as director of Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas, her former employer obtained a temporary restraining order to prevent her from disclosing confidential information to the public. But a judge ruled Nov. 10 that Planned Parenthood had no significant evidence “to warrant the extreme remedy of injunctive relief.” David Bereit, national director of 40 Days for Life, said that he was gratified Planned Parenthood failed in their “misguided effort” to silence Johnson.
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