Abby Johnson was a student at Texas A&M University when Planned Parenthood recruited her to volunteer for a clinic in Bryan, Texas. She was so convinced of their mission to “help women” that in 2005 she joined the staff and eventually became the director of the family planning and abortion programs.
During those years, she alternately resented, tolerated and sometimes even liked the pro-life people who stood on the other side of the fence, most of them quietly praying.
Johnson had two abortions herself, in pregnancies with the same man, before and after they were married. They are now divorced.
At the second abortion she had declined to look at the ultrasound photo of her baby before its life was terminated.
Years later, she assisted in an ultrasound-guided abortion and watched a baby, at 13 weeks gestation, being torn apart and suctioned out of the womb while the doctor joked, “Beam me up, Scotty.”
Johnson become so sickened that she quit the clinic on Oct. 6, 2009, and defected to “the other side of the fence” where the Coalition for Life welcomed her with love and compassion. Soon, she was praying with them and gently telling women who were going into the clinic that they had other options.
Planned Parenthood tried to silence her with a restraining order that was thrown out of court. She told her story to print, network and cable media, including a Nov. 29, 2009, interview in OSV Newsweekly, and was asked to write a book, “unPlanned” (Ignatius Press, $22.99), about her conversion.
The book is co-written by Cindy Lambert of Michigan, a veteran in the book-selling and publishing industry.
“unPlanned,” with a foreword by Priests for Life president Father Frank Pavone, is a narrative of Johnson’s recruitment into what she thought was primarily a service to prevent unwanted pregnancies, her uneasiness when she realized that abortion was viewed by the industry as the best moneymaker, and her journey to join the people who uphold the value of human life.
Johnson, 30, volunteers with Coalition For Life and lives in College Station, Texas, with her husband, Doug (who was always pro-life), and their young daughter.
Our Sunday Visitor: Planned Parenthood tried to silence you with a gag order based on claims that you were breaching patient and doctor confidentiality. What do you think they are really afraid of?
Abby Johnson: I know some information that they would not want to get out into the public, like who some of their donors are and their business practices, and I know about different things that happened to patients, different protocols and things that have taken place. Their concern was that I would release that information.
It really doesn’t have anything to do with patients that are currently walking into their door. It had to do with airing their dirty laundry. But this [book] is not an exposé on Planned Parenthood.
OSV: What was most difficult about writing the book?
Johnson: It was probably reliving some of the moments, over and over again. The scenes from when we went to court, and remembering what it was like to watch my friends testify against me — that was difficult, but it was also healing to kind of go over it in my mind.
OSV: Do you think that your book told more about the abortion industry than has been known before?
Johnson: I hope so, and I hope that it will help even pro-lifers to see that there is a different way of looking at this issue of abortion, and that maybe there is a different way to look at the people inside the abortion clinics. We should be going about this in a peaceful, prayerful manner, and always engage them in a loving and compassionate way. I think that’s important, and I hope that the book tells that story.
OSV: Since you have seen this issue from both sides, what advice do you have for pro-life supporters?
Johnson: When I worked at Planned Parenthood, I received six different death threats. I remember them telling me, “You are safer here than you are at home,” and I believed that. That’s what they put into your mind, that you aren’t safe outside the clinic because you can’t trust the pro-lifers, that they will be following you around and putting a bomb somewhere. Then you have these crazy people outside on the sidewalk with big signs of aborted babies and people screaming in your face, and you think that, yes, they really are trying to scare and intimidate you. But they really aren’t doing any good.
Then when you see a woman praying with her 5-year-old, you realize that nobody is trying to harass you. When you have people there lovingly offering different alternatives to abortion, and they are peacefully praying, that’s wiping out the [radical pro-life] stereotype and taking the wind out of the [pro-choice] sails, and they don’t know what to say.
We see more turnarounds, more saves and more women who come to us and come to know Christ and live out their lives for Christ because of peaceful movements like 40 Days For Life.
OSV: You openly wrote about your own abortions. How difficult was that?
Johnson: I guess it’s difficult to relive things like that from your past and know it’s going to be in a book that everybody can read. But I felt like it was really necessary to be honest, and that’s a huge part of my story and a big part of my life. But the process, what I have had to heal, is much bigger than my two abortions. I have also been party to thousands of other abortions, and it’s a different healing process when you feel like you have been responsible for taking lives of all those other people’s children. That’s a very different type of burden to carry around.
OSV: Do you know of many conversions to pro-life?
Johnson: Part of my ministry is to talk to people who have left the abortion industry, and there are many more than you would think. I think people are figuring out that it’s just not a normal place to work. Nowhere else do you go to work and people stand outside praying for you. There are people who just don’t want to be involved anymore, and we are thankful for that.
OSV: At one time, you were not welcomed to join an evangelical church because of your job. Then you were rejected by an Episcopal church because you became pro-life. Where are you now in your faith?
Johnson: My husband and I are finishing up an RCIA program at a Catholic church. After I became pro-life, everyone said that I would eventually become Catholic. We finally went to a Catholic church, and we knew that that’s where we belonged.
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.