by Bonnie Pritchett
BRYAN, Texas (BP)—All of her good intentions had suddenly become mere excuses, hollow arguments with no ring of truth. What Abby Johnson had believed and what she had based her life’s work on for eight years unraveled before her as she realized the gut-wrenching truth: She had believed and perpetuated a lie.
A new book released Jan. 11—unPlanned: The dramatic true story of a former Planned Parenthood leader’s eye-opening journey across the life line—is Johnson’s account of her experience as an abortion clinic volunteer-turned-director and the life-altering event that put her at odds with her former employer. The book is a collaboration of Tyndale House Publishers, Focus on the Family and Ignatius Press.
Johnson discussed her book Jan. 10 in an audio webcast co-hosted by pro-life advocates David Bereit and Shawn Carney.
The relationship between the three had once been adversarial as Johnson, who grew up in a Southern Baptist home, led the work of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan-College Station, Texas —where Carney and Bereit were seeking to thwart her “success” at a nearby pregnancy resource center.
It was the idea of success that began to nag Johnson and chip away at her faith in and advocacy of Planned Parenthood. In the webcast, Johnson repeatedly noted that although she was never wholly comfortable with abortion (her clinic offered abortions every other Saturday), she justified her work because she believed Planned Parenthood’s rhetoric about women’s health and the ravages of illegal abortions. And, she said, the organization touted the goal of reducing abortions through the proliferation of contraceptives.
But Johnson knew from her own experiences that couldn’t be true. In her book, she confesses to having had two abortions. Both pregnancies occurred while she was using contraceptives. During her time as a Planned Parenthood volunteer counselor, Johnson discovered her situation was not unique. Most of the women she counseled for abortions also had been using contraceptives and they, like her, felt like failures.
“On the inside I was still feeling like I had failed as a woman. My body had failed me. God had failed me. Why did He allow this to happen to me? It didn’t make sense,” she recounted.
But she pressed on. She had to have it make sense. She had to see the justification in abortion.
“It’s always about that justification,” she said.
Johnson continued to volunteer at the clinic and later was employed there.
“Here I was now twice contracepting and twice having these unplanned pregnancies and then twice having abortions. It just didn’t make any sense. What is happening here? What is going on? It didn’t seem like our goal of expanding the use of contraception was really reducing the number of abortions. But if that is their mission—and it has been their mission for so long—it has to be right.”
Years later, as clinic director, Johnson learned the business side of the nonprofit organization. It began to look less like a grassroots group of altruistic volunteers determined to give women quality health care and more like a capital venture. The profits came not on the philanthropy of serving low-income communities and college students but on lucrative abortions. The organization reported making just more than $1 billion in fiscal year 2006-07.
When Johnson was asked by regional directors to reduce the distribution of free services and products and increase the number of monthly cervical and medically induced abortions, she said she was stunned.
“What they wanted to do was they wanted us to increase the quota of abortions we were providing. They also wanted to start offering medication abortions—the RU486—many times during the week,” she said.
What disturbed her as much as the demand for increased abortions was that the medicated abortions would include no consultation from a physician. Johnson’s second abortion in 2003 had been medically induced and she described it as “one of the worst experiences in my life. I’ve never experienced anything that terrible, physically and emotionally.”
The bottom line was making money, not the benevolent assistance of women in crisis.
“I thought we were a nonprofit,” Johnson recalled saying at management meetings.
“Nonprofit is a tax status, not a business status,” she was told.
“Now that I was in management, I was beginning to see what the real intentions were,” she said.
Eight years earlier, as a self-described pro-life junior at Texas A&M University, Johnson said she had become a Planned Parenthood volunteer because, despite the abortions, they provided free or reduced-cost health care for women. Planned Parenthood portrayed women as victims. If abortions were not kept legal, Johnson was told—and soon believed—thousands of women would die each year of “back street” abortions. Repeatedly, she was assured that one of Planned Parenthood’s goals was to reduce the number of abortions.
As a young woman, Johnson said she was convinced she was pro-life, but admitted during the webcast that she would have lost any debate with a pro-choice advocate. She became “pretty easily hooked in” to Planned Parenthood, she said.
Johnson details in the book how someone from her background could end up being the director of an abortion clinic. She believed in the non-abortion work of the clinic and, because of her own abortion experiences, convinced herself there was a need for abortions for women facing unplanned pregnancies.
In her last year with the clinic, she was having more difficulty justifying her work. But it was not until an afternoon in September 2009 that Johnson came face to face with the reality of abortion. It would no longer be a simple matter of numbers on paper or a discussion in a management meeting.
Never had she been called into the procedure room to help with an abortion. In the past, she had been in the room to hold a patient’s hand or give counsel to patients during the process. But on this day the visiting abortionist was performing an ultrasound-guided abortion, an unprecedented procedure in her clinic. Johnson would witness—in real time—the life of a 13-week-old baby taken. She held the ultrasound probe on the woman’s abdomen so the doctor could see the baby and the instrument as he did his work. The procedure was visible on a monitor.
The shock of witnessing an abortion in progress made Johnson question everything she had believed and advocated about the work of Planned Parenthood.
In her book, Johnson recalled thinking, “I had believed a lie! I had blindly promoted the ‘company line’ for so long. Why? Why hadn’t I searched out the truth for myself? Why had I closed my ears to the arguments I’d heard? Oh, dear God, what had I done?”
Two weeks later she resigned her position as director of the clinic and walked to the offices of Shawn Carney of the Coalition for Life.
When Planned Parenthood’s attempts to woo her back to her position with enticements of more money failed, the billion-dollar organization filed an injunction against Johnson and Carney. The national organization argued that the suit was necessary in order to protect patient privacy.
Johnson contends the suit was an effort to silence her and intimidate other Planned Parenthood volunteers and employees from doing likewise.
Planned Parenthood lost their lawsuit, freeing Johnson to write her book with Cindy Lambert.
Bereit, of the national 40 Days for Life movement, admitted that he was surprised when he received a text message from Carney stating that Johnson was in his office. She wanted to leave her work at the abortion clinic. Bereit and Carney had prayed for that for years.
“God does these things,” Bereit said during the webcast.
It was in God’s timing that she left the abortion industry, Johnson said. God worked through the compassionate prayers and actions of those who adamantly opposed her work but who showed her Christ’s love. She said she hopes to encourage others in the same manner to follow in her footsteps.
Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.