Jumping the fence

| April 25, 2011 | 0 Comments

Former abortion clinic director becomes pro-life, prepares to join the Catholic Church

CNS photo / Jose Luis Aguirre, Catholic San Francisco

Abby Johnson is at the epicenter of our country’s abortion battle and she’s coming to the Twin Cities to tell her story.

After working at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas, for eight years and eventually becoming the director, she had a change of heart and crossed over to the pro-life side. Within days, she resigned from the clinic and joined forces with a local pro-life group called Coalition for Life in October 2009.

She has released a book about her experiences called “unPLANNED.” She also does speaking engagements throughout the year. One of them is to be Thursday, May 5, at the fundraising banquet for Pregnancy Choices LifeCare Center in Apple Valley. The event takes place at Brackett’s Crossing Country Club in Lakeville. Johnson, who lives in Bryan with her husband, Doug, and 4-year-old daughter, Grace, answered a few questions about her experiences. The following are excerpts from the interview.

What caused you to leave Planned Parenthood?

“There were several things that influenced my leaving. But the ultimate thing that set my departure as an employee was an ultrasound-guided abortion that I watched.

The reason it was so shocking to me was because, for so long, I had believed so many lies [about abortion]. I believed that the fetus had no sensory development until 28 weeks [and could not feel pain]. Because I believed it, I then told so many women that lie. Then, I thought: What else had I been lying about? These women have come to me and they’ve looked to me as an authority for their health care and I haven’t been truthful. That was very scary for me. It was really sad for me as well because I got into this business because I wanted to help women and help them in the best way I could. I just realized that I had betrayed them in a terrible way.

“Ultimately, I had to do the right thing and the right thing was leaving that facility and organization, even if we didn’t know where [my] next paycheck was going to come from. . . . Neither one of us, my husband [Doug] nor I, had ever done anything like that before. Our faith had never been tested like that before. So, it was a big thing for this to be the first time we were really pushed to a lot of trust in our faith. We just knew [leaving] was the right thing to do, and so we did it.”

What was Planned Parenthood’s reaction?

“Planned Parenthood was very shocked. I had been their employee of the year. I had just recently received that award and gone to their national dinner. They were very shocked by my resignation. . . . About three weeks later, they found out that I was actually coordinating with the Coalition for Life, the pro-life advocacy group that had been constantly praying outside of our clinic the whole time I had been there, and they were helping me find a job and I had actually reached out to them the day before I resigned.”

What has it been like sharing your story across the country?

“I do about eight to 12 speaking engagements a month, which is really a lot. I’m about to go on a big, long tour in Australia, which I’m excited about. Anywhere that I can spread this message, I’ll go. It’s an exciting time, and it’s part of what I feel like I’ve been called to do, to go and spread this message and to get people really excited.”

When it comes to being involved in the pro-life movement, what are you telling people?

“We are the hands and feet of Christ, and we better use ‘em. Part of being involved is really getting those hands and feet dirty, being out there and praying where the abortions are happening, being involved in your pregnancy resource center, and being involved in the legislative process, not just contacting the legislators that are pro-life and on your side, but contacting those that are not and sharing your views and talking to them about why life is important and why this issue is important.

“It’s not about being comfortable, it’s really about being uncomfortable.”

Based on your view from inside a Planned Parenthood clinic, what are the most effective ways of being pro-life?

“I think the most important thing anybody does, ever, in the pro-life movement is going out to a clinic to pray — the power in being out there and just being a witness and being that face of Christ and that face of mercy and compassion. I think that’s the most important thing anybody can do in the pro-life movement.

“A lot of people think, ‘I’m going to have to be out there and talk to people.’ They don’t. Just being out there is so effective and means so much. That’s what it’s about. It’s not about doing, it’s just about being there.

“And, it’s a constant reminder. Being there is just a reminder to the people that are going in there — the workers and the clients — that there’s something wrong with what they’re doing, the business that they are walking into.

There’s something morally objectionable about it. You don’t go into your dentist’s office and have people out there praying that you don’t go and have a cavity filled. . . . But, there’s something wrong with walking into an abortion clinic. Your prayerful presence outside, your peaceful presence outside, is reminding people of that.”

Have you prayed outside of the clinic where you used to work?

“Oh yeah, all the time. The first time that I went while abortions were taking place, I was a little uncomfortable. I was talking and reaching out to some clients that I knew. I recognized some of the people that were going in. I was trying to talk to the workers, people that I had supervised.

“And, now, I was on the opposite side, in the literal and figurative sense. It was a little awkward, but I knew that it was necessary. I thought, ‘I have to be out here. I have to show them that I’m serious about this. This isn’t a joke. This isn’t something that I’m just doing for show. I’m serious.’ And, I’m still serious. I’m willing to be out here and take their criticism and take their obscene gestures and take their ridicule. But it’s worth it.”

Have you been able to help any other Planned Parenthood workers get out?

“Yes, I’ve been able to help many women — it’s all been women so far. In fact, there have been many clinic workers that have actually read “unPLANNED” and have left after reading the book. It’s not because of the book. It’s because God is working on their heart and they are just able to read something, and something that I say is really catching them and really putting it into perspective for them, and God is able to do the rest. That’s what is so wonderful about what I’m doing and what God is really doing in a lot of these women that are leaving.”

You mention in your book that you have had two abortions yourself, and that the first one helped lead you to work for Planned Parenthood. Is this a common experience?

That’s the reason I think a lot of people get involved with Planned Parenthood. Most of the workers that work there have experienced abortion themselves. I tell people this all the time: No one grows up wanting to have an abortion and nobody grows up wanting to work in the abortion industry. There’s varied choices that lead people into those clinic doors, and it’s usually a series of choices that are filled with pain and regret and heartache, and they are using rationalizations and justifications to try to make sense of their life as it is now and try to make sense of their own reasoning and their own sin.

“And, we just have to keep praying for these people, keep praying for these workers that they will find the truth and that they will continue to seek the truth and that eventually their guard and their defensive wall will come down and that they will seek the face and the mercy and healing of Christ.”

What will you talk about when you come here?

“I’m going to be talking about a lot of things. I will be sharing some of my story. I’m going to be sharing how people can get involved in the pro-life movement. I’m going to be sharing a little bit about Planned Parenthood and what goes on inside those closed doors. I’m going to be sharing about a lot of things. I don’t take any notes when I go up to the podium; it’s just me and the Holy Spirit and I just kind of speak from my heart.”

It has been reported that you are in the process of becoming Catholic and will take that step within the next month. Talk about that.

“We’re very excited. My husband and I are very excited and feel very blessed to be coming into the church and to be coming home, as they say. We looked into the Catholic faith after we were asked to leave our church [for changing from pro-choice to pro-life]. We had looked at some other churches and looked into some other denominations, but knew that we felt very called to the liturgy. For me personally, I knew there that there has always been something missing in my faith, growing up southern Baptist and moving into the Episcopalian Church.

“I absolutely love the [Catholic] liturgy. . . . When we started attending Mass and started learning more about Catholicism, I realized that it had been all the Marian tradition that had been missing in my life and in my faith. So that was one of the reasons that I knew for sure that the Catholic Church was the right place for me. My husband felt the same way and had other reasons himself for wanting to join. We feel very excited and we’re very eager [to join].”


Buy the book

Those interested in reading Abby Johnson’s story can purchase her book online at http://www.unplannedbook.com. This is where readers can purchase a Catholic version of the book by Ignatius Press, which includes a foreword by Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life. A standard version of the book is published by Tyndale House Publishers (tyndale.com).


Hear the author

Those who want to hear Abby Johnson in person can attend the fundraising event for Pregnancy Choices LifeCare Center in Apple Valley Thursday, May 5, at Brackett’s Crossing Country Club in Lakeville.

Call (952) 997-2229 for tickets, or visit http://www.mypregnancychoices.com (click on “events” on the left side) for more information about the event.

Category: Featured, Respect Life, Spotlight