Former Planned Parenthood employee Abby Johnson explains why 'science, reason and logic' were behind her dramatic change of heart on abortion
I blogged recently about Abby Johnson’s book, The Walls are Talking. Subtitled, “Former abortion clinic workers tell their stories”, its author has a particular stake in the pro-life debate because until 2009 she was a prominent employee in Texas of the US-based abortion organisation, Planned Parenthood. Dramatically, she left Planned Parenthood that year and has since become famous as a pro-life campaigner.
I found it chastening to read in her book that Abby Johnson receives criticism from other people doing pro-life work, so contacted her to find out more about her life after her dramatic change of heart. She tells me that some people still criticise her, explaining that “like anyone who comes out of the abortion industry, I had a lot of growing up to do. All of this, as well as my healing, have taken place in public. To this day, some people still hold things against me that I said early on, such as supporting contraceptives or exceptions.”
Abby assures me that she is now “100% pro-life, with no exceptions”, as well as opposing all forms of contraception. Nonetheless, “many pro-lifers still hold my past over my head,” she says.
She admits that this “has been the most difficult part of holding a prominent and public pro-life position.”
Abby also condemns the name-calling that certain pro-lifers go in for, arguing passionately that “if only people would see the bigger picture and fully grasp what is happening in my ministry, abortionworker.com, they would see that love is louder than their name-calling.”
As she explains to me: “A man who makes a living from killing children most likely will not entertain a conversation with some pro-lifer who is reading him the Bible outside the clinic. We need to know our audience. If we want to reach pro-choice people, we need to understand why, meet them where they are and build a relationship.”
Abby has personal experience of this, telling me that “the people who prayed peacefully outside my former clinic took the time to get to know me. They said “Good morning”, they asked my name, they offered to pray for me, they asked about my family and sent me flowers and cards filled with kindness. They were the ones I went to when I quit. They had gained my trust – and that’s what we ought to be doing on the sidewalks, not yelling through megaphones.”
How has her life changed in the last seven years? She says that when she left the clinic “I had one daughter. My husband and I now have five children. We also joined the Catholic Church four years ago.” She now works as an NFP instructor and her husband has left his job to stay at home with their children so that she is free to travel and share her testimony, to raise support for pro-life groups, work on legislation and to develop her ministry.
I am interested to know how successful this ministry, which is called ‘And Then There Were None’, has been. Abby is quietly proud of its achievements: “When I first set some goals, I thought that if only we could reach 10 workers per year that would be absolute success. We have just celebrated four years and we are now up to 243 clients. Seven of them were once full-time abortion doctors who have now walked away from their practice and who now fight for the sanctity of life.” She adds, “To call that successful is an understatement. I am humbled each and every day as I reflect on what God has truly done.”
What are the typical problems she faces in helping former clinic workers? She reflects: “Often, our greatest obstacles involve finance. I have an incredible team of client managers, resume writers, prayer warriors and job recruiters, but these workers need to eat, pay their bills and pay for childcare while they are out looking for a new job. We supply limited transitional financial assistance, but when things happen, like emptying two clinics of all their employees in a three-week period, it can really drain our account.”
“However”, Abby assures me, “it is the most beautiful problem to have, when these courageous souls take a leap of faith to follow their conscience.” She points out another problem, “which is when pro-life groups pick up on a worker leaving, and then publicise it. We simply need to honour their right decision to leave and provide the privacy for them to seek healing.”
Abby is convinced that the best way to counter the pro-choice mentality of our culture is “by providing holistic comprehensive care to women. This should be a priority, regardless of one’s stance on abortion. If we meet the needs of women, we eliminate the reasons for seeking abortion. If we keep the focus on true and genuine women’s healthcare and in being pro-health, the natural by-product will be changing the culture.”
She wants me to understand that although she is proud to be a Catholic, “I am not pro-life because of my faith. I am pro-life because of science, reason and logic. My faith compels me to be pro-life but typically, if I am in a discussion with a pro-choice atheist, they are the first to mention religion. I call them out on it and get back to discussing abortion from a secular standpoint. I always recommend the secular pro-life website.”
I conclude our conversation by asking Abby why she emphasises in her book that pro-lifers must “just show up” at clinics. She explains earnestly, “Because they need to. We can all think of things we would rather be doing than talking about abortion or standing outside a clinic on a hot, rainy or snowy day, but can we not spare some time to save lives?”
She is adamant that, “We cannot allow this to continue and it is going to take time, effort and sacrifice. We don’t have time to spare. We need to show up and we need to do so now!”
As a member of a small, monthly, pro-life prayer vigil outside our local hospital, I am aware that what Abby Johnson has just told me has given me much food for thought. The first requirement is humility. There is no room for complacency or self-righteousness in what we do.