From Planned Parenthood to Pro-Life: "The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader"

William E. May
© 2011 Culture of Life Foundation.
Reproduced with Permission
Culture of Life Foundation

The subtitle of this essay is in quotation marks because it is the subtitle of unPlanned, the recently published life story of Abby Johnson, former abortion advocate turned pro-life. This remarkable book tells us of: 1. Abby's own attitude toward abortion; 2. Why she became a Planned Parenthood volunteer; 3. Her career with Planned Parenthood from 2001-2009; 4. How her eyes were opened to the reality of abortion; and 5. Her decision to resign from Planned Parenthood and cross the life line.

Abby's own Attitude Toward Abortion

Abby grew up in a church and a family that believed in the sanctity of life (p. 21). But as a college student she had two abortions, both occurring after she became pregnant and while working first for her undergraduate degree and second for a master's in psychological counseling and therapy. She conceived out of wedlock the first time and followed her boy friend's advice to have the abortion; the second time she got pregnant while married to him but in the process of divorcing him. Both times abortion seemed to her to be a necessary means to avoid serious problems (pp. 22-26, 44-48). She had her second abortion by using the drug RU-486 (Mifeprex) that caused her terrible pain but nonetheless succeeded in ridding her of the unborn baby. Since she had grown up opposing abortion, she had to rationalize her abortion decisions in order to justify them in her mind. She embraced a view that separated her from the child she carried. She did not see herself as a woman carrying a baby. "What I saw," she writes "was that I was in a condition of pregnancy, not that I was now the mother of a child already dependent on my body for sustenance." This was Planned Parenthood's way of describing abortion (p. 45).

Why Be a Planned Parenthood Volunteer?

At a Volunteer Fair held at Abby's undergraduate college, Jill, the Planned Parenthood representative, told Abby that every community needs a clinic women can turn to when they are in trouble or need help and Planned Parenthood provides this, offering counsel, free birth control, and abortions if they are necessary. Jill stressed that Planned Parenthood's goal was to make abortions rare by making effective birth control available to women. It offered abortion only as a last resort and did so because women have a right to a safe abortion. Otherwise they might suffer injury or even death at the hands of back alley abortionists. Planned Parenthood also offered annual medical exams, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, sex education, breast and cervical exams, etc. (pp. 13-14). Falling for the beneficent myth, Abby quickly volunteered to help at the local clinic.

Abby's Career with Planned Parenthood

From 2001 until October 2009 Abby was closely involved in the work done at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryant, TX, first as a volunteer while finishing her undergraduate education, then as a counselor of the women who visited the clinic after graduating from college and again after completing a master's degree in counseling and therapy, and finally as director. She looked on her work as a good way to help women in crisis situations, to teach them how to use modern contraceptives so that abortions would be rare. She felt uneasy on "abortion days," when visiting abortionists removed the "products of conception" or "fetal tissues" from women's bodies. On those days Abby had to confront protestors on the other side of the fence. Some of them frightened Abby and others on her side by calling them "murderers" and waving posters with gruesome pictures of aborted babies. Another group of protestors was different. Members of the Coalition for Life were peaceful; they prayed for Abby and her associates and their "clients," and tried to make friends with them, urging them to listen to their reasons for opposing abortion; over the years Abby was attracted to them, in particular by Shawn Carney and Marlissa who later married Shawn (see pp. 31-38, 145 ff).

Abby was convinced that Planned Parenthood was passionately concerned for the well-being of women and sincere in claiming that its goal was to make abortion rare. After she became director of the clinic (she was then married to Doug, who hated abortions), she was determined to make it the best such facility in Texas. Alone of all clinics it remained open under her leadership during Hurricane Ike in September 2008 despite orders from higher ups to close it. Later she was commended for keeping the clinic open and was even named "employee of the year" (pp. 105-112).

Late in 2008 Planned Parenthood announced plans to open a massive 7 storey clinic in Houston that would be one of the largest abortion facilities in the nation, with license to do abortions after 25 weeks. This news upset Abby terribly (pp. 111-112). Because of economic conditions, pressure was put on Abby to increase abortions at her clinic. Cheryl, her former superior, told her that she had a business to run and needed to put her priorities straight and increase abortions because of the income they generated. When Abby protested she was summoned to a meeting in Houston and reprimanded for not following orders to increase abortions. (pp. 135-139).

How Abby's Eyes - and Heart and Mind - Were Opened

Late in September 2009 Cheryl, Abby's then former superior at the clinic, asked her to help out in the exam room on an abortion day (Cheryl always came on those days). Arriving at the exam room, Abby found that the abortionist visiting the clinic used ultrasound to guide his abortion operations. Ultrasound-guided abortion had not been used before in the facility. The sonogram showed the entire, perfect profile of a little baby who was thirteen weeks of age, reminding Abby of the one taken of her baby Grace before she was born. Abby watched as the cannula, a straw-shaped tube attached to the suction tube, had been inserted into the uterus of the woman. At first the baby did not seem aware of the cannula, but soon the baby kicked her feet in an effort to get away from the probing invader. When the cannula was in the right spot over the squirming baby the doctor ordered the suction tube to be turned on and soon the baby's crumpled body was being sucked into the tube. The last thing Abby saw "was the tiny, perfectly formed backbone being sucked into the tube." How could she now believe what Planned Parenthood had told her - and what she was telling clients - that abortion is simply a procedure removing fetal tissue from the woman's body? She was now facing a crisis in her own life. How could she keep working for Planned Parenthood? (pp. 1-8).

Abby's Decision to Leave Planned Parenthood to Defend Unborn Human Life

After this experience Abby resolved to resign her post but she needed a job. Yet she resolved, with the support of her husband Doug who was against abortion, to resign two weeks later. One day the following week she quietly left the clinic and went to the Coalition for Life office where she was welcomed and tearfully told her story. When Shawn Carney, whose peaceful reasoning from across the abortion fence had moved her, finally came and heard it, he promised to have her meet Dr. Haywood Robinson who, like the late Dr. Nathanson, was an abortionist who became an ardent pro-lifer. Abby met him later that week and through his help was able to obtain a job as a counselor-therapist (pp.155-175). She then wrote her resignation from Planned Parenthood and sent it to her superiors.

Planned Parenthood brought suit against Abby claiming that when she left she stole confidential information such as the code to the security system and counseled employees to resign also; Abby's lawyers were able to show that Planned Parenthood could not prove its case and the judge dismissed the claim (pp.223-259).

Abby's story is more than remarkable. It shows us how, with the help of God's grace and friends who truly love us, we can come to recognize the euphemistic language used to camouflage the killing of innocent unborn babies and to recognize its brutal reality.