Since 1996, there has been a National Abortion Providers Appreciation Day. This year, April 8 is the first national “Leave the Abortion Industry Day,” Exodus 2013, a project of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood director whose And Then There Were None seeks to help abortion-industry workers move out from and beyond the devastating culture they’re living in.
Johnson, author of the book Unplanned, talks about the effort with National Review Online.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Should there really be none? Your project sound like a dream fundraising ad for Planned Parenthood, complete with a day of advocacy on MSNBC!
ABBY JOHNSON: Our vision statement is pretty clear: Yes, our hope is that there would be no more people with the desire to work in the abortion industry. I can assure you that our ministry has certainly not been a helpful development for Planned Parenthood. We know that it has caused a significant amount of paranoia inside the clinics and within the organization.
LOPEZ: Let’s say I believe abortion should continue to be legal. Why should I read on?
JOHNSON: I would hope that people, no matter their personal beliefs, would want to be as educated as possible. Our former workers are providing insight and perspective that has never been offered before.
LOPEZ: The Exodus website, addressing abortion-clinic workers, says: “Whatever led you to work in the abortion industry, please realize that this isn’t your full potential.” How do you know that? You don’t know most of these people, do you? How can you make such a generalization?
JOHNSON: Being complicit in the act of murder would never be someone’s full potential.
LOPEZ: You’re promising financial and emotional support for these ex-clinic workers. Where are you getting the time and the money?
JOHNSON: This is my ministry, so this is where I expend the bulk of my time. We receive our funding from private donors who support our ministry.
LOPEZ: Lots of women find themselves in lots of difficult situations. How are you so sure having a child is always the best option? Could there be situation where abortion is the best situation for someone?
JOHNSON: I don’t know that the woman in question would be the best parent for her child. That is why we have to continue to promote adoption. And even though I don’t know everyone’s personal situation, I do know that it is never right to take a life.
LOPEZ: Why would they need legal counsel?
JOHNSON: After I left Planned Parenthood, they took me to court. I was lucky to have so many pro-life attorneys fighting for me. We have several workers who have received legal threats after leaving the abortion industry. We want these former workers to know that their interests will be protected.
LOPEZ: How are you so sure they need a road to “recovery”? They aren’t addicts, they are people who were trying to help women?
JOHNSON: No, they aren’t addicts. But these former workers have seen and heard things that — thankfully — the general population would never be privy to. These workers are traumatized after they leave the abortion industry. Our program helps them to find healing.
LOPEZ: Is this your personal foundation to produce pro-life speakers?
JOHNSON: No. Our goal is not to pump out pro-life “celebrities.” We do have several workers who, after time of healing, decided they would like to share their story. Sometimes it is shared anonymously and sometimes they are willing to go public with their information. If we never had a worker speak out about their time in the industry, that would be perfectly fine with us.
LOPEZ: What are you learning from other former clinic directors?
JOHNSON: We are learning that our experiences inside the industry are very similar. Many of us left for different reasons, but we heard the same talking points, the same instructions from supervisors, etc. It only solidifies what I have said since I left Planned Parenthood . . . the pro-abortion movement is very unified. That is why they continue to have so much success. The pro-life movement could learn from them.
LOPEZ: Are all the workers women? Do they all have common experiences? Memories? Regrets?
JOHNSON: No, the workers we have assisted haven’t all been women. Most have worked directly in the abortion clinics. Some were educators, taught to sell the idea of “safe sex” and abortion to kids. No matter their job, they were all complicit in the act of abortion. I think the greatest similarity among all of us is the idea that we got into the abortion movement because we genuinely thought we were doing the right thing. Then, after time, we realized that what we had thought was right was something entirely different.
LOPEZ: Is renouncing abortion a necessary part of this process?
JOHNSON: Absolutely. We would not support a worker who stated they continue to follow a “pro-choice” mindset.
LOPEZ: You offer spiritual direction. Is this ultimately an evangelization process? Whom do you have available on this front?
JOHNSON: My personal hope is that all of the workers who come through our ministry would come to know Christ… and so far, they have. Our organization does not exist to preach to them, however. We are committed to helping them work through any spiritual issues they may have. We have been able to connect all of our former workers with clergy in their area.
LOPEZ: You yourself became Catholic after you left Planned Parenthood. What has that meant to your life on a practical level?
JOHNSON: Being Catholic has honestly been the greatest form of healing I could have ever received. To be able to experience Christ in such a real and tangible way has been the greatest gift I have ever received.
LOPEZ: What do you regret the most about your time at Planned Parenthood?
JOHNSON: The lies. The lies that I told, the lies that I believed, the lies that led to the death of thousands of babies on my watch.
LOPEZ: Could Planned Parenthood be redeemed? There are good people with good intentions there who want to help women, after all.
JOHNSON: For me, no. Even if they stopped doing abortions, they would never be able to completely eliminate abortion from their “culture.”
LOPEZ: Forty years into legal abortion in America, how is your effort helping anything? Shouldn’t we just realize abortion is here to stay and adjust?
JOHNSON: I actually think our work is part of the puzzle that has been missing. We believe that the workers have information to give that can begin to really demolish the abortion industry. One of the workers who came through ATTWN has now helped to permanently shut down her former clinic. There are currently four federal lawsuits against Planned Parenthood alleging Medicaid fraud . . . all brought forward by former workers. We are hearing about abortion quotas and medical malpractice that the abortion industry has tried desperately to cover up. It is all coming out now, thanks to these former workers.
LOPEZ: What do you hear most from women?
JOHNSON: I hear their regrets. I hear how they wish they would have chosen something differently. I hear their grief…how they long to hold the child they aborted in their arms. I hear a lot of pain and anger. But I am also blessed to share in their redemption. We are not bound by grief and regret. We have to make the decision to lay our burdens down at the feet of Christ. I have seen personally how He will use our past sins to glorify Him.