‘The next movement was the sudden jerk of a tiny foot as the baby started kicking, as if trying to move away from the probing invader,” Abby Johnson writes in her new book, Unplanned, written with Cindy Lambert.
Johnson was describing the first sonogram-guided abortion she ever participated in. It would be the final factor to cause her to walk away from Planned Parenthood. Her days there were already numbered when, as a clinic director, she had been given increased abortion goals. The ugly truth is, abortion is the most lucrative procedure Planned Parenthood provides, and they are a profit-making business.
Johnson talks with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about her journey from Planned Parenthood to pro-life activism.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: In practice, what is the mission of Planned Parenthood?
Abby Johnson: Planned Parenthood’s mission, on paper, is to give women quality and affordable health care and to protect women’s rights. In reality, their mission is to increase their abortion numbers and in turn increase their revenue.
Lopez: Does it hurt women more than it helps?
Johnson: Abortion, more than not, leaves women with an aftermath of grief, guilt, and emotional overload. In a lot of cases, this can last a lifetime.
Lopez: Not just women, either? From your story, I get the impression you very much see the Left’s throw-contraception-and-abortion-at-the-problem approach as very much hurting relationships among parents and children, men and women?
Johnson: Abortion does not just hurt women. Abortion hurts a family, and it has a domino effect of hurting those related and close to those families through the grief and reality of losing a child to abortion.
Lopez: What does that new super-sized Houston clinic represent to you?
Johnson: The new clinic in Houston represents not only where I was going with my life, working my way up to the top to run the largest abortion clinic in the Western Hemisphere; it also represents a place women go and are left confused because they do not hear the truth about abortion and their choices. They are in a sense abused by the medical procedures that are performed without quality medical instructions/information. It’s a tragic place.
Lopez: Do you believe it should be defunded? Why?
Johnson: Yes. Planned Parenthood is an organization that does not provide quality health care. Our tax money should go to organizations that provide comprehensive care to women, men, and children. There are better uses of our money. Planned Parenthood provides shabby, limited health care. Why would we want women to get some health care when they can go to a different clinic, other than Planned Parenthood, and receive total health care?
Lopez: How do you feel about Live Action’s investigatory stings in Planned Parenthood clinics? Are they familiar scenes to you? Are they troubling?
Johnson: They are very troubling and show the reality of what is being said and how women, men, and their families are being treated by Planned Parenthood — an organization that claims to care for women, but their actions reveal quite the opposite. I am in full support of Live Action’s mission.
Lopez: In your book, you refer to moments where Planned Parenthood, and your clinic in particular, at times felt “under siege.” I thought it interesting that a New York Times columnist recently used exactly that language in combating defunding efforts in Congress and Live Action’s work. What do you make of that?
Johnson: That is the type of language that the pro-choice community uses to instill fear in our society.
Lopez: One of the main defenses you hear from Planned Parenthood and its allies is that to cut off funding would harm low-income women who need basic medical care. “What about the mammograms?” was the rallying cry from a defender on The O’Reilly Factor recently. Is that a fair argument?
Johnson: It is an understandable concern. However, there are many other clinics and even free services out there, including crisis-pregnancy centers, that help women in a better, more affordable (frequently free), and more caring way. They take the time to sit down with these women and care much more for their wholistic needs, not just medical ones. Women need to be treated like this everywhere they go; unfortunately, Planned Parenthood is going to offer medical procedures such as abortions much faster than other services that are crucial and important to a women’s wellbeing. Crisis-pregnancy centers can care for a woman in some medical ways, emotional ways, and wholistic ways and are equipped to refer women to affordable and better quality clinics for services such as mammograms.
Lopez: Do you buy the sex-trafficking-aiders-and-abettors line you’re hearing about Planned Parenthood?
Johnson: There is evidence in the video released that Planned Parenthood will go to measures to aid sex trafficking in order to keep their abortion services at a high rate. This evidence can’t be denied.
Lopez: Has your attitude toward the guy with the aborted-fetus sign changed any since you’ve become pro-life?
Johnson: Since becoming pro-life, I still think that there are much more peaceful ways to help women on the other side of the fence. However, I do understand that people don’t even know what goes on in Planned Parenthood and in many cases don’t even know that Planned Parenthood provides more abortion services than any other provider in the country. People do need to know the reality of abortion, and sometimes the only way for them to know is for them to see it. However, I think that holding up signs like this should be our last resort. The peaceful and prayerful efforts of the 40 Days For Life movement has been successful and is the best approach to caring for women that are in a crisis situation. I think there are places where graphic signs can be useful; however, I do not ever believe graphic signs in front of abortion facilities is appropriate.
Lopez: Who is Unplanned’s audience?
Johnson: Unplanned has a variety of audiences, from teens to adults, church attendees to atheists, pro-lifers to pro-choicers, and many others including people who just desire education on the issue of abortion, adoption, parenting, and women’s reproductive health care.
Lopez: What has been the most surprising reaction to it?
Johnson: While I have had many significant and surprising reactions to the release of my book, the most significant has been from pro-choicers and clinic workers. Many clinic workers have left their jobs after seeing the light. There have also been many who have reached out to me who didn’t fully know their stance on abortion, who have appreciated my experience and my insight and have been able to better understand the abortion industry and appreciate the preciousness of life.
Lopez: What would you say to a young woman who is where you once were? Simply at a volunteer fair, courted by Planned Parenthood? Who maybe has an abortion or two in a lock-box, memory- and emotion-wise?
Johnson: I would tell her that I know her intentions are good and she has dived into an organization that does help women in many ways. However, I would want her to know that she can help them in better ways. I would encourage her to take that leap of faith I did, and join me in helping women in a wholistic way, because that is not going to be offered in the abortion industry. No one grows up wanting to have an abortion. No one grows up wanting to work in the abortion industry. We never regret having children, but we do regret having abortions.
Lopez: Tell me about that nun you write about. Why was her presence outside your clinic such a big deal inside? What’s so special about a nun?
Johnson: A nun to me was a woman that is so holy, so godly — and ultimately had God “on her side.” To see a nun in such pain over what I was doing inside my clinic made me wonder and question what I was doing and whether it was a right thing to be doing. I didn’t like the thoughts that came into my head, because I had worked so hard at getting to where I was and defending what I was doing. For a nun to be incredibly pained by the sight of my clinic, by the sight of me and my co-workers and the women and men exiting our clinic, was heartbreaking and brought up a lot of tension inside of me that I didn’t know could be brought out of me. Abortion was more real to her than it was to any of us.
Lopez: An ultrasound-guided abortion played a big role in your “conversion.” Could ultrasound mark the end of abortion in America?
Johnson: I believe that it’s a start. We have to take steps in that direction, and I believe that seeing an ultrasound before having an abortion procedure could and will change a lot of women’s minds, from my experience and the types of questions that women would ask during a counseling session regarding their procedure. Ultrasounds will reveal what Planned Parenthood wants to keep hidden because they know women will see the truth this way. Ultrasounds expose their lie.
Lopez: How have your former colleagues reacted to your book?
Johnson: I haven’t heard from any of them since my book came out.
Lopez: What is your most-frequently-asked question these days?
Johnson: I am asked so many questions, I don’t think I could really say there is just one. There is such an interest in the abortion debate. People want all the information they can get.
Lopez: Your husband was a key part of your conversion story. What has his role taught you about marriage?
Johnson: Marriage is a commitment, “till death do us part.” Regardless of whether you agree or disagree, marriage is a commitment to your partner and he lives out that commitment every single day.
Lopez: Have you brought anyone with you on the other side of the fence now?
Johnson: I have spoken to many former workers in the abortion industry who have left since I left, many claiming that my leaving Planned Parenthood played a role in their leaving. I look forward to the day when I can stand beside my former co-workers on this side of the fence and pray for our clinic.
Lopez: There are two editions of your book — what’s the reasoning behind that?
Johnson: The three-publishers agreement is a very new idea. Tyndale and Focus on the Family were the original publishers on the agreement. Ignatius Press really wanted to also get in on the project. We thought this would be a good idea since Christians, Protestants and Catholics, are involved in this ministry and I wanted to share my story with both.
Lopez: What have you learned about the power of prayer? In individual’s lives? In a movement’s life?
Johnson: No one on this earth can control everything. In many cases, including abortion, the best thing we can do is pray. God is the only one who can truly end abortion and truly change hearts and lives, He just uses us in small ways to speak His truth. The power of prayer is enormous because Christ promises to answer the prayers of those who love Him. Prayer and trusting in Him is what will end abortion one day.
Lopez: About 40 Days for Life in particular?
Johnson: 40 Days For Life is the most effective vigil, and the vigil that eventually drew me to leave the abortion industry. Their efforts of peaceful and prayerful around-the-clock vigil for 40 days at a time go above and beyond the efforts of any abortion clinic, including the efforts of Planned Parenthood, to be there for women during their crisis.
Lopez: You write “we have more in common with the ‘other’ side than we might imagine.” What would you stress here, and how can there be some common cause, politically and otherwise?
Johnson: The common goal of both the pro-choice and pro-life movements is to help women in crisis. Both have employees and volunteers who desire to help women, men, and their families and provide the best care for them in their time of need. The difference is the ways that they provide care for these women, men, and families.
Lopez: You go on to write that there is “goodness, compassion, generosity, and self-sacrifice on the other side.” But there are irreconcilable differences, aren’t there?
Johnson: The difference is that the abortion industry desires to help women in their time of need and crisis by providing not only reproductive health care, but abortion services if a woman is not ready, or not in a position financially or emotionally, or not stable enough to bring a child into her life. The pro-life movement has the same desire to help women in their time of need and crisis but looks beyond the immediate needs of the woman and considers the life of the child and the woman’s family as well. The abortion industry provides a “quick fix” and focuses more on the immediate effects of the crisis, while the pro-life movement focuses on the long-term effects of the woman’s choice and the reality of what is best for the woman, rather than providing an “out.”
Lopez: Your “Never trust a decision you don’t want your mother to know about” jumped out at me because it seemed opposite to the Planned Parenthood message. So much of the line from advocates of Planned Parenthood and legal abortion seems to be “no one needs to know.” Is it?
Johnson: Planned Parenthood advocated for the woman’s right regardless of the family’s wants or opinions. Planned Parenthood advocated for the “my body, my choice” motto. I believed in this while I worked at Planned Parenthood, but now, realizing the effect my two abortions had on my family (my parents now knowing that they would have had two more grandchildren if I had not made the choice to abort), I advocate not only for women but for their families, including the life that is inside of them during a crisis-pregnancy situation. While I understand that making an abortion decision is sometimes embarrassing, shameful, and very difficult to follow through with, and that this makes it hard to reveal this decision to the people who would be affected by that decision, it is usually harder to live with the already-made decision to abort that cannot be reversed. If a decision is being made that needs to be kept a secret, oftentimes, that may not be the best decision in the long run. This has been voiced as the truth by thousands, if not more, of post-abortive women, including myself.
Lopez: You describe yourself as having had “regret, pain, brokenness, shame, and even blood on my hands.” How much of that is the story of every woman who walks into a Planned Parenthood clinic?
Johnson: I have heard countless testimonies of post-abortive women, including women who had abortions at Planned Parenthood, who feel the same “regret, pain, brokenness, and shame.” I have also heard many testimonies of former abortion-clinic workers and providers who feel as though their hands were involved in hundreds and thousands of abortions; they feel the same, as if they have “blood on their hands” due to their actions while involved in this industry that took the lives of so many innocent children and lied to women about the truth of their pregnancies and the children in their womb. The good news is that there is complete healing for post-abortive women, their families, and people involved in the abortion industry through the sacrifice that Christ paid on the cross to bear the burden of our sins and to take our punishment away. That healing is offered even to those who have received abortion services and offered them in their health-care practice. While these feelings may always stick with those of us who have been involved, the healing is there and will take away our burden because we have a God who carries those burdens for us, if we will let Him.
Lopez: If a pro-lifer takes only one lesson from you and your book, what do you hope it is?
Johnson: The reality of our world today regarding life and abortion is that life is not received or given as a gift. However, life is the most precious, sacred gift we have been given. If a pro-lifer read my book and understood the preciousness of life, the importance and impact that prayer can have on one person entering into a clinic, and the healing that is available for those who have been involved in abortion services, then they got the most out of my book. When I left Planned Parenthood, my intentions were not to write a book or to be a part of the pro-life movement, but God had bigger and better plans for my life. My message is one of hope, healing, love, and redemption, and I would hope that they would feel that when reading my book, enough to become involved in the peaceful and prayerful vigil that got me out of the abortion industry — because it is worth it and it will change hearts and lives.
Lopez: How about a pro-choicer? A Planned Parenthood clinic worker?
Johnson: My hope for a pro-choicer and a clinic worker who reads my book is that they can relate. I know that each and every one has been in my shoes in one way or another. My story is proof that they can get out of the abortion industry and can help women in a bigger and better way than they are through being a pro-choice advocate or working in the abortion industry. The reality of abortion is written on every single page of my book and my testimony, I hope that they will seek out that reality themselves and know that they too can help women in a more long-term way through reproductive services, medical services, emotional services, and a more wholistic way in the pro-life movement. Life is too precious, to be thrown away or to be taken for granted. My hope is that they will see this truth, seek this truth, and apply this truth to their everyday lives.
Lopez: How do you feel about pro-lifers using your book to help their cause?
Johnson: I strongly encourage it. Personal testimonies, rather than facts, are what touch people’s lives and hearts in a radical way. My book is a tool, not just a story or a testimony, to bring light to all of these issues.
Lopez: How do you feel about the “pro-life” and “pro-choice” terminology?
Johnson: I don’t prefer it. I believe that, for the most part, we are all in the business of helping women, men, and their families in crisis. Even though some of us value “life” and some of us value “choice” more, our goals are more alike than most think. I know that one day, we will not have terminology to define how we advocate for women, men, and their families, but we will all unite in protecting life, valuing life, and helping women in the best way that we know how.
Lopez: What’s in your future?
Johnson: Only God knows what my future holds but as long as He opens doors for me to share my story, I will share it.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.