I pray every time I pass a Planned Parenthood. I have also prayed outside Planned Parenthood clinics that do abortions here in Austin and back home in D.C. I pray for a world where no one will desire abortion. I don’t think making abortion illegal will change hearts, but it might be a start. By far, though, the most important part of the struggle is remembering to do all things in love, as Jesus would. Jesus called people out for their sins, sure, but then he called them to something greater (remember, he told the woman caught in adultery to “sin no more”). Abby Johnson knows exactly what it’s like to love both people who provide abortions and people who pray for an end to them. She worked for Planned Parenthood for eight years, but one day, she knew she had to switch sides. Her book, Unplanned, cowritten with an editor from Christian publisher Zondervan, tells the story of her life up to that day and its heartbreaking aftermath.
I first heard Abby Johnson’s story last year. I was astonished. It was picture-perfect: someone who knew Planned Parenthood from the inside had literally gone from standing on inside of the fence to praying on the outside. She begins her story with the turning point. She had been director of the Bryan, Texas Planned Parenthood affiliate for some time when she was asked to hold the ultrasound probe during an abortion. As she watched the procedure, she was horrified, and she knew that day that she needed to get out. The Bryan Coalition for Life next door took her in and defended her in the ensuing legal battle. She had joined Planned Parenthood as a college volunteer to help make abortion “safe, legal, and rare” (Planned Parenthood’s alleged goal) and to help women in crisis. When her supervisor told her that she needed to increase abortions to stay in business, and that her personal mission to reduce abortions was going to hurt the bottom line, she knew that Planned Parenthood was not the place to achieve her goal of “safe, legal, and rare” abortion, and she gave up her career for what she believed in. Could you be that brave?
Even though I knew the basics of Abby Johnson’s journey, hearing the whole story straight from the woman who lived it made it come alive. I understood her dismay when she realized that Planned Parenthood would rather make money than help women in need; I, too, wish that conflict didn’t exist. I cheered for the Coalition for Life as they tried to change the methods of the pro-life movement in Bryan. Peaceful protest certainly makes it easier for me to take part. I rejoiced when the Coalition followed through on its promise to help anyone—even the clinic director—who wanted to stand on the side of life. I saw all the characters, from impressionable young Abby to her patient husband to her business-minded supervisor, as real people who are trying to be true to their beliefs. My heart broke when Abby was vilified by the very organization that had shortly before lauded her as Employee of the Year. I never felt like her story was yanking at my emotions, but I definitely felt them.
The most outstanding aspect of Unplanned is that Abby had the opportunity to make Planned Parenthood seem like an evil abortion mill and the Coalition for Life like perfectly selfless angels, but she didn’t. Both sides seem real. I believe that there are others among the staff and volunteers of Planned Parenthood who really want to keep women safe, but the leadership of the organization knows they won’t make money that way. Abby really wanted to help women who feel like they have nowhere to turn when they become pregnant, and she wanted abortion to be rare. Now, by continuing to volunteer with the Coalition for Life and speaking out for the pro-life movement, she is finally working toward her goal.