In 2009 it made the national news that Abby Johnson the director of a Planned Parenthood in Texas had resigned and went to the Coalition for Life for help. Now it was easy to celebrate this a a victory on the pro-life front and a mark in our column. It is easy to forget the person behind the story sometimes and the new book Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line by Abby Johnson tells here story in full.
I am a sucker for a conversion story and so bought and downloaded this book just after it came out. I also sat down and read the book in basically one sitting. When you first hear the story you wonder how can a director of a Planned Parenthood clinic have her world turnaround after assisting during an ultrasound guided abortion. Surely she would know what was going on in her clinic? How did a young woman from a small town and pro-life family come to work for Planned Parenthood in the first place?
The book starts with her heart-wrenching description of the ultrasound guided abortion she was called in to assist with. Through her years at Planned Parenthood at first as a volunteer, then counselor, and later directory and even Employee of the Year for Planned Parenthood she did not assist with abortions normally. Her shock at what she saw on the ultrasound and the babies obvious attempt to escape the suction device destroyed the lies she had been taught and had passed on to so many others. She was a person who believed that abortion was no great thing and should be rare, but that it was still needed for difficult situations. She truly though that Planned Parenthood did much good with their exams and birth control. That she was even doing God’s work. What she witnessed that day changed her life forever.
She then goes on to describe the years that led up to that day and how at Texas A&M she was first asked to volunteer at a clinic and that while she wasn’t thrilled about the abortion part bought into the whole abortion rights rhetoric of choice and the days of back alley abortions and how they were helping women’s health. She also describes the circumstances of her own two abortions and their effect on her.
Later on the book she describes how she felt that her conscience had been locked up and how it was that so much of what she did was contrary to what she believed or else had serious qualms about it, but that she would let other factors over ride that. Pro-abortion rhetoric is effective because it is conscience numbing in that it can make things sound so much better than they are and present evils as not only something good, but as the only right conclusion. All of us as sinners know about how we have minimized some sin and made excuses for it. We make excuses that could never stand a bright light without them shattering apart. Excuses we might even later laugh at and wonder how we could have thought such a thing. Abby’s book gives us light in seeing how somebody who deeply cared about other women and only wanted to do her best for them could come into the fallacy of the pro-abortion lies.
What I loved most about this book is humanization. Dehumanizing your enemy is always a constant temptation. The conflict between the clinic workers and pro-life protesters are between two groups one on each side of the fence and the fence is a dividing line throughout the book. She writes of her friends her worked at the clinic and the tensions involved because of the protesters. She also writes about the Christian love she experienced from so many of the protesters who treated her with love even as she became the clinics director. How they reached out to her – especially the members of the Coalition for Life. She also notes that while she did not feel animosity against the protesters that she was also use to using the rhetoric passed on to her from the Planned Parenthood office describing these peaceful protesters in less than peaceful terms. Though as the book notes, not all the protesters were peaceful and their were some misguided zealots who did harm to the pro-life cause and that the other pro-lifers would try to reign in.
I found the writing style of the book to be both gripping and heavily personal where you almost consider yourself to become a voyeur on her life. This book could not have been easy to write where old wounds had to be reopened and redressed. By the end you feel you have known her for years and you just rejoice in her conversion and her apparent joy in leaving her old life behind. She is someone who had always believed in God and when getting married had gone back to steady attendance at church with her husband who was solidly pro-life. She relates the back and forth conversations she had with her husband and her parents who were not happy with her job at all – but never let her job stop them from loving her. Also interesting she was kicked out of one pro-life Protestant church when they found out about her job and then later when she became national news the members of her pro-abortion Episcopalian church also let their displeasure known about her leaving Planned Parenthood.
After she finally left the clinic with the assistance of the Coalition for Life she was sued by Planned Parenthood who wanted a restraining order placed on her. The story actually became national news when Planned Parenthood issued a Press Release about this restraining order. She was not expecting the national attention and thought a interview on a local TV station was going to be the extent of the publicity. Towards her end as director of the clinic she was coming more in conflict with Planned Parenthood leadership as she discovered that they wanted her to increase abortions, simply because they were more profitable. The book finishes with the trial, the results of the trial, and her subsequent work speaking for 40 Days for Life.
There is so much in this book this I so enjoyed. The frank discussion of her thought processes over the years, her relationships with others, and the difficulties she encountered when she realized how wrong and blind she had been. Her treatment by the pro-life community in her years working there is an example for all to follow. Many other clinic employees, clinic directors, or even abortion doctors have been befriended by pro-lifers show truly showed them Christ by their example.
This book as a spiritual biography is a quite worthwhile read and an excellent insight into those who work at abortion clinics. This book isn’t meant as just a pro-life apologetic covering every aspect of the abortion debate covering topics like the personhood of the child or the statistics of abortion. That being said the ending of the book left some things ambiguous for me. For example after she had gone to the Coalition for Life she had told them that she was still for birth control. I would have liked to know by the ending if this was still the case since things like the pill having an abortafacient mechanism are never mentioned. Considering that she herself got pregnant three times while contraception I was certainly curious about this aspect. Generally I would have liked to see some counters to some of false history and statistics on back alley abortions she had learned. But I can understand while this was not done in a very personal autobiography where the focus of her story was a conversion story.
I have felt in the past that we needed a pro-life equivalent of what Uncle Tom’s Cabin did for the slavery abolition movement. While this book is not exactly that – it is something close and I hope that it will be a book that becomes very popular. Everybody in the book are humanized – the child in the womb, abortion workers, pro-life protesters. There is not a stereotype of a person to be found in this book.
Note: Available at Ignatius Press. Unfortunately they did not have an eBook version so I bought it elsewhere.
Update: Turns out the Ignatius Press edition of this book covers some of my questions and I happy to learn that Doug and Abby Johnson are entering the Catholic Church and that they both oppose contraception now.