Lessons from Abby Johnson

A Review of Abby Johnson, with Cindy Lambert, unPlanned, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 2010.

Abby Johnson has quite a story to tell. At the outset, she declares: ‘My story is not neat and tidy’ (p.x), and it is remarkable in that she tries very hard to write without rancour. For eight years, she was a director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas, until she quit her job in October 2009. The trigger for her resignation came when she viewed an ultrasound abortion of a child aged thirteen weeks. It was indeed a life-changing experience: ‘I was horrified, but fascinated at the same time, like a gawker slowing as he drives past some horrific automobile wreck – not wanting to see a mangled body, but looking all the same’ (p.13).

She portrays the day-to-day battle between Planned Parenthood and the Coalition for Life as a vigorous contest. Outside the clinic, there were shouts of ‘Abortionists are murderers! Repent!’ and a man dressed up in a Grim Reaper costume (cf. pp.34-38). In contrast, Abby makes much of kindness shown by members of the Coalition for Life. She recalls that one pro-life woman, Marilisa, spoke kindly to her (pp.37-38).

In the end, Abby crossed the line, from working for Planned Parenthood to being an advocate for life. Thus she pulled out of what she called ‘a long, slow slide into darkness’ (p.173). She records: ‘That day, October 6, 2009, I planted my feet on the right side of the fence – the side of life.’ (p.173) One particular moment of healing occurred when she went to the fence to pray on Good Friday (pp.189-190).

This is a book that deserves a wide readership, but for the purposes of this review, five lessons might be drawn.

1. We sinners indulge in self-justification
Abby had managed to convince herself that Planned Parenthood aimed to reduce the number of abortions (p.4). So she signed up, she says, with the best of intentions (p.17). Yet at first she did not tell her parents, so she must have realised that something was wrong. Planned Parenthood had told her that their intention was to make abortions rare (pp.13, 265n.1). In 2006 the president of Planned Parenthood even told the New York Times that ‘No one does more to reduce the need for abortions in this country than Planned Parenthood’ (p.265n.3), and the obsequious New York Times was determined to believe whatever the pro-choice side pedalled. Abby herself was in no condition to show much discernment. The trauma of her divorce from her first husband, Mark, and the resultant failure to gain access to her stepson, was a catalyst to her career in Planned Parenthood counselling (cf. pp.43-44). This is not unusual in counselling – it is a career path paved with desires to overcome personal problems.

All through her eight years at the abortion clinic, Abby clearly was uneasy about what she was doing. When she fell pregnant for the third time, after two abortions, she prayed that if God did not want her to work at Planned Parenthood, she would not get a promotion. However, she received the promotion (pp.79-80) – yet another indication that we must be governed by God’s Word, not His providences.

2. Abortion is horrendous.
Abby gives us an insight into abortion from the inside. At twenty, in 2000, she had her first abortion. At the time, despite her Christian pro-life upbringing, she saw pregnancy as just a problem to be solved (p.23). Her first response to the abortion was not one of sadness or struggle but relief (p.25). A few months later she married the ‘father’ whom she calls Mark. She had a second abortion just as she was about to be divorced from Mark (pp.44-45). She did not agonise over this decision, and says that two-thirds of the women who have abortions identify themselves as Christian (p.46).

Those who want to champion the benefits of RU-486, the abortion pill, would do well to read what Abby writes about her experience of it. She was eight weeks into her pregnancy when she took the RU-486, and for days was in ‘sheer agony’ (p.47). She suffered excruciating cramps, could not get out of bed, ran a fever, and bled heavily, and even when she returned to work two weeks later, felt very weak (p.48). Indeed, she adds that many women who undertook a RU-486 called us back, thinking they were dying because the cramping or bleeding was so intense (p.86). The baby is not the only one who suffers in abortion.

Her description of a surgical abortion does not make for easy reading. She writes that ‘As the cannula pressed in, the baby began struggling to turn and twist away. It seemed clear to me that the fetus could feel the cannula and did not like the feeling.’ (p.5) A woman pregnant at 23 weeks nonchalantly wanted the ‘alien’ aborted (p.96). Abby saw it as a ‘ghastly procedure’ (p.112).

Even the hard issue of rape makes little difference to this sad description. Abby records that she was delighted when a woman who was raped adopted out her child (p.60), but another raped woman opted for abortion, but then told Abby: ‘This is guilt I will carry the rest of my life’ (p.62). Society today must be full of grieving women, all carrying a secret anguish.

3. The apostasy of pro-choice churches
Abby applied to join a church but was knocked back because she worked for an abortion clinic (p.63). She and her husband, Doug (who was far more pro-life than she was) felt they could not return to that church. It might have been more helpful if Abby had said more about this episode. She laments: ‘I was leading an unexamined life, filled with inconsistencies’ (p.64). They left for the ritual of the Episcopalian Church, whose official stance was pro-abortion. Yet the God who spoke through Balaam’s donkey also spoke through Episcopalian ritualism. At one service, Abby heard Mark 9:43 (‘if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off’) at the very time when her hand was aching (pp.128-9). God was closing in, even in a pro-choice setting, such is His sovereignty. In the end, Abby did not leave the Episcopalian Church; it asked her to leave (p.216). Pro-choice churches have the aroma of death all over them.

4. Ultrasounds and prayer are crucial
It is was Oliver Cromwell who said: ‘Trust in the Lord and keep the powder dry.’ Both ultrasounds and prayer are crucial, in different ways, in this battle. After viewing the ultrasound of an abortion in late September 2009, Abby saw that she had been ‘living a lie, spreading a lie, and hurting the very women I so wanted to help’ (p.8). As he undertook his mission of murder, the abortionist lightheartedly said: ‘Beam me up Scotty.’ That was the end for Abby. She saw that abortion was ‘the death of a helpless baby, a baby violently ripped away from the safety of the womb, sucked away to be discarded as biohazard waste’ (p.124). Finally, she cracked and walked out on Planned Parenthood. Ultrasounds confront us with reality and prayer points us to God. So the pro-life cause must prevail.

5. Evil undoes itself.
The Psalmist tells us of the wicked man: ‘He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made’ (Ps.7:15). We see this in the abortion industry. Planned Parenthood looked for any opportunity to draw attention to what might make it seem to be the underdog, but it overreached itself when it took legal action against Abby. It issued a restraining order and claimed the moral high ground that it was seeking to protect patient confidentiality – something that was never under threat. This action gave the pro-life cause publicity, and Abby many opportunities to tell her story. She sums it all up: ‘None of it would have happened if not for the media storm they unleashed with their petition and their press release to publicize it.’ (p.245)

The political and social power that the pro-choice side wields disguises only faintly the weakness of its arguments. Abby Johnson’s story is yet another indication that the God of life will win out.
– Peter Barnes

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