Before October, 2009, no one had ever heard of Abby Johnson. She was a happily married mom who happened to work as the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic. In September of that year, when she was asked to help in the exam room, life as she knew it came to an end. That day, she assisted in an ultrasound-guided abortion and was horrified by what she saw on the screen. Expecting to see non-reactive fetal tissue, as the cannulae came toward it, she instead saw the baby begin to kick “as if trying to move away from the probing invader.” (p. 5)
Witnessing this—and being a part of it—was too much for Johnson and was the end of her career at Planned Parenthood.
When the news broke a few weeks later, it wasn’t because she had left the organization—it was because she had crossed the line and joined the Coalition for Life, the pro-life group that prayed daily behind the fence at Johnson’s clinic.
Since then, Johnson has been at the center of a major court case, having been sued by her former employers, and become a sought-after speaker on the realities of abortion throughout America. In Unplanned, she shares her story of how she moved from advocate to opponent of Planned Parenthood, and in the process was confronted by the reality of God.
Recently my wife and I sat down to chat about her impressions of the book. Here’s our chat in all its YouTube-y glory:
(Feed readers, sorry, you’ll have to click-through to watch—and please forgive the awful screen cap!)
One of the things you might not expect in reading a book like this is just how even-handed Johnson is when describing the realities of life at Planned Parenthood. She tries hard to avoid sensationalism and is very careful not to demonize any of the people working there, as if they wake up in the morning, stretch and say, “Gosh, I can’t wait to abort some babies!” Because the truth is, they don’t. Many, like Johnson herself, became involved because they believed what they were told about the organization’s desire to protect and care for women’s reproductive health. But it’s interesting how even the most noble desires—including Johnson’s, which was to reduce the number of abortions being performed—can be lost or twisted into something else.
The kindness she shows to the individuals working for the organization is not extended to the organization itself. She describes a non-profit driven by profit (see pp. 105-121) and knows how to manipulate the media to consistently portray itself as the victim of “ant-choice” protestors (see pp. 195-206). While the tactics described throughout the book certainly wouldn’t surprise me in the least, there’s at least a small part of me that can’t help but wonder if the truth (particularly related to the profit-hungry attitudes described in pp. 105-121) isn’t somewhere in between.
Aside from the culture of Planned Parenthood, I was fascinated by the relationship between Johnson and her husband, Doug. Doug was adamantly pro-life, yet his wife was pro-choice, obviously there was a great deal of tension in the home; I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how I would handle a divide that great in my home. Yet, somehow he did. He appears to be a very patient and thoughtful man based on her account.
Most intriguing was seeing Johnson and her husband navigate life as Christians in the midst of the abortion debate. Johnson’s parents hated her job, but continually prayed for her. The church she and her husband were a part of, a staunch pro-life Baptist church, never felt like home for her; she felt like she had to hide what she did for a living. After joining a pro-choice Episcopalian church in 2008, they felt like they had a spiritual home, but then it was lost again when Johnson moved to the other side of the fence, as it were. While it’s unclear at the end of the book where exactly the Johnsons landed, I hope they’re in a solid, Bible believing church surrounded by people who are committed to loving each other well.
That’s perhaps the thing that stuck with me the most reading Unplanned; those who are working with Planned Parenthood and profess faith in Christ are in an incredibly difficult and lonely position. And rather than beating them down with words of condemnation, what they need—especially if they want to leave—is people willing to stand alongside them and carry some of the burden. Johnson found that in the Coalition for Life, and now she’s trying to do the same for others. Truly, this is a great gift, and perhaps the best encouragement I can offer when it comes to reading Unplanned.
Title: Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line
Author: Abby Johnson with Cindy Lambert
Publisher: Tyndale/Salt River/Focus on the Family (2010)
A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes by Tyndale House Publishers