Book Review: Unplanned by Abby Johnson

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

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  • http://cleverphrasehere.blogspot.com Amber

    Thanks for the review! I’ve always been pro-life but this issue just became more personal to me. I went to the doctor for an ultrasound, and we saw the little baby with arms and legs turn over and act just like a real little baby (which he/she is). Promptly after the ultrasound, the doctor asked if we wanted to take the down syndrome and cystic fibrosis test – to find out if we wanted to abort. I was floored. That you could just see what is clearly a human being then immediately be asked if you’ll consider aborting. I, who am not usually overly sentimental or weepy, got very upset. So I could relate to this story of how seeing the ultrasound affected her!

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      We’ve been asked if we wanted to take those tests in the past, but we’ve always said no. The whole idea of aborting especially for reasons of down syndrome or cystic fibrosis or any other kind of abnormality just reeks of eugenics.

      I hope you didn’t lose it too bad on the doctor. Ack.

      • http://cleverphrasehere.blogspot.com Amber

        I held it together. Mike couldn’t tell I was even bothered, but inside I wanted to yell, “You stay the heck away from me!”

      • http://cleverphrasehere.blogspot.com Amber

        I held it together. Mike couldn’t tell I was even bothered, but inside I wanted to yell, “You stay the heck away from me!”

        • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

          Glad you held it together; not sure I would have.

  • Almostbilingual

    i have read several non-fiction with fiction included books on abortions. They have been incredibly disturbing and that was just from the author’s research. While I think this would be an absolutely fascinating book (especially on her reason for being in the planned parenthood ring and her beliefs concerning that) i’m not sure i could stomach it. i have come away from the other books feeling ill. I am thankful that you were able to read this book and present a well thought out vision of what you read in it.

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Thanks Janel :)

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  • Sharon

    Good review. I read Abby’s book also and was quite impressed by the way she showed such compassion and caring for the people she worked with at PP. I do feel like her characterization of the organization is accurate. I have worked in the pro-life movement for 20 years….10 years as the executive director of a pregnancy resource center and the rest as a volunteer for that same center. I have followed PP pretty closely and all I have read and learned about them lead me to believe what Abby says. I met Abby last year when she spoke for our center’s banquet. I was amazed at how her husband and her parents supported her during her time at PP even though they were in so much opposition to what PP did. I asked her about that very thing and her response was very much as she reported in her book. As to the statement you made about hoping she was in a solid Bible believing church….she is now in a Catholic church. I think she must have been drawn there because some of the people at the Coalition for Life who were so helpful and kind to her are Catholic.

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Thanks, Sharon. It’s good to know where she ended up and also that based on your experiences, her characterization of Planned Parenthood is accurate.