Unplanned / Abby Johnson
Earlier this year, I read Abby Johnson's, Unplanned, as part of my research for Abort73's "Crisis of Conscience" page. The book chronicles Abby's dramatic departure from Planned Parenthood after eight years in their employ–the last three as the director of one of their Texas abortion clinics. Combining her testimony with those of Bernard Nathanson, Norma McCorvey, and Carol Everett, Abort73's "Crisis of Conscience" offers an inside-look at the abortion industry and examines the factors that led these prominent abortion-practitioners to reverse their course. Along the way, I authored some accompanying blog posts to give more individual attention to each story–except I forgot to do one for Abby. I was reminded of that last week when I inserted a quote from her book into Abort73's "Birth Control and Abortion" page.
Better late than never.
Looking back at my notes from the read, one of the things that is unique to Abby's situation is that she wasn't just an abortion-insider. She was a Planned Parenthood-insider. None of the other high-profile exits involved someone working for America's largest abortion provider. To put things in perspective, consider that while America's overall abortion rate has fallen by about 8% over the last decade, Planned Parenthood abortions have increased by 69% over that same span. Their year by year abortion numbers are below:
While publicly claiming that their desire is to make abortion increasingly rare, Planned Parenthood has almost doubled their abortion output. All the while, their supporters are quick to argue that abortion is just a small part of what Planned Parenthood does, even going so far as to say that there would be more abortions without Planned Parenthood. This is demonstrably false, but even among abortion opponents, some think it's unfair to single Planned Parenthood out. A recent Abort73 reader post said:
I appreciate most of what I've read on this site, but your lambasting of Planned Parenthood isn't called for because it's very inaccurate. Yes, they perform abortions, but abortions only account for 3% of the services they provide. They also provide things like cancer screening and birth control (35% of their services). So obviously they DO care about things other than abortion. You're hurting your credibility to suggest otherwise.
The 3% claim is a talking point manufactured by Planned Parenthood itself and is easily refuted with their own, published numbers. But the access Abby provides gives us insights not normally available to the public. I should note at the beginning that Abby never saw abortion as anything less than a necessary evil and her entire Planned Parenthood career was carried out under the belief that she was helping prevent abortions. She describes her initial contact with a Planned Parenthood recruit this way, which happened at a college career day:
“Our goal at Planned Parenthood is to make abortion rare. Women need to know their options so they can avoid unwanted pregnancy, don’t you think?” She was nodding as if she knew we agreed on this. I felt my eyebrows lift in surprise. I repeated her words, “Your goal is to make abortions rare? How do you mean?” She explained that Planned Parenthood was the leader in providing community education about birth control. Just imagine, she said, how many abortions could be avoided with only simple information. Because Planned Parenthood made birth control available to women, thousands and thousands of abortions weren’t required. But when women really did need an abortion, she said, the organization’s clinics were vital to their safety. (12-13)
With that backdrop in mind, this is what Abby realized about Planned Parenthood's priorities, eight years down the road:
We were one of the few clinics in our affiliate that performed abortions. And those abortions earned a lot of money. The clinics that didn’t perform abortions had little means of providing revenue. Things got worse for our affiliate as the year progressed. We were moving further and further into the red, and by mid-spring of 2009 we were forced to lay people off... The month after that second affiliate meeting, I was braced for more bad news, but nothing compared to what I received… Planned Parenthood, we learned, was planning to open a massive seven-story, 78,000-square-foot clinic in Houston, and supposedly an entire floor was being devoted to medical and abortion services. I understood that it could be the largest abortion clinic in the nation, and that plans were in place to seek an ambulatory surgical license, which would qualify the facility to perform late-term abortions, possibly up to twenty-four weeks. My stomach knotted at the news. I’d always believed that late-term abortions beyond the age of viability (twenty-one to twenty-four weeks) were wrong. I’d always insisted I would never work for an organization that performed late-term abortions. I can’t do it. I won’t do it. I’ve always said I’d draw the line there. But rumors were flying, as any Google search will show you. They’d start the clinic going to sixteen weeks as their current license permitted. But I got conflicting reports, internally, depending on who I spoke to, about the actual plans for late-term abortions. I heard they’d never go beyond sixteen weeks, I heard nineteen weeks, and I heard twenty-four weeks. This was my affiliate. Why would they go that high? This wasn’t about access to care. I knew that. The percentage of late-term abortions is fairly low, and there was already a Houston abortion clinic (not part of Planned Parenthood) that performed that ghastly procedure. Why was our leadership supposedly planning to get into the business? Wasn’t our stated goal to decrease the number of abortions? Hadn’t that talking point been drummed into me from the day I was recruited... Didn’t I teach this to my own staff? There was nothing preventative about aborting viable babies. What greater good would be served? I didn’t like any of the answers that came to me. I could only conjecture, of course, but in light of the budget discussions, I couldn’t help but do the math. The later the abortion, the higher the cost. A late-term abortion, I knew, could cost between $3,000 and $4,000. There was big money to be made. Could this be driving Planned Parenthood? (111-112)
“Abby,” I was told pointedly, “nonprofit is a tax status, not a business status.” I was ordered to get my priorities straight—which meant I had to get my revenue up… I sat there stunned… Since when has generating revenue been our goal? I couldn’t believe what I was hearing… The assigned budget always includes a line for client goals under abortion services and a line for client goals under family planning. When I looked at the numbers, I did a double take. I noticed that the client goals related to family planning hadn’t changed much, but the client goals under abortion services had increased significantly. My mind started racing. Something’s got to be wrong here. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Our goal at Planned Parenthood is to decrease the number of abortions by decreasing the number of unwanted pregnancies. That means family planning services—birth control. That is our stated goal. So why am I being asked, according to this budget, to increase my abortion revenue and thus my abortion client count? And so I asked the question out loud. I came away from that meeting with the clear and distinct understanding that I was to get my priorities straight, that abortion was where my priorities needed to be because that was where the revenue was. This meant that my job as the clinic director was to find a way to increase the number of abortions at my clinic. (114-115)
I should point out here that Abby makes a significant distinction between corporate Planned Parenthood and the office staff who actually work for them on the ground. As hard as it may be to grasp from the outside, she writes that many of her "pro-choice coworkers [were] driven by compassion and tenderness, by motives of truly helping women and making the world a better place." She says there is "good and right and wrong on both sides of the [abortion debate]." Is she saying there can be anything "good and right" about advocating for abortion? I don't think so, but her experience reveals a contingent of Planned Parenthood employees who find abortion abhorrent and legitimately believe they are working to prevent them. Interestingly, it wasn't the financial revelations alone that were responsible for Abby's departure. The primary motivation was something far more visceral. After eight years of shutting out the actual mechanics of abortion, she witnessed one for the first time. After being unexpectedly asked to assist with an ultrasound-guided abortion, she writes:
As I took the ultrasound probe in hand and adjusted the settings on the machine, I argued with myself, I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to take part in an abortion. No, wrong attitude—I needed to psych myself up for this task… Maybe this will help me when I counsel women… I could not have imagined how the next ten minutes would shake the foundation of my values and change the course of my life… I applied the lubricant to the patient’s belly, then maneuvered the ultrasound probe until her uterus was displayed on the screen… I could see the entire, perfect profile of a baby. Just like Grace at twelve weeks, I thought, surprised, remembering my very first peek at my daughter, three years before, snuggled securely inside my womb. The image now before me looked the same, only clearer, sharper. The detail startled me. I could clearly see the profile of the head, both arms, legs, and even tiny fingers and toes. Perfect. And just that quickly, the flutter of the warm memory of Grace was replaced with a surge of anxiety. What am I about to see? My stomach tightened. I don’t want to watch what is about to happen. I suppose that sounds odd coming from a professional who’d been running a Planned Parenthood clinic for two years, counseling women in crisis, scheduling abortions, reviewing the clinic’s monthly budget reports, hiring and training staff... “Okay,” the doctor said, looking at me, “just hold the probe in place during the procedure so I can see what I’m doing…” I watched as a new image entered the video screen. The cannula—a straw-shaped instrument attached to the end of the suction tube—had been inserted into the uterus and was nearing the baby’s side. It looked like an invader on the screen, out of place. Wrong. It just looked wrong. My heart sped up. Time slowed. I didn’t want to look, but I didn’t want to stop looking either. I couldn’t not watch. 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…. At first, the baby didn’t seem aware of the cannula. It gently probed the baby’s side, and for a quick second I felt relief. Of course, I thought. The fetus doesn’t feel pain. I had reassured countless women of this as I’d been taught by Planned Parenthood. The fetal tissue feels nothing as it is removed… My head was working hard to control my responses, but I couldn’t shake an inner disquiet that was quickly mounting to horror as I watched the screen. The next movement was the sudden jerk of a tiny foot as the baby started kicking, as if trying to move away from the probing invader. 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. And then the doctor’s voice broke through, startling me. “Beam me up, Scotty,” he said lightheartedly to the nurse. He was telling her to turn on the suction… The cannula was already being rotated by the doctor, and now I could see the tiny body violently twisting with it. For the briefest moment it looked as if the baby were being wrung like a dishcloth, twirled and squeezed. And then the little body crumpled and began disappearing into the cannula before my eyes. The last thing I saw was the tiny, perfectly formed backbone sucked into the tube, and then everything was gone. And the uterus was empty. Totally empty. I was frozen in disbelief. Without realizing it, I let go of the probe. It slipped off the patient’s tummy and slid onto her leg. I could feel my heart pounding—pounding so hard my neck throbbed. I tried to get a deep breath but couldn’t seem to breathe in or out…What was in this woman’s womb just a moment ago was alive. It wasn’t just tissue, just cells. That was a human baby—fighting for life! A battle that was lost in the blink of an eye. What I have told people for years, what I’ve believed and taught and defended, is a lie. (3-7)
When it's not clear to you what abortion is and does, Planned Parenthood's revenue agenda might not seem that big a deal. What's so bad about abortion? It's legal. Nobody is forcing these women to abort. Why shouldn't Planned Parenthood make as much money as they can? But when you see abortion up close, it goes from being a necessary evil to being an indefensible evil. Had Abby learned that lesson sooner, she almost certainly wouldn't haven fallen prey to Planned Parenthood's recruiting spiel, nor would she be living with the grief of two abortions. Growing up, Abby and her family "had always attended church together," and she was "active in church youth group." (20) She considered yourself "pro-life," and yet "[she'd] never carefully thought through the issues and arguments… In fact, [she'd] made it a point to avoid discussions of abortion." (13) In the end, she became a "pro-choice Christian" and knew lots of other people in the same boat. (58) Let that be a warning to anyone who thinks church kids automatically know that abortion is wrong and a wake up call for any youth pastors who aren't helping their students think critically and accurately about abortion.
Michael Spielman is the founder and director of Abort73.com. His book, Love the Least (A Lot), is available as a free download. Abort73 is part of Loxafamosity Ministries, a 501c3, Christian education corporation. If you have been helped by the information available at Abort73.com, please consider making a donation.