COLLEGE STATION, Texas — If the pro-life movement wants to shut down Planned Parenthood, it has to compete utilizing the very thing Planned Parenthood fears the most: modern pro-life women’s centers.
So says Abby Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood-director-turned-pro-life-advocate, who has a vision for how the pro-life movement can take down the largest abortion and family-planning provider in America: by offering women more services, both life-affirming and better quality.
In this interview with the Register, Johnson draws on her insider knowledge of Planned Parenthood and says the pro-life movement has an opportunity to exploit the Achilles’ heel of Planned Parenthood’s business model.
By modernizing crisis-pregnancy centers into pro-life medical centers that serve the health-care needs of low-income women even before they face a crisis pregnancy, she says pro-lifers can establish strong relationships so that women never think of walking into a Planned Parenthood facility.
Planned Parenthood’s annual financial report for 2012 shows that the vast majority of its clients seek out other services before they opt for its abortion business. Planned Parenthood’s affiliates collected more than $1 billion in revenue in 2012, but its leading services were 4.5 million STD/STI tests and treatments (41% of services), followed next by contraception (34% or 3.7 million services, 1.6 million of these for emergency contraception). It logged in 1.2 million cancer screenings and 1.2 million pregnancy tests.
Abortion is listed as only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s reported services, but it is the most profitable: The 327,166 unborn children aborted are estimated to account for nearly $150 million in revenue.
Since leaving Planned Parenthood, Johnson has been helping people out of the abortion industry with her ministry And Then There Were None, and she is now the president of the newly formed board of directors for the Brazos Valley Guiding Star Center, which will open this year to offer comprehensive pro-life women’s services.
In keeping with Pope Francis’ comments regarding abortion in Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), relating to how the Church needs to do much more to “adequately accompany women in very difficult situations,” Johnson believes that putting pregnancy centers on the path to become modern medical centers that can drive Planned Parenthood out of business is exactly how the Church and the pro-life movement can respond to the Holy Father’s call.
Abby, what would a first-class crisis-pregnancy center ideally look like if it’s going to compete with Planned Parenthood, which, for many women, is the biggest game in town?
It would look like a professional medical facility. You have nursing staff there, a nurse practitioner or a mid-level clinician that would be able to see women for annual exams, breast health, pap smears, STD testing — possibly some more advanced treatment like endometrial biopsy or things like that. A center that would be able to test and treat high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes; it would be able to comprehensively treat a woman.
Why do you think a center having these services is so important?
It’s something that Planned Parenthood can’t even really do, and it is what you have to do if you want to be competitive. You have to provide services that people can’t get at Planned Parenthood, and the services they can get you have to provide with better quality.
So, ideally, that’s what we have to start doing. And it is happening. There are some centers that are taking this challenge: They’re doing it, they’re extremely successful, and they’re really putting the heat on Planned Parenthood, which is what we have to do.
What are some good examples that you can point to?
Stanton Healthcare in Idaho is doing a phenomenal job. Brandy Swindel is the director there, and they are huge. They are on the cutting edge of turning these centers into comprehensive health centers for women. Guiding Star, which is the group that I’ve partnered with to open up a center in Bryan-College Station — they also have the same model. There’s one in Minneapolis, and they’re providing actually more in the form of STD testing and things like that than Planned Parenthood does. And that takes away Planned Parenthood’s business.
How could a modern crisis-pregnancy center as you describe it hurt Planned Parenthood’s business?
People are under a misconception that if you go to Planned Parenthood and you’re low income, that it’s always free. That’s not true. It’s not always free. We charged [at Planned Parenthood], on average, for a low-income woman about $50 for an annual exam. And while that’s very inexpensive for everything that she had done, that’s not really inexpensive for someone who is living paycheck to paycheck and with multiple children.
So at these [pro-life women’s medical] centers, you can get health care completely free, and I think that’s a draw for women as well: that there’s no strings attached to the services that we provide. I think, though, that it’s false when I see or hear people say, “Oh, crisis-pregnancy centers are competing with Planned Parenthood.” Well they’re not really, unless you’re providing more services [than Planned Parenthood].
So what is the biggest difficulty that we have in getting to this model you talked about?
Money. I think it’s a funding issue for a lot of centers. And I think it is fear: “Are we going to expand these services and then fail because we don’t have the clients, we don’t have the funding?” It’s expensive to run these types of centers, but I think sometimes centers are scared to become Medicaid providers. I think they’re scared of the unknown. They don’t know how to do this: They don’t know how to get into insurance networks; they don’t know how to become a Medicaid provider; they don’t know how this is going to work with their building. Are they going to take extra staff and things like that?
The good thing is that Heartbeat International and Care Net have models to help these centers if they truly want to become medical and they want to start providing these medical services. They can help with that. I always encourage centers, “If this is something that’s on your heart, and you feel like this is where your center needs to grow, then there’s help out there for you. You don’t have to do it all on your own.” But it is taking a leap of faith, and I think, sometimes, that is very scary.
So do you think that these modern pro-life centers could be the No. 1 threat to Planned Parenthood?
Yes, absolutely. I think they are the No. 1 threat to Planned Parenthood. I think that because the people leaving the industry are exposing what’s going on. When you have people out there who are truthtellers about this organization [Planned Parenthood], and they are telling that publicly — and couple that with them telling [women] why they should not be going to Planned Parenthood, and "Here’s a better option" — I think that’s key to closing down these clinics.
From your experience, do you think that most of those Planned Parenthood workers are motivated more by helping other women? Or are they true believers in abortion?
Management: yes. The people in management are doing it because they are believers in abortion; they are believers in the "right-to-choose movement." People who work at the lower level: They either just want a job (because they have kids to support, so they’re willing to suck it up and do the work that they hate) or they get into it because they think that they’re going to be helping people. And that’s what they’re told.
They’re also told [they won't have to be involved in abortions, but then end up doing just that] — I mean, we have had a lot of workers (probably at least 50% of the workers who have come through our ministry) who have told us, “When I started, I told them I did not want to be directly involved in abortion. They told me I wouldn’t have to be. They told me I was just going to be answering phones or taking money or doing paperwork.” And slowly but surely, once you’re in, you’re moved to the back, where you’re assisting the doctor in the abortion procedure. They’re sold a bill of goods, too, just like the women coming in.
In your opinion, would you say these modern pro-life women’s centers should be the No. 1 pro-life funding priority?
Yes. And it needs to be the No. 1 priority for every pregnancy center board of directors across the country. Even if you can’t go big immediately and start providing annual exams, you should at least start providing STD testing and treatment. That’s an easy add-on to services, and that should be the No. 1 priority.
It is more important than going mobile; it is more important than anything else they are looking into. Being able to be competitive with Planned Parenthood (down the street or next door to them or whatever) is going to be more important than any initiative that’s on their list right now.
That’s my opinion, but I just think that if we are really serious about this then we do need to put our money where our mouth is, and we need to start providing those same services. The problem is that women walk into a Planned Parenthood clinic. If we can get them to never walk into a Planned Parenthood clinic, then we’ve won half the battle.
Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff writer.