Abby Johnson: Shift From Culture of Death to Culture of Life Happens Through Conversion
Planned Parenthood director-turned-pro-lifer provides her insights on the March for Life and where the movement is heading.
Abby Johnson is a pro-life and pro-women advocate who travels the globe sharing her story, educating the public on pro-life issues, advocating for the unborn and reaching out to abortion facility staff. She is the author of Unplanned, a book that chronicles her experience as a director with Planned Parenthood and her dramatic exit from the organization — after she witnessed a 13-week-old unborn baby fighting for life in the womb during an abortion. Johnson is the founder of And Then There Were None, a ministry that assists abortion workers in leaving the industry. More than 150 workers have exited the abortion industry thanks to Johnson’s organization. In an interview for Register Radio with Jeanette De Melo, Abby Johnson provides her insights on the March for Life and where the pro-life movement is heading.
Every year people go out to the March for Life, hundreds of thousands of people. Is the March for Life still relevant? How do you answer that question?
I think so. I think it is always good for people to come together once a year — people who are like-minded — in defense of life. I think it’s always good for people to educate themselves on what is new in the pro-life movement. People ask me, “Gosh, Abby, aren’t you tired of coming and preaching to the choir, in a sense?” I guess my answer to that is: Yes, in a sense we are preaching to the choir, but we are living in a day and time where it is time to teach our choir to sing. It is time to teach the pro-life masses to be better pro-life apologists for our movement. That’s one of the things the march really equips us to do; and so I think it is important for us to come together to do that.
The theme this year is “Pro-Life and Pro-Woman Go Hand in Hand.” I imagine this theme must be really dear to your own heart because it reflects your own journey.
Yeah, it does. I think for many, many, years we have sort of seen groups of people directing the narrative on both sides of the movement that maybe don’t accurately reflect women’s voices. I think for many years, even in the pro-life movement, we have seen this male voice dominating the pro-life movement. And if women spoke, women were going to speak from a place of being victimized by the pro-life movement. Today in the pro-life movement we are seeing women in a place of authority. We are seeing women lead the pro-life movement. I think that is important. Then, from the “pro-choice” position, we are seeing the narrative being directed by women saying, “Oh well, women should be pro-choice, and women are pro-choice.” By and large, I think women in the U.S. do defend life in the womb and do not believe in abortion on demand.
So I think it’s important — I think the theme of this march is important — sort of reclaiming that narrative, in both movements, and saying women are leading this movement, the pro-life movement, and taking the place of authority in the pro-life movement. I think that’s very important. I’m not saying men’s voices aren’t important in the pro-life movement — they absolutely are. But it is women who are being targeted by the abortion industry; it’s women who are being targeted. So it is up to us to take back this narrative and reclaim that and say, “We are not going to be victims to the abortion movement.” We are not going to be victims to that narrative. We are going to stand up, and we are going to stand against it.
On your Facebook page earlier this week, you mentioned that you “are taken aback sometimes by the lack of understanding surrounding the need to help those who are trapped in the abortion industry.” What would you like pro-lifers to know about workers in the abortion industry?
It’s human nature. Any time there’s a tragedy, we look for someone to blame; we need to place blame on someone. I think the natural group of people to place blame on in the tragedy of abortion are the people who work in the abortion industry. I think it is important for us to remember that, inside this movement, we have opponents, but we do not have enemies. And people who work inside the abortion clinics — and even people who perform abortions, the physicians — they are not our enemies, even though they may be our opponents. They are misguided people, but they are people whose conversion is very possible. I think it is very easy to forget sometimes that they are sinners just like us, but they are normal people. They are not people with horns and a pitchfork and tails. They are moms and dads. They are friends. They are normal, everyday people. Sometimes they go to church with you; they worship with you. You see them every day on the street, and they are all worthy of redemption and forgiveness. And our ministry, particularly in this Year of Mercy, our message is one of hope and one of conversion. And we believe no one is beyond the power of conversion, because no one is beyond the power of Christ. And just in our ministry — people, in the past three years — we have seen over 200 abortion-clinic workers and abortion doctors leave the industry and seek healing through And Then There Were None. It has just been very exciting for us. We see this as a new era. It’s a new way of thinking. It’s thinking about a group of people who maybe have not been thought of before — and thinking of them in a new way and in a way that really lends itself to compassion and mercy.
You know, Abby, your message is very powerful because you have that personal experience of having been on the other side of the abortion debate. But how can I help someone? I haven’t seen the other side. I haven’t seen that perspective firsthand. Am I really believable when I try to reach out? How do I do that?
We get that question a lot: “How can I reach out to someone?” It’s interesting. One of the things one worker told us, when [she] left, was that [she] “knew God would forgive me; I knew that you (people who had been there before; people like me who had been in the abortion industry), guys would understand. But the one thing I didn’t expect was forgiveness from the pro-life movement.” And that was really profound. That really struck me. Because they are being told very different things on the inside of the abortion clinic: that pro-lifers hate them; that they are a very unforgiving group of people.
So I think one of the things we can really do to sort of combat that is to share from our hearts with the workers that are still in the clinic. So we have put together some resources on our website, http://www.abortionworker.com, under the resources tab. There are some printable resources there. And we encourage people to write a letter to your local abortion clinic, your local Planned Parenthood clinic, even if [it is] just a referral clinic, and you can use some of the verbiage off our website. Just let them know you are there, that you care about them, that there is hope — there’s a way out: that there’s a group of people there that have resources; that can help them get another job and find healing. Sometimes they just need that little push in the right direction. They just need that support. So that’s a very simple, yet tangible, thing you can do that can lead someone through the door of conversion.
With the Planned Parenthood videos, the undercover videos exposing some of the work of Planned Parenthood, have you seen more interest in your organization because of those videos?
Well, it is interesting, because that had a very opposite effect for us. Probably something that was unexpected, I think, on their part, but it was pretty detrimental to the work that we do.
Our work is all about establishing trust with abortion-clinic workers. So there was a lot of fear, then, with workers who we had contacting us. They were worried: “Are you recording us? Are you filming us? Are you going to put our faces out? Are you undercover-recording us?” So there was a lot of fear with that.
Where do you see the most hope?
Well, you know, for us, we believe that the hope in the pro-life movement is not just about making abortion illegal, but it is about making it unthinkable. And we believe that making abortion unthinkable will happen through conversion: through changing one heart and one mind at a time. We believe that the paradigm shift from a culture of death to a culture of life will happen through that conversion. And we believe that abortion-clinic workers are a huge part of that. Changing their hearts is a huge part of that paradigm shift. And we are just really honored to be a part of that work.
Jeanette De Melo is the Register’s editor in chief.
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