Interview With Former Planned Parenthood Leader Abby Johnson
By Genevieve Pollock
BRYAN, Texas, 14 FEB. 2011 (ZENIT)
Abby Johnson's compassion for women in crisis drove her to work in Planned Parenthood, but its promotion of abortion and birth control soon raised questions about the women's true needs.
The former Planned Parenthood clinic director, who walked out on her job after being asked to assist in an abortion, spoke to ZENIT about the real needs of women in crisis and how being pro-life means truly educating people about their freedom and these choices that will determine their lives.
Johnson published the book "Unplanned" last month, in which she exposed the agenda of Planned Parenthood: to make money by pushing women to have abortions.
Now she is working with the pro-life organization, 40 Days For Life, which will begin another campaign on March 9 to prayerfully and peacefully reach out to women in need.
In this interview with ZENIT, Johnson reveals why the approach of 40 Days For Life has been uniquely successful, both in her own conversion and in the lives of others, and how the witness of pro-life workers attracted her to the Catholic Church.
ZENIT: The story of your change from the pro-choice to the pro-life "side of the fence" is both engaging and compelling. Going beyond those events, could you tell us now about your decision to become Catholic along with your husband this Easter?
Johnson: My husband Doug and I had attended many churches before I left Planned Parenthood. We always preferred a more liturgical service over a contemporary one.
After I left Planned Parenthood, I was no longer welcome in my Episcopal Church and was pretty hurt by their decision for us to leave the church simply because I decided to no longer work for Planned Parenthood.
The day I left Planned Parenthood, I was embraced by the loving arms of the people who had prayed for me for years, most of whom are Catholic.
With the help of Planned Parenthood, I soon began to speak at Catholic churches and at events with many Catholic attendees.
Not only that, but I was quickly gaining a circle of friends who were Catholic, and they would invite me to their churches.
After attending some various Catholic parishes, I fell in love with the liturgy and found myself wanting to learn more and more each day.
I found myself in awe of the devotion that my Catholic friends had that I didn't, and I knew I wanted that same devotion myself. Doug and I decided we want to be a part of what the Catholic Church stands for and we have found such purpose through the Church.
ZENIT: In your book, one thing that stands out is your compassion and real desire to help women in crisis, which once motivated you to work in the Planned Parenthood clinic. It seems that you found, however, that your attitude of Gospel charity had more resonance with the truth when you joined the pro-life cause. How has your understanding changed of what women in crisis really need?
Johnson: Women in crisis do not need a "quick fix."
This quick fix usually comes with a lifetime of emotional pain — walking into a clinic as a mother and walking out no longer a mother will cause women and their families grief they never imagined.
I didn't realize this reality until I witnessed an ultrasound guided abortion myself. Seeing a perfectly formed body fleeing from the abortion instruments and then be torn apart "woke me up" in a sense.
I realized I wasn't helping women in crisis; I was piling another crisis on top of the crisis they were already facing!
These women need to be respected and given the time to walk them through each "choice" that is available along with its pros and cons.
They need compassion, a shoulder to cry on, a person to listen to them and most importantly, someone to stand up for them because they are better than abortion.
Abortion clinics are going to continue to pile crisis upon crisis for these women; we, as pro-lifers, will continue to offer them hope and a brighter future despite their crisis.
ZENIT: You have done a lot to expose the side of Planned Parenthood that is pushing abortions for economic reasons. What about its policies regarding the distribution of birth control? Has your opinion changed about the effectiveness of this means for "preventing unwanted pregnancies?"
Johnson: While I was working at Planned Parenthood, I discovered that almost 60% of unplanned pregnancies happen with women who are using a form of birth control, one reason being that Planned Parenthood does not take the time to educate the women on their choice of birth control but rather distributes it like candy.
The fact that they don't take the time to explain the risks, complications and necessary components of the birth control that maintains its effectiveness causes many women to misuse their form of birth control, which results in an unplanned pregnancy.
Planned Parenthood, then, uses abortion as their back-up form of birth control.
I always stood up for birth control, because even while I was working at Planned Parenthood my personal goal was to reduce the number of abortions by providing affordable or free birth control to sexually active couples who were not ready to start a family.
Although I do not personally desire to use birth control due to medical risks and spiritual conviction; I understand those who do and know that we as a society need to inform women about better options than hormonal birth control.
My recommendation to those looking to use a form of birth control is Natural Family Planning, which is a natural way to avoid unwanted/unexpected pregnancies without medication and medical procedures.
It is also a way to connect with your spouse on a very personal level where you both have an equal part in the fertility process.
ZENIT: In your story, it was the unique approach of the 40 Days for Life campaign that touched your heart and enabled your conversion. What is it about this campaign that is so effective in promoting the pro-life cause?
Johnson: 40 Days For Life is a campaign that holds 40 days of around-the-clock peaceful and prayerful vigils outside of abortion clinics.
Their focus is to be different than those who "picketed" abortion clinics years ago. Their focus is not to condemn or hate but to have a loving, peaceful and prayerful approach.
When pro-choicers and even abortion clinic workers see the efforts of the 40 Days For Life participants — that they are sincere, compassionate, and really want to help these women make the best decision — it awakens something in our hearts.
The 40 days of constant vigil is not just dedication but it is a cause going further than the efforts of the abortion industry to help these women.
They not only care about the medical well-being of the women who may or may not be pregnant, but they care about the emotional and spiritual well-being of the women too.
40 Days For Life is not just "treating a patient;" they are caring about a soul. That is what makes 40 Days For Life so effective and makes it stand apart from the efforts of other organizations, including Planned Parenthood.
ZENIT: What would you most want pro-life people to learn from your story, regarding how to dialogue with pro-choice friends, family or colleagues?
Johnson: The only way to communicate with pro-choice friends, family or colleagues is in a peaceful, prayerful and loving way. If you have read my book, the people who had a condemning presence outside of Planned Parenthood only drove me and my colleagues there to "protect" these women even more.
It was always the presence and the words from the peaceful, prayerful and loving people on the opposite side of the fence and abortion issue as me that made me think and even made me really enjoy them.
I knew they wanted the same thing that I did; they desperately wanted to help these women (even though I thought they were going about helping them in the wrong way). Despite my pro-choice mindset, these people stood out to me and their actions and words stuck with me, all the way to the day I left Planned Parenthood.
The most influential thing a pro-lifer can do is love, pray and have a peaceful presence at the clinics; one of the major reasons that I left Planned Parenthood and am actively standing up for life today is because of these attributes of certain pro-lifers that never gave up on me.
My words to every pro-lifer would be "Don't give up!" and present yourself in such a way that the Planned Parenthood workers/pro-choice advocates will be drawn to you and won't forget you, because that's what will change hearts.