Just yesterday, I said I was going to read Abby Johnson’s Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Lineand that I looked forward to how it would inspire me.
It has done much more than that. Much more.
In the note from the publisher, Fr. Joseph Fessio, S. J. Editor of Ignatius Press, says “This book will become the pro-life classic of the early twenty-first century.”
He is absolutely correct.
I try not to play things up or make them too big when recommending someone read/watch something I’ve immensely enjoyed. So I won’t share too much about Abby’s story. But I will tell you, urge you, and almost plead with you: Read this. If you are pro-life, or think you are-read Abby Johnson’s story. If you are personally against abortion and want to see abortions decrease but still are pro-choice and honestly care deeply for the rights and health of women-read this.
This is not your average pro-life vs. pro-choice book. I will share three important parts from unplanned here but hope you all read the whole thing on your own.
First, this part is from A Note from Abby Johnson that really tells you the tone and perspective of this book.
“I reveal my story not because I am proud of it. I am not. But my thinking and choices are not unlike those of so many people I have encountered. And until we each set aside our own preferences for how we wish others would think and behave, or how we assume others think and behave, we won’t be able to understand those with whom we differ in order to engage in real dialogue and discover truth.
Oh, how we like to vilify our opponents-from both sides. How easy to assume that those on ‘our’ side are right and wise and good; how those on ‘their’ side are treacherous and foolish and deceptive. I have found right and good and wisdom on both sides. I have found foolishness and treachery and deception on both sides as well. I have experienced how good intentions can be warped into poor choices no matter what the side…We all long for a story that shows that ‘our’ side is right and good, and ‘their’ side is wrong and bad, don’t we? But I testify that there is good and right and wrong on both sides of the fence. And even more shocking-we have far more in common with the ‘other’ side than we might imagine.”
And then, she asks a question of the reader:
“Are you ready to look through the fence and see goodness, compassion, generosity, and self-sacrifice on the other side?”
The second excerpt I want to share is how Abby’s understanding and perspective of the pro-life movement changed once she realized Planned Parenthood was not what she thought it was. Throughout the years she was there, Abby saw the pro-lifers on the other side of the fence go from being ‘stone-throwers’ to people of gentleness and kindness and mutual respect and care for the women going into the clinic, either as clients or workers. It was their relentless love that eventually rescued Abby and set her free. In the days and weeks after Abby left Planned Parenthood she thought a lot and learned a lot about what the pro-life vision and Coalition for Life’s vision was really about.
“The more we talked, the more I came to understand that their vision for providing care and resources for these women was incredibly similar to my own, but that their vision to truly care for a woman went far beyond her immediate circumstances. They cared about each woman as a whole person-an eternal person-in the context of her family, her spiritual needs, her long-range physical and emotional health. They offered solutions that would enhance a woman’s life over the long term.”
And the last important section I have to share her is the climax of Abby’s story. Or maybe it’s the beginning. It is long, probably verging on copyright issues, but I’m going to share it anyway because…well you’ll see.
Abby’s final turning point moment came after she’d been working for Planned Parenthood for eight years. As part of her job, she had scheduled and counseled women for abortions but had never participated directly in the actual abortion (she often used this thinking while she worked there as justification that she was not part of abortions). But on this day, she was asked to help in the abortion because the visiting doctor needed to do an ultrasound-guided abortion and needed Abby’s help to hold the ultrasound probe. (She explained that some abortion doctors use this method since it is ‘safer’ since it lets the doctor see exactly what is going on inside the uterus, therefore there is less chance of perforating the uttering wall, one of the risks of abortion.) Those next ten minutes would “shake the foundation of [her] values and change the course of [her] life.” This is how she described what happened.
“I had occasionally performed diagnostic ultrasounds for clients before. It was one of the services we offered to confirm pregnancies and estimate how far along they were. The familiarity of preparing for an ultrasound soothed my uneasiness at being in this room. I applied the lubricant to the patient’s belly, then maneuvered the ultrasound probe until her uterus was displayed on the screen and adjusted the probe’s position to capture the image of the fetus.
I was expecting to see what I had seen in past ultrasounds. Usually, depending on how far along the pregnancy was and how the fetus was turned, I’d see a leg, or the head, or some partial image of the torso, and would need to maneuver a bit to get the best possible image. But this time, the image was complete. 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 as 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 professional who’d been running a Planned Parenthood clinic for two years, counseling women in crises, scheduling abortions, reviewing the clinic’s monthly budget reports, hiring and training staff. But odd or not, the simple fact is, I had never been interested in promoting abortion. I’d come to Planned Parenthood eight years before, believing that its purpose was primarily to prevent unwanted pregnancies, thereby reducing the number of abortions. That had certainly been my goal. And I believed that Planned Parenthood saved lives-the lives of women who, without the services provided by this organization, might resort to some back-alley butcher. All of this sped through my mind as I carefully held the probe in place.
“Thirteen weeks,” I heard the nurse say after taking measurements to determine the fetus’s age.
“Okay,” the doctor said, looking at me, “just hold the probe in place during the procedure so I can see what I’m doing.”
The cool air of the exam room left me feeling chilled. My eyes still glued to the image of this perfectly formed baby, 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.
My eyes flew to the patient’s face; tears flowed from the corners of her eyes. I could see she was in pain. The nurse dabbed the woman’s face with a tissue.
“Just breathe,” the nurse gently coached her. “Breathe.”
“It’s almost over,” I whispered. I wanted to stay focused on her, but my eyes shot back to the image on the screen.
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. Get a grip, Abby. This is a simple, quick medical procedure. 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 the nurse to turn on the suction-in an abortion the suction isn’t turned on until the doctor feels he has the cannula in exactly the right place.
I had a sudden urge to yell, “Stop!” To shake the woman and say, “Look at what is happening to your baby! Wake up! Hurry! Stop them!”
But even as I thought those words, I looked at my own hand holding the probe. I was one of ‘them’ performing this act. My eyes shot back to the screen again. 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.
…And right there, standing beside the table, my hand on the weeping woman’s belly, this thought came from deep within me:
Never again! Never again.”