Personal Testimony Makes ‘Unplanned’ Story Compelling
Published: March 15, 2012
unPLANNED: the Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey Across the Life Line; by Abby Johnson with Cindy Lambert. SaltRiver (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2011). 288 pp., $22.99 (hardcover), $14.99 (softcover).
The first line to the introduction of “unPLANNED” reads, “Warning: Reading this book could lead to a life-altering experience!”
Who would expect a Planned Parenthood leader to have such a deep and unplanned conversion experience that she would immediately become pro-life? No one, of course. And yet, as this book relates with gut-wrenching clarity, that is exactly what happened to Abby Johnson.
Johnson had worked her way up through the ranks of Planned Parenthood, beginning as a volunteer and eventually becoming the director of the Bryan, Texas, clinic. And yet, despite her eight years’ experience with the company, Johnson was not clear on what actually took place within the walls where she worked.
Taught early in her volunteer work that abortions don’t harm the mother or hurt the “fetal tissue,” and that Planned Parenthood was doing women a huge service in making abortions readily available, Johnson accepted the idea and felt good about her career. Until the day she saw an ultrasound-led abortion.
The Bryan clinic didn’t normally do ultrasound-led abortions, but the visiting abortionist working there on this particular day routinely did his abortions with ultrasounds, noting that there was “less chance of perforating the uterus, one of the risks of abortion.” Johnson respected him for that. “The more that could be done to keep women safe and healthy, the better, as far as I was concerned.”
To her surprise, Johnson was asked to assist with an abortion. She had never assisted with an ultrasound-led abortion and felt a bit of reluctance to do so. She much preferred to run her clinic by taking care of paperwork and reassuring patients before and after their procedures. Doing so allowed her to ignore the reality of what took place behind the closed doors of the abortion room. But she knew she was needed and so entered the room and “psyched herself up to the task.”
What happened next caused a major transformation in her heart. “I could not have imagined how the next 10 minutes would shake the very foundation of my values and change the course of my life,” she says.
While watching the ultrasound of a 13-week-old baby in utero, Johnson recalled the words she had spoken many times to women preparing for abortion, “The fetal tissue feels nothing as it is removed. … This is a simple, quick medical procedure.”
And yet as Johnson watched the baby kicking, twisting and turning away from the abortion instrument, she realized with horror that it wasn’t true. The doctor’s lighthearted remark during the procedure, “Beam me up, Scotty,” shook her to the core—she would often recall these words in the aftermath. Watching the abortion take place on the screen, she wanted to scream, “Stop!” She wanted to shake the woman and tell her what was happening. But as she looked at her hand guiding the ultrasound probe, she suddenly recognized that she was one of “them,” that she was assisting in this horrific act.
Within a week, Johnson was knocking on the doors of the pro-life organization, Coalition for Life, which coincidentally was in the thick of one of their “40 Days for Life” campaigns. The volunteers who opened the door knew who she was. They often held prayer sessions outside of her clinic. Yet they let her in and listened in stunned silence as she told her story through tears. Their calm assurances and joy over her change of heart led her toward a sense of newfound freedom. From that day forward, Abby Johnson began to work for life rather than against it.
There is more to her story, and Johnson’s description of her miraculous conversion and subsequent inner healing has touched many lives. Those who plan to read “unPLANNED” should recall the warning mentioned at the beginning of this review: doing so “could lead to a life-altering experience!”
Kathryn Byrne, a member of St. Oliver Plunkett Church, Snellville, and a life coach, has a master’s degree in pastoral ministry.