BRYAN, Texas — When one of Shawn Carney’s staffers at the Coalition for Life told him that the director of a Planned Parenthood business had asked to speak to him, he figured she was upset with his organization.
The Coalition for Life is approximately 50 yards away from the Bryan Planned Parenthood office and often has people praying outside of it.
The director, Abby Johnson, was upset all right. But Carney, executive director of the pro-life group, was wrong about why.
Johnson was sitting on a couch in the room where his staffers regularly counsel pregnant women when he saw her. Based on her body language, he immediately understood what was wrong, he said.
“She was sobbing,” said Carney. “She was completely covered in tears and remorse, and you could tell she had been crying for a while. It just struck me immediately in my heart, and I knew that Abby had a change of heart.”
Johnson had worked at the abortion business for eight years, starting as a volunteer, and then became its director in 2007. She grew up in a Southern Baptist family with pro-life parents, she said.
She hadn’t really thought about the pro-abortion movement, but once she started volunteering at the business, she said she started to think that abortions were okay and that women should have the “right to choose.”
“I bought into the mission of Planned Parenthood,” she said.
One reason why, she said, was the camaraderie of the organization, which stems from the “victimization” mentality that Planned Parenthood pushes on its employees.
“When you’re working there, they try to make you feel like you’re under attack by these pro-life groups,” said Johnson, 29, “and you’re the victim. ‘Poor people who are pro-choice,’ and you start to bond to that. You really start to take on the role of that victim.”
But her point of view started to change in August 2009, when Johnson said her supervisor told her that abortions needed to be her priority because the organization as a whole was being hit hard by the sluggish economy and abortions brought in money.
Johnson said she told her supervisor that Planned Parenthood preached about prevention and that the goal should be to decrease abortions, not increase them.
According to Johnson, her supervisor told her that she needed to readjust her priorities.
“Right then, I thought, ‘This is not what I believe in,’” she said. “‘I don’t feel comfortable with this.’ And that was I think when my heart started to soften a little bit and change.”
What really pushed her over the edge was the day she witnessed an abortion. Even though she was not a registered nurse or a surgical technician, the doctor performing the abortion called her in Sept. 26 to have her hold an ultrasound probe on the woman’s abdomen during an abortion, she said. What she witnessed in viewing the ultrasound was a 13-week-old baby being sucked through a straw-like device as part of the abortion, she said.
Although she had seen hundreds of ultrasounds at the business before, she had never witnessed an actual abortion on an ultrasound, she said.
“I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is really happening,’ and I wanted it stopped,” she said. “And then I saw the abortion procedure take place, and I just thought to myself right then, ‘I will never do this again. I will never participate in this procedure again.’”
Ultrasound is known to have helped persuade pregnant women contemplating abortion to keep their babies. It’s a powerful weapon in the pro-life movement because it reveals the truth, said Thomas Glessner, president of National Institute of Family and Life Advocates. “When ultrasound is used, it tears down denial because you can’t deny what you’re seeing,” Glessner said. “It’s so obvious. All the denial ends because you see it and you go, ‘That’s not a blob of tissue; that’s not pregnancy matter. That’s a little human being with a beating heart.’”
Once her denial was gone, Johnson said she and her husband agreed that she should quit, and she planned to do so before the next set of abortions were scheduled to take place in two weeks, she said. But first she needed a job. That came in time.
Planned Parenthood obtained a restraining order against her and the Coalition for Life, worried that Johnson and the pro-life group she consulted with may disclose confidential information about their operation. A judge denied the organization’s request Nov. 10.
Johnson said she feels she has a calling to help others who have gotten out of the abortion industry.
“My heart felt very heavy and very burdened with sin when I was working there,” Johnson said. “And now I feel very uplifted, and I feel great.”
Carlos Briceño writes from Naperville, Illinois.