Seven years since she resigned as director of an Austin, Texas-area Planned Parenthood clinic and four years since converting to Catholicism, Abby Johnson now speaks across the country to share her experiences in hopes of motivating and inspiring others.
She did just that Sunday evening, Feb. 14 with a visit to St. Peter Parish in West Brandywine, Chester County. Johnson spoke to a group of parishioners and guests, plus the pastor, Father Michael Fitzpatrick, on the topic of family and her remarkable personal history.
The event was part of the “Life, Love and Sexuality” series of the parish’s Respect Life Committee.
Johnson described herself as a married mother of five children, the youngest of whom had a connection to her former work for Planned Parenthood.
Her son Jude was adopted from his birth mother, who was impregnated as a result of a sexual assault. That is often a cause for a woman to abort the baby. But the mother was not willing to abort her baby because of those circumstances, saying, “It’s either a baby all of the time, or a baby none of the time.”
It would be a saying that Johnson repeated several times in her talk at St. Peter’s, in which she traced her journey from a nominally pro-life young woman to abortion advocate to now a firmly pro-life speaker and writer.
She had grown up pro-life in a strict Christian home where abortion was never spoke about openly.
“I remember in high school the term abortion came up and I spoke up saying I was pro-life,” Johnson said. “I didn’t know anything about it. If I had gone up in a debate against a pro-choice opponent, I would have lost because I didn’t know what I was saying when I said I was pro-life. I was just repeating what my parents said. It wasn’t a passion I believed in.”
Later she began an eight-year stint working at a Planned Parenthood clinic at which it was uncommon to use ultrasound during an abortion procedure. But one day she witnessed an abortion guided by ultrasound imagery. Those visuals left her confused and distressed, and it would be her last day on the job.
Having had two abortions herself, she began to confront the extreme personal impact of abortion.
Johnson’s experiences have not only led her to become more passionate about the pro-life cause but also have led her to write her first book, “Unplanned,” published by Focus on the Family Books in 2010. She said the book explains how she found what she truly believes in for the first time, and how she wants to help other women make the right choice for life.
Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Sheila Galligan had read the book before hearing Johnson’s talk, but appreciated “the way she engaged us in recounting her personal drama of life-and-death encounters and spiritual transformation,” she said. “She invited us to remember that many of those who work in abortion facilities are people who sincerely believe in assisting those in need and who struggle with their sense of purpose.”
That sense of purpose may have taken years to emerge for Johnson but it culminated in the adoption of baby Jude. Johnson’s husband, Doug, had been weighing the pros and cons of adopting the boy. Abby Johnson recalled her husband saying, “Every time I would think of a reason not to adopt, I kept looking into our future and seeing this baby, and if we say we are a people who are pro-life and there is a baby that needs a home, then our answer has to be yes.”
Abby Johnson closed her speech with a striking observation born of her own experiences: “The society we live in today, any child that is born is a miracle.”