When Abby Johnson quit her Planned Parenthood career, she didn't expect to receive more criticism from people in the pro-life camp than from those who are pro-choice.
After watching an ultrasound abortion that left her deeply agitated, Johnson took an unexpected turn when she left her job as director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas, in October 2009. She immediately joined forces with Coalition for Life, whose members she had watch protest the clinic during the eight years she worked and volunteered there.
But crossing to the other side of the abortion divide was disappointing in some ways Johnson did not expect. The pro-life community does not focus on community, she says, at least not like the pro-choice community. There, everyone is united behind the common goal of keeping abortion legal, she says.
From Johnson's perspective, pro-life activists and policy groups spend too much time bickering over details like whether to protest using graphic signs depicting photos of aborted babies. She says she has been ridiculed for her opposition to engaging in any type of illegal activity or using violence.
The infighting has been her biggest surprise since joining the pro-life movement, she says.
"There are all these different facets of the movement [that] just argue constantly and that has been really disheartening for me," Johnson says. "People ask me if I've been hit hard by pro-choicers, and I say no, I've been hit hard by pro-lifers."
Despite her criticism of some pro-life groups and centers, Johnson offers praise for the 40 Days for Life campaign—an around-the-clock silent protest outside abortion clinics. She watched the first campaign take place at her own clinic in Bryan in 2007 and now holds up the silent protest as the ideal model.
Johnson, 30, chronicles her crossover from pro-choice to pro-life in the book Unplanned, a 152-page memoir published by Tyndale and Focus on the Family (there is also an edition from Catholic publisher Ignatius Press). Although Johnson grew up in a pro-life family, she accepted the invitation of a recruiter she met at college to volunteer for a Planned Parenthood clinic. After graduating, she accepted a full-time job and eventually became director.
At the time, Johnson enjoyed her job because she believed she was helping women—until one day when she was asked to assist with an ultrasound abortion due to a staff shortage. Earlier satisfaction was increasingly tarnished by a discomfort with abortion and her own feeling of alienation from God.
"For the briefest moment it looked as if the baby were being wrung like a dishcloth, twirled and squeezed," Johnson writes. "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."
Shaken to the core, Johnson decided to quit her job. Still, her doubts about working for Planned Parenthood had been present for years. While she loved her job, she couldn't seem to overcome a feeling of alienation from God and fear that he would ask her to quit her job.
A search for the right church
While working for Planned Parenthood, Johnson and her now-husband applied for membership to a pro-life, Baptist church. When they were told she wouldn't be accepted for membership because of her job at Planned Parenthood, they moved on.
"I think too often in the Christian faith we miss out on opportunities to reach out to people that are walking down a very destructive path," she says. "There was no offer for ministry, there was no, 'We'd like to talk to you about what you're doing.'"