Although this book is a few years old, it is appropriate to review it at this time since the movie has been released in the U.S. to large crowds, debate, and interest. The book (and movie) describes Abby Johnson’s journey from pro-choice to pro-life with many conflicts interwoven in her conversion. Johnson had a deep commitment to helping women in distress and while in college was persuaded by Planned Parenthood that she could best use her professional expertise and caring personality to assist vulnerable pregnant women coming to their facilities. She was convinced that PP was that ‘caring’ organization where abortions were ‘rare’ and the organization specialized in mammograms and other female medical procedures. During this time she had two abortions, yet thought that she could still remain faithful to God in pursuing her work at Planned Parenthood. She eventually met and married a pro-life man, Doug Johnson, who, although he did not approve of her choice of work, was convinced that Abby would eventually leave the industry. Meanwhile she became the manager of a large PP “clinic” in College Station, Texas, and one year during her eight years with Planned Parenthood was chosen manager of the year nationally.
The fence that cut off the facility from the pro-life prayer warriors symbolizes the barrier that prohibits debate about abortion. Johnson was convinced that the pro-life people on the other side of the fence did not understand that she was helping clients, but, at the same time, she welcomed their prayers. She definitely called herself a woman of faith, and yet her conscience bothered her, especially since she could see that the number of abortions carried out by PP was rising, and managers were being pressured to increase abortions, where she believed that they should be helping pregnant women with non-abortion services. When she was asked to assist in an ultra-sound-assisted abortion, which she normally would never be asked to do, she was horrified at what she saw: the unborn child twisted and moved trying to evade the abortionist’s probing tools. She saw, to her horror, that it was a live child, not a blob of tissue. All those years she had been duped by Planned Parenthood. She ran out of the procedure room and was sick. Several days later she left PP for good, contacted the pro-life office next door and began her journey back to God.
The real story, to me, is the unfolding of God’s wonder, wisdom, and mercy as He leads Abby Johnson out of the house of horrors and begins to heal her broken spirit, working miracles to bring her back into His grace. One reviewer has remarked that the book was an easy read. I disagree. One must read the book slowly and meditatively to fully understand the Lord’s work. There are sections of such beauty that one begins to cry; in other places, the evil is so overwhelming that one is frozen with fear. And one can understand, as Johnson did, how pregnant women in dire circumstances can be eased into accepting abortion as the only escape from their circumstances. As the late Fr. Benedict Groschel remarked, it is “a moving true story of the shocking truth of abortion and how God’s love and forgiveness transformed Abby’s life.” As she said in a recent interview: “Our past is redeemable.” Johnson founded and continues to manage an organization, And Then There Were None, to help other abortion workers to leave their trade. Abby and Doug were received into the Catholic Church and are expecting their eighth child.
Two important pro-life witnesses at “the fence” were Shawn and Marilisa, who later married. Shawn, Marilisa, and others prayed intensely to God to show them how they could impact abortion. Thus was born, and continues today, 40 Days for Life, a powerful international pro-life witness, with Shawn as president. Marilisa befriended Abby through the fence and they are fast friends to this day. (A note for Catholics: Shawn and Marilisa graduated from Bishop Gorman H.S. in Tyler, Texas, the diocese so wonderfully shepherded by Bishop Joseph Strickland.) Ashley Bratcher, the young woman who plays Abby in the film recently recounted a personal miracle in her own life. She called her mom to tell her that she had been chosen to play Johnson in the movie and was in rehearsal. Her mother became very agitated and started to cry. The actress knew that her mom had had an abortion years earlier, but, in the telephone conversation, her mom revealed to her that she almost had a second abortion. She went for her scheduled ‘procedure.’ While lying there, a pregnant nurse came in to the operating room. Her mom became violently ill and ran out of the clinic. She said to her daughter: “You are the one I was going to abort.”
The book is available for purchase through Ignatius Press. It may also be available for loan at your local public library.
A number of very good YouTube videos are available. One excellent 54 minute video is Glenn Beck interviewing Johnson. Go to YouTube and search their names. It is a thoughtful and frankly moving conversation between them. There is also an excellent 27 minute documentary on the film with actors, the directors, and Johnson, available on the web site The Stream; scroll down to the end of the article, “The Man Behind the Woman Behind Unplanned,” and click on the video.
You will not find much information from the mainstream media; they have pretty much rejected this movie, as have movie theatres. U.S. organizations and church groups, however, have been renting theatres and showing the film to sold-out audiences. And a number of miracle babies have been saved when their pregnant moms decided not to abort after seeing the movie. Campaign Life Coalition is arranging for a showing of the movie during the National March for Life.
Janice Glover is a member of the editorial advisory board ofThe Interim and co-author of the “And then there was this …” section of the paper.