The Walls are Talking: Former Abortion Clinic Workers Tell their Stories by Abby Johnson (Ignatius Press, $23, 160 pages)
When it was released in the beginning of 2011, Abby Johnson’s biography Unplanned got the pro-life movement all abuzz. Planned Parenthood’s 2008 Employee of the Year and director of a Texas Planned Parenthood facility Johnson had had a conversion after assisting with an ultrasound-guided abortion on September 26, 2009. She had reached out to the pro-life movement, the same people who would protest outside of her workplace every day, and asked them to help her leave her job. Now, she was spilling all of the dirty secrets of the largest abortion provider in North America. Understandably, pro-lifers were thrilled. The arrival of a new Bernard Nathanson was a game-changer. Since then, Johnson has formed the organization And Then There Were None, whose goal is to help people leave the abortion industry. With the assistance of Kristin Detrow, Johnson has authored The Walls Are Talking, which documents the all too real stories of former abortion facility workers, like Johnson, and the patients they have seen.
The title of the book is a cheeky challenge to the 1996 pro-abortion propaganda film If These Walls Could Talk, which follows the (fictional) lives of three pregnant women who occupy the same house at different points in time. The first woman procures an illegal abortion and dies of hemorrhaging. The second woman chooses to continue her pregnancy but is conveyed as the epitome of a woman deprived of her liberty, having to compromise her educational goals for her large family. The third woman has an abortion despite the protests of her Christian friend and the pro-life protestors outside the abortion facility, only to witness the abortionist being fatally shot by a crazy pro-lifer.
The Walls Are Talking, however, does not deal in stereotypes. It reveals the disturbing reality of what goes on within abortion facilities. The preface of the book begins, “This will not be an enjoyable read. It is a necessary, one, however.” Indeed, this book is gut-wrenching. All of the stories are written in first person for privacy reasons, but that decision only adds to the sense of both immediacy and helplessness—of being there but not being able to do anything, which is likely how many of these women felt.
One of the first stories is from a former abortion mill volunteer who had a medical abortion. She details the night she spent heavily bleeding, vomiting, and sweating out of pure pain, convinced she was going to die. Waking at one point to see her bathwater turned red, she switched to the shower. Then, to her horror, she began to pass “lemon-sized” blood clots, one of which she scooped up with her hands to deposit from the shower into the toilet. The next day, she was told by a nurse that none of that was abnormal. Over the following weeks, feelings of both betrayal and guilt accompanied the continued cramps, bleeding, and nausea. Nonetheless, she resumed her role of volunteer and then joined the staff, all while advocating that patients be told the risks of medical abortions because she was not. Her co-workers and supervisor shrugged off her concerns though. Why? In answer, the narrator quotes Blaise Pascal: “Evil is easy, and has infinite forms.”
Another woman, on her ninth abortion, asks to see the remains of her 13-week-old fetus. The narrator reluctantly agrees, only to see the normally flippant woman break down, and with realization, whisper, “that’s a baby… that was my baby,” and then more loudly, ask, “What did I do? What did I do?”
Like the documentary Bloodmoney, the book offers further proof of the profit motive for these abortion facilities. When something goes wrong with the procedure, patients are giving a paltry amount of hush money or kept in the dark. When patients are unsure about abortion, they are coerced or even flat-out dragged into the room anyway. A blind eye is turned towards abuse and even sex-trafficking, the fates of these hurting women going unknown.
As horrific as the stories are, knowing that those who are sharing them have left the industry brings hope. As Abby Johnson writes, “I am eagerly awaiting the day when we can call all abortionists and clinic workers former and repentant abortion providers.” Perhaps one day these stories will just be stories, tales of a dreadful past near forgotten.
Josie Luetke, is studying philosophy at the University of Waterloo and is an Interim summer student.