Compassion Is the Key, Says Former Planned Parenthood Leader

Joy Allmond | Contributing Writer | Thursday, January 20, 2011

Compassion Is the Key, Says Former Planned Parenthood Leader

EDITOR'S NOTE: Abby Johnson recently released her story in the new book, Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader's Eye-Opening Journey Across the Life (Tyndale House).

Just a few years ago, Abby Johnson guided women to their cars before and after abortions. These days she is guiding them toward life. 

Until September 2009, Johnson worked as the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas. That month she was asked to assist in an ultrasound-guided abortion, holding the ultrasound probe so the doctor could see the fetus. What she saw in the monitor horrified her. The 13-week-old fetus was flailing, trying to move away from the instrument designed to kill him. As Johnson watched this baby fight for life, it was that moment when it occurred to her that this baby, indeed, was a life

That moment, along with the prayers and actions of several people, led to a change of career—and a change of heart—for Johnson. She recorded this journey in her recent book, Unplanned

Eight years prior to assisting in the abortion, Johnson approached a Planned Parenthood booth at a volunteer fair as a Texas A&M University student. The representative at the booth told her that Planned Parenthood's objective is to help women in crisis, but that they primarily wanted to prevent more unwanted pregnancies rather than end them. 

Johnson signed up right away, even though she had a pro-life upbringing. 

"I'd never really thought through the issues and arguments of pro-life versus pro-choice," said Johnson. "I'd made it a point to avoid discussions of abortion." She had been raised in a God-loving, pro-life home, but she said that her behavior did not follow those values. She became blinded by the notion of "helping" women. 

Johnson became a full time Planned Parenthood employee when she finished her degree at Texas A&M and later became a clinic director. From the very first day she volunteered to the day she resigned from Planned Parenthood, God placed people in Johnson's life to pray for her while consistently—yet gently—point her to Christ. 

She names several unlikely people who made an impact on her, and who are still her friends today. These people were Coalition for Life workers who would stand on the other side of the fence that surrounded the clinic and gently explain to women arriving that they had other options besides abortion. 

Very early in Johnson's Planned Parenthood career, the people on the other side of the fence would strike up amiable conversations with her. She even came to view these people as friends. Although the breaking point came in the exam room in 2009, the years of prayers and kindness from her Coalition for Life friends were instrumental in the turning of her heart from the abortion industry and toward Christ. 

"The praying people on the sidewalk were kind and compassionate, offering alternatives to me and the women who entered the clinic," she remembers. "It was clear to me they had the intimacy with Christ that I wanted to obtain. My job kept me from doing that." 

Johnson learned many things about her experience, but she learned the most about God. She learned how powerful He is to change the hearts and minds of those who lived so long apart from His will. Her change of heart shocked many, but she believes those who truly believe in the power of prayer should not be so surprised. 

"So often, we put God in a box. We serve a God that is so much bigger than this. When I left (the clinic), everyone thought it was such a miracle. But we serve a God that's in the business of miracles," she explained. "We should expect people to be leaving the abortion industry all the time. When we pray for people, we should have an attitude of expectancy. This is something to celebrate!" 

While the temptation for many Christians on the pro-life side of the fence is to argue their position, Johnson explains that this hurts the cause rather than helps it. "If you win an argument, you might lose a soul," she said. "It will turn a person away when you're actually trying to turn them toward Christ and truth." 

She believes that the best way to turn those in the abortion industry toward Christ is to pray diligently and to show compassion. As she puts it, no one grows up wanting to have an abortion or work in the abortion industry. It is a series of choices that brought them to where they are—choices anyone is capable of making. 

Another important component she sees as missing is post-abortion ministry within the local bodies of Christ. Statistics from the Guttmacher Institute show 65 percent of the women who have abortions identify as Christian, and about one-third of all women have had an abortion. That means you've likely sat next to a post-abortive woman in your church pew. 

Johnson believes Christian women find their way to clinics because their pastors are dodging the issue. "Pastors aren't talking about it from the pulpit, yet abortion clinics are sneaking pastors' daughters in the back door to have these procedures," she warns. "We're not embracing the fact that these things happen and that there can be a ministries at churches for these women." 

Johnson points out that post-abortion ministry should go beyond the post-abortive women. Fathers of aborted children are also affected, as well as the would-be grandparents. 

"So many pastors have told me that they do not talk about abortion in the pulpit very often because they do not want to risk offending someone, but if the pulpit is not the appropriate place to talk about sanctity of human life, then where is it?" 

Johnson points to her story as living proof that no one is out of God's reach. Not only did Johnson leave the abortion industry—she has worked with Coalition for Life since leaving Planned Parenthood. She even stands outside her old clinic and prays for the women, babies and workers inside. 

Johnson says her prayer is that her story can give a sense of hope to those fighting for life and pointing others to Christ in the process. She wants to see the church spurred to action by her story. 

"If somebody like me can have a change of heart and become an outspoken advocate for life after being entrenched in the abortion industry for so long, there is hope for anyone. My prayer is that people will simply be inspired to be the hands and feet of Christ to those involved in abortion, and that we will see other heart changes—like mine."  

Joy Allmond is a writer for She lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband, two step sons and two dogs. In her very little spare time, she can be found concocting her latest culinary masterpiece, watching college basketball or buried in a book. She is working on her Master's degree in Biblical Studies at Southern Evangelical Seminary.