Last year, Abby Johnson made headlines when she quit her job as the director of a Texas Planned Parenthood clinic to become an anti-choice activist. Now she's written a book about the experience, titled Unplanned. Let's take a look.
- Johnson is honest about her initial ambivalence about volunteering for Planned Parenthood, and her reasons for joining up:
This is where I am planting my feet! I decided there on the spot. I'm getting involved in this. I can help prevent pregnancies, make abortion rare, and make a difference in the lives of women who need help. This is good for women, good for the community, and perfect for me.
- She's also open about her own two abortions, the circumstances that led up to them, and the fact that her abstinence-only upbringing didn't necessarily mesh with reality:
Though I had grown up in a church that believed in the sanctity of human life, my family had never ben the type to debate the ins and outs of this stance, its meaning or consequence, around the kitchen table. But we loved God, and God created life, and people shouldn't take life. Besides, sexual intimacy was kept for marriage, and as long as a woman honored that, she'd never find herself needing to consider an abortion, so it wasn't a matter that I had to give much personal thought to. As a young woman living at home, precollege, I assumed I would live out these values. It really seemed that simple.
It wasn't that simple once I was living at college.
- She condemns tactics like intimidating women, threatening abortion providers, or displaying gruesome photos of aborted fetuses: "the marching woman with the horrid photo, the Grim Reaper now waving his scythe silently in the air, the sign with blood-red leters spelling out MURDERERS. Some of these people hardly seemed balanced, helpful, or reasonable."
- She agrees that (most of) her Planned Parenthood colleagues had a true commitment to helping women.
- While Johnson doesn't explicitly write in Unplanned that she opposes abortion even in cases of rape, she does write about a rape crisis counselor she hired to train Planned Parenthood staff: "She was a huge proponent of adoption and discussed how giving a child to a waiting, loving family often brought deep healing to women who'd been raped. I resonated so deeply with her advice because of some of the women I'd encountered." She subsequently wrote on her blog,
I do NOT believe there is ever an acceptable reason to abort a child…no matter what…rape, incest, fetal abnormality, lack of money, nothing! I would never be for an exception. I believe ALL life should be cherished and preserved from conception until natural death.
- As she did in the immediate aftermath of her change of heart, she accuses Planned Parenthood of aiming to increase abortions in order to bolster its ailing finances. She writes that someone (she doesn't say who) at a Planned Parenthood affiliate meeting told her, "nonprofit is a tax status, not a business status." And she adds,
I came away from that meeting with the clear and distinct understanding that I was to get my priorities straight, that abortion was where my priorities needed to be because that was where the revenue was. This meant my job as the clinic director was to find a way to increase the number of abortions at my clinic.
- She then argues that financial concerns came to trump actual concern for women:
I saw the women in the waiting room and wondered what would become of them. Without me here, would the abortion numbers at this clinic skyrocket? The patients were so vulnerable, so easily swayed. To me they had always been individuals. But now I believed that to the organization they were dollar signs.
I no longer saw Planned Parenthood as a benevolent charitable organization with the goal of decreasing unwanted pregnancies. I was now convinced that it was an abortion machine in the business of killing unborn babies and meeting revenue goals.
In a statement via email, Rochelle Taffola, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas, told me that Johnson's "claims that Planned Parenthood is focused on profit rather than prevention are completely false." When I called her for more specifics, she told me,
Women cannot be marketed abortion services because it's basically a service that women get when they need it [...] The idea that we were trying to increase the number of abortions we were providing is absolutely baseless and false.
Of the "tax status, not business status" anecdote, Taffola said,
The context of it is that everyone in the nonprofit world, every nonprofit organization, tries to manage our very limited resources, especially financial resources, very carefully. Because we're a nonprofit, that means that we're not looking to benefit financially from our services provided — we're trying to make them affordable and to put whatever revenue and donations we get back into serving our respective missions. So when we say it's our status, of course it's our status — but it's about making sure that we have longevity. Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast has been in the Houston area for 75 years. We're blessed, we're lucky to have strong donors here in our area, and we steward their donations carefully and make sure that especially now in this political climate, when we're facing threats of defunding across the board, [...] we can keep our doors open and that women who turn to us for services will continue to have a place to get healthcare.
Johnson's careful to talk about her impressions and feelings about Planned Parenthood's mission, and not to name the people against whom she makes her most damning accusations. It's a smart strategy — her lack of specificity will probably help her avoid a lawsuit, and vague allegations are likely all she needs to convince those already leaning anti-choice that Planned Parenthood is an evil abortion machine. Readers should be aware, however, that hers isn't the only side.