A reader who received abortion counseling from Planned-Parenthood-director-turned-anti-abortion-activist Abby Johnson (pictured) emailed to tell us Johnson was very familiar with abortion ultrasounds long before one supposedly caused her "conversion." Her email, and more questions about Johnson's story, after the jump.
The reader, who asked that we keep her anonymous, wrote (link ours):
I read your story and I live in College Station. I had an abortion at the Bryan Planned Parenthood location in July and she was my "counselor"....meaning she took me in the little office, I told her I was pregnant and wanted an abortion and she helped me pick which method (the pill...I was about 4.5 weeks) and schedule my appointment. This PP only does abortions on Saturdays with a doctor that comes in from Houston. She was there both the Saturday I was given the pill and the next Saturday when I had to come in for my follow-up ultrasound, so I'm not exactly sure how she could have thought an abortion meant you were going to shit rainbows. I can honestly say I am completely shocked. I was 21 and an atheist, and I didn't have any moral conflict about what I was going to do and I told her that. She was very understanding and matter-of-fact. I even started to cry (mostly because I was worried about what my boyfriend would say) and she comforted me. Her office was covered in pro-choice bumper stickers and buttons, and she didn't push the issue when she asked if I wanted to know about alternative choices. I also saw year about two years ago for birth control, so she has at least been there that long.
The most striking part of the e-mail is its mention of ultrasound — Johnson said she changed her position on pregnancy termination after seeing such an ultrasound, but our tipster isn't the only one to point out that this sounds a little implausible. Writing at Double X, Pandagon's Amanda Marcotte says,
Johnson's story fits way too neatly into a bunch of easily disproven anti-choice myths, the main one being that all it takes is one glance at an ultrasound to cause someone to "realize" that hey! abortion removes a fetus from your uterus. [...] After all, your average person in the United States has seen probably hundreds of sonograms in their lives, and most of them show a fetus at gestational age well beyond the point that most women get elective abortions. If you compare the ultrasound taken prior to an elective abortion, the feeling is actually one of being underwhelmed, because there's not much there compared to the ones we're used to seeing. The anti-choice sentimental devices rely therefore on ignorance more than illumination-their own mistaken understanding of what goes on in an abortion clinic.
While the story Johnson is now telling does seem like a well-crafted anti-abortion fable, it doesn't ultimately matter so much what caused Johnson to change her mind about reproductive rights (though it is worthwhile to note, as Broadsheet's Lynn Harris does, that many women change their minds in the other direction every day). What does matter is whether she's now slandering Planned Parenthood. Marcotte thinks she may be. She writes, "Johnson's accusation-that her branch was trying to discourage contraception to up the number of abortions-fits into a long-standing, demonstrably false anti-choice myth about Planned Parenthood, which is that they are a profit-making business that makes most of its money off abortion." This accusation was the most disturbing thing about Johnson's story, and some speculated that Planned Parenthood's restraining order against Johnson was a desperate attempt to keep such mercenary practices under wraps. But as Marcotte points out, Broadsheet's Tracy Clark-Flory looked at the restraining order, and found that it was issued pretty much for exactly the reasons we guessed: namely, a doctor was at risk.
According to Clark-Flory, the order accuses Johnson of copying confidential files after Planned Parenthood initiated a performance review of her, and of passing personal information — including home address — about an abortion provider to the anti-choice group Coalition for Life. It doesn't sound like Planned Parenthood is trying to silence a turncoat with inside information about its evil schemes. Instead, the organization appears to be protecting its employees from the threat of harassment — or, in the wake of abortion provider George Tiller's murder, worse.
Questions about the ultrasound story aside (Clark-Flory, too, wonders "How many pamphlets and protest signs displaying extremely graphic images (far more so than an ultrasound) must have been shoved in her face over the years?"), the reasons for Johnson's decision to leave Planned Parenthood aren't for us to judge. But as her public profile rises — Clark-Flory writes that she's soon to appear on The O'Reilly Factor — many people will take her for an authority on the inner workings of Planned Parenthood. If Johnson really is guilty of both misrepresenting Planned Parenthood's tactics and leaking confidential information (she denies the latter), then she not only doesn't deserve to speak for her former organization, but she's not a valid advocate for the anti-abortion position. Principled anti-abortion advocates should be just as skeptical as pro-choicers are of Johnson's story — if they stand for morality, they shouldn't want a liar on their side.
Former Planned Parenthood Director Telling Fishy Story [Double X]
The Conversion Of A Pro-Choice Warrior [Broadsheet]
"I Used To Call Myself Pro-Life" [Broadsheet]