Unplanned: Lessons We Can Learn
Abby Johnson was a clinic director and Employee of the Year at the US’s biggest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood. But, after seeing with her own eyes the reality of what happens in an abortion procedure, she turned her back on her job and her pro-choice position. She is now an active pro-life campaigner and founder of a charity that helps other people leave the abortion industry.
Abby’s story is told in a book and a film both called Unplanned. (I’m not actually the first Think contributor to write about Abby’s story. Jennie posted a summary and some helpful reflections a number of years ago.) Her unusual story and personal experience, both as someone who has been a vocal supporter on each side of the debate and as a woman who has herself had two abortions, make her well placed to share important wisdom on the topic of abortion, and that’s exactly what she does.
There are many things that can be learnt from Abby’s story, but here are a few that have most helped and challenged me.
Mixed motivations in the pro-choice movement
Motivations are funny things. We can be very quick to ascribe them to other people, even though we all know that it can sometimes be hard to discern our own. When it comes to the topic of abortion, you’ll find people from both sides of the debate ascribing motivations to those who have a different perspective. Inevitably, those motivations are sometimes employed to try and undermine the opposing perspective.
One of the helpful things in Abby’s account is the way she acknowledges the variety of motivations among pro-choice people she has known and worked with. Some, it seems, were motivated by the potential for financial benefit. For Planned Parenthood, abortions are the money-makers and some within the organisation therefore take a very business-like approach to abortion. But there are others, as exemplified by Abby’s own journey, who are involved in the abortion industry because they genuinely believe they are helping women.
This is such an important insight. Just because two people disagree on a certain ethical and practical point, doesn’t necessarily mean they disagree on their underlying motivation. And, in fact, recognising shared motivations can be a good starting point for constructive dialogue.
When it comes to the topic of abortion, many people start from the same motivation: care for women in crisis pregnancy situations. The question becomes, how do we best care for these women? Sadly, views on the topic are often so polarised and research into the options so contested that it is hard to have this discussion, but it’s the discussion that needs to be had, and one we should seek to be equipped for, preparing both our heads and our hearts.
A powerful pro-life strategy
At the centre of Abby’s story is the fence that surrounded her Planned Parenthood clinic. That fence separated the clinic staff and patients from a group of pro-life campaigners who stationed themselves on the other side.
Abby talks about how the approach of these pro-life campaigners changed over time. When she first started volunteering at the clinic, there were some campaigners present who would shout abuse at women who came to the clinic. They included one person who dressed as the Grim Reaper and paced up and down the fence. But there were also people who stood there quietly, prayed, and tried to help the clinic’s patients to see that there were options other than abortion open to them and that there were people ready to help them with these options if that was what they wanted. These people also sought to befriend the clinic workers. Greeting them, engaging them in conversation, and praying for them. It was this more gentle approach that became dominant on the pro-life side of the fence. It was also this approach that bore fruit, both in Abby’s life and in the lives of others.
Abby’s account bears witness to the incredible power of a gentle, Christ-like presence that seeks to be present and to love even in the face of sharp disagreement. It would have been easy to look on at the quiet stance of the pro-lifers coming regularly to the fence and to assume it would have no power. The reality, however, was quite different.
The power of prayer
Although perhaps if all they were doing was coming and being a quiet presence, their presence wouldn’t have had much power. But they weren’t only quietly present. They were also praying.
At the heart of Abby’s story is prayer, both the prayer of the pro-lifers who stood outside her clinic day and night and Abby’s own journey of learning to recognise and trust in the importance of prayer and in God’s faithfulness in answering prayer.
When we look at the heart-breaking reality of abortion in our nation it can be hard to have faith that anything can change. It can feel like we are destined to forever be a nation where hundreds of thousands of babies are killed in the womb every year and an equal number of women, men and families are impacted by the effects of abortion.
But maybe that’s not the only option. Maybe we have some power we have not yet unleashed. Maybe we have a part to play. The 40 Days for Life campaign, an international prayer movement that started outside Abby Johnson’s Planned Parenthood clinic, reports having seen over 100 abortion centres close, more than 200 abortion workers leave their jobs, and over 17,000 lives saved through the prayer campaigns they organise. Employees who have left abortion clinics report that on days when there was someone praying outside a clinic, no-show rates for abortions could go as high as 75%. There’s power in prayer.
It’s easy to feel defeated by the reality of abortion, but we have access to true power. What would happen if Christians and churches in the UK cried out to God for the protection of babies in the womb and of women and men impacted by crisis pregnancy situations? What would happen if we decided we aren’t happy to be the generation of Christians who just allowed this to happen because we felt we had no power? What would happen if we prayed? We might find that there is power, and we might find that in the midst of so many experiences that have been unplanned, there is someone who has a better plan.