This was not an easy book to read, and I sense it was not an easy one to write either. The topic alone sparks a number of emotions.
My purpose in this post is not to change your view on abortion if it is different than mine, or even to pat you on the back if you agree with me. My goal is to encourage you to consider the thoughts and feelings on BOTH sides of the fence. After all, if we consider where people are coming from, we can better understand their decisions.
In this book, Abby Johnson takes us through her journey which began in college when she started volunteering with Planned Parenthood. She went on to work there and eventually became the director of one of their Texas clinics. She had a passion for helping women, especially women in crisis situations. She offered hope and options, one of those options being abortion. She discusses her uneasiness with this option, but reasoned that it was ok since the organization focused mainly on pregnancy prevention.
She invites us into her personal life, into two occasions in which she chose abortion. She describes the physical and emotional trauma she faced during and after these procedures.
Abby identified herself as a Christian, as many pro-choice people do. It is quick for other Christians to judge her, as many indeed did throughout her journey, but taking into account the stream of cultural influences flooding young minds, it is easier to understand her decisions. She admits, in retrospect, that she is embarrassed by her choices, but that she realizes how important it is for her to share her story. “My story…illustrated the complexity, the confusion, and frankly, the disconnect between behavior and values that permeates our culture.” Her story urges us to consider how our thoughts have been shaped by cultural views, personal convictions, religious experiences, and other factors.
She describes many of the positive things that happened while working for Planned Parenthood; it was certainly not all about aborting babies. Abortion days were challenging however, partly because she knew she and the patients would have to face the people on the other side of the clinic’s fence. Occasionally, especially early on in her career, they would witness the hateful individuals who dressed like the Grim Reaper or screamed and held up graphic pictures of aborted babies. “How could this be helpful or appealing to women who were scared and desperate? What were the pro-lifers trying to accomplish with such methods?” she thought. I couldn’t agree more!
There were many, however, who presented a kind and prayerful spirit, several of whom befriended Abby. Many were part of the Coalition for Life, an organization made of churches and individuals working to end abortion in prayerful and peaceful ways. They extended the love and grace of Christ not only to patients, but also to the clinic workers and the hateful protestors.
Ultimately, it was the persistent love and prayer of these individuals, paired with the forgiving love of God and her personal convictions, which led Abby to consider a dramatic switch to the other side of the fence. The experience which pushed her over the edge was her assistance in a surgical abortion in which she witnessed the termination of a life that was obviously alive.
“I simply felt the enormity of the moment. I found it hard to get a deep breath. I’d just participated in a death. A death. Not a medical procedure. Not a surgical solution to a life problem. Not the valiant step of a woman exercising her right to make medical choices about her own body. The death of a helpless baby, a baby violently ripped away from the safety of the womb, sucked away to be discarded as biohazard waste.”
Almost instantly, she decided she couldn’t do it anymore. After a lot of prayer and discussion with her supportive husband, she found herself walking in the doors of the Coalition for Life, the group she had grown to respect but had always disagreed with and tried to shield her clients from.
I don’t want to give away many more details from the book, but as you can imagine, the journey following her decision was not an easy one. She lost people she thought were friends, she was taken to court, and she faced many sleepless nights. Even though she did what she felt was right, it wasn’t easy. “That’s when I began to discover both the good and bad consequences of taking a stand, particularly one made public in such a visible way.”
Abby’s vulnerability will take your heart in many directions as you consider each circumstance from different angles.
A few themes that stood out to me:
The power of prayer. The consistent prayer of the Coalition for Life, even when they felt like giving up, was an extremely powerful force.
The people who helped change her heart were those who truly acted like Jesus, the “people who befriended me and stood by me for years even though they did not agree with what I did at Planned Parenthood, even though they do not believe in abortion. Those people modeled for me something far deeper, far stronger than situational friendship: they loved and accepted me even when I was (or am) doing something they found morally objectionable. They didn’t just talk about love—they put flesh on that concept.”
The ironic thing was that she was shunned by two different churches. When the first church disagreed with her career and refused her membership, she says “the church lost any opportunity to influence my outlook. I wish they had offered to dialogue with me about why they were so committed to their pro-life position…or at the very least, I would they would have expressed care for me apart from my pro-choice position.” The church is sometimes quicker to judge and to shun than anyone else. That’s an entirely separate blog post.
The power of sharing your story. You never know who you will inspire by sharing your own struggles and stepping out in faith to help others! The women who have come out of hiding to find healing from abortion since she shared her story is amazing. The number of abortion clinic workers who have quit their job because of her bravery is amazing.
There is so much more I could say about this book, but you should read it for yourself.
Also, check out more about her life and ministries at www.abbyjohnson.org.
Linking up today with Literacy Musing Mondays.