By Tanya Connor
WORCESTER – “What are you doing?” a former abortion clinic director asked hundreds of pro-lifers here Tuesday.
Speaking at Visitation House’s 10th anniversary benefit dinner, Abby Johnson told attendees not to consider that dinner their pro-life activity for the year.
Eve Lindquist, Visitation House executive director, said a record number – about 500 – attended the fundraiser for the home for pregnant women and their children. It was held at St. George Orthodox Cathedral hall to accommodate the large crowd. Attendees included Bishops McManus and Reilly and other clergy, religious and laity.
Receiving the Ruth V.K. Pakaluk Award was Roderick P. Murphy, director of Problem Pregnancy of Worcester Inc., which offers alternatives to abortion across from the Planned Parenthood facility where abortions are performed.
The evening also included a silent auction and a video of those helped by Visitation House.
Joseph Williams, president of the board, recalled a nun’s challenge: Years from now, what will you tell your children and grandchildren you did to protect life during the abortion battles?
Mrs. Johnson sounded that theme.
“Your ‘yes’ tonight to this ministry … will save many lives,” she told listeners.
Mrs. Johnson worked at a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Texas for eight years, two years as director. She said her biggest regret was doing nothing, when she had the opportunity to save a life.
She explained her journey from being a staunch advocate for “reproductive rights” to being pro-life. “2009 had been a very good year for me at Planned Parenthood,” she said. That April she was named employee of the year and seated at their national gala with the winner of Planned Parenthood’s highest award – Hillary Clinton, then U.S. Secretary of State.
“I was really excited because she was my role model,” Mrs. Johnson said. She’d worked on Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, but quipped, “I don’t think she’ll be calling me back this year.”
Mrs. Johnson said she earned her award “because I was the best at selling abortion to vulnerable and scared women.”
But it didn’t make sense to her when that August her supervisor told her they were doubling their abortion quota; she had believed their goal was to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies by contraception. She said was told, “But Abby, abortion is how we make our money.”
“Ninety-two percent of pregnant women who walk into Planned Parenthood will have an abortion,” Mrs. Johnson says now. “It’s a product that they’re selling.”
Mrs. Johnson told of a doctor who used ultrasound throughout the abortion procedure; it was “safer” to be able to see what he was doing. She noted that doctors don’t do other surgical procedures blindly, only abortions. She was accustomed to ultrasounds being performed at the beginning of a procedure, to determine how far along the pregnancy was so they would know how much to charge for the abortion.
Her turning point was Sept. 26, 2009 when she was asked to help with an ultrasound abortion “so the physician would be able to, in his words, visualize his target” – a 13-week-old boy. She said he looked like a baby, but Planned Parenthood had said otherwise, and routinely told clients the fetus wouldn’t feel pain.
“We all knew it was a lie, but we had to believe it, because the truth was far too inconvenient,” she said.
Helping with the ultrasound, she watched the baby jump as the doctor touched his side; he sought refuge “but there was nowhere for him to go.” The suction machine was turned on and the abortion completed.
“I had reassembled parts of babies,” Mrs. Johnson said of previous abortions. “I had seen the graphic signs in front of my clinic.” But the worst part was that she had the opportunity to intervene, and just watched, she said. She returned to her office numb and shocked.
“I was feeling stupid because I had bought this lie for eight years,” she said.
“I tried so hard to justify what I had just seen. … I did not want to leave my job. All of my friends were in the abortion business. I made tons of money. I didn’t want to be pro-life – bunch of weirdos!”
But she found herself praying, for the first time in eight years, despite weekly attendance at an Episcopal church, she said. She wanted to talk to someone, but resisted approaching the pro-lifers outside her clinic, who’d been offering her help to leave Planned Parenthood for years.
When she did go to them, “they just … said, ‘How can we help you?’ No strings attached. The next day I decided, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’”
When she left her office, pro-lifers sent one of their men to ensure her safety, she said. While driving away, “I remember seeing that man fall to his knees,” she said. “They prayed for it every day.” Their response to her was a great experience of “God’s scandalous mercy,” she said.
They weren’t the only ones praying. Speaking to The Catholic Free Press, her mother, Kathleen Brannam, said, “I love what she’s doing. Her dad and I, we’ve always been pro-life. … We prayed for eight solid years. We prayed her out of there.”
Mrs. Johnson told The Catholic Free Press the Southern Baptist church she was reared in was pro-life, so when she worked for Planned Parenthood she sought a church that would support her choice. Once she became pro-life, the Episcopal church she’d been attending said she wasn’t welcome, she said.
She told listeners Planned Parenthood sued her after she left, but enabled her to proclaim her new message by giving her telephone number to the media.
“Every time I share my story, more healing comes for me,” she said. She spoke of a calling to expose what was going on in Planned Parenthood, to talk to churches and to encourage clergy to be vocal. Women coming for abortions sometimes carry rosaries and ask clinic staff to pray with them. “You are making a difference,” she told listeners. “I know you get tired.”
But “when we are willing to do the work of God, he shows up,” Mrs. Johnson said.
“I’m kind of in her situation; I have five kids too,” said Anne Hougham, of St. John, Guardian of Our Lady Parish in Clinton, who also worships at St. Benedict Abbey in Still River. “I feel like I should be doing more.”
Nancy Clark, an Our Lady of the Angels parishioner who does sidewalk counseling outside Planned Parenthood, said she tells an abortionist there about praying for her. She said she tells the woman that if she wants to leave she can view Mrs. Johnson’s website and “we’ll help you find a job – one you can be proud of.”
Pauline Cerone, of St. Mary Parish in Uxbridge, said the year Mrs. Johnson left Planned Parenthood was the year she joined a pro-life walk across the United States.
“Our prayers weren’t in vain,” she said. “I didn’t see any fruits … while I was on the walk.” But now she considers Mrs. Johnson one of those fruits.