As Johnson secretly bore this grief, she also became disillusioned with pressure to meet rising monthly abortion quotas at her clinic. Neither of these factors, however, drove her to reject Planned Parenthood's core ideology about abortion “rights.”
What finally did, was the experience of seeing an unborn child die before her eyes on an ultrasound monitor. Due to a personnel shortage, she was called in to assist in an ultrasound-guided abortion for the first time in September 2009. She was initially disconcerted to note how much the unborn child, after 13 weeks, looked like the image she had seen of her own living daughter while pregnant with her.
The next few minutes changed Johnson's life irrevocably, as she watched the baby –whom she had believed to be incapable of feeling anything– squirming and twisting to avoid the tube into which it would be vacuumed.
“For the briefest moment,” she writes in her memoir, “the baby looked as if it were being wrung like a dishcloth, twirled and squeezed. And then it crumpled and began disappearing into the cannula before my eyes.”
“The last thing I saw was the tiny, perfectly formed backbone sucked into the tube, and then it was gone.”
Although Planned Parenthood has denied that this abortion ever took place, their assertion conflicts with other comments from Laura Kaminczak, who said she spoke with Johnson shortly after it occurred.
Shocked by what she had seen, Johnson still initially continued her work running the clinic and promoting its work. Just a few weeks later, however, she was in the nearby office of the Coalition For Life, telling its director Shawn Carney –with whom she was well-acquainted, from his years of opposition to Planned Parenthood– that she could no longer continue helping women have abortions.
In an interview with CNA on Jan. 11, Johnson said she joined the pro-life movement to help women understand the truth about abortion, not to become a public figure. She explained that it was Planned Parenthood, not the Coalition For Life, that turned her departure into a public battle.
The organization preemptively sought a court order that would have prevented Johnson from discussing her past work. Because of the legal battle that ensued, she was not previously able to speak about many aspects of Planned Parenthood's business model and its treatment of women. Much of the information in “UnPlanned” is reaching the public only because Planned Parenthood's lawsuit failed.
Johnson said that although she wanted to spare her family the strain of attention and controversy, Planned Parenthood's efforts to silence her ultimately fueled her resolve to come forward. She stated that her critics –some of whom have attempted to question the sincerity of her new-found pro-life convictions– don't realize that she never wanted the publicity and personal exposure of her new role.
“Planned Parenthood released this to the media” in late 2009, she said. “Planned Parenthood made this a news story. This is something that they did.”
“This is not what I planned for my life. But God set this up for me– and it would be the wrong thing, to turn away from something that He has planned for my life.”
Johnson and her husband have grown in their faith during the past year, and are now preparing to enter the Catholic Church in the near future. She said that one of the final obstacles, in the course of her Catholic conversion, had been the Church's teaching on the immorality of all artificial methods of birth control.
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Planned Parenthood's mentality toward contraception, as she explained, stuck with her for a period of time even after she rejected abortion. Even as she became interested in the Catholic Church, she clung to the notion that artificial birth control was an advance for women and society. But she kept an open mind, studying Pope John Paul II's “Theology of the Body” and other sources of Church teaching.
Abby Johnson's final decision to reject contraception, like her change of mind on abortion, occurred suddenly, and because of something she saw.
This time, however, the sight that changed her mind was not a child's death within the clinic walls, but quite the opposite. An experience in a Catholic church, she said, finally made her understand the fullness of the Church's teaching on sexuality.
This time, the vision of a child was not shocking, but profoundly life-affirming.
“One day, we were sitting in Mass … I was sitting behind this woman, who I don't know, and this little infant.” Gazing at that child, she finally understood the Church's insistence on marriages remaining open to new life.
“It was just clear to me, like a switch had gone off, that we had to stop contracepting.”