Former Planned Parenthood abortion clinic manager Abby Johnson praised care centers for pregnant women as essential to the pro-life movement at large.

"I always tell people that we can't save the babies unless we help the mothers, and we have to love them," she told CNA Feb. 16.

Johnson delivered the keynote speech at the Lighthouse Women's Center Annual Gala, held at the Wings over the Rockies Air and Space Museum at the former Lowry Air Force Base in Denver. The center has two full-time employees, including a registered nurse, and several regular volunteers.

The women's center operates around the corner from a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in northeast Denver. At no charge, the center provides pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, counseling, and referrals to other agencies.

Johnson had visited the women's center and the abortion facility earlier in the day before her address. At the clinic, she encountered vocal abortion protesters who shouted "murderer" at women entering the clinic and showed graphic images.

Johnson told CNA this kind of "overzealous" action risks focusing too much on the unborn, just as pro-abortion rights advocates focus too much on the woman involved in an abortion.

"We have to love them both. We have to care for them both," she said. "I think that most pro-lifers get it."

Johnson reflected that the pro-life women's center is especially important in light of the sometimes negative reactions by abortion opponents.

"I think it's important to have a resource for women to go to where they do feel cared for, and they do feel loved, and they don't feel condemned," she said.

"My hope is there are centers like this that open up all across the country."

The Lighthouse Women's Center gala drew over 600 people to Saturday's event, with a silent auction, music and dancing.

Laura Salvato, a co-founder of Lighthouse Women's Center, said the fundraiser aims to build community, to help Catholics become more aware of pro-life issues, and to help them "come together and support ourselves in the belief that all life is sacred."

Johnson's keynote speech drew on the story she recounted in her 2011 book "Unplanned." Her Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas named her Employee of the Year for 2008 and she had hoped to rise higher in the organization. Though she had worked in a clinic position to reassemble the aborted bodies of unborn babies, she only witnessed her first abortion via ultrasound in September 2009.

The procedure was performed on a 13-week-old unborn baby. Johnson, 12 weeks pregnant with a daughter at the time, assisted in the abortion.

Johnson recalled to the gala audience that she kept telling herself that the unborn child would not feel anything – noting how Planned Parenthood had said in a memo to tell this to women undergoing abortions.

"I should have known better, because I was pregnant," she said. "I remember when she would kick me and I'd poke her and she'd kick me back."

"But we had to believe the lie. Because if we didn't believe the lie, then we couldn't continue to do what we were doing every morning."

On the ultrasound that day, she watched the suction instrument go up to the side of the unborn child.

"As soon as that suction tube touched the side of the child, the baby jumped," Johnson recounted. "I watched as this little person began to flail his arms and legs, as if he was trying to move away from that abortion instrument. But there was nowhere to go."

She then saw the child be dismembered in its mother's womb. "I had never seen the humanity of the children that we were killing."

Johnson said she was most startled by the fact that she did nothing herself in the moment. After that abortion, however, she quit her position and joined the pro-life movement.

In her keynote speech, she said "apathy" among Christians is the largest reason abortion is still legal in the U.S. "We just stand there," she lamented.

Johnson's organization And Then There Were None has helped 43 abortion workers leave the industry. She said all of these were professed Christians, and the majority of them were Catholics who went to Mass and received communion.

"If that's not a wake-up call for our Church, then I don't know what is."

She said many of the women getting abortions held a rosary in their hand during the procedure. "We have a problem," she said. "Social justice begins in the womb."

"Our apathy has to end now."

She said prayer at home was not enough. She credited her conversion to the prayers of pro-life witnesses who stood outside her clinic.

For all the political, economic and cultural power of those who support abortion, she said, "we have the number one God on our side, and that's Jesus Christ."

In remarks to CNA on Feb. 18, clinic founder Laura Salvato praised Johnson's speech, saying, "She really challenged people but was compassionate and empathetic in her message."

Organizers said the event raised $250,000 for the clinic.

More information can be found on the Lighthouse Women's Center website at:

Updated Jan. 20, 2014: Organizers' estimate of funds raised replaced with actual totals.