When Abby Johnson started volunteering at Planned Parenthood, she probably never expected she would one day be one of the organization’s fiercest opponents.
Johnson, who eventually served as a director at the nation’s largest abortion giant, now runs an organization dedicated to pulling people out of the same types of clinics she worked in.
Back in January, IJR spoke to some of the escapees Johnson helped remove from the clinics. Their bleak stories offered a window into the everyday experiences — often darkened, in their accounts, by brutality — that abortion workers undergo.
Because Johnson served as a director, her work wasn’t as proximate to the actual abortion procedures as some others’. When she actually saw an abortion up close, her views of both the procedure and Planned Parenthood changed dramatically.
Her story will make it to the big screen when her movie, “Unplanned,” debuts in the spring of next year.
“I wanted it to be a movie that really showed the humanity of the women who have abortions, women who work inside abortion clinics — showing that there is redemption available, that there’s hope after abortion, that forgiveness is for everyone,” she told IJR during an interview.
Watch a sneak peek at the movie below:
She added that she hoped pro-choice individuals would see it because they needed to know about the reality of what they support.
“This is going to show an in-depth look of what abortion is, how it affects women, what it’s not. Nobody’s going to be able to walk away from this movie and say, ‘Well, I just didn’t know. I didn’t know what happens in an abortion. I didn’t know what happened at Planned Parenthood,'” Johnson asserted.
“They’re going to walk away with that knowledge and then they can make a decision one way or the other if that’s something that they want to support.”
The following is a lightly edited transcript of a portion of the interview:
What do you hope are the central points that people come away with after watching this movie?
I really want people to walk away with a better understanding of what abortion is and what drives women into these abortion clinics because then the question becomes, “Okay, so then what?” And that is a question for the pro-life movement to answer. And I think we do have answers to that question. So I hope it leaves people feeling hopeful, feeling encouraged, but I hope it also really spurs them to action to say, “Okay, now what’s the next step? How are we going to move forward to make sure that women are equipped with the resources they need so that they don’t turn to an abortion clinic?” So, I hope it spurs people to action and to ask those questions.
In your book, you talk about a particular experience when you assisted with an abortion and how that changed your view of the procedure. Could you explain that a little more and how you incorporate that in the movie as well?
What caused me to leave Planned Parenthood was assisting with a 13-week, ultrasound-guided abortion. Ultrasound is not something that is typically used inside of Planned Parenthood during the actual abortion procedure. They’re used to capture the gestational size of the baby so that we would know how much to charge [the mother] for the abortion, but then the ultrasound is rolled away and not used again. But as you can imagine, it is safer for the patient if the doctor can actually see the part of the body that he’s operating within.
That was explained to me by this visiting abortion doctor that we had come in — and he was basically just saying, “If you’re interested, I can show you what this type of abortion procedure looks like. These are the only types of abortions that I perform in my clinic because it is safer,” and I knew that that was not the protocol for Planned Parenthood. So, that interested me to see just sort of a different way to perform an abortion. That time did come and I was asked to come in and assist and I was shocked to see this 13-week-old fetus — it appeared to be struggling and moving away from the abortion instrumentation and I knew then that there was life in the womb, that there was humanity in the womb, that really there wasn’t a whole lot of difference between me and this 13-week-old fetus. We still both had that instinctual fight or flight response — if somebody was coming to harm me, I would fight back and that is what I had seen in the womb.
Watch her describe the experience below:
I knew then that I had been lied to by Planned Parenthood and then I so eagerly bought their lie, I had been in turn lying to thousands of women who had come into my clinic. I knew that, that because of that, I was going to have to leave. So, in the movie, that scene is portrayed and it’s one of the first scenes in the film. Sort of the flow of the movie follows the flow of the book and so it is one of the first scenes and so people will actually see what I saw on that ultrasound image.
You said that you thought that Planned Parenthood had lied to you. What do you mean by that?
I was told by Planned Parenthood that the fetus had no sensory development or did not feel anything until 28 weeks. But here I was looking at something that showed me that was not true. Just the way that they portrayed abortion, that “you know, it’s really nothing, it’s just tissue, it’s not really a baby.” That really is their science I guess that a pregnancy is a baby if it’s wanted but a pregnancy, if it’s unwanted, then it’s just tissue. That just seems so stupid now. Science just isn’t relative like that. But really, that’s what I had believed because that’s what I had been taught to believe by them.
While employed, you had interacted with pro-life activists and you talk about how you saw the pro-life protests. I was wondering if you could talk about how you perceived pro-life activists while working at Planned Parenthood and what stopped you from becoming pro-life at that point?
I saw them as a nuisance. When I worked in the clinic, they were a problem for us because when they were out there, women were changing their minds and they were choosing not to have abortions. They were choosing not to come into our facility and so that was a hindrance to our budget and how we made money. So, they were definitely a nuisance to us.
You’re saying that Planned Parenthood has some kind of monetary value that they put on abortion? I mean, obviously they get money from it but the line from the left is always that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare. It sounds like they’re actively trying to pursue abortions for money.
Oh yeah, and we had quotas that we had to meet for abortion in our clinics and that’s standard across every Planned Parenthood abortion clinic. We had a certain number of abortions that we had to sell to patients.
And so what would you get if you reached that quota?
As the director, I would get bonuses and if we met our quotas and […] a free lunch. If we didn’t meet them and we didn’t meet them consistently, then we would have to start laying people off.
Was the mentality behind that, at least on paper, that you were trying to reach the community?
No, it’s just monetary. We were told to turn every client interaction into a revenue-generating visit. Well, there’s only one way that we can do that for a woman who came in who was pregnant because we couldn’t offer her pre-natal care. We could only offer her an abortion. It’s not like we got some kind of revenue kickback if she chose adoption. So, it was made very clear to us that if we were to do what corporate was telling us to do — to turn ever client interaction into a revenue-generating visit — that the only thing that we had to offer to a pregnant woman was an abortion.
Your organization tries to get women out of the abortion industry. Why do you think that most women get into the abortion industry? It sounds like, from your book, you saw it as a great way to care for people. Is that the general sense that you get from most people?
Yeah, I would say it’s probably half and half. We hear from clinic workers who got involved with Planned Parenthood because they wanted to help women and they thought that working at Planned Parenthood was a good way to help women. But then there’s also the people who just responded to a Craig’sList ad or an ad in the paper for working in a medical office and we have quite a few people that leave — workers that we interact with — that tell us that they had no idea they were even going to be participating in abortion — that it was never told to them. When they went in for their interview, they were hired on the spot, they were going to be paid a lot of money, there’s good benefits in working at Planned Parenthood.
And they had no idea until a few days later, they walk in and the clinic looks different and the rooms are moved around and they’re saying “what’s going on?” and [clinic personnell] say, “Today is an abortion day […]” and they had no idea that they were even going to be involved with abortion. But by that time, they already have the job, they’re already working, and so they just sort of go with it. And then there’s the people that just responded to an ad and said, “Well ok I guess we’re going to be doing abortion a little bit but it’s just a little, tiny bit of what we’re going to be doing and the pay is really good and I’m a single mom so I’m just going to do it and take the job. So, it’s a little bit of all of that.”
What do you think that this movie says about the film industry because it seems like probably a few years ago, this could have never become a movie the way that it is? Do you think this shows hope for getting the pro-life message out?
I think so. I feel like people are really hungry for truth and I guess I feel like pro-lifers are feeling a little more empowered. There has been a lot of pro-life victories come from the administration, we’ve had a lot of success [with] statewide, legislative efforts. It seems like things are sort of turning a corner whereas I think for many years, the pro-life movement sort of felt beat down like “Is there any hope of actually winning this war?” And I think now people feel a little more emboldened and I think there is a hope that wasn’t there before and I just think in general, people just want the truth.
I think people feel like what we hear from a lot of the media and what we hear from different organizations, there’s always sort of a spin and I just get the sense that people are tired of it —that people just want to be able to speak plainly and that’s what they’re looking for in others. They just want the truth. And that’s why I think now is a good time for this movie to come out because it’s just my experience — it’s what I experienced inside of Planned Parenthood and it’s just truth. So, I think that people are ready for that. I think that’s what they want.
Correction [10/23/18, 6:00 p.m. ET]: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the movie would be in theaters later this year. We have corrected the error.