Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Katy was naturally fond of reading. Papa encouraged it, He kept a few books locked up, and then turned her loose in the Library. She read all sorts of things: travels, and sermons, and old magazines. Nothing was so dull that she couldn't get through with it. Anything really interesting absorbed her so that she never knew what was going on about her. The little girls to whose houses she went visiting had found this out, and always hid away their story-books when she was expected to tea. If they didn't do this, she was sure to pick one up and plunge in, and then it was no use to call her, or tug at her dress, for she neither saw nor heard anything more, till it was time to go home."

--What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge, 1872.

I always enjoy meeting kindred spirits, even when it's only between the pages of a book.

Monday, January 23, 2012

unPLANNED by Abby Johnson, 267 pages, Ignatius Press, 2010.

Abby Johnson had invested herself, -- her heart and her career -- in Planned Parenthood because she cared about women in crisis. As a junior at Texas A&M, she was recruited by a Planned Parenthood representative who presented a warm, compassionate image and ignited Abby's idealism by her presentation of Planned Parenthood as an organization that served women in crisis, which protected the rights of women, and which, through its promotion of birth control, was helping to make abortion both safe and rare. That last held some appeal for Abby because her family was pro-life, although she herself had never thought through the  arguments on both sides of this issue. But what might also have influenced her decision was a secret she kept hidden from her family and tried never to think about. About a year earlier, pressured by her boyfriend, Abby Johnson had had an abortion.

"Today, I wonder if one reason I was so quick, so eager to embrace Jill's presentation about Planned Parenthood -- which I heard just about twelve months after that abortion -- is that it validated my own secret decision to abort. As Jill [the PP representative] spoke, I saw myself as one of the wise and lucky ones who had control over my reproductive rights and utilized my access to safe medical procedures. Jill clearly didn't look down on the decision to abort. She understood the crises women found themselves in."

Abby's sympathy was quickly aroused and she imagined herself helping other women to "exercise their 'rights' and protect their 'access' as they faced their crises."

But her first shift as a volunteer, escorting clients from their cars into the clinic, left her with mixed feelings.  On the other side of the fence which surrounded the clinic were a motley group of pro-lifers, and the tension inside the fence made Abby feel as if she were in a war zone. For two weeks she debated whether to return or not. Finally, she decided that her comfort level didn't matter. Inspired by the compassionate image which Planned Parenthood had presented at her school's volunteer fair, and repulsed by a few members of a creepy fringe element among the pro-life protesters, Abby Johnson decided to give it another shot. And from that moment on, her outlook changed. The people on the other side of the fence became the enemy.

"My cause -- helping women in crisis -- was just, I believed, and they were the ones opposing that just cause. So I had to oppose them. With conviction. I wouldn't be rude, I wouldn't shout -- I would even try to be be friendly to this obviously misguided group. I didn't see any reason to be hostile with them. But I would be definite and direct and firm."

And Abby maintained that attitude as she rose through the ranks of Planned Parenthood -- from volunteer, to employee, to director of a clinic. Even though she eventually came to the grudging conclusion that the vast majority of the protestors outside her clinic were as compassionate and concerned about women as she was, she still believed that they were dead wrong ideologically. But then, on the day she was required to assist in an ultrasound-guided abortion of a thirteen week old fetus, her whole world turned upside down.

The description of what she saw on the screen is difficult to read. Not because it is gruesomely detailed, but because such simple and plain language emphasizes the starkness of the truth which Abby suddenly grasped: that she was not watching the removal of fetal tissue which feels no pain (a standard line from Planned Parenthood that Abby had repeated to countless clients), but a baby who tried to avoid the doctor's cannula, and struggled when he was pierced and suctioned out of the womb.

Now convinced of the humanity of the fetus, and disillusioned by pressure from Planned Parenthood's headquarters to increase the number of (very profitable) abortions at her facility while cutting back on on low cost or free health services (on which they were losing money), Abby Johnson left her job. Planned Parenthood responded with legal reprisals which were later dropped due to lack of evidence.

At this point, readers of my post are probably divided into two groups. On one side are those who believe that a woman's right to abortion is a positive good -- or at least that access to abortion is a necessity in order to insure the safety, health, and well-being of women in crisis situations. They will view Abby's conversion from pro-choice to pro-life as a betrayal of a benevolent organization and an abandonment of her pro-woman convictions. They are likely to dismiss her book as enemy propaganda.

On the other side are those in the pro-life camp who will welcome this account of her conversion but will wonder how the narrator, who sincerely wanted to help women in crisis, could have been so naive, so gullible about the evil of Planned Parenthood. And they may recoil from her assertion that she and many of her co-workers were "really driven by compassion and tenderness, by motives of truly helping women and making the world a better place."

Both of these groups will benefit from reading unPLANNED because I think that one of the greatest difficulties under which we labor in today's public forum is an automatic tendency to demonize the opposition. But Abby Johnson has experienced the abortion issue from both sides of the divide. She is a sign of contradiction to both camps. As she says in her introductory note:

"My story is not neat and tidy, and it doesn't come wrapped in easy answers. Oh, how we love to vilify our opponents -- from both sides. How easy to assume that those on "our" side are are right and wise and good; how those on "their side" are treacherous and foolish and deceptive. I have found right and good and wisdom on both sides. I have found foolishness and treachery and deception on both sides as well. I have experienced how good intentions can be warped into poor choices no matter what the side.

"But don't slam this book shut because of what I've just said. Read it for that very reason. Read it to understand the surprising hopes and motivations on the "other" side. I was loved from one side onto the other. My hope is that many more thousands will be loved into truth as well. Maybe you will be the one loving someone on the other side of the fence."

As a pro-life reader, I was interested in which types of pro-life protestors solidified Abby Johnson's original pro-choice inclinations. And which pro-life individuals "loved" her into even considering the possible truth of the pro-life position. I also liked reading about the early beginnings of the 40 Days for Life campaign and how its growth contributed to Abby Johnson's amazing conversion.