On September 26, 2009, Abby Johnson held an ultrasound probe as she watched a baby in the womb recoil from a suction cannula while a doctor performed an abortion. That horrific scene caused Abby to leave Planned Parenthood. Her eye-opening journey is recounted in the newly released movie, ‘Unplanned’. We had the privilege of interviewing Abby for Think magazine in 2010.
Brad Harrub: Please share with our readers some of your background and how you became involved in the abortion controversy.
Abby Johnson: I was a student at Texas A&M and went to a volunteer opportunity fair that they had every semester on campus. There was a woman there who was talking about planned parenthood. I really didn’t know anything about Planned Parenthood. I didn’t grow up in a community with Planned Parenthood. She began talking about Planned Parenthood and the services they provided. She did talk about abortion a little bit, but she told us that the primary volunteer duties were to escort women into the clinic whenever they were there for their abortion procedures.
I told her that I grew up in a pro-life household. She told me she understood that, but the reason it was so important for women to have this choice was because if it wasn’t available then women would be having all of these illegal abortions and dying at this incredible rate.
And I just thought this was terrible, so I thought to myself, “This is something I could get behind and it makes sense to me.” So I started volunteering. I was a volunteer for about two years. I then became their campus intern—still a volunteer position—but I became the liaison between Planned Parenthood and Texas A&M. I did that for a year, and right before I graduated with my undergraduate degree from A&M, they asked me if I wanted to become an employee—a paid employee—of Planned Parenthood.
I didn’t have any other job prospects coming up, so I said sure. I knew I wanted to get my master’s degree and they said they would work with me on that. So I went ahead and started working there. I worked there through the time when I got my graduate degree and just kept getting promoted and eventually ended up running that particular health center.
BH: So, you actually grew up in a “pro-life” family environment?
AJ: Yes, absolutely!
BH: Wow. So what do you think it was that helped you make that break and say: “I’m going to volunteer for Planned Parenthood?” Was there a certain phrase or hook she used, or something that she was offering that made it appealing?
AJ: Well, I think it was just the idea that if legalized abortion is not available and if these clinics are not available, then we are basically sending women to these slaughter-houses. And therefore women would be dying at this incredible rate. And for me—I’m a very compassionate person—to hear that was too much. To hear somebody say, “Women are going to be dying if this is not a legal option for women” was new. I’d never really thought about it in that way.
BH: Even though the statistics don’t bear out their scare tactic. So, in a weird, twisted kind of way you viewed yourself as “pro-life” but for older life, so to speak?
AJ: Right. Really that is the way they want to frame the argument. They don’t ever think about the unborn life, and that is intentional. They don’t want to think about the baby. They don’t want the clinic workers to think about the baby. They don’t want the women coming in for the abortions to think about the baby. They only want the women to think about themselves. And they only want the clinic workers to think about the woman sitting in front of them. And that’s very intentional.
BH: Obviously there is a single event that changed your perspective on life. Can you share what took place and how it changed you?
AJ: There were a couple of things. One was how the business model had been changing within the facility. They had really gone from a family planning and prevention model to abortion model. They went to, “Abortion is the most lucrative. It’s how we make the most money. We’re not making any money with the economy, so we see abortion as an opportunity to really up our income and up our revenue. So we need to get in as many women as possible to have these abortions.” So that was very troubling.
BH: Wow, that’s incredible to hear.
AJ: And so that was kind of the first thing. When I questioned that, it was really my fall from grace. That was when my supervisor told me abortion needed to be my number one priority. That I really didn’t need to worry about family planning and that I needed to get my head in the game for abortion. That’s when I told her abortion would never be my priority, and that family planning would always be my priority. That’s when things started to snowball for me.
On September 26 (2009), that’s when I actually saw an ultrasound-guided abortion procedure. Ultrasound-guided abortions are very uncommon. They are particularly uncommon in large abortion facilities like Planned Parenthood. If we are talking about abortion in terms of safe procedures for the woman, ultrasound-guided procedures are the safest procedure. It is the best type of procedure for the woman. There’s less risk of uterine perforation. These big places don’t want to do it because it takes more time.
This particular physician who was coming down that day is a private practice abortion physician. He has his own practice out of town and he was coming in to do abortions as a visiting physician that day. In his practice he only does ultrasound-guided abortions. The patient was a little further along in her pregnancy—about 13 weeks—so the doctor decided that on this patient he was going to do an ultrasound guided procedure. For that procedure he needed an extra person in the room to hold the ultrasound probe, and that was me.
So they called me into the room and told me they would need me to hold the ultrasound probe on her abdomen so that he could see the uterus during the procedure. That was to be my job during the procedure. So we had everything in place, and I saw on the screen a thirteen-week baby. You know at thirteen weeks—even at ten weeks—what you see on the ultrasound is a fully formed baby with arms and legs.
Everything is fully formed. If you can get a good profile view, you can see all of this. Well, this was a good profile view. I could see everything from head to foot. And then I saw the probe—called a cannula, that is hooked up to the suction machine—I saw that go into the woman’s uterus. And then I saw it jab into the side of the baby. Then, in just a few seconds, I saw the baby begin to react to that jabbing. I saw the baby’s arms and legs begin to move. The baby was trying to get away from the probe.
BH: Wow. I have to ask this because I’m sitting here trying to imagine it for myself: What were you going through internally at that point?
AJ: Well, I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. I felt sick to my stomach. I realized what I was about to look at and I realized what I was about to see. And that’s when they turned on the suction. A baby at that age has a perfectly formed backbone. The last thing I saw was the backbone going through the cannula on the ultrasound screen. I’ll never forget what it looked like on the screen. You know how they say with a train wreck you don’t want to watch but you can’t stop looking at it? That’s what it was like for me. I didn’t want to look at it, but I couldn’t stop looking at the screen.
When I saw that baby moving, it was like he was waking up and then trying to get away from the cannula. I immediately thought of all the women I had lied to. You get a lot of questions in the room. As a counselor in the room with women, they ask you questions before they go back for their abortion procedure. One of the things they ask you frequently is, “Is my baby going to feel this?” Every time I had told them no. Because I really didn’t think the baby would feel it. Planned Parenthood had told me they wouldn’t feel it, so I told them no.
I immediately thought about all the women I had lied to. I was thinking to myself, “What if I had told them the truth? What if I had known the truth—would I still be here at this job? Would those women have chosen an abortion?” What kind of difference would it have made if we had all known the truth? Why are they trying to hide this?
BH: So obviously your beliefs have changed. What would you say today, here at the end of 2009, are your beliefs on this controversial topic?
AJ: I’m firmly pro-life. The other day I went out in front of an abortion clinic for the first time on an abortion day. It was a good feeling to be on the other side of the fence. But I have a very unique sense of what is going on inside that clinic and what those women are feeling, because I have sat there and looked in their faces.
BH: So what would you say? Let’s say you have a 15-year-old or a 20-year-old or even a 30-year-old that is currently pregnant and not sure what to do? What would be your words of wisdom at this stage?
AJ: I’ve been asked that a lot. A lot of times women choose abortion out of convenience. In fact, most of the time they think that abortion is going to be a quick fix. They think an abortion is going to make their lives easier, and I know that is not the case. It is not a quick fix. It is not something you just do and it goes away. It will be with you for the rest of your life. If they are a young person or a person of any age and they don’t have children—many women who choose abortion are in their younger years—that memory of the child they aborted comes back to them when they are holding their wanted children.
People have asked me, “What would you have said differently to those women you were counseling with?” I would have said, “Your baby does have a heartbeat. No matter what you’ve been told, your baby does have a heartbeat, and your baby is going to feel what is happening to it during the abortion. Your baby is going to feel that pain.
And, when the abortion is finished, somebody is going to have to go back and reassemble the baby that was in your uterus. And they are going to know if it was a boy or girl. This is very real. This is not just a mass of tissue. This is not just a glob of cells. This is a real baby in your uterus.”
BH: What are the secrets in the abortion industry that many never hear about? Obviously you’ve touched on one that most people know that maybe we don’t admit—and that is a lot of this is about money.
AJ: Oh yeah.
BH: But what are some other things, having “been there and done that,” that you can share?
AJ: It is so much about money. But also, anytime there are any complications they will do anything to keep that woman quiet, including paying her money to keep her quiet.
BH: Now when you say complications, you mean medical injury.
AJ: Yeah. They will pay her off to keep her quiet. Which is sad, because then we never know about those tragedies of abortion. There are so many times that women are injured from an abortion—they’ve had botched abortions—and instead of going to the media so that other women can hear their stories, they are paid off. They are required to sign a statement saying that they will not go public with that information.
In some states, like Texas, there are laws where they will come and ask the woman if she wants to view the ultrasound. If she does choose to view her ultrasound, and let’s say she’s 10, 12 14, weeks pregnant, they will not show her the full profile of her baby. They may only show her…
BH: A leg.
AJ: The leg. If you are a layperson looking at the ultrasound, you don’t know what that is. And they’ll say, “That’s it. See you can’t see anything.” Because they don’t want to give her the truth. They call themselves pro-choice. But it’s not really about giving women honest choices. There are just so many things they are not honest about. For instance, they never go over all of the risks about abortion when a woman comes in. They never talk about all of the options. They don’t normally ask, “Have you considered your other options?”
BH: Have you ever seen someone coming back after an abortion procedure who is emotionally torn up?
AJ: Absolutely. Absolutely. The abortion industry’s answer to that is that the person is weak or that they were emotionally unstable to begin with. They don’t believe in post-abortion syndrome. They believe that for a normal person, you’re going to do fine after the abortion. They really just dismiss women that have regrets after an abortion, and they just think something is wrong with them.
BH: We appreciate more than you know your willingness to talk. And we are so thankful you are speaking out for pro-life. I’ll say this, I think there is a truth out there that is not getting out. I think if more women armed themselves with what you are revealing here, we would have less abortions going on than we have today.