Part of a series marking the tenth anniversary of the Leaven for the Loaf blog.
A pair of ambitious pro-life projects launched within weeks of this blog’s first post. I heralded both of them as promising efforts. Where are they ten years later?
Still in business, going strong.
And Then There Were None
A former abortion worker herself, Abby Johnson recognized the practical, legal, emotional, and spiritual assistance a person needs in order to leave the abortion industry. In June 2012, she announced the creation of a nonprofit organization called And Then There Were None (ATTWN) to provide those services.
Today, ten years later, ATTWN has helped more than six hundred abortion workers who chose to leave their jobs – “quitters,” as they call themselves. Some have shared their stories on the ATTWN website, abortionworker.com.
The site highlights a few metrics that raise red flags about the industry’s treatment of workers: 33% of the “quitters” report that they didn’t have the necessary certification or qualifications to perform a task they were assigned; 18% were told to perform something illegal; 18% have attempted suicide. Yet even under such stress, a person who relies on abortion-industry employment in order to support a family can feel stuck. ATTWN offers resources that can open up options.
I interviewed a couple of ATTWN workers a few years ago, and I asked them about their approach to abortion workers: “we love them out,” they told me.
Before the Charlotte Lozier Institute was founded, no single pro-life organization was dedicated to the kind of research on which policymakers could rely. Today, with a large staff of employees and an impressive roster of scholars, CLI sponsors and promotes research on a broad range of life issues and healthcare policy.
Once upon a time, the Guttmacher Institute – a onetime Planned Parenthood project – was the only place where journalists, activists, and legislators could find facts and figures about abortion. That’s no longer the case.
From CLI’s website: “The Charlotte Lozier Institute is committed to bringing the power of science, medicine, and research to bear in life-related policy making, media, and debates to promote a culture and polity of life. In just over a decade, CLI has established itself as a go-to source for accurate and timely research and information on life issues. With a current network of nearly seventy Associate Scholars from a variety of disciplines, CLI provides pro-life groups and policy makers research-based information of the highest quality on issues including abortion, women’s health, prenatal diagnosis and treatment for the unborn, perinatal hospice, abortion reporting, sex-selection abortion, stem cell research and medicine, and health care policy.”
Go to lozierinstitute.org to check out some of CLI’s published research. Make sure your legislators know about this resource as they consider promoting pro-life policy.
I reviewed the groundbreaking book “The Walls are Talking” when it was published in 2016. It was the first book to gather accounts from former abortion workers who had left the industry and were ready to share their experiences. I commented at the time that the only weak spot in the book was the anonymity chosen by some of the workers.
Since then, more abortion workers have left the industry with the assistance of the peer support group And Then There Were None (ATTWN). More are willing to go public, revealing their faces and names, despite fear of reprisal. On May 21, four of them and ATTWN founder Abby Johnson will be featured in a webinar.
From the email announcement of the event, sent by Abby Johnson and ATTWN:
After Unplanned: The Walls are Talking (Abby Johnson talks with former abortion workers)
Date: TUESDAY, MAY 21, 2019 Time: 4:30PM PT/ 6:30PM CT/ 7:30PM ET
UNPLANNED, the surprise hit film based on the book I wrote (of the same name, after I quit my job at Planned Parenthood) shook the nation as people were confronted with the truth about abortion. Many people, even those who are pro-life, didn’t know how horrific abortion was or the devastating effects it has wreaked on children, women, and their families. I received hundreds of personal messages about how UNPLANNED changed their views on abortion – and how they viewed those who worked in the industry, just like I did.
UNPLANNED only showed a small portion of what it looks like to work in the abortion industry. But it also showed how love and compassion can help workers quit their jobs and leave the industry entirely. Many of their stories are told in my second book, The Walls Are Talking.
Join me on TUESDAY, MAY 21 at 7:30pm EDT and four former abortion workers to learn:
– how their stories are changing the face of the pro-life movement, – the secrets of the abortion industry, and – how abortion clinics are dealing with the exodus of so many workers. I will introduce you to these four courageous former workers:
– Sue Thayer – Sue was a Center Manager for Planned Parenthood for 18 years. After she became pro-life, Sue led the first-ever 40 Days for Life campaign outside the very clinic she managed.
– Monica Cline – Monica was trained by Planned Parenthood for outreach to teens and saw first-hand that the goals were more abortion-centered than they were education-based.
– Adrienne Moton – Adrienne is a former employee of Women’s Medical Center, the infamous Kermit Gosnell’s practice. She worked in the abortion industry for 3 years.
– Myra Neyer – Myra worked for Planned Parenthood in Baltimore. She witnessed an unforgettable abortion procedure that led to her quitting her job in the industry.
Participants will be entered into a random drawing to receive an autographed copy of my book, The Walls are Talking. It can also be ordered by CLICKING HERE. I hope you will join me on May 21. These walls are talking, and it’s time we all listen. Sincerely,Abby Johnson.
This is not an unbiased review. I have met and been profoundly impressed by the woman who inspired this movie. I’ll say this much, in case one paragraph is all you have time for: Unplanned is worth viewing. Whatever your belief about abortion – especially if “trust women” is your visceral response to pro-life messages – take the time to watch Abby Johnson’s story. Trust her. This dramatization of her book of the same name might seem unbelievable, but it is faithful to the true story.
The film’s R rating is a puzzler. Violence is apparently the issue, which is odd in a world where an ad for a television show about zombies is more violent than anything in this movie.
About ten years ago, Johnson quit a Planned Parenthood job she had once loved and at which she had excelled. She had no clear idea of what was to come next. What she was certain about was that her commitment to women’s health and her job at PP were no longer in sync. Abortion had become a bottom-line concern for her agency even as her own understanding of abortion had evolved.
At the same time, over a period of many months, past the barrier of a tall fence, the sidewalk outside Johnson’s PP facility was the scene of peaceful prayer by people committed to public witness to the value of life. (This was the first location of what later became 40 Days for Life, now a twice-yearly worldwide pro-life event.) They slowly built relationships by engaging in conversations with the workers at the clinic whenever they could. They offered assistance to women willing to consider alternatives to abortion. They were undeterred by the occasional spray from sprinklers on the clinic’s property, set off to discourage their presence.
Johnson was not naive about abortion, having had two of her own. Her facility provided abortions in the name of “health care.” While her husband and parents were pro-life and uncomfortable with her work, she deliberately chose not only to work at Planned Parenthood but to rise to the level of facility manager. So what happened?
One little thing after another over a long period, a word here, an observation there, along with prayers from people she barely knew, came together for Johnson one day. She was asked to assist at an ultrasound-guided abortion. As the film’s tag line says, what she saw changed everything for her. The humanity of the preborn child, no less than the humanity of the woman undergoing the abortion, hit her with full force.
The people praying outside her clinic gave her a place to land and catch her breath. Eventually, she joined them at the fence.
To this day, years later, the real-life Abby Johnson is calling on people to pray outside clinics. “Abortions aren’t happening in the halls of Congress,” she likes to say.
I wish the film had more room for Johnson’s more recent work: she founded an organization called And Then There Were None, dedicated to abortion workers seeking to leave the abortion industry. She and the team working with her have helped about 500 people make the transition away from abortion and toward life-affirming work.
Stories told in broad, bold strokes don’t always translate well to film. A pair of experienced filmmakers, Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman (God’s Not Dead) nonetheless took on the job with Unplanned. The film is as blunt and forthright as the woman whose story it relates.
Abby, as played by Ashley Bratcher, stands out in such sharp relief that the supporting characters in some scenes are overshadowed. One exception is Robia Scott, in the role of a Planned Parenthood supervisor ferociously protective of abortion as an integral part of her organization’s mission.
Planned Parenthood does not come off well in this story. Since leaving PP, Abby Johnson has been outspokenly critical of the organization and its financial reliance on abortion. Her own experience led her to conclude that women’s health was not PP’s core value. As anyone can discover who has examined Planned Parenthood and its influence on public policy, PP is the largest abortion provider in the nation, with the help of about half a billion dollars annually in taxpayer funding.
Two scenes may be responsible for the film’s R rating. Had the directors left them out, they would have left inexplicable holes in the story.
The first is the opening scene, showing the a-ha moment that drove Abby Johnson from her job. A grainy image on a sonogram screen (simulated but not exaggerated by special effects) shows what happens during a suction abortion.
The second scene is more extended and difficult to watch. One of Johnson’s abortions was “medical,” a sanitized term for a chemical abortion induced with drugs and completed at home. The counseling Johnson received did not prepare her for the pain and protracted hemorrhaging she experienced at home, alone, with no one from the clinic there to help her.
But an R rating? Why would anyone set up a barrier between a teen and Abby Johnson’s story? Not to protect the teen, that’s for sure.
I won’t dodge the inevitable comparison between Unplanned and the recent Gosnell movie. Gosnell was in essence a police procedural about horrific crimes, and its power was due in part to its understated tone. There is nothing understated about Unplanned. It’s personal. It’s the story of a woman with vivid memories, passionate commitments, and dramatic experiences. The mood is urgency. There’s no room for subtlety.
As the most fully-realized character in the story, Abby has to be just as believable as a college student as she is as a clinic director and later an ex-director. We have to stick around after that startling early scene to find out how she got from point A to such a distant point B. In portraying her, in persuading us to wonder what’s next, Ashley Bratcher carries the film.
Unplanned is such a cause célèbre among pro-life activists that people who consider abortion to be a facet of health care might be put off from seeing it. Go anyway. Something might strike a chord.
There’s no need to encourage viewing by the legions of people who have already been influenced by Abby Johnson’s books and activism. They’re already in line to see the movie, and they’ve probably already read Johnson’s books. (Look up Unplanned and The Walls Are Talking, available in print and as e-books.)
What can Unplanned offer a wider audience? Something they won’t find on any other screen: a chance to learn about Abby Johnson, who is a true American original; an invitation to walk with her on part of her still-unfolding journey; and a challenge to trust her and her witness to the value of all human life.
The first book I ever bought when I acquired an e-reader was Unplanned by Abby Johnson. I had never heard of her before. I knew that the book was by an ex-Planned Parenthood worker, and I’d never met such a person, so I thought I might have something to learn by reading her book.
I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. Abby’s story forced a course correction on the work I’d been doing my entire adult life. If not a correction, then an expansion. I had known abortion workers only from public hearings and press conferences. I’d certainly never known one who had left the industry.
My horizons have been expanded since the book was published in 2010. Unplanned nudged me out of my comfort zone.
Unplanned has been made into a movie, and it’ll be released in theaters next month, March 2019. I’m looking forward to it. Here’s the official trailer.
Not long after Fr. Imbarrato paid a visit to my area and spoke about the need for “decisive strategies” for pro-life activists, I read about his arrest for a sit-in at an abortion facility. Not on the sidewalk – but in the facility itself. Thirty years ago, I would have admired that.
Thirty years ago, I hadn’t met any former abortion workers.
I read Abby Johnson’s Unplanned in 2010, and later met and listened to her. I met Catherine Adair in 2011. These women told me about how, when they were working at Planned Parenthood, the actions and words of some pro-life activists actually increased the sense of solidarity among the clinic workers and the fear among clients. They forced me to see activism differently.
Please watch this 20-minute video from Sidewalk Advocates for Life. Abby and Catherine are both featured. Entitled “Desperate Measures,” the video is a direct response to recent sit-ins and “rescues.” The message is don’t do it – and here’s the better way to carry out peaceful pro-life witness.