Top ten posts, 2016: part 2

Leaven for the Loaf readers shared certain posts far and wide, making these five posts the most popular of 2016. (See yesterday’s post for numbers 6 through 10.)

#5: “Trojan Horse”: a veteran pro-lifer warns about an end-of-life study committee

When an end-of-life study committee bill (SB 426) was proposed in the New Hampshire Senate earlier this year, I asked former New Hampshire state rep and current Euthanasia Prevention Coalition USA leader Nancy Elliott about the legislation. What’s wrong with a “study”?

Photo of Nancy Elliott of Euthanasia Prevention Coalition USA speaking at a conference
Nancy Elliott of Euthanasia Prevention Coalition USA (Ellen Kolb photo)

Elliott noted that the bill as introduced “talks about end of life choices, but singles out ‘Aid in Dying’ – a  euphemism for assisted suicide and euthanasia.  It is apparent that the ‘choice’ that this bill wants to promote is suicide.  By rolling this into a commission stacked with pro-euthanasia people, this idea can be foisted on the citizens of New Hampshire.  It gives a platform for pro-assisted suicide/euthanasia advocates to have a platform to push this with.”

#4: Aftermath: roll calls of selected New Hampshire House votes

Last March, I compiled voting records for eleven life-issue bills considered by the New Hampshire House this year, offered a few observations, and gave a thumbs-up to the reps who were consistently pro-life.

#3: Book Review: “The Walls Are Talking”

Abby Johnson and the team at And Then There Were None have helped more than 300 abortion workers who have chosen to leave the abortion industry and seek other employment. Johnson and her co-author Kristin Detrow share the stories of some of those workers in The Walls Are Talking. 

“Abby Johnson gives fair warning in the preface to her new book: ‘This will not be an enjoyable read. It is a necessary one, however…’ She’s right on both counts. The Walls Are Talking gives former abortion workers a voice, and what they have to say is unsettling. ‘Settled’ is not how Johnson wants to leave anyone.”

#2: State Senate candidate Bill Gannon has notable 2016 voting record

Yes, Rep. Gannon had a notable pro-life voting record – and now, thanks to the voters of state senate district 23, he has just been sworn in as Senator Gannon. Congratulations and best wishes to him.

#1: On the Democratic ballot for president, Henry Hewes offers a pro-life option

By the modest standards of this New Hampshire-based blog, the popularity of this post was truly remarkable. It was published in February and continued to draw readers throughout the national presidential primary season.

“A day before the New Hampshire primary, two major Democratic candidates are campaigning hard against each other. On one point, they’re united: absolute support for unregulated abortion. [Henry] Hewes does not buy it, and he’s willing to bring a pro-life message not only to voters in New Hampshire but to other states holding primaries. ‘The primary goal of my campaign is to raise a bunch of money to do pro-life education. My family is not preparing for a move to Washington, D.C.  [I want to] raise money to run pro-life ads that are not really designed or focused around getting people to vote for Henry Hewes, but around pro-life education, educating people to what’s going on and focusing their attention on the prolife issue.'”

“Their story is not ours to share.”

The Walls are Talking (Ignatius Press, 2016)
The Walls are Talking (Ignatius Press, 2016)

Abby Johnson of And Then There Were None leads a team that has assisted hundreds of people who have chosen to leave the abortion industry. In The Walls Are Talking, Abby and co-worker Kristin Detrow related some of their stories.

Today, Abby took to Facebook to say why she hasn’t shared even more stories. Her answer begins and ends with the same assertion: those stories belong to the people who have lived them, and the stories are theirs to share, not hers.

“We truly value the courageous men and women who step forward and make this decision. We respect them. We value their privacy. And we allow them to take time to heal.”

The Facebook post is worth reading in full. Think in particular of the legal threats that can keep a worker from speaking out. “Ever since I left PP, they make sure that all of their workers sign several confidentiality statements. If they are in breech [sic] of that contract, then they will be sued.”

My one and only quibble with The Walls are Talking was the careful guarding of each former worker’s identity. Co-writer Detrow later said to me in an email, “I can assure you that I interviewed each and every one and have personally met many of them….I pray that the anonymity is not a stumbling block for readers.” Abby Johnson’s post today reminds me why anonymity isn’t just appropriate but essential, until such time as a worker chooses to speak out.

Walls & talk & film & a book…

Thank you to the reader who shared with me the latest email newsletter from the Lovering Center in Greenland. The newsletter includes this event announcement: “Free Movie Showing…’If These Walls Could Talk’…sponsored by the Lovering Health Center. May 2nd, 6:30 p.m., Levenson Room, the Portsmouth Public Library. Snacks and light refreshments will be provided. Following the film, you can participate in an art project to contribute to the 1 in 3 campaign.” It’s unclear whether the film is the twenty-year-old original or the sequel from 2000. Both are abortion advocacy pieces.

Tempting as “snacks and light refreshments” might be, I’ll skip this one. My time will be better spent with the definitive response to the film: The Walls are Talking, by Abby Johnson and Kristin Detrow. In their book, they let former abortion workers do the talking, bearing witness to their own experiences with the women who came to their facilities.

I hope that one day, The Walls are Talking or excerpts from it will be available in a low-cost paperback format that can be handed out at screenings of the old movie that inspired its title.

For now, I say find it, anywhere you can: on Amazon or the website of publisher Ignatius Press or the shelves of your local bricks-and-mortar bookstore. When you’re done, donate your copy to your town or church library. or lend it out yourself.

Snacks and light refreshments are optional.

Book Review: The Walls Are Talking

The Walls Are Talking, by Abby Johnson and Kristin Detrow (Ignatius Press, 2016, 155pp., $17.95)

Abby Johnson gives fair warning in the preface to her new book: “This will not be an enjoyable read. It is a necessary one, however…” She’s right on both counts. The Walls Are Talking gives former abortion workers a voice, and what they have to say is unsettling. “Settled” is not how Johnson wants to leave anyone.

The title was inspired by an old HBO movie called “If These Walls Could Talk,” a paean to abortion providers. Now, twenty years on, Abby Johnson turns that title on its head.

Pro-life readers may pick up the book because of its author’s reputation. Supporters of abortion rights might avoid the book for the same reason. The Walls are Talking is not primarily about Abby Johnson, though, and the experiences recounted in the book are powerful on their own terms. Any current abortion worker expecting ridicule or condemnation in the pages of these book will be surprised. So will any pro-lifer who picks up the book in search of a reassuring pat on the head.

When Johnson told the story of her unlikely departure from Planned Parenthood in 2011’s Unplanned, she ended on an upbeat note, after recounting the personal and professional challenges that faced her as she chose to leave abortion work.

“Upbeat” gives way to uncertainty in The Walls Are Talking.  The willingness of former abortion workers to walk out on jobs with benefits and security is a testament to courage and conviction. Few of the workers who tell their stories in this book expected soft landings after leaving their clinics, yet leave they did.

As one story succeeds another, the book’s major weakness becomes clearer: the anonymity of the people who agreed to be interviewed. Abby Johnson and her credited co-author Kristin Detrow note in the preface their desire to protect their subjects’ privacy. There is probably no one in the country who knows better than Johnson what kind of fallout comes from leaving the abortion industry. She herself faced legal action, among other things, when she left Planned Parenthood. Even so, if the day ever comes when one of the people interviewed for this book makes her name public, her story will become even more powerful.

It’s fair to note Johnson’s response to such a criticism. This comes from the web site of And Then There Were None, the nonprofit she founded to assist abortion workers seeking exit from the industry:  “Our goal is not to create new pro-life speakers. The primary goal of ATTWN is to draw clinic workers out of the abortion industry and set them on a path to recovery. Once a clinic worker has come to terms with what he or she has witnessed and participated in during the time working in the clinic (this can take months, years, or even decades), then they can make a rational, conscious decision whether to come forward and go public with their testimony…”

The Walls Are Talking is about people whose abortion work was motivated by sincere commitment to women’s health. We meet one such worker whose awakening began when a client suffered a ruptured ectopic pregnancy shortly after being sent home from the clinic. Positive pregnancy test but no pregnancy showing up on ultrasound: “We honestly didn’t have a protocol for that type of scenario.” After the client’s mother called the clinic the next day to report that her daughter had needed emergency surgery, the clinic offered the mother $680 on the condition that she sign a non-disclosure agreement. The worker was stunned, doubly so when the mother accepted the settlement. Women’s health – one particular woman’s health – took a hit that day.

Another person interviewed for the book remembers one abortion client, a girl who spoke no English and who was accompanied by an older American man who filled out the necessary paperwork. The young woman signed her name where the man pointed on the forms. While some of the clinic workers spoke among themselves about calling the authorities to report what was obviously a troublesome situation, they eventually decided on silence. “I pray that my story can serve as a cautionary tale, as a warning to the fence-sitters who claim not to have an opinion about abortion one way or the other….[I went] from someone who personally found abortion distasteful but necessary, to someone who chose abortion for herself, to someone who facilitated abortions. Evil prefers small victories.”

Pro-lifers are spared little in The Walls Are Talking, getting a cringeworthy glimpse of what they might look like to abortion workers. Harsh language comes in for particular criticism. Johnson, who entered the Catholic Church after leaving Planned Parenthood, says “I have heard so much vitriol spewed from the mouths of  ‘Christian pro-lifers’ since becoming pro-life….I am always terrified that clinic workers will see some of the words from pro-lifers. I have been told by several former workers that they will never come forward with their stories, because they are so scared of how they will be treated by us – by us, the supposed ‘Christian’ movement.”

Even more painful (possibly because it hits the bull-eye) is one ex-abortion-worker’s assertion that her former colleagues far exceed pro-lifers in level of commitment. “[T]hey [abortion advocates] are willing to risk their lives and their reputations for what they consider to be the civil right of abortion on demand. Sadly enough, they want it more. They are willing to risk more….The fact is that the people who are committed to the abortion movement are willing to sacrifice their time, talents, and treasure in a way that I have not seen elsewhere.”

It’s doubtful that an unknown author would have been able to find a publisher for this book, in spite of its unique content and viewpoint. Johnson is banking heavily on her reputation with The Walls Are Talking.  She runs the risk of being accused of making it all up. Her major pro-life project since the publication of Unplanned is the best defense against such an accusation: And Then There Were None, and the hundreds of former abortion workers ATTWN has served. In The Walls Are Talking, Abby Johnson is sticking her neck out not for herself but for them.