When Abby Johnson witnessed an ultrasound-assisted abortion of a 13-week-old fetus, she knew that she had to stop working at Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas. But first, she had some things to work out, so she sought support from a pro-life group that held prayer vigils at the clinic.
Johnson resigned in October 2009, and her book, “Unplanned” (Tyndale Momentum, $14.99), an exposé on Planned Parenthood, was released in January 2011.
“After my book came out, I started getting phone calls from people who read it, and they said that they were having conflicting feelings about working in abortion clinics,” Johnson told Our Sunday Visitor. “My husband, Doug, and I started helping them financially to transition out of the clinics, helping them to get plugged into some local resources and helping them to find new jobs. We did that for about eight months, and then we thought that maybe we should look into making this an official ministry. By that time, we had had about 17 people come to us, and we had assisted each one individually.”
After 40 years of legal abortion, she added, there weren’t any officially organized nonprofits that specifically helped abortion clinic workers. With no model for guidance, she and her friend, Jennie MacGregor (now the operations manager), broke new ground in June 2012 when they founded And Then There Were None (ATTWN).
“We thought that if we had 10 to 12 people come to us in a year, that would be wildly successful,” Johnson said. “And then we had 137 in two and a half years. That tells me that this has been a huge missing piece of the puzzle in the pro-life movement. This also tells us a little about how clinic workers had been viewed for so long — that we’re unreachable, that they are almost inhuman. This is simply not the case. Nobody grows up wanting to work inside an abortion clinic. I know from personal experience that it’s a series of choices that leads us to those facilities.”
Johnson was in college when she was recruited by Planned Parenthood at a job fair on campus. They told her that abortion was a very small part of what they do, and she was interested in helping women. She first came aboard as a volunteer, then took a job that years later led to her being the clinic director.
“I remember my boss telling a person who wanted to leave and become a social worker that she would never get another job because she worked in the abortion industry,” Johnson said.
“And that is really true in most parts of the country. You will have a black mark against you on your résumé. There’s a kind of fear that keeps people from leaving.”
ATTWN helps abortion workers in a number of ways. One is financial aid for one month, which can enable a woman to take that first step.
“It’s easy to tell someone to quit their job, but please remember that these workers have families and bills,” Johnson said. “It’s much easier to search for a job when they have financial assistance.”
Once it is verified that a worker who has asked for assistance has resigned from a clinic, ATTWN will provide the financial assistance to help them through the transition. One woman’s testimonial on the website expressed gratitude for that support.
“As a single parent, I thought I would be stuck inside of the abortion clinic. I didn’t think I would ever have the money to leave,” she wrote. “I was able to leave my job and not worry about finances while I was job hunting. I owe this group so much.”
Career, legal advice
ATTWN helps the workers to find new jobs, often through their network of sympathetic employers all over the country and professional recruiters who help them search in their area.
“We can get them in contact with pro-lifers who own or manage businesses,” Johnson said. “We ask them to take a chance on these workers, and many have done that. For the most part, it has worked out beautifully for all involved. Some are now working with pregnancy resource centers and helping women to choose life.”
Former abortion workers might find themselves mired in legal problems connected with the abortion industry (for instance, if there are any actions against a clinic, or if the person is a whistleblower). ATTWN works with attorneys in all 50 states who will provide counsel when needed, and some have used testimony from former workers to get clinics shut down.
“I knew that whatever was thrown at me ... lies, lawsuits, whatever ... I would be able to get through it,” one woman who left Planned Parenthood wrote. She called ATTWN a lifesaver.
Emotional support is crucial, too.
“I could not have left without the help of Abby and her group,” one woman wrote. “They were there for me on so many levels. I was scared to leave but knew that I had a safe place to land. I can’t thank everyone enough for their support and encouragement.”
Each worker is assigned a client advocate to walk them through the painful journey of finding healing and forgiveness. “We listen, give advice and pray, and offer whatever support the worker needs,” Johnson said.
They also can share their experiences on a private forum, and if necessary, ATTWN can provide professional counseling.
“Everybody who comes out of this has been kind of going through a spiritual crisis, and they’re seeking spiritual help,” she said. “We get them in touch with a local clergy, and many of the workers who come to us are Catholic, so we try to get them back to the sacraments.”
Several times a year, ATTWN pays for former abortion workers to attend retreats across the country where they can begin to heal. Many feel alone and struggle with self-hatred and guilt. According to a letter from Johnson detailing the October retreat, one woman said, “I can still hear the sound of babies’ skulls being crushed.”
Another said, “I treated the women like cattle and the babies like less than human.”
A former Planned Parenthood nurse said, “I don’t want to remain silent and carry this pain alone. I want to be free to heal and share.”
The workers come from every background and every job, from the person who answers the phone and makes referrals, to the doctors and nurses who perform the abortions, and the janitors who clean up the facility. They want out, and ATTWN will be there for them.
There have been multiple exits from abortion facilities in a number of locations. Five people left one clinic, and in Florida, another clinic lost six.
“I pray that those in the pro-life movement understand that their lives are just as valuable as the lives of the unborn we all hope to save,” Johnson said.
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.