Bookish conversation with author Samantha Wilcoxson.
You can also find me on my blog.
This book has been on my TBR for quite some time, and I finally made it a priority to read it after having the opportunity to hear Abby Johnson speak at a local event. Her story is in turns tragic and inspiring on many levels. While it is no great literary work, I didn't expect it to be, and, with a story like this, it doesn't need to be.
It is no surprise that this book rates higher with pro-life readers than pro-choice, but what I really appreciated about Abby's point of view was that she humanizes both. Turned off equally by extremism on both sides, Abby points out that most people tend to be doing what they truly feel is best for women. That is what put her in her increasingly awkward position with Planned Parenthood.
At one time, PP was possibly more pro-woman and less pro-profits, but, as happens with many not-for-profits, they began to see themselves as a business rather than a charity. As we all know based on news since Abby has left PP, abortion is big business. She joined PP as a college junior because she believed that the organization cared about women as much as she did. Maybe, at that time, they still did.
When you give the devil a foothold, he has a way of taking over, so it didn't take long for abortion to become a necessary evil in Abby's mind. She even courageously confesses to having two abortions herself. She chides her younger self for her way of thinking.
If I have this child? Why wasn't it obvious to me that I already had a child, who was growing inside of me? Once you are pregnant, there is no if. That child, though tiny and in an early stage of development, already exists! But I didn't yet see that. What I saw, and by now was reinforcing in the minds of other young women as part of the Planned Parenthood organization, was that I was in a condition of pregnancy, not that I was now the mother of a child already dependent upon my own body for sustenance. I am amazed at how semantics can shape thought.
Abby talks a lot about semantics in this book and how the PP talking points are designed to minimize the decision that women in crisis situations are making. Yet, for years, she believed that compassion was their driving force, that providing education and birth control was PP's chief goal in order to perform as few abortions as necessary. It was how she justified her position there. She was helping women.
Of course, Abby isn't the only one to work at PP because they want to help women. It is easy to vilify the organization based on their misleading statements and illegal practices, but there must still be good people working there who truly believe they are doing what they can to help women in their time of need. Abby is no longer one of them.
I'd begun at Planned Parenthood, as many of my coworkers had, out of a sense of idealism and a desire to help women in crisis, but it seemed to me the emphasis had shifted at the organization. It seemed like maybe that's not what a lot of people were believing anymore because that's not where the money was. The money wasn't in family planning, the money wasn't in prevention, the money was in abortion, and so I had a problem with that.
She could no longer keep her blinders on when a combination of things happened. First, she gained the position of clinic director and was given an insider's view of how decisions were made and what organization priorities were. Second, the abortion quota. No longer could Abby believe the lie that PP wished to minimize abortions through education and birth control when she was informed that the number of abortions at her clinic needed to double because "that's how we make our money" and free birth control needed to be cut back because it was too expensive. Finally, Abby was asked, despite a complete lack of medical training, to assist with an ultrasound guided abortion. Watching that 12 week old baby fight for its life only to be torn apart as the doctor made lighthearted jokes was more than her conscience could take.
Throughout this story, Abby doesn't pull punches when it comes to the actions of the "other side" either. She and her husband were denied membership to their church because she worked for an abortion clinic. Instead of reaching out in love, these Christians closed their doors. She also expresses anger toward pro-life protesters who use graphic signage and guilt instead of prayer and kindness to spread their message. Since she was working at PP when Dr. Tiller was murdered by a pro-life extremist, she knows what she is talking about.
In the end, Abby became a spokesperson for the pro-life movement, largely due to actions of PP. She would have quietly gone away, but PP made a media spectacle out of it. They attempted to damage Abby's reputation (after naming her employee of the year the year before) and create public sympathy for the organization but ended up creating a much larger pro-life stir.
Over the course of more than a decade, Abby has endured attacks from PP, negative media attention, loss of friends, and public scrutiny of her life. Yet, when she talks about her decision to leave PP, it is without regrets. She has learned to trust that, "He had chosen to demonstrate through me, that He redeems the foolish, the broken, the sinful, and then uses them to accomplish His purposes."