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A Love for Life: Ex-Planned Parenthood Director Abby Johnson on Unplanned Movie

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

Once the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic, Abby Johnson made a startling realization in the Fall of 2009, one that motivated her to exit that pro-choice organization immediately.  The reason?  She had radically changed her views on abortion.

Having spent eight years working at Planned Parenthood, Johnson has devoted the last decade to helping abortion workers leave that industry.  Her ministry, And Then There Were None, has shepherded nearly 500 people through the sometimes-painful process of walking away from clinics that serve as ground zero for the highly contentious pro-life vs. pro-choice battle. 

In 2014, Johnson released a book about her conversion experience called Unplanned. Now comes a feature film with the same name that is based on the book. Releasing in theaters this week, the movie has already had to overcome several obstacles including an R-rating from the MPAA (unheard of for a faith-based film) and being denied music licensing by several record labels. 

I sat down with Abby on the set of Unplanned to discuss the best ways to reach women who are considering abortion, the explosive nature of this movie, and what its message communicates to men.

Your book speaks about the clients at Planned Parenthood. Many of your patients faced abuse, great poverty, illness, and incredible difficulties in their lives. How should pro-lifers be thinking about how to reach women in that state?

I find that the pro-life movement is so varied. The abortion industry is focusing on abortion rates. The pro-life movement is really focused on life from conception until death. And so you have people that are focused on the elderly, physician assisted suicide, and those that are terminally ill. You have people that are focused on abuse. It's a wide variety of people in the pro-life movement and what they're doing. And so, if we can't even bring these children into the world, then there’s no hope of actually fixing the crisis that their mother is in. 

This is because now they will now just be wounded from the abortion.  It's just compounding the problems that are already taking place in their life. This is why we want to help them fix the crisis. Not abort the pregnancy. That has to be the focus. I think the pro-life movement does a great job. But I think we can always do better.

There are resources everywhere, but it's really our job, the pro-life movement to know what those places are, where they are, and to be able to refer women if we come in contact with them, or when we come in contact with them.

It's one thing to have your book out there. But a movie about you and your cause takes everything to the next level of notoriety.  Movies frequently bring visibility that is exponential to a book on the same topic. Taking that into account, were you reticent about sharing your story on the big screen?

I don't know if there was ever a reticence, but there was a time right after the first conversation I had with directors Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon where I sat down and thought this is going to expose me, my life and my family in a way that we have not experienced before. That was a very vulnerable feeling, and honestly sort of a scary feeling. Ever since I left Planned Parenthood, my vow has been to be in God's will and to follow His will. I cannot operate in fear when I'm following His will. Just the other night I was lying in bed and I was feeling sort of anxious just thinking about what could be dug up about me.

But the beautiful thing is that everything that is ugly about my past has already been revealed. That's the beauty of being honest, being honest with my conversion, and being honest about who I once was and saying, “Yeah, that was totally me. And look at the new creation in Christ I am now.”

What was it like going to the movie set for the first time and seeing everything like it was? Did that experience create another layer of healing or was it traumatizing?

It's hard to watch someone play the worst version of yourself. But I was just reminded, even then, of the grace that I've seen in my life. It's appropriate that my daughter is named Grace.  I look at how much my life was shaped because of her, because of my pregnancy with her, because of who she was. Being her mom shaped my conversion. It shaped who I was. It softened my heart to be able to listen to that whisper of God saying, ‘You can't do this anymore.’ It was emotional to watch that for sure. But I watched it and it's still very surreal to watch other people living out your life.

The politics and the rhetoric are so fierce around the subject of abortion. How do you sustain a compassionate perspective in your work?

I know what it is to have misguided compassion. I know what it is to be complicit with horrible things and then still be loved, to still be forgiven, to still be shown mercy. That to me is something that we should all receive in our lifetime. We're all sinners. Knowing that we can do terrible things where we can fall away from our faith but knowing that the mercy that God extends to us is greater than anything we could ever imagine. Our minds can't even fathom the mercy that He has for us. With the Coalition for Life, to be befriended by people who I once saw as my enemy is so humbling. I really learned what their version of tolerance is. I believed while I worked at Planned Parenthood that I was this tolerant, enlightened individual. So did all of my co-workers. But I learned that they are only tolerant of people who believe what they believe.

When I turned away, not only did I find myself in a courtroom against my former best friends, but I found myself kicked out of my faith community. I was told by my church that I was no longer welcome. All of my friends had nothing to do with me. My phone numbers had to be changed. I was blocked on social media. And the only people that loved me just like I was, were these people who I believed to be intolerant. That was the pro-life group. Two of the people that were instrumental in my story were sidewalk counselors to me when I worked at the clinic. Having those close personal relationships with them that just goes to show that it wasn't just this superficial, ‘Oh, we care about you.’ Right. They were investing in prayer time every single day for me, even though there had to be times where they must have thought, ‘I don't know if she's ever going to get out of here.’ They still felt compelled to pray and then one day just like that they were able to see the fruit of their labor.

There has been so much attention paid to what women go through in these situations when they are getting abortions.  But what about the guys?  What do you hope this film communicates to men?

That’s a good question. There's so much attention placed on women and understandably so. There is a silence, particularly from men.  There are a lot of men who are pro-lifers. But men who have been personally affected by abortion, I think a lot of times they don't feel like they have a place in the pro-life movement. They feel like they don't have a right to share their story because secular feminism has told them to shut up. There definitely is a place for them. I hope that this film shows that healing is available to everyone and that there is no shame in admitting that you need healing. I hope that this movie will really open up the door for people of all different backgrounds.

Both men and women, people who've worked in the clinic, people who haven't, people who have been pro-life since they were two years old, whatever it is. They have been fighting this for many, many years. I hope that this will empower them. Even with our language, just to show compassion and then to find compassion for themselves because of what they've been a part of.

This movie is going to show the reality of what those women have to go through. That's what I think is going to be really powerful because the women are taking the brunt of the abortion. It’s happening to their physical bodies. It's happening to them emotionally. It's happening to their spirit. I hope that the men that watch this will say, ‘Oh my gosh, this is affecting her in a way that I have never understood before.’

Unplanned opens in theaters nationwide on Friday.
 

Watch a trailer for Unplanned:

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