In late September, the abortionist at Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas, needed assistance, so he asked the center's director Abby Johnson to hold the ultrasound probe during a dilation and evacuation abortion. Johnson watched as the 13-week-old unborn child attempted to avoid the probe. "I saw a full profile of the baby from head to foot," she told me.
Once the abortion procedure began, Johnson saw the child "crumple" under the pressure of the vacuum and then in an instant the child was gone. The reality of seeing the baby moving struck her as she stood in shock and dropped the ultrasound probe, she recalled: "My heart was racing. I kept thinking about my daughter."
In her second year as director of the Bryan center and her eighth with Planned Parenthood, Johnson wanted to quit at that moment, but she and her husband needed two incomes, so she kept working. She knew that visiting abortionists only work at the center every other Saturday, so she knew she had two weeks to find another job before any more procedures would take place.
But several days later, on Oct. 5, as Johnson sat crying behind a closed door in her Planned Parenthood office, she watched women coming in and out of the center and knew they were receiving the abortion-inducing medication offered on weekdays. She was afraid that none of her pro-abortion friends or co-workers would understand her distress. Looking for answers, Johnson glanced out her office window and saw two women from the 40 Days for Life campaign praying on the sidewalk just outside the center. She got up and walked down the street to the house where the Brazos Valley Coalition for Life had set up its new headquarters a few weeks earlier. She resigned her position with Planned Parenthood the next day.
"Planned Parenthood pretty much lives in fear of Coalition for Life," Johnson said. Planned Parenthood asked for a restraining order in the 85th District Court that would prevent Johnson or Coalition for Life from releasing confidential information about its clients; Planned Parenthood workers claimed she copied down information shortly before resigning. "We don't know what that [information] is because I don't have any confidential documents," Johnson said, adding that she never considered violating her ex-clients' privacy. A judge threw out the request following a hearing on Tuesday.
Following Johnson's resignation, the pro-abortion community rushed to discredit her. Salon.com's Tracy Clark-Flory suggested that the Bryan center's 2008 "Employee of the Year" had her abrupt change of heart because she recently had a poor performance review and finally had caved under pro-life harassment and from "death threats" she had in the past complained to the local media about. Others were skeptical of her claim that seeing an abortion prompted her change of heart. They wondered how a Planned Parenthood director could not know what an abortion did.
"Of course I knew what an abortion was," Johnson said, adding that seeing it happen live struck her in a new way. She said she realized that the baby "wasn't something that doesn't have life."
Johnson is still looking for a job. She has been accused of trying to become the next right-wing media darling but points out that Planned Parenthood took the story public first-she was hoping to just move on with her life.
For now, Johnson plans to spend a lot of time in prayer. "I feel so pure in heart, I don't have this guilt," she said in an interview with the local ABC affiliate. "I don't have this burden on me anymore, and that's how I know that this conversion was a spiritual conversion."
Julie Smyth is a journalism student at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va.