The first time Abby Johnson helped an abortion facility worker leave the industry she was speaking at a Hispanic pro-life conference in Los Angeles in 2010. As she walked off the stage a woman was calling her name, “a desperate type of scream,” Johnson recalled. So Johnson walked over to the wire fence and an educator from a local abortion facility fell into her arms, weeping.
The woman’s fiancé, who was pro-life, had brought her to the rally to hear Johnson’s story of resigning as director of a Planned Parenthood operation in Bryan, Texas, after she witnessed an ultrasound showing a 13-week-old unborn child being “crumpled” and disappearing. The day after the rally the woman quit and Johnson eventually helped her find another job at a pregnancy resource center.
Soon more abortion workers began contacting Johnson. “I don’t want to stay,” they would tell her, “but I don’t know how to leave.” For several months Johnson tried to help as many as she could on her own, but it soon overwhelmed her. That led her to start a ministry in June, the first of its kind, called And Then There Were None (ATTWN), which has so far helped 40 abortion workers leave the industry. Johnson is thrilled: “We thought maybe we would help 10 per year.”
The ministry’s name comes from its slogan: “No abortion clinic workers. No abortion clinics. No abortions.” ATTWN provides up to three months of financial support, legal counsel during the transition, emotional support, and a spiritual advisor.
Johnson estimates that 3,300 workers staff the nation’s 650 abortion facilities, and the loss of only a few employees would easily cripple most of these small operations. Once one leaves, others can follow quickly. For example, a facility in Georgia has lost six staffers with ATTWN’s help, while another in Houston has seen five walk out the door.
It’s harder than it sounds to quit. The abortion industry is hostile to people who defect, Johnson said, and there’s a strong stigma against abortion workers that makes finding a new job very difficult, especially in healthcare. Many of these workers are single parents. Johnson said Planned Parenthood sued her when she left just to “make an example of her.” One clinic is withholding a woman’s final paycheck until she turns over her personal cell phone.
That reflects a paranoia over what these workers will say once they get out. The abortion business is rife with deceit, fraud, and malpractice of various kinds, Johnson charged, and about half of the workers ATTWN has helped are already talking to lawyers. Four, including Johnson, have filed lawsuits against their former employers.
On the ATTWN website Johnson relates how her Planned Parenthood boss once told staffers the affiliate had been over-billing the government. As workers wondered whether they could go to jail, the boss revealed her strategy: “We’re going to hope we don’t get caught.” Part of ATTWN’s pitch to workers is: “You think you can trust these people? Think again.”
But the reason most leave, according to Johnson, is a spiritual awakening. About half the workers came to ATTWN because a pro-lifer on a sidewalk handed them information or said, “I’m praying for you.” The peaceful prayer vigils do have an effect, Johnson said, even if the workers never look up as they walk by.
But other pro-lifers have contacted ATTWN to say that ex-abortion workers “don’t deserve forgiveness” or will “never be able to make up for all the babies they’ve killed.” Johnson finds those reactions “pretty sad.”
According to Johnson, many of those who left were not especially committed to abortion rights when they started. They aren’t evil people, she said, but broken people leading double lives and they need a fresh start: “Our goal is not just to get them out of the industry, but to help them live their life for Christ.”