Planned Parenthood Clinic Director Joins Anti-Abortion Group

Abby Johnson had "change of heart" while watching an abortion on ultrasound.

November 4, 2009, 7:31 PM

Nov. 5, 2009— -- Abby Johnson quit her job. That simple act has become a national news story because Johnson, 29, was the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas who said she experienced a "change of heart" while participating in an abortion procedure.

Johnson has now joined a group called Coalition for Life, which prays outside the clinic where she worked.

"I had never seen an abortion happen on an ultrasound," she said. "My job during the procedure was to hold the probe on the woman's abdomen. I could see the whole profile of the baby 13 weeks head to foot. I could see the whole side profile. I could see the probe. I could see the baby try to move away from the probe."

Johnson worked at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas, for nine years, first as a volunteer and then as the director. Her duties included running the family planning and abortion programs. The clinic performed abortions two days a month.

Although she had seen ultrasounds before, including during her own pregnancy, Johnson said she had never seen an ultrasound image during an abortion. She is unclear why, as the director of the clinic, she was asked to be in the procedure room on that day, because it was not a normal part of her duties. Still, Johnson said, the experience changed her forever.

"I just thought, 'What am I doing?'" she said. "And then I thought, 'Never again.'"

Two weeks later, Johnson quit.

"I looked out the window and saw a couple of women praying and I thought, 'That's where I need to go,'" Johnson said.

She walked down the street and into the welcoming arms of the Coalition for Life.

Although she had originally been happy at her job, Johnson slowly grew to question "the motives of the organization," she said, particularly because her superiors were "pushing clinics that did have an abortion program to bring in more money."

Diane Quest, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, said she could not speak to Johnson's allegations about money, but said 90 percent of the health care that "our affiliates provide is preventative in nature -- contraception, screenings and STD testing and treatment."

"Obviously, many people -- both patients and health care providers -- experience complex thoughts and emotions about abortion," Quest said. "That's why Planned Parenthood respects it as a personal, emotional issue."

And the emotions around this issue have been running at fever pitch since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973 in the now-famous Roe v. Wade decision.

Johnson's defection will undoubtedly be seen as a public relations coup for the antiabortion movement, not unlike when "Jane Roe" herself announced that she had become a member of Operation Rescue -- an anti-abortion rights group.

Norma McCorvey, the 61-year-old woman who was at the center of the famous Roe v. Wade case, supported abortion rights until the mid-1990s.

Around that time, McCorvey befriended several people from Operation Rescue and she has remained an anti-abortion activist ever since. McCorvey was ejected from Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination hearing after yelling that Sotomayor was "wrong" about abortion.

Planned Parenthood filed a "restraining order of disclosure" against Johnson, because of fears she may have taken confidential files out of the organization. Johnson denied those allegations, and the two sides will meet at a hearing on Nov. 10.

Johnson said she is not out to become an activist.

"I'm not doing this to judge anyone," she said. "My goodness, I have participated in the abortion industry for eight years. I'm just here as a resource and telling my story ... and maybe somebody will be touched by it."

As for Planned Parenthood, Quest said the organization's work will go on regardless.