Abby Johnson: Y
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And in fact, John, we have the May 4th event coming in Times Square with music and speakers, along with 4D, third trimester ultrasounds. It’s gonna start at 3 PM in Times Square on May 4th, and I hope people will join us.
John: Yeah, you can find out details and pre-register to attend the May 4th event in Times Square at focusonthefamily.com/prolife. And of course, we’ll have more resources there as well.
And joining Abby in our broadcast was Shawn Carney, the co-founder, director, and CEO of 40 Days for Life. They’re a pro-life outreach, and they peacefully pray outside of abortion clinics. This really is a fascinating story of how God worked in and through the lives of these two people. So stay with us, and let’s go ahead and start the conversation as Abby shares how she began working at Planned Parenthood.
Abby: I was a student at Texas A&M University. I got involved. They have a – every semester at A&M, they have a volunteer opportunities fair, where all the non-profits uh, come together. And so, I – I listened to this woman uh, from Planned Parenthood talk about what was available. And I remember telling her, you know, “Well, I kind of grew up pro-life.” And she said, “Oh, you know, I understand that.” And “You know, I know it’s very controversial, but if Planned Parenthood wasn’t around, and if safe abortion facilities weren’t around, then women are gonna basically be sent to these places that are unsafe. Women are gonna be dying, you know, by the thousands. And you know, we have to be here for these women.”
And you know, that really kind of pulled on my heart. And I thought, “Well, gosh, I don’t want women to be dying, you know, because they don’t have this choice.” And that is something I never thought about before um, because I’d never really thought about the abortion debate at all. Um, I remember in high school saying out loud that I was pro-life, because my parents were pro-life. Um, but I’d just never really had a dialogue about it. Uh, you know, of course they never talked about the baby. That was never the issue. It was always…
Abby: …the life of the woman. And so, that was really initially what drew me into the movement.
Jim: So you felt motivated by your desire to help women?
Jim: And they – they certainly played on that to make sure that that was reinforced at every turn…
Jim: …and not to think of the baby as a human being, but as something different? Tell us about that. How would they coach you to dehumanize the child?
Abby: Right, well, I mean, you were instructed never to say the words “baby” at all. You know, if the woman coming in for an abortion referred to her child as a baby, you know, you were to come back with the word “fetus” or “tissue,” um, you know, not to reinforce the fact that, from her perspective, it was a baby. And so, you know, you were never thinking about the pregnancy that she’s carrying. You’re never to think about, you know, the baby and – and its personhood. You’re always to think about the woman and her situation and how to get her out of basically, the illness…
Abby: …that she now has, as this pregnancy.
Jim: Abby, when you – when you look at that experience, how – how long did you work for Planned Parenthood?
Abby: I volunteered there for three years, and then worked there for five years.
Jim: And in 2008, you were given the award of Employee of the Year for the, I think, southeast Texas region.
Abby: Yeah, for our affiliate.
Jim: Is that correct?
Jim: Shawn, describe for us what you’re doing at your organization and the purpose of your organization and what you do day-to-day with Planned Parenthood clinics, such as Abby’s.
Shawn Carney: Well, I – I work with a national campaign called 40 Days for Life. And what we do is this started in College Station, Texas, in front of the abortion facility that Abby ran. And we simply hold peaceful vigils for 40 days, with a focus on prayer to end abortion in our nation and around the world and – and with the intention of fasting for an end of abortion. And we’re there for 24 hours a day for 40 days.
And it was really through that first 40 Days for Life that I came to know Abby. You’re out there. This is a peaceful effort. We’re out there praying silently, but being there as a witness. There’s no peace at abortion facilities and we know that obviously, we’re there for the women going in and having these abortions. But we’re also there for those who work in this industry, and maybe deep down, may want a way out. And a peaceful, prayerful witness is a simple invitation.
Jim: Can I – let me ask Abby about that. There you are, the director of this clinic. You have people on the curb praying. What’s happening in your heart?
Abby: Well, I think, just as Shawn said, there is no peace inside of an abortion facility. And so, you know, what a lot of people, I think stereotypically, they think that most of the clinic workers have no relationship with Christ. They’re not spiritual. And while that is the case for a lot of people that work at the abortion facility, it’s not the case for all.
And you know, I was a Christian while I worked at the abortion facility. Uh, you know, I would help perform abortions on Saturday, and then I would go and sit in the pew on Sunday. And I would feel this spiritual struggle in my heart. And then, it was almost confirmed whenever I would go back to my job on, you know, Monday, and I would see people out there praying. And it was – yeah, it was a nuisance, you know, because you think, “Okay, there’s these people out here again,” you know. Um, but also, you feel like, “Okay, am I really doing the right thing here?” I mean, you…
Abby: …you do have that type of struggle.
John: I’m wondering, Abby, if you had had any protestors or any pro-life people at the clinic or around the clinic prior to this 40-Day effort?
John: And if so, what the difference was between the – the types of demonstrations that you saw.
Abby: Yeah, I can say honestly that there had been a change. When I first started um, volunteering at the clinic uh, you know, there would be people out there maybe with large graphic signs. Um, there would be people out there maybe not being as compassionate to the women…
Abby: …uh, you know.
Jim: By saying what? Doing what?
Abby: Um, you know, saying things like, “Don’t go inside and kill your baby.” You know, things like that, not offering words of hope or words of help, just kind of offering words of condemnation. And we started to see a change. So it was easy for us as volunteers and as workers to say, “Oh, look! See, they really are harassing people.”
Jim: So, it actually confirmed in your heart what you were doing at the time, these people that are preventing the care for women…
Jim: …in what they were doing?
Jim: And that reinforced what you were doing?
Jim: So it was working against them, the very goal that they were trying to get to…
Jim: …was actually? Shawn, tell me about that motivation. When you started your effort, was that something that you were cognizant about? Is this something that you wanted to see done differently?
Shawn: Absolutely. And I got involved in this in college as a young man, and I saw it grow, and I saw that there needed to be some changes in the approach and that it needs to be centered on prayer and that we have to have that Christ-like witness. Christ is very attractive, especially to sinners who are seeking Him. And if we take Him to a place where there’s no peace, where there’s no hope – abortion survives on despair – uh, then we’ll see a change if we’re willing to change our approach. And that’s why we did 40 Days, you know, to have that scriptural emphasis of how – how God will use that time period to convert hearts and minds, including our own.
Jim: But some in the Christian community see that. They see, Abby, I apologize, but I mean, they would see Abby as the enemy. How did you overcome that? You saw her as a soul that the Lord wanted to save beyond the Christian experience that you’ve had at that point, Abby. Shawn, how did you see through the blur and the noise to say, “God cares for Abby?”
Shawn: Well, I saw Abby walk in every day to work. And I saw that she was a human being and we have to have a zeal for souls. And I don’t think that fighting abortion, which is – this is overwhelming. We’ve lost 50 million in our history, in our country alone. It’s too overwhelming to try to just fight abortion and have enemies everywhere. You won’t make it. We have to rely on prayer. We have to rely on a peaceful effort. And we have to put it all on God at the end of the day.
You know, we didn’t convert Abby. God did. We simply provided a vessel to be used, one that can be uncomfortable or controversial at times or unpopular at times, but one that’s effective, if it’s witnessing the Gospel.
Jim: Abby, let me ask you, because you said a moment ago uh … you’re a Christian at that time, working at Planned Parenthood. You go to church on Sunday, do abortions on Saturday. I can hear the gasp in our audience about that contradiction, because those in the pro-life movement – for us it’s so clear the distinction and God’s heart for the sanctity of human life. Help us better understand how you lived in that dualism, how you lived with that.
Abby: Well, you know, one is that, you begin to rationalize it. Um, I believed that I was doing the work of God. Uh, it’s bizarre for me to say that now uh, but at the time, I thought, “How can you be a Christian and not be pro-choice? How can you be a Christian and send these women to these back-alley abortionists?” You know, “If you’re pro-life, you don’t care about these women.” And so, I was able to rationalize it that way and think that I was – I was doing the work of God, because I was helping these women.
Jim: I think some would say that the Christian community focus exclusively on the baby and not the mother. Have you found that to be true? How do you process that?
Abby: Well, I – I hope that’s not true, because I think that we have to – if we’re going to really conquer this injustice of abortion, then we have to focus on them as a unit.
Jim: Correct. I mean, both mother and child, so, I agree with that Abby. Let me – let me take you back to that day, when you decided to leave Planned Parenthood. Help us understand that.
Abby: Yeah, I was working in the clinic on that Saturday. And um, so on that day, we had a visiting physician, and he owns his own practice out of town. And all he does – he’s a private practice abortionist. And in his own facility, he only does ultrasound guided abortions. It’s a very uncommon type of abortion procedure because it’s more time consuming. It takes about an extra 5 to 10 minutes. You think 5 or 10 minutes isn’t that long, but when a facility is trying to do between 30 and 40 abortions a day,
5 to 10 minutes…
John: Adds up.
Abby: …adds up. So it – for this particular woman, he did want to use ultrasound guidance. And she was about 13 weeks along in her pregnancy.
John: This is Focus on the Family, and we’re listening to Abby Johnson. And you can get her book,, when you stop by our website. We’ll also have details there about See Life Clearly, our national campaign to protect preborn babies. The special site is focusonthefamily.com/prolife. Focusonthefamily.com/prolife.
Let’s go ahead and continue with the program.
Jim: Abby, can you, at 13 weeks, just paint the picture for us of what that baby looks like in the mother’s womb?
Abby: The baby’s fully formed. All organs are formed uh, at that time – kidneys, liver, all limbs…
Abby: …hands, fingers…
Jim: Fingers? Toes?
Abby: Uh, they’re – all of those are operational; fingers are operational. Babies are sucking their thumb at that time. It – it – yeah, I mean…
Jim: And you can see that on the ultrasound?
Abby: You can see that on the ultrasound. And so, I was called into the room, during an ultrasound guided abortion procedure. Someone has to physically hold the ultrasound wand on the woman’s abdomen during the entire procedure. So I remember thinking whenever I was asked to go in and assist, I was actually kind of excited about the opportunity to learn a new procedure, to witness a new type of technique of abortion. I thought that this would be a good learning experience for me.
Abby: So when I went in, I got the ultrasound wand in place, and I was holding it there, and I looked up on the screen and saw this, you know, perfectly formed baby. It was a full side profile. And I saw um, the – the full side of the baby from head to foot and you know, just like something you would see in a movie or something you would see in a textbook. And then I saw the probe. It’s called a cannula. It’s what actually is hooked up to the suction. Now, when the probe goes into the woman’s uterus, the suction is not on. They turn it on after it’s in place.
And so, I saw this probe go into the woman’s uterus on the ultrasound, and I’m still thinking at this time, “Hey, this is – this is interesting.” I’m still thinking that this is gonna be a good learning experience.
Then all of a sudden, I see the cannula begin to kind of prod the baby in the side. And, you know, nothing was happening. And then, like it was like all of a sudden, the baby woke up. And the baby started to move and started to – the – the legs started kicking and – and the arms started moving. And it was – it was like the baby was trying to find a place to go in the uterus.
Jim: It was reacting to this?
Jim: Because it was living. You’re a mother of a 3-year-old girl.
Jim: Was any of that going through your mind at this time…
Jim: …of your own child?
Abby: Absolutely. At – at that moment, it went from, “Hey, this is gonna be a good learning experience,” to “Oh, my gosh! I’m about to witness something horrible.” And I just thought, “This baby’s living.” I mean, it just – it was just like a flash.
Jim: That baby, to you, was a human being?
Abby: Mmhmm. Yes.
Jim: What happened in your heart?
Abby: I immediately felt a lot of guilt, because I – you know, women, when they come in for an abortion and you know, being a – a counselor to these like thousands of women that I had talked to, women ask a lot of questions. You know, eight out of 10 women consider themselves to be a Christian – women who are – are getting abortion procedures. And so women naturally would ask a lot of questions about their religion, about God, and – and so, you know, you try to answer those questions the best you can. But one of the most common questions that women ask is, “Will my baby feel this?”
Jim: And what do you say?
Abby: I always said, “No,” because Planned Parenthood had told me, “No, absolutely not.” And so, that was my response.
Jim: And then, on the screen, on that ultrasound machine, you’re seeing a baby react…
Abby: That baby was feeling…
Jim: …fighting for its life?
Abby: …what was happening. And – and I immediately – that was really the first thing I thought of, was all of the women that I had lied to. And I thought, “Would they have changed their mind, if they knew the truth? Would I still be here, if I would have known the truth?” And then I – you know, it was – it was just – it was like I didn’t want to watch. I realized what I was about to see, but I couldn’t stop looking at it.
John: It was too late.
Abby: And then they – they turned on the – the suction, and basically, I – I watched the baby begin to twist and turn and just crumple through the – the suction, the cannula. I mean, it was over in just a matter of seconds. And then, I just immediately, thought of my daughter and remembered the ultrasound we had of her whenever I was 12 weeks pregnant. And you know, remembered just how joyful we were and how excited we were. You know, and we printed out all these pictures of the ultrasound. We put them up on our refrigerator and you know, we were so excited at that time. And – and just thinking that, that baby’s face looked just like Grace’s.
Abby: You know and – and just um…
Jim: So you’re caught in this contradiction all of a sudden?
Jim: What are you thinking? I mean, what – you’re riding home now. You’ve done this. You’re feeling guilty about it. You’re going home to hug your daughter.
Jim: What is God doing in your heart?
Abby: I’m – well, I mean, that day I thought, “I’ll – I’ll never do this again.”
Jim: Did you decide at that moment that that’s when you would leave Planned Parenthood?
Abby: Mmhmm, yeah. I knew standing there, holding that ultrasound probe and ha – I had one hand on the ultrasound probe and – and the other hand on this woman’s belly. And – and just feeling that there was once life there and now there wasn’t and knowing that my hand had been a part of that and – and just feeling this grief for this woman that I had taken part in her lost motherhood and just thinking, “You know, what am I doing? How – how have I done this for so long?” You know, “How have I not seen the reality of this?” Um, and so I just – I knew on that day that that was it.
Jim: Abby, as you’re talking right now, there are many people out there listening, women who have had an abortion, perhaps a man who did not talk his girlfriend or his wife out of an abortion. There’s a lot of guilt in the hearts of people out there right now. What would you say to them? How do they cope?
Abby: I would say that, as cliché as this sounds, you have to give that guilt to God.
Abby: He is big enough to handle your burden. You cannot cope with the guilt of an abortion on your own.
John: Abby, I – I watched your face as you reacted to that question. And uh, when you say, “Give your guilt over to God,” um, it seemed like you were saying it more from heart knowledge than head knowledge. You’ve had to deal with guilt.
John: So, you’re telling folks that God can lift that guilt? There’s not anything too big?
Abby: You know, when I left Planned Parenthood, there wasn’t a day that I wasn’t crying. I couldn’t pray without crying. I couldn’t – and it – it was complicated, because I was happy to be gone, but I was so burdened by guilt, by what I had participated in for so long and the women that I had hurt, the friends who had opened up to me about having abortions and I had blown them off. I had said, “Oh, you’ll be fine.” I didn’t want to hear their pain, because I didn’t want to acknowledge that women suffered pain after an abortion.
And I remember the first time that I went out to the 40 Days for Life vigil to pray out in front of the clinic. It was October 23rd. And it was about 9:30 at night, and I was getting ready for bed. And I – I was praying and I – I was kinda thinking to myself, “You know, I wonder if there will ever be a time when I feel comfortable going and praying out in front of the clinic, where I used to work.” And I felt God telling me, “Go now.” I went out there, and I – you know, it was pitch black. It was now 10:30 at night. And I was standing there praying and I – and I went and introduced myself to the two prayer volunteers that were out there.
John: Because there’s a 24-hour prayer vigil going on there.
Abby: That’s right. I went and introduced myself to them and they were just ecstatic, you know. It had not been released yet that I had left Planned Parenthood, so I explained to them that I was once the director, and you know, they were just so joyful and so excited that I was…
Jim: I can imagine.
Abby: …out there and – and so I kind of went off by myself, and – and I realized at that moment. I mean, they’re over there probably praying prayers of thanksgiving, and I’m here, just praying, you know, for healing, feeling so remorseful. But it was at that moment, you know, I was out there praying and – and just so deep in prayer. You know, it’s a busy road. I just – I – there was no noise. It was just me and God, out there in front of that facility.
Abby: Peace. You know, for the first time, feeling total spiritual peace and feeling total healing. And so I know that healing is possible for these women and men and families that have been hurt.
Jim: And workers…
Abby: And workers…
Jim: …at the clinic.
Abby: …that have been hurt by abortion. I have coerced and helped women make the decision to kill their children. And redemption is possible.
Jim: Redemption is possible for everyone.
Jim: That’s the Good News. And that’s one of the reasons at Focus on the Family we have counselors. People can call here to get a friend who can put an arm around them, to talk them through that decision and what to do now. Abby, thank you. Shawn, thank you. And I hope you’re both willing to come back tomorrow for a second day of this discussion.
Shawn: Yes, thank you, Jim.
John: This is a fascinating story that we’ve heard today about the power of prayer and how God moves and never gives up on anyone. Abby Johnson and Shawn Carney have been our guests on Focus on the Family as we’ve talking about the sanctity of life.
Jim: I never get tired of hearing how God works in people’s lives, John. Just knowing that God can change hearts and open eyes to the devastating impact of abortion, that keeps us motivated to do our part in sharing with others in a loving way that these precious babies matter and they don’t have a choice in this decision. And if you made a choice to have an abortion in the past, please know that we have caring, Christian counselors here to help. Contact us to schedule an appointment over the phone.
And for those of you who can help save a baby’s life, a donation of $60 will achieve that. It’s amazing. Our Option Ultrasound program has already saved an estimated 425,000 babies. And right now, you can support this program and save a baby’s life for $60. And if you act today, we have friends that are gonna double that gift. So your $60 gift becomes 120, and you will save two babies. I hope that is enough to motivate you to get involved and pour the fuel into this engine of Option Ultrasound to do what it needs to do.
John: Yeah, and we’ll ask you to prayerfully consider a regular, monthly gift to Focus on the Family in this way. If you’re not able to, we certainly do appreciate one-time gifts of any amount. Either way, when you make a donation today to Focus on the Family, we’ll send Abby’s book,, as our thank you gift. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. Online, you can donate at focusonthefamily.com/prolife.
Well thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I’m John Fuller inviting you back tomorrow. We’ll hear the second half of this incredible story and once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.