The unraveling of Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood is a big business, one that performs the most abortions in the country. Founded by Margaret Sanger in 1921 as the American Birth Control League, it has a total annual budget of approximately a billion dollars, with hundreds of millions of dollars coming from the federal government (which means, ultimately, us taxpayers). Congress is now deciding whether to continue that funding.

Abby Johnson was the director of the Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Bryant, Texas in 2009. She began working there as a volunteer while a college student eight years earlier (she is now 30). She also had a couple of abortions herself, but managed to bury the memory for the time being. She seemed sincerely motivated by a desire to reduce unwanted pregnancies and to help women.

Once, for example, when a woman who had come for an abortion found out that she was expecting twins, the woman reacted, "I can't believe it. I can't abort twins!" Abby celebrated the woman's decision to allow the twins to be adopted. Along with the pro-life campaigners in front of her clinic, "I celebrated it too because after all, I believed adoption was a wonderful option, and I had always preferred adoption over abortion. I saw this as a victory for the cause I believed in--reducing the number of abortions."

She has written a memoir of her experiences with Planned Parenthood entitled "Unplanned: The dramatic true story of a former Planned Parenthood leader's eye-opening journey across the life line" (Salt River 2010). One day in 2009, after being called to assist at an ultrasound abortion, which she did to her horror, she quit her job as clinic director and ended up joining the pro-life demonstrators on the other side of the fence. That was after a meeting at Houston PP headquarters where she was given new client goals for abortions that were a marked increase over the past, while client goals for family planning services were kept relatively constant.

She asked herself, "Shouldn't it be the other way around? Our goal at Planned Parenthood is to decrease the number of abortions by decreasing the number of unwanted pregnancies. That means family planning services--birth control. That is our stated goal. So why am I being asked, according to this budget, to increase my abortion revenue and thus my abortion client count?"

When she protested, "But we are a nonprofit!" she was told in no uncertain terms: "Nonprofit is a tax status, not a business status." She was discovering that it wasn't so much about the principle as about the money. Fancy that!

She soon found herself on the other side of Planned Parenthood's graces, which was Unplanned, but a grace of a far higher sort. Trying to intimidate her, they filed for a gag order against her, which they did not get, since the First Amendment still counts for something in this country. This only succeeded in broadcasting her story to the nation and the world.

I read her wonderfully-written, page-turning memoir around the time that Dr. Bernard Nathanson, another leader-of the-abortion-industry-turned-pro-lifer, died. Though her memoir does not deal with this development, Abby Johnson is also about to become a Catholic, like Bernard Nathanson, and, indeed, like Norma McCorvey, the original Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade, who had previously also switched to the pro-life side after working for Planned Parenthood.

"Felix culpa," "happy fault," is what the Church sings in the Easter Exsultet about man's original sin. As Pope Benedict writes in his just-published second volume of "Jesus of Nazareth," which deals with the events of Holy Week, "God's move toward a new path of love after the initial offer was rejected is entirely plausible. This 'flexibility' on God's part is utterly characteristic of the paths that he treads with his people, as recounted for us in the Old Testament--he waits for man's free choice, and whenever the answer is 'no,' he opens up a new path of love....We would describe the Cross as the most radical expression of God's unconditional love, as he offers himself despite all rejection on the part of men, taking men's 'no' upon himself and drawing it into his 'yes.'" (cf. 2 Cor 1:19)

Abby Johnson puts it somewhat differently, "Self-deception is a powerful force. So is confession." "We are there to bear witness to what we know, to what we've already experienced ourselves. We are there to love and befriend and pray for the clients who enter abortion clinics and the workers who staff them. Just as I was prayed for, loved, and befriended." Unplanned, but Amazing Grace.

Dwight G. Duncan is professor at UMass School of Law Dartmouth. He holds degrees in both civil and canon law.