“You can’t make this stuff up” I thought, as I was reading a particularly gripping account in Abby Johnson’s new book, The Walls Are Talking: Former Abortion Clinic Workers Tell Their Stories; a few paragraphs later, a clinic worker herself observes that “Sometimes truth is indeed stranger than fiction.” Her story was about a “frequent flyer” at the clinic—a woman who had just aborted her ninth child, and whose lack of any “remorse or shame” for her serial abortions made even the staff feel “awkward.” But in recovery after this ninth time, “Angie” asked: “Hey, do you mind if I see it? . . . I mean, I’ve had it done so many times, I might as well know what it looks like.” Her request, though infrequent, “wasn’t completely unheard of” so the clinic worker reluctantly retrieved the “POC” (products of conception). “I debated about how to arrange the pieces,” she recalls:
Would it be best to throw them all together in a clump so that none of the parts would be recognizable, or should I piece it back together as we normally did to ensure that none of the parts were missing? There was no protocol on such things, so in the end I opted to piece the parts back together. Although my own eyes were still blinded to the true nature of abortion, because she seemed so unfazed, part of me wanted her to see. I wanted her to grasp what she had done nine times. Nothing could have prepared me for her reaction.
Upon seeing what was left of her child, Angie became completely unhinged; the scene described is harrowing, and bizarre . . . and resulted in that clinic never again allowing mothers to see aborted fetuses or even ultrasound pictures of their unborn children, lest they, as Angie did, see the horror of abortion exposed.
In her first book, unPLANNED (Ignatius Press. 2010), Abby Johnson writes of her journey from Planned Parenthood clinic manager (and Employee of the Year!) to pro-life activist. Johnson now runs a non-profit organization called And Then There Were None, which exists to help abortion clinic workers leave the industry, and “end abortion from the inside out.” In this new, slim volume, co-written with Kristin Detrow, Johnson presents 17 first-person accounts—anonymous, to protect the identities of the former abortion clinic employees, all of whom came forward to lend their testimonies to the truth. The title, as Johnson explains in the introduction, is in response to the acclaimed 1996 HBO pro-abortion film, If These Walls Could Talk (featuring stars Sissy Spacek, Demi Moore, and Cher), which was “nothing less than propaganda at its finest,” focusing on three generations of hard cases for women but completely “glossing over” the fact that “for every woman daunted by an unwanted pregnancy, there is another life at stake.” The Walls Are Talking does not gloss over anything; it is “not an enjoyable read,” Johnson warns, “but a necessary one.”
Common themes weave through the different accounts. Workers who in a moment of troubled conscience—or out of compassion for a particularly hesitant client—suggest anything other than abortion are reprimanded, and denigrated; several women speak of sharing a “sick gallows humor” that could “only be understood by a clinic insider.” In one clinic, for example, the freezer where the POC’s were held until the bio-hazard truck arrived was called “The Nursery”; the alarm code was “2229”. . . which spelled out “baby.” One clinic employee who became pregnant (with a wanted child) and was suffering from awful morning sickness at the office, says her co-workers jokingly offered her—abortion: “Want me to put you on the schedule?” And “We could give you a freebie. Just one of the perks of working here!”
For all of these women, the path to the truth about abortion was long and painful. Some started out believing they were doing an empowering thing for women; others got involved because they desperately needed a job. Their doubts in the face of the realities at their clinics were often subsumed in their overall denial and a growing numbness to the brutality of what they were witnessing on a daily basis. One woman describes “moments of painful clarity” which she nevertheless pushed down, and as she persisted, “each decision further desensitized me to the truth of what I was doing and added to the callus that was forming around my heart.” Many expressed shame that their conversion took so long; the pages here are ripe with guilt and remorse.
But what really overflows from these stories as well is hope. Because each of these women has come over to the side of life. Most talk about being forgiven by God, some accounts are more overtly Christian then others, but the language of sin, redemption, forgiveness and the grace for new beginnings is powerfully present. Johnson herself was saved, she testifies, by the peaceful and prayerful witness of the 40 Days for Life protestors who were a regular presence outside her Texas abortion clinic. They were waiting to help her when she made her decision, and she now does the same for others, waiting, she writes, with “arms wide open.”
Those of us that have worked in the abortion industry all live with a constant burden. We can’t let the burden slip of our shoulders; it is what keeps us on fire. It reminds us of why we fight so hard. We have seen death and evil in a way that most haven’t—and we participated. But we are forgiven. He who has been forgiven much, loves much. And we love a lot. I am eagerly awaiting the day when we can call all abortionists and clinic workers former and repentant abortion providers.