Inside the Abortion Machine

As a 30-year veteran fighting in the trenches of the abortion war, I found Abby Johnson’s book unPlanned — a story published only 18 months after she quit her job as head of a Bryan, Texas, Planned Parenthood abortion clinic — remarkable. The book is commendable on a number of levels. First, Johnson’s conversion from abortion facilitator to abortion protestor (embraced by David Bereit’s Coalition for Life — later, 40 Days for Life) is a compelling personal narrative that provides enormous insight into the confused thinking and personal conflict of an abortion provider. Its politically unbiased perspective on the interaction between abortion staff and pro-life protestors is remarkable. In addition, unPlanned is notable for the way in which Johnson’s involvement with abortion supports nearly everything pro-lifers have been saying for years about abortion and its practice.

Of course, the book is not without flaws. I would recommend skipping the poorly thought-out introduction, in which the reader is admonished to believe that abortion providers are good, compassionate people — even though they are involved in the killing of the innocent. These (thankfully few) pages have a strange, relativistic ring. While the author bravely reveals her own two abortions and expresses her guilt and loss, those feelings remain vague and unexplored. The reader would like to know in what way she undoubtedly misses those aborted children, and how or if those abortions wounded her psychologically and spiritually, but the book is missing this in-depth probe — the kind of examination she does provide with the abortion in which she assisted.

Johnson’s story begins when she is called to participate in the abortion of a 13-week-old unborn child. When she observes with her own eyes the ultrasound image of “a perfectly formed baby” trying to escape the suction cannula — and the “tiny perfectly formed backbone being sucked into the tube” — she states the experience shook “the foundation of my values and changed the course of my life.” From there, the book chronicles her journey from volunteer rookie at the Bryan clinic to her final realization that she had been working in a “death house.” This may seem odd, but Johnson as “committed abortion clinic director” interacting with pro-life protestors and struggling with her own ambivalence about abortion is the far more compelling read. Once she is converted, the narrative loses momentum and becomes somewhat canned and contrived.

This is not to say that the later part of the book is without important — and even powerful — episodes, such as the night Johnson went to the Planned Parenthood clinic to pray and face the building from the pro-lifers’ “side of the fence” — to, as she says, “face what I’d done. . . . It was here that I’d aborted my second child . . . here that I casually scheduled the deaths of countless children . . . I was standing face to face with my sin, embodied in that building.”


As noted already, Johnson’s book is remarkable for the way it corroborates what pro-lifers have known to be true about abortion and its practice. A few examples:

  • Birth control doesn’t prevent abortion. Johnson herself admits that she became pregnant three times due to failed contraception; two of those pregnancies ended in abortion.
  • Abortion clinics are profit-driven, as was (at least eventually) the case with the Bryan clinic.
  • Women scheduled for abortion may receive little to no counseling prior to the procedure, as Johnson experienced with her own first abortion.
  • RU-486 abortions are not less traumatic than surgical abortion. Johnson describes her physically horrific and emotionally lonely experience with this abortion method.
  • Abortion is ultimately the result of not recognizing the unborn child as a personal someone connected to the human family.

This last point is a major lesson of Johnson’s book. She literally fled the abortion clinic only after the life of an unborn child — the child she helped to kill — became personal to her. Through the ultrasound image, Johnson came to realize that this unborn child was real. She even compares the child about to be aborted to her own daughter at twelve weeks.

This brings me to one troubling aspect of unPlanned. The more strident, more confrontational variety of pro-life protestor is vilified throughout the book. Among them is a woman who stood outside Johnson’s clinic holding a graphic image of an aborted baby. Johnson, now pro-life, frequently refers to the sign as a sick, ugly, “awful placard of the aborted fetus.” Her criticism is ironic, given that a similar image provoked her own conversion: that “violently twisting, crumpled body — the little spine just sucked away” — the baby she helped abort. What is the difference between that awful ultrasound image and the poster of the “awful aborted fetus”? Ultimately, there is none. What makes the difference is how one perceives the images.

To the abortion advocate, the poster of an aborted baby isn’t really a photo of a baby. The poster’s visual message is interpreted as simply a tactic of the opposition, and so the subject of the poster is dismissed with the tactic itself. The baby remains impersonal to the hostile viewer.

Johnson, however, was converted by a graphic image. The baby whose body she helped dismember was accepted on his own terms. Once the humanity of the unborn becomes personal, their existence cannot be ignored. And this is exactly why the use of such images has a necessary place in pro-life work. The primary burden of unborn children about to be aborted is that they remain hidden.

Johnson derides the more aggressive pro-life tactics, and to a certain extent this is a valid criticism. The fact is, some pro-life strategies are more effective than others, and I readily concede the point. And despite my defense of graphic images in pro-life work, such images should not be present if sidewalk counselors have a real opportunity to talk to women entering clinics. (One may view “Effective Sidewalk Counseling” at my website.) Nevertheless, the reader of unPlanned is left with the impression that confrontational but perfectly legitimate pro-life activism — residential pickets of abortionists’ homes, for example — would fall under Johnson’s condemnation.

Nevertheless, her book provides a valuable lesson, and pro-lifers need to listen to it. Whatever we do, we must do with love — and that means love must be shown even to the enemies of life. While a graphic image of an abortion victim shook Johnson’s own commitment, it was the true charity of the pro-lifers outside of the Bryan clinic that eventually drove her into their arms. Gestures of love from the “other side of the fence” made a huge impression on her. This is the sort of charity that made Johnson not simply an ex-abortion provider but a valuable advocate for the pro-life cause.

Her odyssey is an important sign that those who do evil are not beyond the reach of grace. unPlanned is a plea to other abortion providers that they, like Johnson, will take the “unplanned” journey into the arms of the living God.

Monica Migliorino Miller


Monica Migliorino Miller is the Director of Citizens for a Pro-life Society and Associate Professor of Theology at Madonna University in Michigan. She holds a degree in Theatre Arts from Southern Illinois University and graduate degrees in Theology from Loyola University and Marquette University. She is the author of several books including The Theology of the Passion of the Christ (Alba House) and, most recently, The Authority of Women in the Catholic Church (Emmaus Road).

  • AT
  • Maiki

    I think Abby’s message is precisely in the introduction you did not like — that many in PP have good motives, but we need to show them the better way. It is easy to depersonalize the unborn, but it is also easy to depersonalize the abortionist. We should embrace sinners, not to approve of their sin, but so that they may convert.

  • RCM

    Only a pro-lifer would want a more hard core message. Here is the deal, my friends are mostly (very) passionately pro-abortion. At least one has aborted before, if not more, and all of them are now mothers. I assure you, when we discuss abortion, I tread lightly. They know that I feel it is violence against children, they know I know they disagree. Me bringing them dead baby pictures doesn’t deal with their main concern.They do not want any Government telling them they have to be pregnant against their will. The sad consequence to bodily autonomy is a child dies, but these women really believe that no one can tell a woman what to do within her own body. Sad. I think it is spiritual blindness so the only way we can break through is by loving them sincerely and by praying for them. Anything else can also be violence against them.

  • AT

    …however, thanks to efforts of people like Monica Migliorino Miller, Abby Johnson, LiveAction, there is this victory:…-funding/

  • AT
  • RCM

    I agree, AT that it is messages like Abby’s that are crucial to making change. And her message is one of compassion for those who work in the abortion industry.

  • Teri

    Pope John Paul said, in essence, you can not fight the death culture with pictures of death…that makes sense to me. Abby Johnson wasn’t seeing a picture, she was seeing an active viable baby being executed. Loving and praying for these people will ultimately make the biggest difference WITH pictures of LIFE!

  • Ann

    As a thirty year pro-life veteran, you undoubtedly have different experiences and a different perspective in the pro-life campaign. But this is Abby’s story. Sure,in time she may grow in her ability to reflect and come to terms with what she has done in her past, but I was struck by how far she has come in such a short period of time. It wasn’t just a graphic image that converted Abby. She’d seen them before in the parking lots of the clinic. The ultrasound image did not convert the abortionist or the nurse who were in the room with Abby. It was grace that made Abby really see the evil of abortion. This, I think, is the book’s most valuable lesson. Grace is the most powerful “tactic” in the pro-life battle. The book should make us more clearly see the power of prayer and campaigns such as the 40 days of life.

  • MB

    I think Abby’s story is perfect as it is. The fact that she is not yet able or willing to publish deep insights into her own two abortions is not surprising. Her conversion to life is still very fresh. She will undoubtedly be processing her experience for years to come, and I am not surprised that this part of the story is still hidden from us. To a great degree, it is still hidden even from her. I’m sure she will share more when the time is right.

    As for her view that graphic images are not helpful, I agree with the other comments above. Abby was converted over a period of time, not just in the instant of participating in that single abortion. If you really listen to her story, it was a steady stream of kindness, prayer, and gentle grace that made her receptive to see the truth when she was faced with the horror of abortion. God was so good to her, invested so generously in preparing her to face the truth and provided her with a safety net of His people who could help her. Abby has given us invaluable insights into what works in this battle. Demonizing the other side, and browbeating them with gore will not work. Persistent love and the grace of God will work.

  • Max

    I disagree with the tone of your article. Maybe she hasn’t fully worked out her feeling from her two previous abortions, healing isn’t instant. I would recommend that she attend a “Rachel’s Hope” or similar event where she is from. Why do you have to bash her for disagreeing with a pro-lifers grotesque sign? It clearly shows that it just made her angrier, and caused RESENTMENT towards the pro-life movement. Your connection between someone showing graphic images, and her personal involvement in an abortion that she saw live, is not at all the same thing.

  • Gail F

    I was never a pro-abortion advocate but for years I was pro-choice. I thought that PP and similar places were compassionate and really wanted to help women, especially poor women, and I was revolted by pictures of aborted children. I think, as someone above said, it was a sort of spiritual blindness. My conversion on this issue was long, and a large part of it was seeing the compassion and love of people who said abortion was a kind of murder. Now I cannot believe that I ever thought anything else, but I did, and the the “hard line” tactics of “anti-abortion nuts”(as I would have said at the time) had nothing to do with it. People interested in fighting the terrible death culture need to keep that in mind.

  • Monica Migliorino Miller

    I can see from many of the postings that bloggers are taking me to task for my comments on the use of graphic images in
    my critique of Abby’s view of the “gory” photo. I do state clearly that such photos should not be present when pro-lifers are sidewalk counseling and I hope that readers read my “Effective Sidewalk Counseling” at Also, I state quite clearly that love is the single most powerful “tool” in pro-life work– love and prayer– especially for those who work in clinics.

    Nonetheless, I have years of personal experience with the use of graphic images. I have taken many of those photos myself–of babies I took from the trash. They are a necessary and very important element in ending the killing of the unborn. But I even explained WHY such images may be viewed negatively. Yet, as Fr. Pavone is fond of saying– some people need to see abortion, before they will be against abortion. It seems that many of the postings are angry with me because I didn’t give Johnson’s book an absolute A-plus. This is a book review, and as such a reviewer’s job is to judge the work itself–not the author’s motivations for writing it or where the author is in their own personal journey. Johnson’s book is very valuable and remarkable and I am glad she wrote it.

    God bless you all,
    Monica Migliorino Miller, Ph.D.