Abby Johnson knew all the catch words and phrases of Planned Parenthood: choice, fetus, mass of tissues and procedure. As director of a clinic for eight years she has used them frequently when she counseled women and occasionally assisted during the abortion procedures.
Every other Saturday the affiliate’s goal was to do 25 to 35 procedures. Each usually took about 10 minutes. However, the new doctor preferred using an ultrasound – a technique that added five minutes to the procedure. It is “the abortion procedure with the least risk of complications for the woman,” Johnson wrote in her book “Unplanned,” “but an ultrasound added about five minutes … and those minutes add up.”
He agreed to only use the ultrasound if necessary.
That Saturday, he felt one abortion warranted the ultrasound and asked Johnson to come hold the probe while he worked. Although she tried to avoid the exam room on these Saturdays, Johnson entered the exam room philosophically, telling herself, “I’ve never seen an ultrasound-guided abortion before. Maybe this will help me when I counsel women.” Besides, the ultrasounds she had previously seen at the clinic only showed a partial image of a leg or head.
Not this time.
This time she saw the perfect profile of a small person. A small person that looked exactly as her now three-year-old daughter had looked at her 12-week ultrasound. The detail startled her.
“Just hold the probe so I can see what I am doing,” the doctor told her.
He could see and so could Johnson. She watched the straw shaped instrument approach the baby like an invader. As it probed the tiny baby’s side, she reminded herself of the words she had used time and again in counseling, “It does not feel pain.”
Then, the tiny foot jerked and the baby started kicking, as if trying to get away from that probe. The cannula pressed it. The baby struggled. It turned and twisted.
“It did not like what it was feeling,” Johnson wrote in the September 2012 issue of ‘Significant Living.’
“It could feel.”
The doctor told her to turn on the suction. For the first time in her eight years at the clinic, Johnson wanted to tell the expectant woman having the procedure, “Look! Make them stop!”
But she was part of “them.”
She watched as the tiny person twisted violently, crumpled and then disappeared before her eyes.
That was the day she knew, “What was in the woman’s womb was not just tissue, just cells. It was a human baby, fighting for its lfe. A battle it lost in the blink of an eye.”
“I have been telling people a lie.” As that statement seeped through her, Johnson said she felt pain in her hand resting on the patient’s body as she mentally decided, “Never again! Never again.”
The next morning her hand still ached. No matter how she massaged her hand, it ached. It ached through the familiar church service as she said the familiar prayer of praise, “Almighty God, to who all hearts are open … from You no secrets are hid.” Johnson said she prayed, “I repent. I turn away. Never again, Lord.”
She confessed and begged God for a clean heart. She felt God’s love and forgiveness, but her hand still hurt.
She gasped when the pastor began reading the Gospel lesson for the day from Mark 9:43, “If you hand causes you to sin, cut it off.”
“None of this was a coincidence. None of it was chance. It was confirmed to me that God had been working,” Johnson said.
She went home and began looking for another job, determined to be gone before another surgical Saturday.
But the images from the ultrasound kept replaying in her mind. She could not wait to find another job. As she drove through the Planned Parenthood fence several days later, she thought, “This is a death house. A prison, and I’ve been both a prison guard and prisoner. I’d been a pawn in a game.”
She looked out the window at the volunteers from the Coalition for Life who always stood out there praying for the clinic and the people inside.
“I am on the wrong side of the fence,” she realized. She grabbed her purse, picked up her phone and went to her car and called Coalition for Life.
She was ready to talk. She was through working at the Planned Parenthood clinic. She had seen the ultrasound and knew the truth.
It is never just a fetus, a blob of tissues or collection of cells. It is a baby, a tiny girl or boy. She could no longer tell women and their families otherwise.
Johnson picked up her phone and, with tears in her eyes, called the Coalition for Life and said, “I want out. I can’t do this anymore.”
Having seen what actually happens to the unborn child, Johnson left the pro-choice side of the fence and embraced life.
(Joan Hershberger is a staff writer at the News-Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org)