And Then There Were None: Abby Johnson Helps Abortion Workers Leave the Industry
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"It's always struck me when I go out to clinics, and watch the sidewalk counselors reach out to women who've had an abortion, and I see the compassion on their faces and hear the compassion in their words, and it's fantastic. They extend such love to those hurting women. But then I see clinic workers come out, and that compassion just evaporates. It's wrong."
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (Catholic Online) - As I hung up the phone from talking with Abby Johnson, the founder of And Then There Were None, a ministry she began with her husband to help abortion clinic workers leave the industry, an image came to mind that stung my heart and made me ashamed.
A woman, a known sinner, fell at Jesus' feet and bathed them with her tears, then dried them with her hair. From her alabaster jar she poured her perfume on the Master's feet, along with all her regret and shame, sorrow, and love. The men in the room were appalled by her audacity -- the nerve of this sinful woman to barge into a Pharisee's house and touch Jesus!
Yet Jesus made them look at her and witness the greatness of her love. "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven -- for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." Luke 7:44-47
Today that woman works in an abortion clinic. She works for Planned Parenthood, or one of its affiliates. She works in a medical clinic somewhere, and her job every day is to "terminate pregnancies." She helps spill innocent blood in the name of "choice" and "reproductive rights." But what if... what if she doesn't want to anymore? Do you care?
Abby cares, because that was precisely the position she found herself in just a few years ago, when she realized she could no longer work for Planned Parenthood and kill the child in the womb through abortion. She wanted out, and thankfully, she was assisted by people from 40 Days for Life who were waiting to welcome her and help her leave her job. (If you haven't read her incredible story, unPlanned, you should.)
Abby knew when she left PP that some day she wanted to help clinic workers, but she didn't know how that would take shape. She began speaking publicly in the pro-life community, and finished writing unPlanned, giving the country an unflinchingly-honest look inside the abortion industry. When it was released, something interesting happened. Clinic workers started reading it, and 40 Days For Life groups began handing it out.
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Abby told me, "I wrote the book because I thought, if I was still a clinic worker and someone like me came out with a book, I'd want to read it as a critic! So I wanted to reach out to clinic workers who would read the book as a critic, and maybe something would strike them as truth.
So that really started to happen, and clinic workers began contacting me, saying 'I'm feeling the same way you were feeling, can you help me?' They were feeling trapped with nowhere to go. They felt PP was a big black mark on their record, which it is. PP is the lowest of the low; abortionists are not the greatest physicians. It's like if one day you wanted to become a respected dog breeder but you had on your record that you used to work in a puppy mill, you'd have a hard time.
These workers feel stuck, like they can't leave. A lot of them are single mothers, and they can't just leave their job on a leap of faith.
I knew how lucky I was to have so much support when I left PP, and how scary it is for workers who want to leave but have no one to help them. I thought, after 40 years of abortion in this country, surely there are groups out there to help clinic workers. We have so many other groups to help men and women wounded by abortion, surely there are other organizations helping clinic workers, and I wanted to find them and join forces. I didn't want to reinvent the wheel. I was stunned to learn that there was no one at all reaching out to clinic workers.
So my husband and I began helping them ourselves. On our own we helped them financially, emotionally, and spiritually. In short order, we'd helped 17 clinic workers make the transition out of the abortion industry. I was motivated, and I knew I had to get something official going. Nobody was reaching out to these workers -- they came to me. I knew that had to change."
And so, And Then There Were None was born.
Thinking that original crop of 17 workers was a fluke and they'd probably never see numbers like that again, Abby and her friend, Jennie Stone, set out to create a yearly budget for their new ministry. They thought a liberal estimate would be 10 workers over the next year, and they figured that would be a miracle. Since the official launch this past June, they have already helped 13 more workers leave. So far, a total of 30 clinic workers have left the abortion industry.
With this new ministry, Abby is challenging the pro-life community in America, and even exposing their failure of love.
"Something that has always struck me when I go out to clinics, and I watch the women who come out who've had an abortion. I'll see the sidewalk counselors reach out to them, and I see the compassion on their faces and I hear the compassion in their words, and it's fantastic. It's so wonderful to see that. They extend such love to those hurting women.
But then I see clinic workers come out, and that compassion just evaporates. And it's wrong. 70% of clinic workers have had abortions themselves. They are in need of healing just as much, if not more, than the women who come to that clinic. No one grows up wanting to work in an abortion clinic. It's a series of heartbreaking, regretful, painful choices that lead them there. We don't see it because they show their hurt with anger -- they yell at us and curse at us because they are hurt. Yet our compassion is somehow diminished toward them.
I want people to know this community of clinic workers have not been embraced by the pro-life community, yet they could literally be the demise of the abortion industry! There are 4 major pending lawsuits against PP, for billions of dollars, all brought by former PP employees. If these suits are successful, God-willing, these large affiliates could shut down. This could be a domino effect. This could be the beginning of the end!
These workers coming forward with information we would not have any other way. The beauty of this is these are real people with real stories of real clients and real things happening that can be brought to court and prosecuted. These clinics really can be shut down because of it. This is what the pro-life movement has been missing for 40 years.
We've been missing it because abortion workers are seen as lepers, people we don't want to touch. But God is able to do His best work in those who have received the most forgiveness. He is doing amazing work through these former workers. It takes a lot of courage on their part, because they aren't accepted by the pro-life movement. It's not an easy road they face when they go public. They do it because they've seen what abortion really is and they've seen their part in it. They feel they have to right the wrong they've done."
Abby sees the great need for healing for those who leave the abortion industry, and that is central to the mission of ATTWN. "Recovery is key for us. I know firsthand the trauma these workers have to deal with after leaving a job like that. They'll never feel the burden is completely gone, but we want to help the lift part of the burden and heal. Honestly, the burden I feel is what motivates me to continue in this fight. So I'm thankful for the burden I'm left with."
Spiritual healing is a major component, and I was floored when Abby told me that most of the workers who have come to her for help are Catholic. Talk about a wake-up call for the Church!
She told me of a conversation she had with a priest at a conference recently when she insisted that our priests need to be talking about abortion from the pulpit every week, and that the sanctity of human life needs to be mentioned in the Prayers of the Faithful every week. This priest said, "C'mon, Abby, how often do we really need to include abortion in our homilies?" She replied, "Well, we'd often have women come in for an abortion and lay on the table with a rosary in their hands. I had two employees in my clinic who would help perform abortions on Saturday and be at Mass on Sunday receiving the Eucharist. You tell me, how often do you think we need to talk about abortion?"
They've produced a flyer describing the ministry and the help they can offer, and they want to see that flyer in the hands of every pro-life group who's out in front of a clinic. They want to see that flyer handed out to clinic workers all over the country. (The flyer can be printed from their website.)
ATTWN's goal for this year is to become financially stable, and provide a good healing program for every clinic worker they can help. To do that, they need our financial support. This isn't a ministry that needs volunteers right now as much as they need monthly partners. There is no overhead, and Abby draws no salary. Every cent given to ATTWN directly assists clinic workers who want to leave. (They don't receive assistance until they've actually left the industry.)
Individuals and businesses can partner with ATTWN on a regular monthly basis, and companies that would match donations are also welcome and needed. (At this time, the application for 501c3 is pending. Upon approval, donations will be tax-exempt.)
Last but not least, Abby wants our help spreading the word. This life-changing miracle is happening by word-of-mouth, and personal contact. But the potential to cripple the abortion industry is unmatched. And Planned Parenthood knows it. Abby and Jennie know PP is very angry about what they're doing. They also know that God is with them, and they trust in His hand of protection on their growing outreach.
I have to admit that prior to learning about ATTWN and hearing Abby's story, the abortion clinic worker was not tops on my list of people to care about. It's easy to villainize and condemn; it's hard to show compassion and love. And Then There Were None is a bold challenge to the Body of Christ to realize the clinic worker is not our enemy. She's just like us -- a sinner in need of forgiveness and hungry for love. Those who are forgiven much, love much.
Jennifer Hartline is a grateful Catholic, a proud Army wife and homeschooling mother of three children. She is a contributing writer for Catholic Online. Visit her online at Wake Up, Deborah!
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