Last week, Abby Johnson released a video arguing that it would be “smart” for a police officer to racially profile her biracial son. This is the most recent of many controversies surrounding the former Planned Parenthood employee, who famously quit after witnessing an abortion on a sonogram. For years, Johnson was a hero for the Pro-Life movement. She was even the subject of a movie, the independent film Unplanned. But recently, Johnson has been more of an embarrassment than an asset. Why is it so difficult for the Pro-Life movement to find sympathetic figureheads?
Abby Johnson’s Pivot to The Right
It’s noteworthy that someone who left Planned Parenthood because of a sudden “eureka moment” about abortion also holds far-right views on every culture war issue. Johnson toes the party line on everything from Gay marriage to race relations to mask-wearing. Johnson’s pivot to the right on every issue makes her pivot on abortion specifically less compelling. And this is a problem because, well, her pivot is her whole story. The Pro-Life movement would do well to disentangle itself from religious conservatism and the Republican Party. We’d find better allies Left-of-Center, who care about maternal healthcare, family leave, and social programs that do more to halt abortion than legislation ever will.
Money, The Great Corrupter
Abby Johnson makes her living from Pro-Life speaking engagements, almost always funded by Conservative organizations. It’s likely that this has an impact, conscious or not, on her rightward shift on issues that have nothing to do with her Pro-Life stance. Similarly, Norma McCorvey, the woman behind the Roe v. Wade case, famously reversed course and became a Pro-Life advocate. But a recent documentary, AKA Jane Roe, covers a deathbed confession where McCorvey claims she never truly switched sides. She just needed the money.
The story is complex, but it exposes another glaring problem with Pro-Life spokespeople. In our fervor to find a hero, we’re willing to overlook red flags and trust that everything a speaker says is one-hundred percent accurate. We don’t question the impact that financial support might have on a vulnerable woman such as McCorvey. There is manipulation all around, and everyone comes out looking worse.
The Victims of Abortion are Dead
As crude as it may seem to say, it bears repeating that abortion is highly effective. While Pro-Life advocates love to ask philosophical questions about “what if” an abortion were to fail, the reality is this almost never happens. Notable exceptions include Gianna Jessen, who incredibly survived a failed saline abortion, a trauma which left her with cerebral palsy. Her story is a rare first-person account of what it means to be a victim of abortion. But it’s only one story, opposed to the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed each year. Every one of these cases ends with a living woman who can choose to shout her abortion, if she so wishes, and a dead fetus, which cannot. Many of these women have extremely compelling, heartbreaking, and sympathetic stories. And there are just so many more of them.
What Can We Do?
I wish there was a simple solution to the Abby Johnson Problem. But this is part of an all-out reckoning the Pro-Life movement needs to have with itself. There is a fundamental conflict between the right of a woman to her own body and the right of a fetus to it’s own existence. The question of what to do about this conflict gets to the core of who we are as human beings, and is tied in with other issues such as poverty, education, and ableism. Fixation on Planned Parenthood and Roe were never going to get us the change we want. So Johnson and McCorvey were always the wrong people to represent us.
If we want to protect human life- all human life- it’s time to stop thinking of abortion as a legal issue and start thinking about it as a human issue. And when we do find spokespeople, we must treat them as humans, not heroes.