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Abby Johnson, founder of Then There Were None, was the keynote speaker at the Respect Life Apostolate convention. She told attendees that the pro-life movement should be one of conversion, bringing others into a relationship with Christ.
Abby Johnson, founder of Then There Were None, was the keynote speaker at the Respect Life Apostolate convention. She told attendees that the pro-life movement should be one of conversion, bringing others into a relationship with Christ.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Go forth and be warriors for life, pro-life advocate Abby Johnson tells those attending 43rd annual Respect Life Convention

Planned Parenthood director turned pro-life advocate Abby Johnson rallied the troops at 43rd annual Respect Life Convention

Abby Johnson said she believes she’s a testament to the power of conversion, and that no one — not even someone who works at Planned Parenthood, as she did for eight years — is beyond the power of Jesus Christ. The pro-life movement, she said, should be one of conversion, bringing others into a relationship with Christ.

Johnson was the keynote speaker at the 43rd annual archdiocesan Respect Life Convention Oct. 13 at the St. Charles Convention Center. The daylong convention, a day of renewal for those involved in pro-life efforts, included workshops on other life issues as well as an exhibitors’ area.

In 2009, Johnson left her position as director of Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas, after she said she witnessed an ultrasound-guided abortion. In the past 10 years, she’s become one of the nation’s most well-known pro-life speakers, sharing her unique perspective of working in the abortion industry. Johnson’s journey was detailed in her book, “Unplanned,” which was released earlier this year as a motion picture.

Greeting the audience with a hearty Texas “howdy,” Johnson shared a bit about her husband, Doug, and eight children, including an adopted son, Jude, who she said was conceived in rape. She commended the child’s biological mother, saying, “I’m sure there were times of frustration, of desperation, of feeling like she was in an impossible situation, but every single day, she woke up, she put her faith in God and she chose life.”

Shifting to the topic of abortion, Johnson said considering that about 2,000 abortions are performed in the United States daily, and almost one million a year, “any child who is born into our society today is a miracle.”

She was raised Southern Baptist in what she described as a “pro-life home,” but she said her family never discussed the specifics of abortion or lived out their pro-life convictions. “My parents taught me

Attendees looked at booths at the Respect Life Apostolate convention at the St. Charles Convention Center Oct. 13.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
the biblical path to marriage, so as long as I stayed on that path, abortion would never be on the table. So why do we even need to discuss it?”

In college, she met a woman who worked for Planned Parenthood. Johnson was unfamiliar with the organization, but was told by the woman that without Planned Parenthood, low-income women would have nowhere else to go for health care. “I didn’t have any reason to believe she was not being honest,” she said. But what she didn’t know at that time was that there were about 600 Planned Parenthood clinics, in contrast to tens of thousands of federally qualified health centers, hospital health centers, county health departments, pro-life medical clinics and pregnancy centers, not to mention other providers that accept Medicaid.

“It’s a lie, but that’s what happens with a lie,” she said. “When someone speaks a lie enough times, people will begin to believe that it’s the truth. And then the most interesting thing happens. Then the person speaking the lie, they will begin to believe that that lie is the truth.”

She eventually was convinced that without Planned Parenthood, women would be forced into back-alley abortions, and lead to a host of other issues in which other women’s rights would be taken away.

“It’s what I didn’t know — that’s what led me into the abortion industry,” Johnson said. “What I didn’t realize that what took place in those back-alley clinics, before Roe vs. Wade, pre-1973, is actually no different than what takes place inside a supposed ‘safe and legal’ clinic. Women are still dying from abortions. Women are still being physically and emotionally scarred for the rest of their lives because of abortion decisions. Women are losing their fertility. Women are getting infections from dirty instruments, their untrained staff performing invasive medical procedures.”

Abortion can never be safe, she said, because “in order for an abortion to be deemed successful, a unique and individual human being must be killed. That is the antithesis of safety, and my friends, that can never qualify as health care.”

Johnson shared how her life at Planned Parenthood changed “in the blink of an eye,” after she said she witnessed an ultrasound-guided abortion of a baby at 13-weeks gestation. The procedure was a change in the facility’s normal protocol, in which abortions typically were done without the guidance of an ultrasound. Watching the baby, piece by piece, disappear from the ultrasound screen wasn’t the hardest part for her, though.

“I had the opportunity to do something and I just stood there and I did nothing,” she said. “I stood there and watched.” At that moment, she knew her life was about to change in a very big way, she said. Looking back at her time with Planned Parenthood, Johnson estimated she assisted with more than 22,000 abortions.

Bishop Mark S. Rivituso celebrated Mass to open the Respect Life Convention at the St. Charles Convention Center in St. Charles Oct. 13. The keynote speaker was Abby Johnson, a former worker at Planned Parenthood who left the abortion industry and now helps others leave the industry.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
The Church has a major role in pro-life efforts, Johnson said, citing the importance of conversion of heart. Our goal should go beyond saving the life of a baby, but also bringing people into a “We don’t have to convince Him that abortion is wrong,” she said. “He’s like OK, be my hands, be my feet, be my mouthpiece. Go out and be the warriors I commanded you to be.”

With only one abortion facility left in Missouri, Johnson urged everyone to stand outside the Planned Parenthood in St. Louis and pray. “We need to be a people who seek justice,” she said. “We must be seeking justice for the lives that are lost every single day in this community. My question to you is, what are you going to do about it? There’s no better time than the present to make a commitment.”


2019 awardees

Maureen Kane and Diane Snively were the recipients of the Cardinal John J. Carberry Award. The award is presented annually at the Respect Life Convention to an individual or group who has made a significant contribution to the pro-life cause. Kane and Snively, who both worked for the archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate, were recognized for their efforts with the Right START (Students Tackling Abortion Realities Today) program, which teaches eighth-graders about the sanctity of life and related topics, including chastity, fetal development and abortion.

Receiving the Friend of Life Award were Joan Gemmer and Msgr. Gregory Schmidt. Gemmer has served as a longtime volunteer with the Respect Life Apostolate, including as a parish coordinator and advisory board member, and helping prepare class materials for the Right START program. She also is a March for Life veteran. Msgr. Schmidt was recognized for his 18 years of spiritual guidance and leadership as chaplain for the Respect Life Apostolate. He, too, was commended for making 37 trips to the March for Life.

Two winners also were announced in the Respect Life Apostolate’s Pro-Life Video Challenge. Stephanie and Mark Hampton of St. Monica Parish in Creve Coeur received a second-place cash award of $250 for a video about their daughter, Holly, who was born 11 weeks prematurely. The apologetics class at St. Dominic High School in O’Fallon received a first-place cash award of $500 award for their video on respect for life from a variety of perspectives.


>> ProLove Ministries

Brandy Meeks, vice president of operations with And Then There Were None, led a workshop session on efforts after “Unplanned”, the 2019 movie that details the story of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood administrator who quit that job to join the pro-life movement after her up-close interaction with abortion.

Founded by Johnson in 2012, And Then There Were None (abortionworker.com) is a nonprofit organization that helps workers leave the abortion industry. Since its inception, the organization has helped nearly 550 abortion industry workers leave their jobs. They are provided assistance with finances, legal issues and employment and offered emotional and spiritual support, including retreats.

At the workshop, Meeks announced the launch of a new ministry, ProLove Ministries (www.proloveministries.org), which will provide manpower and assistance on special projects, to help new ministries start up, and to help established ministries find new life. ProLove Ministries encompasses several of Johnson’s existing projects, including the national Pro-Life Women’s Conference (held in St. Louis in 2018) and CheckMyClinic, which provides health inspection reports for abortion clinics across the country.

Meeks spoke about a new effort, LoveLine (loveline.com), a crisis call line for women who are facing unplanned pregnancies who feel they have exhausted resources in their area. The goal is to discover the need, uncover hidden resources and connect her with a volunteer advocate in her area to help.

ProLove Ministries also will be partnering with another pro-life organization, Embrace Grace (embracegrace.com), to establish Mama Scholar, which will help single mothers with scholarships to continue their education.

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