I have a somewhat atypical way of spending Good Friday. Oh, I go to pray The Stations and attend the Passion service with veneration of the Cross. But in the other hours of the day that I blessedly get off from work, I read. Last year, it was tackling The Interior Castle, by Teresa of Ávila, which I still haven’t fully digested. This year I picked up Unplanned: by Abby Johnson. I am pro-life, but I tend not to be very vocal or public about it. A couple years ago, many people recommended I read it or were talking about it, but I deliberately chose not to. In the battle for hearts and minds regarding life, I admit, I’m the drafted soldier doing filing on base, praying I’m not called up for anything more. So I thought it’d be a Good Friday-ish thing to do to get over my reluctance—even if it was just the baby step of reading this book.
And I am so glad I did.
I don’t know why I believed my unfounded fears about the contents: either militant screed or poorly edited navel-gazing played up as “awesome” merely because of the subject matter (a fair critique for some books in this genre, I believe). But it was neither. It really was an absorbing true story of not just a person, but an issue. And it was fair. Neither the clinic nor the pro-life supporters were unnecessarily monsterized or glorified. Rather, using facts and grace, Abby portrays the motivations of both sides of the literal and proverbial fence and the struggle and challenges of dealing with competing minds and hearts.
With refreshing honesty, Abby chronicles her journey and evolution of thought from a Planned Parenthood director to pro-life advocate, all the while remaining respectfully firm in her convictions. For example, as a director, she hated the Grim Reaper and bloody image protestors, and as pro-lifer, hates them still. While some may quibble that we can disagree on strategies if we agree on life, I think it’s bold (and in my humble opinion, correct), to state outright that bully tactics have no place in this conversation. (For what it’s worth, Coalition for Life was the one that put a kibosh on them). The reason behind Abby’s stance on this particular issue is actually the book’s greatest strength: her perspicacity.
Like Joni Mitchell (but more happily), she can look from both sides now: what it meant and why to work at the clinic, what they thought their purpose, what help looks like; and what it meant and why to be pro-life, what their purpose is, and what help looks like. She’s actually talked with the women who enter the clinic, know what they think and feel when they see the pro-life advocates at the gates; what they’re going through. Some may think this is too sympathetic to clinic workers or choice supporters. But I think Abby gets what I personally believe: we have been privileged with the truth; the others know not what they do. Abby sincerely believed she was helping women at the clinic, even though it was false help. It reminds me of a line from the movie The American President. The president is telling a story to make a point (kinda like a parable), and he says to his aide Louis about dehydrated people in the desert:
“They don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty; they drink the sand because they don’t know the difference.” I really appreciated Abby relaying a reality that for some choice supporters, they don’t know the difference.
Ultimately, I think this book should be a conversation starter for people bobbling the political football life has become—or even any other issue. At the core of everyone’s heart is a sincere desire to serve; to show love; to let others be loved. But when we focus too much on the legality or not of things and don’t listen to the reasons (no matter how misguided) why someone holds a position, we lose sight of the concrete human persons at the center of them. Unplanned gives the whole picture on abortion and a compelling story to see how opposing sides can come to the fence, engage and understand one another, and eventually unite for the common cause of caring for the whole selves of women and babies for the whole of their lives.