Review of Unplanned

August 4, 2011

Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line by Abby Johnson with Cindy Lambert (SaltRiver, 2011).

The religious Right has hailed Unplanned as an anti-abortion classic for a new era. It signals more cooperation between ultra-conservative Catholics and evangelicals. The book claims that newer anti-abortion protesters are non-violent and non-threatening, although this has not been the experience of clinic workers. Since the book is written by a former Planned Parenthood (PP) clinic director, it is also supposed to be an honest attempt by anti-abortionists to understand the pro-choice side, but it is laced with the usual lies.

Abby Johnson had worked for PP for eight years and was a clinic director when she quit to join Coalition for Life. She claims to have had a change of heart when she assisted with an ultrasound for a second-trimester abortion, although clinic records state that no such procedure was performed that day. She claims her conscience was disturbed when PP CEOs ordered her to do more abortions to make more money. In reality, PP is a non-profit that does not make money from abortions, which are only 3% of its practice. Co-workers state she was actually about to be fired.


Johnson pretends to be surprised that PP requested a restraining order against her and took her to court. She scoffs at the fears of her former co-workers that she may have stolen medical records, building entrance codes, or co-workers’ resumes and that she may have given them, along with doctors’ names and security precautions, to her new allies, who often seek such information. She minimizes the violence of the anti-abortion movement, saying that doctors just like to be “dramatic” when they hide in their cars and take different routes to clinics. She claims that PP tries to “rally the troops” by exaggerating the threat. As clinic director, she did receive death threats but claims that these and the murder of Dr. George Tiller came from rogue anti-abortionists. She doesn’t mention that Tiller’s murderer had ties to an anti-abortion group.

She insults all pro-choicers by claiming that we feel guilty when we see protesters and repeats the lie that women are always harmed by having abortions. Her supposed insight is that we are naïve people who want to help women but are misled by cold CEOs who only care about money. Johnson does mention that PP saves women’s lives from unsafe, illegal abortions, prevents abortion by providing contraception, and provides life-saving healthcare such as cancer screenings. But she constantly dismisses these as “PP talking points,” stating that women wouldn’t need birth control or abortions if we would all just get married.


She keeps emphasizing that God arranged the circumstances of her “unplanned” conversion and implies that women with unwanted or dangerous pregnancies should just trust God for a good outcome. She does recognize that some Christian denominations are pro-choice but never studies the history of changing Christian attitudes towards abortion and never questions her assumption that “real” Christians should be against it. It is obvious that part of her agenda is to support the religious Right’s goal to fuse church and state.

For the past several years, the religious Right has used lies to discredit abortion providers, especially PP, with help from talk show hosts on the ultra-conservative FOX network. Johnson recently appeared on several FOX shows and has also joined Lila Rose’s group “Live Action,” which created several ridiculous, obviously doctored videos in which their members purport to go undercover to expose supposed wrongdoing inside PP clinics. The religious Right, taking advantage of the new, ultra-conservative members of Congress and state governments, is making inroads on defunding PP.

Unplanned shows that the religious Right realizes that many women rely on PP and many people are pro-choice. It does not contain the outlandish “miracles” or claims of bizarre behavior by clinic workers found in previous propaganda. Rather, it is slicker because its lies focus on feelings and motivations. The pro-choice movement can fight these escalating attacks by continuing to encourage women to tell their true stories about abortion, contraception, sexuality, and health.


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