The Earth-Shaking Abortion That Never Happened
Late last year, a woman named Abby Johnson from Bryan, Texas, made a small splash by giving the Christian right some wank material by "converting" from being the director of the Bryan Planned Parenthood to an anti-choice activist, working with the very people who not only picketed her former workplace but also personally made her feel threatened. Johnson's story—how she saw an ultrasound-assisted abortion and suddenly realized that she was a naughty lady who had to change—immediately set off alarm bells for those of us who follow anti-choice mythology. Her story fit anti-choice narratives a little too well, while having real life holes that you could drive a truck through. Luckily, Nate Blakeslee of Texas Monthly decided that this story was too good not to investigate.
Rachael Larimore suggested at the time that we need to know more before we judge Abby Johnson, and boy, do we learn a lot from this story. Blakeslee tries very hard to be fair to Johnson, but finds her obtuse and untrustworthy, particularly since she says things to his face that are easy to disprove. Her claim that Planned Parenthood performs abortion for profit takes about two seconds worth of research to dispel, and her claim that she never felt threatened by anti-choicers is undermined by the fact that she had security cameras installed in her house. Blakeslee paints a compelling narrative of what likely happened: Johnson was being disciplined by her employers for poor job performance, and she got her revenge by switching sides, having heard daily promises from protesters that they would find her another job. And now Johnson enjoys the myriad benefits of being on Team Fetus that you don't get when you actually have to work hard to help people—making a bunch of speeches composed of nothing but anti-choice talking points means getting praise and validation without much work at all. Johnson admits to having more fun with this easier lifestyle and glowing under all the praise and attention.
But the biggest coup of Blakeslee's exposé centers around the conversion story itself. Pro-choicers have always been suspicious of Johnson's claim that she saw an ultrasound-assisted abortion and then saw the light. This sort of story seems ripped straight from anti-choice propaganda and doesn't really owe much to the daily life of a clinic worker in the real world. But this turns out to be more true than even the most cynical of us could have imagined. Blakeslee examines Planned Parenthood's records on the day that Johnson claims to have seen this abortion performed, and found no evidence of an ultrasound abortion. When he asked her to describe the patient, she said she was a black woman, and Blakeslee discovered that the only black patient to have an abortion that day was at six weeks, not 13, as Johnson described.
I wish I could say I'm surprised by this revelation that yet another anti-choice activist appears to have a loose relationship with the truth, but I'm not. Nor can I say I'm especially surprised to see anti-choicers gain a convert by preying on someone's personal demons and resentments; when your movement is organized around hostility to sexual liberation, preying on people's resentments is basically what you do. I hope this revelation gives folks pause who want to think the best of anti-choice activists—when they tell stories that sound too good to be true, that's because they are. We all want to believe that there's something moral and good below the surface of anti-choice protesters, because the surface appearance—people who seek out known sexually active women so they can guilt them, scream at them, try to scare them with threats of exposure by taking their picture, lie to them, and even chase them for physical confrontations—almost seems too ugly to be believed. But sometimes we just simply have to believe our eyes and accept that the ugliness we're seeing is real.
The people who deserve sympathy and understanding are the stalwart employees of the Bryan Planned Parenthood. They work in the toxic stew that is the Bible Belt, where judgmental attitudes about sexuality result in the predictable irresponsible sexual behavior, from people who want to work out nature's urges but are too ashamed to take basic contraceptive precautions. Nearby Texas A&M ranked No. 79 in the most recent Trojan Sexual Health Report Card, compared with the University of Texas in the far more liberal Austin, which ranked No. 16. The employees at Bryan Planned Parenthood have to crawl over a sea of protesters to get to work so they can spend their day cleaning up the messes that those same protesters—and their judgmental, sex-phobic comrades who don't protest—created.