We Need To Know More Before Judging Abby Johnson

What Women Really Think
Nov. 4 2009 3:28 PM

We Need To Know More Before Judging Abby Johnson

Before I begin, I want to clarify something. I’m not "anti-choice." I am anti-abortion. That might sound like semantics, but I think it’s a sign of the gulf between abortion-rights supporters and abortion foes. "Anti-choice" has a connotation of "anti-woman," that being against abortion means you think women shouldn’t have control over their bodies. I will defend until my dying day a woman’s right to choose whether to have sex. I think the pill might have been the greatest invention of the 20 th century. I’m all for passing out condoms in high schools. Adoption should be easy, and birth mothers should be able to have open or closed adoptions. Women who choose to keep their children and who need help should have access to financial assistance and other support programs that will enable them to be productive and gain employment and raise their children. I just can’t support abortion. And frankly, I can’t think of many pro-lifers I know who feel differently. Yes, there are some who think sex is strictly for marriage and procreation. But you’re not going to make any headway with them. If the pro-choice and pro-life sides are to have any hope of working together to reduce the number of abortions, which should everyone’s goal, we need to try to understand one another and stop what’s essentially name-calling. That’s why I never describe abortion-rights supporters as "pro-abortion."

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I did not intend to imply with my comment about Planned Parenthood’s "business model" that they are a for-profit company. But any organization, for-profit or not, needs to bring in enough money to cover its expenses, pay its staff, etc. And while PP might not make "most" of its money from abortions, it’s not the tiny amount that some pro-choicers claim. Since the Abby Johnson story broke, I’ve read in multiple places that her assertion that her regional Planned Parenthood is trying to increase the number of abortions to raise money must be false because abortion accounts for only 3 percent of the services PP provides . But "services provided" is misleading. In 2007, Planned Parenthood performed more than 305,000 abortions. Its website says that first-trimester abortions cost $350 to $900. For the sake of argument, let’s say that each abortion cost $350. For 305,000 abortions, that comes out to more than $100 million in revenue. In 2007, Planned Parenthood’s total revenue was $1.038 billion. Its health center revenue (which the annual report does not break down in terms of contraception vs. abortions vs. other services) was $374.7 million. Even without knowing the exact numbers, it’s apparent that abortion might account for 3 percent of services but a far bigger chunk of revenue.

As for Abby Johnson, it’s true that the restraining order casts a pall over her conversion story. But I really think we need to wait to see what comes out of the hearing next week before we judge. You write that her story has "more holes in it than a piece of Swiss cheese after being used for target practice" and talk about how unlikely it is that an ultrasound of an abortion procedure gave her a change of heart. Maybe that is "pat." But if it’s not true, something made her have a change of heart. I can’t imagine that she’s some kind of pro-life activist mole who spent eight years waiting for the right moment to get her hands on confidential files. I believe that she was sincere in her pro-choice activism and that something made her change her mind. Much has been made of the fact that she converted during the Coalition for Life’s "40 Days for Life" campaign. But if the group’s activists did somehow "get to her," how did they do it? What convinced her? I don’t understand how it ties in with taking confidential files, because the coalition is bragging about its coup. If someone from the Bryan Planned Parenthood clinic is harassed or harmed, isn’t Johnson going to be the first suspect, having left in so public a fashion? The petition for the restraining order says that Johnson told someone at the clinic that "something big" was going to happen. If, God forbid, Johnson was helping Coalition for Life plan something terrible, she should be punished accordingly, and the pro-life community should disassociate itself from her without a thought. But we just don’t know yet.

Rachael Larimore is Slate's managing editor.

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