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This past spring I had the opportunity to attend a pro-life banquet sponsored by the Montgomery County Right to Life organization in Conroe, Texas. The featured speakers, as at most such events, were knowledgeable and committed, but they also shared another trait that should encourage everyone concerned for the future of the pro-life movement.
The first speaker was Laura Sprack, an eleventh-grade student who had won a Student Oratory contest sponsored by Montgomery County Right to Life. Miss Sprack spoke on the false illusion of euthanasia. She was poised, informed, and possessed an amazing command of her material. Seeing her on the stage speaking as well as she did gave me new hope for the pro-life message being articulated precisely and winsomely.
Sprack was followed on the podium by a young man named Shawn Carney. A whopping 28 years old, Carney is a co-founder of the Forty Days for Life prayer events, as well as the director of the Brazos Valley Coalition for Life in College Station, Texas (home of Texas A&M University). In his address, Carney rattled off some encouraging statistics regarding the most recent Forty Days for Life event he had helped organize. The forty-day vigil had been observed in 306 cities across the United States, he reported, and during those days of prayer and fasting, 2,818 abortion-minded women had chosen life over death for their babies, and six abortion facilities had completely closed. Most astounding of all, 32 workers in the abortion industry had been converted and quit their jobs!
Carney then began to talk about Abby Johnson, director of the Planned Parenthood (PP) facility in College Station, Texas, which, not coincidentally, is located next-door to the offices of the Brazos Valley Coalition for Life. Being so close to the PP facility afforded Carney some opportunities of speaking with Johnson, whom he knew from his student days, when they were classmates. He recalled having had several conversations with her over the years and, in particular, that she had once told him, “You’re not going to convert me!” But Carney persevered, continuing to pray for her and gently trying to persuade her to change her mind about abortion.
After telling the banquet audience these things, Carney then introduced the keynote speaker of the evening—Abby Johnson.
Abby Johnson’s Story
Johnson, an attractive twenty-something, worked at Planned Parenthood of College Station for eight years and was its director for two. So successful had she been at her job that she was named top director of a PP facility and was invited in March 2009 to attend the National Planned Parenthood Conference in Houston to receive an award. She even got to sit at the same table as Hillary Clinton, who was being presented with the Margaret Sanger Award that year—the most coveted award given by Planned Parenthood for championing abortion “rights.”
So, Johnson reminisced, just one year ago, she had been receiving the accolades of the most prominent pro-abortion advocates in the nation and meeting Hillary Clinton. Now she was speaking at a pro-life banquet, and the following Friday she would have the opportunity to meet one of the most prominent pro-life advocates in the nation, Sarah Palin.
Then Johnson began to talk about the event that triggered this dramatic change in her life: the day she witnessed an ultrasound-guided abortion. The PP facility in College Station had recently hired a husband-and-wife team from Austin who specialized in this procedure. As director of the center, Johnson wanted to learn all she could about it, so although she had never witnessed or assisted at an abortion before, she agreed to help with the ultrasound-guided procedure, which is portrayed as being safer for the mother than an unguided procedure, though it takes five minutes longer.
Johnson described the procedure in detail. Her task was to hold the ultrasound probe on the woman’s belly. Up on the screen she could see the 13-week-old fetus perfectly from head to toe. At first, it was lying still. Then, as the cannula (a straw-like tube connected to the suction machine) was inserted into the uterus and the vacuum turned on, the fetus began flailing and visibly attempting to move away from the instrument.
Johnson recalled that, one minute she saw a baby on the screen and the next minute it was simply gone, torn to pieces by the suction machine. It was at that moment that she decided to leave the abortion industry behind and completely turn her life around. That was October 6, 2009.
Now Johnson is participating in sidewalk counseling and prayer outside the very facility she once directed. As a speaker, she has become one of the most important pro-life voices in the nation. And she is still in her twenties.
So Young, So Many
Before introducing Johnson, Shawn Carney related an anecdote about the reaction of Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL, to the pro-lifers who assembled in Washington, D.C., on January 22 for the 2010 March for Life. According to a story by Sarah Kliff in Newsweek, Keenan had traveled to Washington by train, and upon pulling into the station, she noticed the large crowds of pro-lifers. “I just thought, my gosh, they are so young,” she told Kliff. “There are so many of them, and they are so young.”
And she was not the only one struck by the ages of the estimated 400,000 attendees of the march. Robert McCartney, an admitted Roe v. Wade supporter, wrote in a Washington Post column that he, too, “was especially struck by the large number of young people” at the march. He noted that about half of the total number of marchers appeared “to be younger than thirty,” including “numerous large groups of teenagers.”
McCartney also commented on the enthusiasm and even confidence of the young pro-lifers—noting in particular the signs that read, “We are the pro-life generation”—while acknowledging that pro-abortion activists he spoke with “conceded that there’s less energy among young people on their side of the debate.”
What he witnessed took McCartney rather by surprise. He began his column by saying that he had expected to write about the irrelevance and the “quaintness” of the annual pro-life march. But when he took a closer look at this year’s march, he discovered “how wrong I was.”
Indeed, we who champion a culture of life have reason to hope, and cause to rejoice. •
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