The Bookshelf, by Rebekah Hall.


Review: Unplanned, by Abby Johnson.

Autobiographies are very simple to sort through. Either the author actually had a real and meaningful purpose to share their personal story with the world, or they didn’t. The autobiographies that do are usually worth the time it takes to read them; they age like wine, and they occasionally go on to be some of the best books ever written. The ones that don’t are nothing less than shameless self-exploitation and should all be titled, as a warning, “Let’s Celebrate Me”.

So where does that put Abby Johnson’s autobiography, Unplanned? Published earlier this year, Abby Johnson’s story is as much about fall and redemption as it is about the sanctity of human life. If you are not familiar with the name, Abby Johnson was a director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas. (Incidentally, the clinic was located in the same area that Jane Roe herself came from.) In her memoir, she tells of how she got to that position after being raised in a Christian/pro-life household, and what brought her back eight years later.

A story like this could easily turn into sentimental drivel pretty quickly, but surprisingly Johnson keeps it together from beginning to end, giving the book a tone of true sincerity that it wouldn’t have had otherwise. In the book she tries to be as painfully honest and objective as possible, not only in dealing with herself, but with both sides of the pro-life/pro-choice debate as well. Planned Parenthood certainly gets the beating that it deserves, from its shocking indifference to what is really healthy for women to its despicable single-minded goal of earning more money, no matter what it takes; but on the other flip of the coin, Johnson also has a thing or two to say about the ugly side of the pro-life movement as well. (There was actually a man who showed up at the clinic every morning dressed as the Grim Reaper.)

She doesn’t spare herself any grief, either. As anyone could imagine, this sort of conversion isn’t pleasant in any sense of the word. “Rough” probably isn’t even an adequate word to describe the transition from being the director of an abortion facility to believing that all abortion is murder. She leads the reader through this process step by step, and the passages where she quotes prayers from the Episcopal services (she was an Episcopalian at the time) to better describe her feelings at those particular moments are really quite beautiful.

Unplanned has been pretty well received so far by a good number of readers, save for one main criticism. Even when she first signed up to work for Planned Parenthood, Abby Johnson never actually believed in abortion. In fact, in the book Johnson claims that that’s the reason why she joined Planned Parenthood: because they told her that their mission was to reduce the number of abortions. So her conversion, then, wasn’t so much a sudden point of revelation as it was a final acknowledgement of something she’d known all along.

According to the criticism, this turns Unplanned into a sort of false advertising. Because Johnson never unabashedly waved the “all abortion is good” banner, this apparently disqualifies her as a real convert, which is nonsense. The fact of the matter is that, while she did have severe misgivings about abortion, she still continued to work with it on a daily basis, to the extent that she had two abortions herself. More importantly, one has to wonder how many abortion advocates are the loyal team-members that this criticism implies that they are; with the constant repetition of the “safe, but rare” mantra, or even Planned Parenthood’s own insistence on reducing abortions, the evidence seems to point to the fact that Abby Johnson’s uneasy attitude toward abortion is not unique, and perhaps it’s even common.

There is, however, one criticism that I have, and that’s the book’s timing. When Abby Johnson wrote this book, it had only been close to a year and a half after all the events that she describes took place. A year and a half, at least in my opinion, is not an adequate amount of time to reflect on a complete turn-around of one’s life. That sort of interior meditation usually takes years for most people, and even then it still might not be clear. Unfortunately, Unplanned ends up suffering from this, with an ending that’s far from satisfactory. At the book’s climax, there is nothing less than a personal betrayal, and no real answer as to why it took place, mainly because Johnson herself didn’t know at that point. She ends her story still in the doe-eyed honeymoon stage of her new convictions, leaving the book wanting of a bit more of a mature outlook than she has at that time. She now writes a blog, and I suppose that a remedy to this problem of the ending would be to continue to follow her story as it develops, but that really robs the book of its rightful due; good autobiographies truly do sweeten with time, and Unplanned has all the markings of a good autobiography, with only that one disappointment that it wasn’t allowed to age as well as it should have.

Rebekah is a senior in high school who loves reading, writing, or anything that contains a story and a puzzle. She runs the review blog “And a Sweet Sound it Made” – http://www.andasweetsound.blogspot.com

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