Switching Sides: A Review of ‘Unplanned’

“While you are proclaiming peace in your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart.”—St. Francis of Assissi

“God has assigned as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman.”—Saint Pope John Paul II

“A person’s a person, no matter how small.”—Dr. Seuss

Suggested Grade Levels:

Grades 10-12

Review and Thoughts

The topic of abortion has always been one of those hot button issues that most people tend to avoid. In fact, for most of my schooling I was told to avoid the topic of abortion in papers because it had become cliché.  Sadly, the avoidance of this topic in Abby Johnson’s family is what leaves her unprepared to discuss the issue when it confronts her face to face. While in college, she becomes attracted to the hot pink Planned Parenthood table at Texas A&M and she realizes she is unable to argue with anything they say.  She is drawn in by their passion and excitement over helping women in crisis.  She, too, wants to help women and quickly signs on as a volunteer at the clinic in Bryan, Texas and doesn’t think anything of what she is doing for many years.  Though her family disapproves of her place of employment, she is always able to justify the work of the organization and is extremely proud of the service they provide for the public.

Johnson works her way up through the ranks at the clinic and after years of working for Planned Parenthood, she becomes clinic director at the same clinic where she had begun as a volunteer.  It isn’t until Abby is asked to help with an ultrasound-guided abortion that she sees first- hand the atrocities of what an abortion truly is.  It is then that she realizes that what she is doing is wrong and decides to leave Planned Parenthood.

The perspective of Johnson is a valuable one in this memoir. From the beginning of her time at Planned Parenthood she witnessed the Pro-life movement through the eyes of someone who is Pro-choice.  When she looks through the fence that surrounds the clinic, she sees an evolution of the types of protestors who would stand outside.  At the beginning of her tenure, there are people harassing the women as they walk inside. She sees a man dressed as a grim reaper and a woman holding a sign that shows an aborted child. She was automatically turned off by this behavior. And who wouldn’t be, really?  This is why she is originally needed as a volunteer, to meet the women at the car, show them kindness, and walk with them to the inside of the clinic.  She would protect them from the hatred on the other side.

As Johnson continues her time at the clinic, she notices that the grim reaper disappears, along with those who had shouted hateful things, and the terrible pictures are gone.  These people are replaced by a much kinder group.  A group who prays.  A group who offers kindness.  A group who offers help.  And what is even MORE unique about the group, is that they are kind to her as well.  They no longer seem like the enemy, they reach out to her and offer friendship.  They pray for her despite her doing something that they abhor.  This is why Abby Johnson turns to them when she realizes she needs to leave.

This book is not without controversy.  Many people find the description of the ultrasound-guided abortion too difficult to read and try to shelter it from their children.  Many people question Johnson’s dates and doubt her conversion story.  Skeptics question how could someone be so ok with abortion after being raised by a pro-life family and married to a pro-life husband?  Because of this, many people have chosen not to read this book, but I would argue that this book has something much more valuable to demonstrate.  Yes, it shows the atrocities of abortion, and yes, it tells about the true nature of Planned Parenthood, but it also shows how prayer creates conversion.  Prayer saves lives.  And good people, who pray honestly and faithfully ARE making a difference.  There has been so much fruit that has come from those young people who prayed for Abby Johnson.  That is what a true pro-life person looks like.  They offer all of the things that this group did for Johnson and for the other women who went to them for help instead of Planned Parenthood.

All of these reasons demonstrate why this book should be read by high school students.  Some families don’t have the discussion with their children which leads to confusion about where they stand on the issue.  Also, abortion has been “toned down” and turned into a word without meaning and people forget how awful it is.  And women deserve more than the very few options that Planned Parenthood provides.  They need love and hope and peace and HELP.

I’ve been lucky enough to hear Abby Johnson speak at one of our local parishes.  She is a brave woman who has started her own organization to help abortion workers leave the industry.  She provides that loving help that the workers need.  It takes more than just her to provide help.  Read her book.  Share her story and her book with others. Educate yourselves on ways to peacefully pray, and then do it.  But showing love is the most important way to make change.  We can love others out of the clinics.

Possible Issues

  • The very  beginning of the book describes an abortion procedure that is witnessed by Abby Johnson and disturbs her.  She describes the way the baby twists and turns to escape the instrument and then how it is violently twisted and sucked away.
  • Johnson has two abortions.  Her first abortion is when she is very young, the second is during her first marriage when she has decided to divorce her first husband.  Both can be difficult to read.

Further Discussion

    • Johnson often mentions that she and her family never discussed the abortion issue, so she was left to make her own decisions.  Even if you have discussed it with your children before, it may benefit to discuss it again, especially if it has been a long time.  Be sure to discuss why we believe that it is wrong and different arguments that are made to defend abortion so that our youth are strong in defending their beliefs.  Use the following book to help answer the tough questions.

Catholic Resources

General Teaching Resources

  • Watch the following video as Abby Johnson tells her story. Analyze the character of Abby Johnson.  Provide examples for each.  Use the five aspects of characterization to help:
    1. Speech
    2. Appearance
    3. How characters feel about them
    4. Thoughts
    5. Actions

  • Discuss the definition of memoir and analyze how Unplanned fits the description.
  • Compare and contrast Abby Johnson with Shawn Carney.  How do they approach their jobs?  How do their lives parallel?