The diocesan Office of Pro-Life Activities held its fourth annual banquet to support the St. Gianna Molla Pregnancy Outreach Center on Feb. 11. The dinner gathered those who work in the pro-life ministries throughout the diocese to hear the testimonies of people affected by the center. Bishop Richard J. Malone led a prayer for those in attendance.
Guest speaker Abby Johnson, a former director of Planned Parenthood, spoke on her conversion and what led her to start And Then There Were None, a ministry assisting former abortion clinic workers to find new jobs.
"We are getting them on a path of healing and we are walking with them," she said. "We are accompanying them on their journey to healing, and getting them back on a journey to Christ."
Johnson grew up in a Southern Baptist home, knowing the teachings on the sanctity of human life, and even considered herself to be pro-life. But after meeting someone who worked at Planned Parenthood, Johnson bought into the message she was given, that Planed Parenthood was the only provider of health care for poor women, and that taking away reproductive rights was anti-feminist. She believed this for eight years.
"Once I was in, I was in," she said. "Once you let that type of evil into your life there's a type of spiritual blindness that takes over your mind and your heart and your body, and you don't see what you're doing. That's how sin works. Little steps at a time. One day you wake up and you don't know who you are anymore."
Although she had no medical training, Johnson assisted in an ultrasound-guided abortion in September 2009, working an ultrasound machine so the abortionist could, "visualize his target."
Johnson then got uncomfortably graphic describing what happens during an abortion. While watching the ultrasound she saw the baby boy jump and flail his arms and legs.
It took a week for Johnson to leave her job. The money made it hard to go, but prayer led her to a pro-life coalition.
"I don't like admitting when I am wrong, but I felt God gave me the grace to do that," she said. Ironically, it was her former employer that turned Johnson into a 21st-century Upton Sinclair. After Planned Parenthood sent out a press release to the Associated Press about her leaving, Johnson began to talk about the abortion industry.
"I started telling what I saw inside of the abortion industry, and I found that the more I talked, the more healing it was for me. And the more I shared, the better I felt about my past," she said.
Her 2011 book, "Unplanned," tells of her experiences at Planned Parenthood.
Johnson links sex trafficking, domestic abuse, divorce rates, and even "50 Shades of Gray" to the lack of respect for the most vulnerable in our society.
"We don't value those who have no voice, the unborn, so why in the world would we value our marriages? Why would we value our children once they are out of the womb? Why would we value the elderly? Why would we value the differently abled?"
She said the abortion rate for children with Down syndrome is 92 percent.
"We're living in a eugenic society where we only want those who are desirable and the rest are disposable," she said.
Her goal in her work is to change the hearts and minds of people to create a society that respects life at all stages.
"Even if abortion was made illegal, abortions would still be taking place tomorrow," she said. "It's not about making abortion illegal. It's about making abortion unthinkable. That's what this center is doing. That's what you are doing with your work. That's what the Church is doing. That's what we're all trying to do. We're trying to create a paradigm shift in this country and it's going to take a lot of work. And it's not just about abortion. It's about a lot of things. We look at our country. We look at what's taking place and we see the destruction of the family, we see divorce rates at an all-time high. We have people fighting for the right to die."
Cheryl Calire, director of Pro-Life Activities for the diocese, thanked those who attended.
"I really can't see a face out there that hasn't in some way contributed to the success of this ministry," she said. "If it wasn't for you folks, day after day, what I call feet on the street, really stepping up to the plate when we need to reach these families, we wouldn't be able to do this without you."
St. Gianna Molla Pregnancy Outreach Center provides pastoral outreach of the Office of Pro-Life Activities with satellite locations to serve Niagara and Chautauqua County. The center provides material, emotional and spiritual support to mothers, fathers and young families in need, from pregnancy through the first years of life.
For more information visit firstname.lastname@example.org or call 842-BABY (2229).