Book Review: Unplanned by Abby Johnson

“My story is not a comfortable one to read. I think it’s only fair to warn you of that upfront. Not comfortable, but honest and true.” This is how Abby Johnson begins her book Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey Across the Life Line. And that is just what this book is. A page-turner and an honest, raw confession of a long journey, Unplanned is well worth the read, even for those who may have already seen the film of the same name. 

What Inspired Abby to write Unplanned

Abby Johnson started volunteering at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas as a junior in college. She grew up in a Christian family and did not like the idea of abortion. In fact, her aim as she climbed the career ladder at the clinic was to “make abortion rare” by providing reproductive education and contraceptives. Her book gives a necessary, sympathetic view of abortion clinic workers, highlighting the fact that many of them (like her) work at clinics despite the abortions performed, not because of them. As her story unfolds, she reveals that many workers are living in a constant tension, feeling the burden of helping women in crisis, yet also the horror of the abortion procedures. Most simply do not know how to resolve the two. 

Abby felt this tension, but constantly pushed down the conflicting emotions and went from volunteer to clinic director within a few years. She was a Planned Parenthood star employee. She loved her career, her coworkers, and (as she believed) helping women in her community. But she also suffered from a deep sense of a distance from God that she was never able to reconcile. Everything changed in 2009 when she was asked to assist with an ultrasound-guided abortion, her first glimpse into what this thing actually looked like. The graphic description, included in the first chapter, is difficult to read. It undid Abby and all the conflict she had felt for so many years came pouring out. She resigned less than two weeks later. 

What to Expect from the Book

Written just months after her dramatic turnaround and resignation from the clinic, readers of Unplanned can feel the raw regret, heartache, and frustration Abby finds with her former way of thinking. From the very first pages, we are caught up in the tumultuous emotions of her journey. She repeatedly breaks from the action to let her readers in on her thought processes, being as open as she can about everything, even the obviously conflicting morals she held. “I was leading an unexamined life, full of inconsistencies.” 

On the flip side, we journey with Abby into the the intense joy and relief she experienced when she finally took the “step of obedience” and left her job. In fact, Abby seems so in awe of all that God did in her life that she can’t stop going over it, resulting in some of paragraphs that read a bit repetitive. But this is a small price to pay for the sincere delight of her story. Readers cannot help but sense her wonder as she chronicles how she was embraced by The Coalition for Life, the very organization she had fought for so long. The second half of the book tells the story of the joys and heartaches that transpired after her resignation. 

The Tall Iron Fence: Pro-choice vs. Pro-life

Throughout the book, Abby repeatedly mentions the tall, iron fence surrounding the Bryan clinic, using it as a symbol of the “war” between pro-choice and pro-life ideologies. Before her change of heart, she saw the fence as a thing to keep the enemy out and protect the women and workers within. The Coalition for Life was a constant presence on the other side of that fence, trying to talk to the clients who showed up for appointments and praying almost constantly. In fact, the Coalition’s 40 Days for Life Prayer Campaign (which today is a national movement) was started there. 

But as Abby wrestles with her conscience over her eight-year career at the clinic, her thoughts culminate on the question, “What if I’m on the wrong side of the fence?” Suddenly, the iron bars seemed less like a guard to keep the enemy out, and more like a prison to keep victims in. Abby felt like one of the prisoners. Less than three weeks after her resignation as director at the clinic, she found herself outside that very fence, on her knees, praying for forgiveness as she faced all that she had done within those gray walls. Her shift in her perspective about the fence is a powerful symbol of her journey.

Themes in Unplanned: Prayer

The power of prayer is another theme that is front and center throughout Abby’s memoir. As she looks back over the years, she realizes “…my conversion was the result of years of prayer over my clinic.” She mentions several people who were constantly on “the other side of the fence”, but who treated her with kindness, respect and even friendship. One volunteer, Elizabeth, who had always felt a special burden to pray for Abby, brought her a bouquet of flowers one day with a note that said “I’m praying for you Abby!” Abby kept that little card on her desk for two years, and it played a role on the day of her full turnaround.

Unplanned is filled with mentions of people praying, encouragements to keep pray, and revelations about how specific prayers were answered over the years. Abby also remarks on her coworkers still caught in the abortion industry.  “I still care about them and pray for them daily,” she says. “And I know from my own story that the answer to prayer can take a very long time.” 

Themes in Unplanned: Obedience

Another theme that readers will notice is the power of obedience. “If there is one seed I hope to plant in the heart of everyone who hears my story, it is this: God is worthy of our obedience and trust.” For years Abby sat in church, wrestling with her conscience, afraid God would ask her to give up the career that she loved. Any Christ-follower likely understand that feeling. If I really obey what God is asking me to do, what will He require of me? 

Ironically, the very thing she most feared (losing her career) brought about the connection to God and the joy that she longed for the most. It took her eight years to realize it, but that connection was something she wanted even more than a successful career. “A high, thick wall that had been standing between me and God was obliterated. In its place, I felt a river of joy flooding in. I’d never felt this way in my life.” Readers cannot help but remember Luke 9:24: “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Abby Johnson’s Work Today

Today, Abby Johnson is one of the most outspoken voices in the pro-life movement. Her story of going from “death to life” has inspired thousands of people, including former abortion clinic workers. Many were feeling the same tensions as Abby and began reaching out to her, asking for help to leave their jobs. They feared the legal repercussions, loss of income, and damaged relationships such a move could bring. Abby, having experienced all of those, was the perfect person to both listen and help. Within a year of leaving Planned Parenthood, she and her husband launched And Then There Were None, a nonprofit dedicated to helping clinic workers escape the abortion industry. “…Yes, we pray for the women, yes, we’re there for the babies, but we are even there for the clinic workers.” All are victims of abortion. 

Unplanned: The Movie

Abby’s story was adapted into a film, released in 2019, staring Ashley Bratcher as the lead actress. The film version captures well the heart of the book and includes all of the major events with very minimal changes. Bratcher is an influencer for Save the Storks and, since her role in the film, a voice in the pro-life movement. 

Unplanned is well-written, honest, encouraging and inspiring. It is well worth reading (and watching). Not only are readers entertained, but their hearts cannot help but be stirred by the good intentions of those “on both sides of the fence.” If we are to be pro-life, we are pro-all-life, including those currently working the abortion industry. 

As Abby’s story shows in dramatic detail, we never know what God is up to. Someone who seems to have the hardest of hearts may well be His chosen instrument to bring about incredible change. From her perspective, Abby’s journey was unplanned. But from God’s it was (and continues to be) finely orchestrated down to the smallest detail. 

Here are six of the best pro-life books for you to check out!