Abby Johnson, known for publicly resigning from Planned Parenthood in 2009, energized the crowd gathered to hear her speak June 1 at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Lake Oswego. (Sarah Wolf/Catholic Sentinel)
Abby Johnson, known for publicly resigning from Planned Parenthood in 2009, energized the crowd gathered to hear her speak June 1 at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Lake Oswego. (Sarah Wolf/Catholic Sentinel)
LAKE OSWEGO — The audience at Our Lady of the Lake Parish here sat teary eyed as Abby Johnson described a prenatal child flinching and flailing its arms as a suction machine was turned on in its mother’s womb.

Hundreds flocked to the church June 1 to hear from the nationally renowned speaker, who became famous after resigning from her work running an abortion clinic for Planned Parenthood in 2009. Johnson and her husband converted to Catholicism since that time and now have seven children.

Johnson’s youngest son, whom she and her husband adopted, was rejected by numerous families because of his race and his potential health problems. After hearing the mother and child’s story, Johnson and her husband quickly decided to adopt the baby boy.

But the story most people came to hear was about how Johnson, who grew up in a pro-life Christian family, ended up working in the abortion industry.

“I guess I don’t really have just a striking answer for you tonight except to say that it happened just a little bit at a time. Because, guys, that’s the way that sin works in our lives. That’s the way that sin takes over. It’s one little lie at a time, one little compromise at a time. And eventually you look in the mirror and you don’t even know who you are any more.

“But I do know that when God wants to change your life. It can literally happen like that,” she said, snapping her fingers. “And that’s what happened to me in the fall of 2009.”

Johnson had worked her way up through the business, successfully running a clinic and even receiving an award for employee of the year. But the tide turned quickly when Johnson realized that the abortion quota for the office was doubling and that safer abortion procedures couldn’t be performed on women because they took an extra three minutes. The safer procedure involved having an ultrasound during the entire procedure so that doctors wouldn’t be guessing and potentially hurting the woman’s uterine lining.

A visiting physician was advocating for the safer method. He even brought Johnson into the clinic during a procedure to show how the method would work. It was then that Johnson witnessed through the ultrasound the baby flinching and flailing its arms when the suction machine was turned on. She left the office that day, went next door to the pregnancy resource center and wept on their couch. Then she resigned. Johnson says she calculated that she was involved in or responsible for more than 20,000 abortions in her eight years with Planned Parenthood.

“And I didn’t know how to live with that. I didn’t know how to live with that kind of burden.

“I was asking God to forgive me even though I didn’t feel like I deserved forgiveness, not for that. It’s too big. My sin was too great. But in that moment, God told me that there was nothing that I could ever do to make up for what I had done. But it was so clear. He also said, because of his radical and divine mercy, that I had been made new in him.”

Johnson encouraged attendees to pray for those working in abortion clinics.

Cindy Hickman, a graduate of the First Image/Heart Bible study, revealed her story of having multiple abortions, once in high school and then later as a married woman. She talked about the emotional and spiritual healing she endured and the healing that the Bible study provides women recovering after abortions.

The event, hosted by the SpeakLife group, included an update on the ballot measure which would end state funding for abortion in Oregon. The group is collecting signatures and was at 114,000 signatures so far, needing only a few thousand more to reach the number required by the state to get on November’s election ballot. Johnson encouraged everyone to sign the petition and get others to sign.

Father John Boyle gave an opening prayer at the event. Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith gave a closing prayer, and Patrick Ryan, executive director of Mater Dei Radio, acted as master of ceremonies for the event. The parish’s choir director also performed twice during the evening.