Anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson told the Republican National Convention an exceedingly graphic story of helping to terminate a pregnancy as a Planned Parenthood employee—an account that has been challenged numerous times.
The speech contained the kind of shock imagery embraced by some in the anti-abortion movement, with details that painted her former co-workers as heartless money-grubbers.
She made reference to a “pieces of children” room and asked, “Did you know abortion even had a smell?”
But serious questions about Johnson’s narrative—which became the basis for the movie Unplanned—have long been raised by records and a former friend.
As she told it Tuesday night, Johnson decided to quit Planned Parenthood and go “pro-life” a decade ago after she was asked to assist with an ultrasound-guided abortion and saw “an unborn baby fighting back, desperate to move away from the suction.”
“And I’ll never forget what the doctor said next—‘Beam me up, Scotty.’”
But Texas Monthly reported in 2009—as Johnson became something of a celebrity—that records provided by Planned Parenthood did not support her story.
She claimed the fetus was 13 weeks, but there were no patients more than 10 weeks pregnant on the date in question, it reported. She said the patient was Black, and the only woman matching that description was six weeks pregnant and would not have undergone an ultrasound. Johnson claimed years later that the records must have been falsified.
According to a 2009 report in Salon, Johnson might have had other reasons to quit her job: Planned Parenthood said in a court filing that she had been put on a "performance improvement plan” at work.
Not long after, the Texas Observer reported that Johnson’s friend Laura Kaminczak, who worked for another Planned Parenthood clinic, told them that she was fired, and Johnson was disciplined, for trash-talking colleagues in an email.
“She was so pissed. She felt like she’d given them everything, and this was just a slap in the face,” Kaminczak told the Observer. “This whole thing is really just about a disgruntled employee.”
Kaminczak said that Johnson had talked about seeing an ultrasound-guided abortion but not in the way that she described it at the RNC on Tuesday night.
“She was super-excited about it—she said it seemed a lot more humane then the normal procedure, like the patient was in a lot less pain,” she said.
Johnson denied then that she quit because she was punished and also denied Kaminczak’s allegation that she was broke and was enticed by the offer of $3,000 speaking gigs for the Coalition for Life.
But Texas Monthly noted that when she posted on Facebook the night she quit, she did not mention any of the reasons she gave at the RNC.
“Alright. Here’s the deal. I have been doing the work of two full time people for two years. Then, after I have been working my whole big butt off for them and prioritizing that company over my family, my friends and pretty much everything else in my life, they have the nerve to tell me that my job performance is ’slipping,’’ she posted.
“WHAT???!!! That is crazy. Anyone that knows me knows how committed I was to that job. They obviously do not value me at all. So, I’m out and I feel really great about it!”
Ahead of her moment in the biggest spotlight, Johnson came under scrutiny for comments that had nothing to do with abortion. Vice uncovered video of her discussing racial profiling in the context of her “brown son,” Jude.
“Right now, Jude is an adorable, perpetually tan-looking little brown boy,” said Johnson. “But one day, he’s going to grow up and he’s going to be a tall, probably sort of large, intimidating-looking-maybe brown man. And my other boys are probably gonna look like nerdy white guys.”
She continued, “Statistically, I look at our prison population and I see that there is a disproportionately high number of African-American males in our prison population for crimes, particularly for violent crimes. So statistically, when a police officer sees a brown man like my Jude walking down the road— as opposed to my white nerdy kids, my white nerdy men walking down the road—because of the statistics that he knows in his head, that these police officers know in their head, they’re going to know that statistically my brown son is more likely to commit a violent offense over my white sons.”
“So the fact that in his head, he would be more careful around my brown son than my white son, that doesn’t actually make me angry. That makes that police officer smart, because of statistics.”