A changed heart on abortion

Although it wasn't covered by a wide variety of media outlets, this local TV news story (embedded here) sure made a splash yesterday. It's about how the director of the (Texas A&M-area) Bryan Planned Parenthood resigned her post last month after watching an abortion being performed on an ultrasound.

Reporter Ashlea Sigman of KBTX broke the story, near as I can tell, and I want to commend the station for that since so often stories like this end up running only in the religious or pro-life press. But watch the story, or read it here, and tell me if you don't have a ton of questions.

The story explains that Abby Johnson worked at the center for the last eight years, was its director for two years and turned in her resignation October 6. She says that she was also troubled by pressure to increase her clinic's focus on abortion rather than pregnancy prevention. She said that while there was much more money to be made in abortions, the business model troubled her. Religion is in play and the reporter includes that angle:

Johnson said she was told to bring in more women who wanted abortions, something the Episcopalian church goer recently became convicted about.

"I feel so pure in heart (since leaving). I don't have this guilt, I don't have this burden on me anymore that's how I know this conversion was a spiritual conversion."

Johnson now supports the Coalition For Life, the pro-life group with a building down the street from Planned Parenthood. Coalition volunteers can regularly be seen praying on the sidewalk in front of Planned Parenthood. Johnson has been meeting with the coalition's executive director, Shawn Carney, and has prayed with volunteers outside Planned Parenthood.

The story concludes by mentioning that Planned Parenthood successfully got temporary restraining orders issued against both Johnson and the Coalition for Life.

Many readers submitted this story and asked tons of questions.

Why, exactly, did she resign? Why did Planned Parenthood seek a restraining order? What does Planned Parenthood not want her to disclose? How did Johnson get involved with the Coalition for Life? What role did being Episcopal play in her conversion? Why is an ultrasound of an abortion mentioned in the headline but then not mentioned again? Was the conversion solely about the abortion issue or was it a larger religious conversion? Why did it take a month for this story to break? How is Planned Parenthood funded? Is it a non-profit or private business? Does it receive federal funds? What does Planned Parenthood have to say in response to the allegations? What do we know about Planned Parenthood's business model?

This story is just begging for more information. I actually thought FoxNews.com did a good job of writing it up. It has better details and actually gets valuable information from Planned Parenthood. Here's how it begins:

Abby Johnson, 29, used to escort women from their cars to the clinic in the eight years she volunteered and worked for Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas. But she says she knew it was time to leave after she watched a fetus "crumple" as it was vacuumed out of a patient's uterus in September.

"When I was working at Planned Parenthood I was extremely pro-choice," Johnson told FoxNews.com. But after seeing the internal workings of the procedure for the first time on an ultrasound monitor, "I would say there was a definite conversion in my heart ... a spiritual conversion."

Zwiebel The story explains that abortions cost patients between $500 and $700 and that the clinic retained an average of $350, netting around $10,000 each month. While Planned Parenthood doesn't directly respond to Johnson's allegations, a spokesman says that 90 percent of the company's services are preventive in nature. The reporter also asked Johnson for any proof of her allegations about the Planned Parenthood business model and she says all of the pressure to increase abortions came in meetings with a regional manager. The story also mentions that it's unclear why Planned Parenthood sought a restraining order and notes that Johnson says she did not intend to release any sensitive information about former patients. So it fills in some of the blanks.

On the other hand, the story has precisely no mention of the religious angles that were present in the local broadcast piece.

Now, I'm glad that we have at least a couple of instances of mainstream media covering this story. But this is a big story and even with the major problems the media tend to have covering abortion and the battle over abortion rights, they need to cover this one well.

First, the basic story should be told. But this is also a great hook to discuss whether technological advances are behind the trend of more Americans identifying as "pro-life" than "pro-choice." Reporters could also look at how Planned Parenthood's business runs, how religious views shape our vocations in life, what it's like to change sides in the abortion debate and how successful pro-life groups are in opposing abortion clinics. Let us know if you see particularly good or bad coverage or if you have ideas for further exploration.

The ultrasound image is of my youngest at 8-10 weeks.

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