By Anne Marie Cox
Prayer for Life Day drew about 350 people to Des Moines on Feb. 8 to hear former Planned Parenthood director turned pro-life advocate Abby Johnson tell her story of conversion.
The group then went to the Capitol to lobby legislators and pray.
Johnson encouraged the crowd to contact legislators, do peaceful prayer outside of abortion facilities and pray for an end to abortion. She also encouraged clergy to preach about ending abortion and the healing that is possible for those who have experienced abortion.
“There is nothing too big to bring to the foot of the cross,” she said. Johnson knows. She told her parents that she had two abortions, and they continue the healing process while knowing that they’ve lost two grandchildren.
Raised Southern Baptist, Johnson began volunteering for Planned Parenthood while she was in college, and said she thought she was doing God’s will because she was helping women. After a series of events, she became pro-life, wrote a book called “Unplanned” about her conversion and speaks across the country about the need to end abortion.
She will be coming into full communion with the Catholic Church this Easter.
Johnson pointed out how a woman can reach someone at an abortion facility any day of the week, while many crisis pregnancy centers that rely on volunteers have limited hours. It’s an issue that comes up for Deacon Jeane Plourde, who helps Gabriel’s Corner, a crisis pregnancy center in Council Bluffs. “We need more people,” he said, adding he was encouraged by Johnson’s talk.
Wendy Solawetz, of Catholic Charities, said, “Annually, the sponsors of the Prayer for Life want to provide the people of Iowa with an opportunity to learn about respect life issues.” This year, the sponsors invited Johnson to share her story in hopes of raising awareness of abortion services provided by Planned Parenthood, and that prayer, presence and activism will make a difference in saving lives.
“At the Capitol, I saw many legislators and participants talking to one another specifically about HF-5 and telemed abortion and our need to legislate positively for life,” Solawetz said. HF-5 is a bill pending in the Iowa legislature that is modeled after a fetal pain law in Nebraska, banning abortions after 20 weeks.
The Prayer for Life Day was sponsored by seven organizations: Catholic Charities, Council of Catholic Women, Iowa Catholic Conference, Iowa Family Policy Center, Iowa Right to Life, Iowans for LIFE and Knights of Columbus.
Diane Crist of Sacred Heart Parish in Lost Nation said she’s been active in pro-life efforts including sidewalk prayer. She read Johnson’s book before the Prayer for Life Day.
“The thing I find so interesting is she’s the one person I can find who can tell both sides,” Crist said. On the one hand, Johnson explained how she thought she was doing God’s will while working at Planned Parenthood. Yet, “she conveys that sense of love and forgiveness,” Crist said.
She was nervous about going to the state Capitol to lobby against abortion.
“I just want to see this thing go away but I know it’s not that simple,” she said.