Wednesday, February 05, 2014


This week I finished reading Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, which I started around Christmas. Given that it was over 700 pages, this may be the longest book I read, and in one of the shortest periods of time. I don't mean that to brag, but usually I find myself too busy to commit to lengthy works, because it takes me so long that sometimes I forget what happened earlier in the novel. Buy Ayn Rand doesn't read like War and Peace or Middlemarch, and honestly, if you did put it down for a while and came back, you could still know what is going on. But you won't put it down, because the story is so gripping. I turned back to the novel every chance I got.

After finishing The Fountainhead, I picked up a vastly different book, Abby Johnson's Unplanned. It is a short, easy to read, autobiographical work about a woman who volunteered and worked with Planned Parenthood for 8 years, before reaching a dramatic turn in which she changed her views from prochoice to prolife after witnessing an ultrasound-guided abortion. Ayn Rand and Abby Johnson are about as diametrically opposed as you can get philosophically. Rand has strong views against service and government overreach in people's lives, and Johnson has a heart made for service. She discovered Planned Parenthood at a volunteer fair, and her whole life was oriented towards social services and helping others in need. It is the kind of career that would make Rand shudder, not because of abortion, but because of the premise of sacrificing oneself and one's life to help women in crisis.

And that's what Johnson was doing. What was so beautiful and compelling about Johnson's story, is that is shows the clinical workers at Planned Parenthood, and how so many of them are women with large hearts in the right place of doing good for others. But when Johnson became director of the clinic and learned about the finances of Planned Parenthood, her superiors began to pressure her to have a better fiscal bottom line, and that meant more abortions. Family planning and contraception were not money-makers; abortion was. So she was pressured to expand abortion at her clinic by offering more "medical" abortions (Ru-486, as opposed to surgical procedures) which clashed with her conscience as Johnson had had her own awful experience with the drug and was very careful about administering it. She also celebrated adoption and was happy when women made courageous decisions to parent or give up their child for adoption. But Planned Parenthood wasn't happy with those outcomes, because they didn't help the bottom line. This put Johnson at odds with Planned Parenthood, even though she still supported a woman's right to chose.

The literal and symbolic fence which separated prolife and prochoice people in Bryan, Texas where Johnson worked became a theme throughout the book. Johnson's story is compelling because she has been whole-heartedly on both sides of the fence, and the conversion from one side to the other is a beautiful testimony to the Holy Spirit tugging at someone's heart and answering the prayers of many around her. It struck a chord with me, because I had my own dramatic conversion around prolife issues, and working through the darkness of one of the worst moments of my life, was the groaning of the Holy Spirit, pushing me to reach out to the Father who forgives all things, and makes all things new, and brings life out of death. I never worked for Planned Parenthood, but I was an activist with them, taking the bus to DC to march for a woman's right, and marching across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. I was on an email list and contacted my representatives and wrote letters in support of prochoice causes. I believed so strongly in these issues, that when the "scales fell off my eyes" and I began to see the truth about IVF, abortion, and the morning-after pill, it was a dramatic turn for me, costing me friendships and causing me to radically reorient myself in life. But like Johnson, in the end I was richer for it, I developed new and deeper friendships, and found a life-giving path that opened up so many wonderful opportunities. It was not an easy, nor sudden transition, and I did not had a single pivotal moment as Johnson did, but rather a series of small but powerful moments and conversations that gradually tipped the scales for me. God has been very good to me since I heeded the call from the Spirit to return. I think there may be a book in me as well. I have attempted to write snippets of my conversion story, but it is difficult to structure a narrative as it was very complex. Johnson's story is actually pretty straightforward and simple, so it makes a good quick read. My own story has a lot of layers of complexity, that I have trouble weaving into a single narrative. I look back and try to rationalize what happened and put a cohesive story to it. I want to be able to say, "This is what happened, for these reasons," but every time I do, I feel it is still not the whole picture.

At any rate, I recommend both The Fountainhead and Unplanned for entirely different reasons. The Fountainhead is incredibly well written, and raises many fascinating philosophically interesting points that are intriguing to think about and discuss, preferably with a good friend who has also read the book. The characters are fascinating studies in themselves.

Unplanned is not the most sophisticated or well written of books, but the story, which is true, is so compelling, that I couldn't put it down. Perhaps because it was so personally relevant to me. But I read it within a few days. It's a story that anyone who has dealt with Planned Parenthood, or cares deeply about abortion one way or another, needs to read.

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