In the sanctuary of Bible Christian Church in Garden City Wednesday, dozens of area middle and high school students looked up and listened to a recording of anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson, projected high on the church’s display screens.

Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood director who made national news in 2009 when she resigned from the reproductive healthcare organization and began speaking out against abortions, has long been a strong voice of her movement, speaking before thousands in January at Washington D.C.’s March for Life.

This past week, she addressed slightly smaller audiences — those at the Garden City ABC Pregnancy Care Center’s sold-out fundraising banquet Tuesday and, via a prerecorded video, the ABC youth event a night later. The latter, above all, said ABC Director Erica Boone, was meant to make sure young people were more informed about abortion.

“I know this is a heavy topic. And I’m really glad you guys came out to learn more and hear more about it because it’s not something that’s really comfortable to talk about, but it’s really important…” Boone told students at the event. “It’s important for you all to really inform yourselves now because as you go into school, as you go off to college, as you go into your work, into life, you want to know what you believe and know how to talk about it with other people.”

The event, which brought in students from BCC, First Southern Baptist Church, First Christian Church and Cornerstone Church in Garden City, as well as churches in Ulysses, Cimarron and Lakin, was a new rendition of the event ABC holds annually: part frank talk about abortion for church youth groups and part question-and-answer session with someone who represented ABC’s and the church’s stance.

The night opened quickly with a clip of Johnson telling the emotional story of her assisting with an ultrasound-guided abortion, being horrified by the sight of a fetus being pulled from a mother’s body and ultimately walking away from Planned Parenthood.

From there, the video switched to a more recent Johnson at home answering questions about how often abortion happens, whether it is murder, the Bible’s stance on the issue, God’s forgiveness, media and pop culture’s influence on the subject and what to tell a friend considering an abortion.

She suggested women or girls considering abortions visit a pregnancy center and understand all the options and to be as understanding as possible to their parents’ reactions. Abortion is not legally considered murder, she said, but she hopes that will change. She said God knows and has plans for individuals from before they are formed in the womb.

“Is it killing? Yes. Is it unjust? Yes. Is it taking an innocent life? Yes. All of those things are wrong. So, just because the law tells us one thing doesn’t mean that the law is always right,” Johnson said in the video. “We know that taking the life of an innocent human being is wrong because God tells us that human life is valuable and it's unrepeatable and it’s irreplaceable.”

Johnson has been on ABC’s guest speaker list for a while, and schedules aligned in the pregnancy center’s favor this year, Boone said. In addition to speaking out publicly against abortion, Johnson has written two books about her and other abortion workers’ experiences and founded And Then There Were None, a nonprofit organization that urges abortion workers to quit their jobs and offers resources to those that do.

Later this month, Pure Flix’s “Unplanned,” the movie adaptation of Johnson’s memoir directed by “God’s Not Dead” writers Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon, will hit theaters, including Garden City’s Sequoyah 9. Boone urged students to “pack the theater” on opening weekend for a movie that, with an R-rating for disturbing imagery, “Hollywood doesn’t want you to see.”

The crux of Johnson’s story — the fateful assisted abortion that changed her perspective and is dramatized in “Unplanned” — has been questioned over the years. As reported by Salon and Texas Monthly at the time, she spoke in favor of Planned Parenthood and against 40 Days of Life in an interview shortly after the supposed incident, and abortion records from the clinic don’t line up with the timeline of her story. Johnson has long stuck to the story regardless, claiming falsified records.

On Wednesday, Johnson answered a question asking what the media and culture are not telling the public about abortion. The media normalizes abortion, dehumanizes the unborn and presents people as proud of having abortions, she said. That’s dangerous, she said, because abortion can have “serious emotional side effects” for those who have them.

Kathya Guillen, a student attendee, agreed with Johnson after the event that the media wasn’t really telling the truth about the subject.

“I just want to thank you even being interested in this topic and being interested in how to best defend our beliefs because it’s really important. And especially for you guys, for young people, that as you go out into the world that you’re able to stand really strong in your convictions because you know the truth,” Johnson said in the video.

Other student questions went to Boone and ABC employees Hannah Proffitt and Genessa West. ABC’s services are free and confidential and its employees won’t alert the parents of kids who stop in, though they encourage kids to talk to their parents.

Free, used baby items are available at the center, and it is always taking donations. ABC is not an adoption agency but is equipped to connect women with reputable adoption agencies.

The pregnancy center offers classes and resources regarding prenatal care, newborn care and life skills, West said. Proffitt said if young people are considering having sex, they can visit with staff casually and confidentially about “ideas to stay away from temptation,” like community service.

“We’d much rather talk to you before you make that decision than when you’re coming in for a test,” Boone told students.

A few youth group members from First Christian Church in Garden City thought the discussion was a little awkward but felt like the event’s anti-abortion message was true. Marleny Guardado, who considers herself pro-life, said the topic wasn’t her favorite.

“It’s just not the topic I want to talk about,” she said.

Boone said she thought the youth in attendance responded well; they had good questions about resources and how to talk to parents in difficult situations. And Boone thought Johnson handled her answers well. Teenagers are affected by abortion and the conversation around abortion, and they make decisions regarding sex and relationships that “affect them long-term,” she said. The discussion was meant to offer information to people who needed it.

When asked why the event didn’t include different perspectives on abortion, she pointed to the center’s mission.

“We are a pro-life pregnancy center. We are a faith-based, pro-life center, but really our goal at our center is for any woman who comes in seeking information, that she walks out feeling informed about all of her choices so that she can make a decision that she can live with long-term. As Abby did say in the video, we know that many women suffer psychological or emotional issues after an abortion, and we feel like that’s important for people to have that information, as well,” Boone said.

Having a panel with speakers from different sides of the issue is a possibility, Boone said, but staff didn’t want to “enter into an environment that’s going to be contentious and a debate,” she said.

“We would rather have a conversation,” Boone said. “And I think that happens better in small groups and one-on-one settings.”

 

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.