The Slatest

Anti-Abortion Activist Abby Johnson’s Conversion Story Has Been in Dispute Since the First Time She Told It

Abby Johnson speaks at a podium, with American flags in the background
Abby Johnson. Getty Images

Tuesday night’s Republican National Convention featured a speech from Abby Johnson, who explained how she went from being the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic to becoming an anti-abortion activist. It’s a story she’s told publicly many times before, first in an appearance on Huckabee on Nov. 8, 2009, a month and a day after quitting her job at Planned Parenthood, and most recently in Unplanned, a 2019 film based on her 2011 memoir. It’s also a story whose basic facts are still in dispute. Here’s Johnson’s full speech from the RNC:

About two months after Johnson started telling her conversion story, two investigative reports raised questions about its veracity. At the Texas Observer, Saul Elbein reported that Johnson had been put on a “performance improvement plan” at Planned Parenthood after an incident involving “inappropriate use of work e-mail,” while two former friends of Johnson’s related that she’d been having money problems and contemplating bankruptcy; one said Johnson had told her she was contemplating joining an anti-abortion organization because she’d been promised high speaker’s fees. “This whole thing is really just about a disgruntled employee,” one of them told Elbein.

Meanwhile, at Texas Monthly, Nate Blakeslee reported that Johnson’s former Planned Parenthood clinic had no records of a procedure matching the one Johnson describes changing her mind about abortion. On the date she claimed to have witnessed one, there were no ultrasound-guided procedures performed at all. And since the clinic only performed abortions every other Saturday, it’s unlikely she had her dates mixed up. Johnson disputes this, and in 2019, while Unplanned was in theaters, she published an editorial in the Federalist reasserting her claims and suggesting Planned Parenthood might have “deceptively altered” its records.

Whatever the facts of Johnson’s conversion, there was at least one other reason to raise an eyebrow at her RNC speech. She had a lot to say about Margaret Sanger’s racism, but shortly before she spoke, Vice News reported that Johnson, in a since-deleted YouTube video, said that she believed police officers would be “smart” to racially profile her biracial son, since he was “more likely to commit a violent offense” than her other “white nerdy kids.” Conservatism is a land of contrasts!

For more of Slate’s news coverage, subscribe to What Next on Apple Podcasts or listen below.