She was "small, bubbly and joyful. She had a radiant smile," with a "sweet" face. And yet, she wept.
She was a nun, in full habit, standing outside a Planned Parenthood clinic that Abby Johnson was running in Texas.
The first day Johnson and her staff saw her, they "gawked," and gathered at the clinic window. It was near 100 degrees, and there she was "in a heavy, dark brown habit that swept to the ground," Johnson, in her new book, "Unplanned," remembers: "Her head and hair were completely covered so that only her face showed, a face lifted toward heaven, eyes closed, clearly praying."
And then a "client" left the clinic, a woman who had just had an abortion. The religious sister, as Johnson writes, "fell to her knees and wept with such grief, such genuine personal pain, that I couldn't help but think to myself, She feels something far deeper than I ever will. She is honestly pained. This is real to her -- this grief at knowing that client had an abortion." Sister Marie Bernadette, the nun in question, would return every week on the days the clinic performed abortions.
Johnson asked herself: "How many other people cry outside my workplace because of the work I am doing?"
And she was not alone in her reaction. "The truth was, the sister's simple, prayerful presence bothered most of us, Catholic, ex-Catholic, Protestant and unchurched alike," Johnson recalls, "as she somehow represented our consciences."
The sister expressed a palpable agony.
I thought about Sister Bernadette when I heard New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg rant, of pro-life advocates: "If they had their way, the reproductive rights of American women would be tossed away, and it sounds to me like a Third World country that's requiring women to wear head shawls to cover their faces even if they don't want to do it."
He was responding to a simple funding bill before Congress that would keep taxpayer money away from abortion. There is currently no universal, permanent prohibition. This bill would change that. And I don't think anyone's going in for burqa measurements because of it.
Johnson, as you might expect, no longer works for Planned Parenthood. Participating in an all-too-clear, sonogram-guided abortion was the final straw. There was the "incredible irony" that, as Johnson puts it, "I had a career in educating women about contraception" and yet three times "conceived while using contraceptives." It was the third time that she kept her child, Grace.
Complexity, confusion, disconnection; these are all words Johnson uses to describe what was going on in her life and profession. And they describe America in regard to life issues.