Saint Joseph, Fatherhood, and “Unplanned” Surprises

“If there is one thing I love, it’s being a father,” says Doug Johnson, husband of pro-life activist and author Abby Johnson. “I have no greater passion in this world, so who greater to lean on than Saint Joseph?”

The Johnson family on Easter 2015 (; right: The cover of the Ignatius Press edition of Abby Johnson's "Unplanned" (

The pro-life film “Unplanned” is scheduled for official release on March 29. Based on the testimony of Abby Johnson, the former manager of a Planned Parenthood clinic, as recounted in Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey Across the Life Line, the film was unexpectedly given an “R” rating last month by the Motion Picture Association of America.

The film’s official website describes the movie as

the inspiring true story of one woman’s journey of transformation. All Abby Johnson ever wanted to do was help women. As one of the youngest Planned Parenthood clinic directors in the nation, she was involved in upwards of 22,000 abortions, and counseled countless women about their reproductive choices. Her passion surrounding a woman’s right to choose even led her to become a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood, fighting to enact legislation for the cause she so deeply believed in. Until the day she saw something that changed everything, leading Abby Johnson to join her former enemies at 40 Days For Life, and become one of the most ardent pro-life speakers in America.

While Abby Johnson’s powerful witness has garnered much attention, not as much is known about her husband Doug. CWR recently had the opportunity to talk with Doug Johnson about his journey into the Catholic Church and being a pro-life husband and father.

CWR: Please describe how you and Abby became Catholic.

Doug Johnson: Abby and I were both raised in Protestant homes. My family went to a Lutheran church, and sent me to a non-denominational Christian high school. For the most part, I went to school with mostly Baptists, and often went to church on Sundays. After I graduated, my folks moved over to the Methodist Church, so I moved over with them.

Abby grew up exclusively in the Baptist Church, and that’s where we decided to go after getting married. After a while, Abby’s involvement with Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry made going to a Baptist church pretty tense and uncomfortable, because our church was publicly pro-life. So, we eventually decided to explore our options for a church home, and landed in the Episcopal Church. We were pretty comfortable there, mostly because they were so left-leaning. They supported abortion, same-sex marriage, and everything else under the sun. Then, about a year into joining the Episcopal Church, Abby changed her stance on abortion and left Planned Parenthood, and they not-so-politely asked us to leave. That, in a nutshell, is our trip around the Protestant horn.

Once Abby was out of the abortion industry, we had a lot of new friends who were Catholic. They were relentless about inviting us to Mass, but we both grew up somewhat anti-Catholic. It was hard to let go of that, but they never gave up. After a while, we gave in, and decided to go. We figured we could tell our friends thanks for the invite, but we gave it a try and it’s not for us. The opposite happened. Our first trip to Mass, we immediately fell in love, and we couldn’t get to the Eucharist fast enough. There was just something about the liturgy, the tradition, and the way the Gospel was presented, that just grabbed us. Abby and I turned to each other, and we both knew what the other was thinking. We had found our new home. After that, we started RCIA.

Easter of 2012, we became official. It’s kind of funny, because certain parts of the process dragged on forever. But once all the boxes were checked, it was a mad dash to the finish line. We had to con-validate our marriage, pick our saints, and get my sponsor flown in from out of state. For me, the hardest part was choosing a saint. I wanted to try to be cool and different in my choice. I kept looking at websites and books for one of those obscure saints, to make me seem like a hip Catholic.

But the more I searched, the more I kept coming back to Saint Joseph, the patron saint of fathers. If there is one thing I love, it’s being a father. I have no greater passion in this world, so who greater to lean on than Saint Joseph? Also, I was raised by my biological mother and adopted father. And my grandfather raised a couple step-children as well. So, when I think of Joseph’s “Yes” to God when it came to Mary and Jesus, I can’t help but think of my father and grandfather. Their commitment as husbands, fathers, and protectors is very inspiring for me, and a high bar to live up to.

CWR: What role does faith play in your family life?

Doug Johnson: All of our children attend a private Catholic school. We are so blessed to be able to give our children a faith-based education. Our parish is very supportive of Abby’s work in the pro-life movement, and they are very loving towards our large family. Our faith is where we have found our vocation and our calling.

We consider ourselves apologists for marriage, and what that looks like in the Catholic faith. We want our family to be an example for what God has given us through the sacrament of marriage. In fact, I have a very fun Facebook page called Doug On Tap, where I am able to share my adventures as a stay-at-home dad of eight. There is so much fear out there when it comes to family life and marriage. Yes, there are challenges, but there is so much joy and comedy that comes with raising a family. I love sharing a rare male perspective on things like contraception, Natural Family Planning, abortion, miscarriage, and what it means to be a supportive husband to a pro-life “celebrity.”

It’s all very lighthearted and fun, but all wrapped up in our Catholic faith.

CWR: Amidst the various messages with which we are bombarded in modern times, why should someone be pro-life?

Doug Johnson: During this time in our country, I don’t know if there is anything more important or more pressing than the issue of life. Abortion, the truth, and what is morally right cannot simply coexist in a world that also saturates us with death, violence and “choice.” When you support and accept killing children in the womb, it doesn’t take long before you start supporting other reprehensible and universally immoral acts. When Abby was still working at Planned Parenthood, we used to talk about how prostitution should be legalized and regulated. We didn’t worry about the breakdown of marriages and sexual behavior. There was a huge breakdown of our values system, and I think we see this happening all over the world.

CWR: How does being pro-life also mean to be “pro-woman” and “pro-family”?

Doug Johnson: Here’s the truth about what abortion says to women: “You are not strong enough. You will not be a good mother. This is too hard, and you will not be able to achieve your goals.”

Is that empowering? Of course not. Motherhood is empowering. Marriage is empowering. Building stronger families is empowering. In Matthew 25:40, when Jesus says, “In truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me,” he is literally giving us the blueprint for how to be pro-life. The entire chapter says everything we need to know about being pro-woman as well as pro-family. We have to be meeting the needs of the mother. We have to raise men who understand commitment. We have to be offering true alternatives to abortion. Healthcare, diapers, formula, counseling, safety, shelter … we have to replace the “need” for abortion by acting out the Gospel. Our work, words, and actions have to reflect these values at all times.

CWR: What hope do you and Abby have for the future of the pro-life movement?

Doug Johnson: Our hope is not to just make abortion illegal. Our true hope is to see a change in our culture that views abortion as unthinkable. We are already starting to see this happen. Pregnancy resource centers are starting to expand their services. We see groups like The Guiding Star Project that are offering an empowering, holistic healthcare alternative to the current women’s medical “care” juggernauts. Men’s conferences are becoming more and more popular, and it’s because we need to be mentoring these younger men about marriage, commitment, and fatherhood, and that our fertility is a shared responsibility. It’s a long process, but we have to make this cultural shift a priority.

CWR: Why be Catholic, in this day and age?

Doug Johnson: My favorite thing about being Catholic is the emphasis on love. Love thy neighbor. Love your wife as Christ loves the Church. Love thy enemy. Do everything out of love. Even when you are disciplining your children, or sharing a hard truth, do it because you love the person standing in front of you.

Even with my wife leaving the abortion industry, she knew the only way to get more abortion workers to leave was to love them out. The love that she received from those who prayed peacefully outside of her clinic was the inspiration for her to start her ministry, “And Then There Where None.” Being loving, charitable, and consistent with the truth works. It’s the most simple truth there is.

CWR: I always ask this of my interviewees: what is your favorite scriptural passage, and why?

Doug Johnson: Matthew 18:1-5. The entire chapter is wonderful and challenging, but something about those first five verses has always stuck with me. There are so many layers. Speaking as a father of eight, it’s a tall task to get all those souls into heaven. As an adult, I have to demonstrate what it means to have that childlike humility, obedience, and ability to forgive to my own children.

CWR: Any final thoughts?

Doug Johnson: Something we are very excited about is Abby’s movie, “Unplanned,” coming out on March 29. Abby has a bestselling book about her time working at Planned Parenthood and eventual exodus that has been turned into a movie.

The groundswell and excitement for the movie is off the charts, and we don’t just want pro-lifers and Christians to go. We want the fence-riders. We want those who support abortion to see and understand what they are supporting. Yes, this movie is very visual, very honest, and very much the truth about the abortion industry, all of which resulted in an “R” rating. But please don’t let that rating discourage you from seeing the movie. There is no nudity, no vulgar language, no gratuitous violence. It got an “R” because of the violence and reality associated with abortion.

Make an exception, because along with the intense moments, there is also some laughter, a love story, and an opportunity to see the good and bad about people on both sides of the fence. Now is the time for this movie to come out, and we pray for it to spark a change in our culture.

Author’s note: Please consider supporting the pro-life movement through such efforts as 40 Days for Life, Abby’s ministry “And Then There Were None,” your local crisis pregnancy center, and numerous other initiatives aimed at advancing respect for all human life.

Trailer for “Unplanned”:

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About Justin McClain, O.P. 3 Articles
Justin McClain, O.P. (a lay Dominican), has taught theology and Spanish at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland, since 2006, and he has written books and articles for various Catholic outlets. Justin, his wife Bernadette, and their children live in the Archdiocese of Washington.

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