From a young age, Abby Johnson possessed a deep-seated desire to help women in need. As an adult, that led her to a career with Planned Parenthood, where she became a clinic director and attempted to serve women in crisis — despite a growing sense of unease about the organization.

Then on Sept. 26, 2009, she witnessed an ultrasound-guided abortion on a 13-week-old fetus — a horrific experience which changed everything for Johnson. She left Planned Parenthood, where she had devoted eight years of her life, and became a tireless advocate for the pro-life movement.

Today Johnson travels around the world sharing her story, speaking at pro-life gatherings to provide “some insight about things that I know about abortion facilities — how they’re run and how we can combat what they’re doing,” the wife and mother from Texas told The Tidings.

On Sept. 11, Options United — a pro-life not-for-profit based in Pasadena — presented “Caring for the Abortion-Minded Client: A Training with Abby Johnson,” a one-day seminar at Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove for staff, directors and board members of pro-life pregnancy resource centers and clinics. Johnson shared her professional knowledge of the industry, and her personal experiences, to address various ways centers/clinics can strengthen their methods of reaching and helping girls and women who are facing unexpected pregnancies.

“As a person who has gone through crisis pregnancies twice myself, and who had two abortions, I try to share some of that experience,” she recalled. “I didn’t even know what a crisis pregnancy center was when I got pregnant.

“So how do we [improve] advertising, how do we let women know that we are available, that we are here for them? The abortion industry has done a really good job of marketing to their target demographic, and so we have to really step up and do the same.”

The training focused on several key areas, including: responding to tough questions from abortion-minded clients; improving client experiences; working as a united movement; advertising/marketing and social media; and Q&A. Even seemingly inconsequential things matter, like office décor or how the phone is answered.

Johnson encouraged training participants to “always look at everything through their eyes — every phone call, every meeting, every interaction — to make the experience not only easier and life-affirming for them, but also to show them the incredible value we have for them as human beings.”

“Every woman who either calls or walks into a pregnancy resource center is encountering us for the first time, and they are in a state of crisis,” explained kathleen-domingo, life coordinator for the archdiocesan Office of Life, Justice and Peace.

“Often at that moment in their lives they are not feeling valued. The goal is to create an environment that respects the dignity of these women and helps them to heal from the first moment they walk through the door.”

Representatives from 19 Southern California pro-life pregnancy centers/clinics from Ventura, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties attended the training day. Options United will offer online webinar videos from the event in the near future for those who were unable to attend the training, and/or for those who would like to revisit select topics.

“The feedback has been very positive, with most pregnancy centers seeking more training,” said Thomas Rudkins, president of Options United. “Many want to find ways to collaborate more effectively, especially regarding marketing and social media.”

The idea of working together and being more effective was inspirational to many attending the training, he said.

“As a movement, we can all be more effective by sharing experiences, building relationships and working together toward a common goal,” he added. “It is amazing to me that, in the second largest metropolitan area in the United States, so few resources and attention are given to this group of people selflessly struggling to save lives. For some reason we forget that the work they do is vital to our future and our moral compass.”

Options United has partnered with the Office of Life, Justice and Peace to create and launch “Options United: App for Life,” a free application designed for smartphones and tablets on Android and Apple operating systems. Released in January, the app lists pro-life pregnancy centers/clinics nationwide and the services they offer, e.g., free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and/or post-abortion counseling.