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2 Women Discuss Their Shifting Views On Abortion Rights


Now we're going to try to take a different approach on a story that you've been hearing about all week. Over the course of the week, two states passed some of the most restrictive regulations on abortions in decades. In Alabama, the governor signed into law a bill which prohibits nearly all abortions at every stage of pregnancy. Doctors who perform abortions could now face up to 99 years in prison. The only exceptions are in cases where a woman's life is at risk or a lethal fetal anomaly. There are no exceptions for rape or incest. Missouri followed with a ban after eight weeks of pregnancy. Other states - Georgia, Mississippi and Ohio - have also recently passed restrictive abortion laws. Other states are also working to roll back access to abortion.

Now the debate over abortion has been going on for so long, with such intensity, that it would seem that the views are entrenched. But people do change their minds, and we were wondering why. So we've called two different women with different perspectives to ask how their personal views have evolved over the years. First we turn to Gabby Weiss. She's 25. She lives here in Washington, D.C. And she grew up in New Mexico in what she describes as a fundamentalist Christian family.

GABBY WEISS: So I kind of grew up in this whole world that was basically built to shelter me from any opposing ideas. So yeah, I really believed, you know, that abortion was one of the great evils of our time.

MARTIN: She says her views started to change when she was in college and she came out as gay and as a Democrat.

WEISS: But I still identified as pro-life. You know, I never felt like I'd had any real reason to question it.

MARTIN: Then at 19, she says, she was raped at a party.

WEISS: One of my first thoughts was, what if I'm pregnant? What would I do? You know, at the time I was already in a very precarious position. I was trying not to get kicked out of school for being gay. I was also trying not to get kicked out of my parents' house. So I knew that if that were the case, I would absolutely get an abortion. And I wouldn't think twice about it.

And so, you know, although I had been anti-abortion my whole life and really honestly firmly believed that, I knew at that moment, you know, I really trust myself and my conscience. And there was nothing in my brain or in my gut telling me that I would be wrong for doing that.

MARTIN: Gabby Weiss went on to work as a field organizer for NARAL Pro-Choice America, an organization that works to protect abortion access across the country.

And now a very different view from someone whose views moved in the opposite direction. Abby Johnson is the founder of And Then There Were None, an anti-abortion organization. Recently a movie was released based on her story. She's 38. She lives in Texas and is a former Planned Parenthood director.

ABBY JOHNSON: I got involved with Planned Parenthood as a college kid not really knowing anything about the organization, not really having an opinion on abortion either way. But I believed the talking points that they were telling me, that their goal was to keep abortion safe, legal and rare, and that they wanted to provide health care to low-income women.

MARTIN: Over eight years, she says, she started to question Planned Parenthood's priorities. And then one day in 2009, she had an experience that she says changed her mind.

JOHNSON: I was called in to assist. My job was to hold the ultrasound probe on the woman's abdomen so that the doctor would be able to, in his words, visualize his target. We did a measurement of the fetus. And I was standing there looking at the screen, looking at this 13-week-old fetus. I just watched in shock as this tiny human being began moving away from the abortion instrument. I went back to my office, and I knew that something was going to have to change in my life. And ultimately, that's what caused me to leave Planned Parenthood.

MARTIN: Abby Johnson now tries to persuade workers to leave health clinics that perform abortions. Earlier we heard from Gabby Weiss, who champions abortion rights.

[Editor's note on May 24: We reached out to Abby Johnson about allegations over the veracity of her story, which were detailed in the publication Texas Monthly in 2010. Johnson responded by sending us a link to the piece she wrote this April for The Federalist. Included are links to those reports and a response from Texas Monthly.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.