While I have not read Abby Johnson's 2011 book Unplanned on which this movie is based, I know her story from the many interviews and talks she has given over the years. I first heard about her on the Louder with Crowder show in 2015 where she told her story of how she went from a being a patient at Planned Parenthood, to volunteering there, to being a spokesperson and counselor for them, and finally to being the youngest director of a clinic in the company's history.
She told of her firm pro-choice mindset until the day, after eight years of working there, she was asked to assist in an abortion. And as hard as it may be to believe, this was the first time she had actually seen an abortion take place, as she was asked to hold the ultrasound probe so the abortionist could accurately guide a cannula into a woman's uterus. It was then, as she recounts, that she watched on the monitor, as a 13-week old unborn child actively struggled before being sucked into the tube.
It was at that moment that she finally knew what she had been a party to for so long, and within a week she quit. Since then she has been active in the pro-life movement and runs And Then There Were None, a ministry aimed at getting people out of the abortion industry.
Not Another Lame “Pure Flick,” Thankfully
It is this inspiring story that I was pleased to hear was being made into a movie which I saw this last weekend. What I was not so pleased to hear was that the film was written and directed by Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon, the two film makers who brought us God is Not Dead, which in my opinion, epitomizes everything that is bad with a lot of Christian films made by them or the Erwin brothers who made October Baby and Moms' Night Out. While their story lines are good, their portrayal is almost always done with stock and strawmen characters that are unbelievable at best and unlikeable at worst—and I'm not just talking about the villains.
Moreover, while I recognize the success and popularity of the Christian film formula, the kind of emotionally driven Christianity usually shown in these films makes for some very insipid storytelling that bears little resemblance to the kind of daily cross carrying inherent in following our Lord.
However, when it comes to Unplanned, I am perfectly willing to overlook the film's formulaic tendencies (of which there are actually only a few) because when it comes to the events of Abby Johnson's life, beautifully played by Ashley Bratcher, the truth is more terrible than any fiction. So while Kevin Sorbo's portrayal of a tyrannical atheist philosophy professor who is determined to destroy one student's life in God is Not Dead is utterly ridiculous and unbelievable, the film's portrayal of the Mengele-manaiacal machinations of Planned Parenthood, through the character of Abby's supervisor “Cheryl”, is not only believable but factually true.
Through Cheryl's words and actions we are shown the utter callousness of an organization whose business model is, by their current president's own admission, is “to provide, protect and expand access to abortion.” Granted, I think this is one area where the film suffers as it tries to weave too much of the disturbing data about their business model into Cheryl's lines. Scenes such as the one where Cheryl is speaking to Abby through the fence and launches into a list of Planned Parenthood's financial backers as a means of intimidating her comes across as unrealistic and preachy.
Nevertheless, despite all that, the film's true strength is not so much in what is said, but in what it shows and describes (through Abby's narration) in unflinching detail about what really goes on in the back rooms of those banal-looking buildings. We see the vacuum machine, with its clear drainage tube, which sucks a first trimester child out of the womb. We see the complications that can arise from those machines, when a young girl who Abby knew and whose father actually thanks Abby for “helping” them out, has her uterus perforated by the cannula and Cheryl refuses to call an ambulance. We see the P.O.C. (“Product of Conception” or as one of Abby's coworkers joked “Pieces of Children”) room where the remains of aborted babies are pieced together to make sure that a woman's uterus has been completely emptied. Most shocking of all though, and which was very hard to watch was the portrayal of Abby's second abortion in the film by using a RU-486-type pill whose horrific side effects she was lied to about.
Getting Real When Discussing Abortion
Of course all of these appalling facts about Planned Parenthood, no matter how clumsily presented in the film, have been known and testified to by Abby Johnson and former abortionists like Dr. Anthony Levitano, or written about in books such as Kevin Sherlock's Victims of Choice for decades. But for the sake of civility and being able to just agree to disagree, we as a society have by and large agreed to only speak of these facts in euphemistic or worse, Orwellian terms. But no matter how you talk about it, you were never supposed to show what those words meant, and certainly not on the big screen. As it has become abundantly clear since the 2016 election, all such agreements, especially concerning abortion, are now off the table.
Unplanned sheds a very bright light on what we have all known and spoken about since 1973. This is why the film received an R rating for “Bloody and Disturbing Images” and much has been made of the fact that teens can get an abortion at Planned Parenthood without parental consent, but can't see this movie without one. This is just another attempt by the pro-choice crowd to do what it can to marginalize anything that even criticizes abortion, such as it did for years before the Gosnell movie made it to the screens. Twitter blocked the film's account, certain cable channels refused to show its trailer, and numerous musical artists and labels refused to allow their music to be used in the film.
In one sense though, the rating is a joke since I imagine a lot of teens have seen far more blood and gore in hospital dramas, zombie-themed shows, or video games. In another sense however, there is some truth to the rating. The film does contain disturbing images and it is hard to watch. In the same way that I, like a lot of other people, was never able to watch an action or war film the same way after stomaching the opening D-Day scene in Saving Private Ryan, there is no way that most people will be able to hear or see the words “abortion” or “Planned Parenthood” without feeling a visceral disgust after seeing this film. That is the film's purpose and rightfully so.
In a review I did on the Gosnell movie, I said the you went away from the movie with a knowledge that you could not “un-know,” which was a play on J. Budziszewski's book What We Can't Not Know. In one chapter he spells out how we can know at an instinctual level that abortion is wrong because of the toll it takes on those who work in the field who suffer from PTSD, substance abuse, and interestingly enough nightmares.
In a similar manner, you will walk away from Unplanned with not only knowledge that you can't un-know but with images that you can't un-see, at both a factual and instinctual level. These two facets are bound to be a potent weapon in beating back the culture of death, and as its success at the box office has shown, it is excelling at it. Even if there are plenty of pro-choice people who will mock it and refuse to see it, it doesn't matter. Enough people have and hopefully will see it, and thus will not, as Abby Johnson herself said, “be able to walk away after seeing this movie and say, 'I didn't know.’”