We often think about the issue of abortion through the lens of politics. Should taxpayers fund Planned Parenthood? Should abortion be legal in the third trimester? Obviously these are fairly easy questions to answer. But the debate over abortion tends to play itself out in a more personal way, somewhat removed from the realm of politics.
An 18-year-old college student gets pregnant and the guy isn’t involved—what should she do? She’s not thinking about politics. She’s worrying about what her mom would say. She’s talking to her friends. She’s observing abortion commentaries in the culture and asking herself, is this the right thing to do?
It’s one thing to win over public opinion on abortion as a political issue—and yes, that’s a critically important thing—but winning hearts and minds outside of politics? Building a culture where women feel emboldened to choose life? That’s everything, which is why I’m so excited about the new movie “Unplanned” coming out this week about former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson and her journey from abortion advocate to pro-life activist.
A quick warning: “Unplanned” received a controversial R rating from the MPAA, and a number of conservatives have criticized that rating due to the film’s lack of profanity or violence. Many have correctly pointed out how absurd it is that a child can legally get an abortion at an age they are not yet allowed to go see a movie about abortion. But ultimately, the MPAA made the right choice. This is a film that children should absolutely see…with their parents. The movie depicts the cold, heartless reality of abortion accurately, and yes, that makes it tough to watch.
The First Eight Minutes
“Unplanned” draws you in almost immediately. The actress portraying Abby Johnson (Ashley Bratcher) warns us in the opening voiceover that her story isn’t going to be easy to hear, and after a disarming series of corny family moments and a driving-to-work montage, concluding with Abby pulling into a Planned Parenthood parking lot and parking in her “clinic director” parking spot, the movie suddenly takes a darker turn.
Abby is called into a back room to assist the surgical team as they perform an abortion procedure. As she explains in a voiceover, she had never been asked to do that before, but as the clinic director, she felt obligated to help. She arrives in the room with an abortion doctor, a nurse, and a young girl weeping softly on the table.
The abortion doctor explains that he needs to perform an “ultrasound-guided procedure” and wants Abby to “hold probe” on the ultrasound. While he makes preparations for the abortion, Abby sets up the ultrasound and suddenly we hear a heartbeat and see a 13-week-old baby on the monitor. The girl receiving the abortion begins to panic, as the abortion doctor yells at her to “hold still!” The nurse holds her down, coldly lecturing her, “You want it done, don’t you?”
At this point, the abortion doctor begins to place a catheter in the girl’s cervix to perform a suction D&C abortion. As we can clearly see on the monitor, the baby reacts viscerally to what is taking place: “It just moved away from the catheter,” Abby says, stunned.
“They always move. That’s why I do it this way!” the doctor snaps back.
Eventually, the catheter is successfully placed, and the doctor begins suction. We see blood start flowing through tubes. The baby kicks and fights, desperately clinging to its life, but it’s all for naught. The baby is sucked further and further down the catheter, first the legs, then the torso, then the arms, and then—we hear a pop. Gone. The suction machine is shut off. All movement ceases. An empty cavity on the monitor where a living human being had been kicking about moments earlier. Nothing.
Abby is reduced to tears, along with the entire audience. And that’s just at the eight minute mark.
The rest of the film covers Abby’s story from start to finish—her family background, her two abortions, her time as a Planned Parenthood volunteer, then counselor, then clinic director, her discomfort with Planned Parenthood’s business model of using abortion as a profit center, her realization that abortion is wrong, her decision to resign from her job, her defense against a frivolous lawsuit by Planned Parenthood, and ultimately, her choice to become a pro-life activist.
How to Make the Case for Life
The film also takes great care to explore the complicated dynamics within the pro-life movement between sidewalk counselors who offer hope and options to women, and sidewalk protestors who take a more controversial, aggressive approach. One scene shows a man yelling terrible things at a woman entering the clinic—“All this because you couldn’t keep your legs closed!” he shouts, as he thumps his Bible. Other scenes reference a “grim reaper” who furiously paces out front of the clinic, while other protestors hold gruesome signs displaying bloodied babies.
In her first conversation with Marilisa Carney, one of the Coalition for Life sidewalk counselors, Abby angrily asks how these antics help women: “Do you people ever stop? In what world would a woman run to someone dressed as the grim reaper for help with her crisis pregnancy?”
Marilisa responds, “I am with the Coalition for Life, and they’re not. So we can ask them to stop, and we do, but we can’t force them to do anything. … I think you’re right Abby, it doesn’t help.”
This exchange hinted at the very real difference of opinion over tactics within the pro-life movement, which we see on display at the March for Life every year. One side argues we need to stop playing nice and start explicitly showing the reality of abortion, including bloodied babies, detached body parts, blood, gore, and all, and shock the pro-abortion side into seeing what abortion actually is. The other side—the side “Unplanned” clearly takes—argues that in order to persuade, we must be warm and positive, emphasizing the goodness of life, rather than focusing solely on the horror of death, especially when talking with vulnerable women who are in the midst of making an incredibly difficult decision.
It’s All About the Money, Honey
Abortion proponents have done a masterful job over the years at euphemizing language surrounding abortion, claiming it’s a celebration of women’s empowerment rather than the deliberate taking of innocent life. “Unplanned” breaks through the poll-tested gobbledygook and shows exactly what motivates the abortion industry—profit above all else.
In what would be the beginning of the end of her career with Planned Parenthood, Abby questions a directive from corporate to double her clinic’s annual abortion output:
Abortion has never been my main priority. Just look at our Mission Statement. … ‘To provide a comprehensive range of reproductive health care and sexual health information through patient services, education, and advocacy.’ That’s what I’m committed to doing. So if our stated goal is to decrease the number of abortions by reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies, then why are we being asked to double our abortion count?
In the next scene, Abby’s superior claps back at her with a revealing explanation:
Let me explain something to you. Fast food outlets look to break even on the hamburgers they sell. That’s all they do is break even. Do you know how they make their money? On the french fries and the soda, the low-cost high margin items. Abortion is our fries and soda. But somehow you’ve just decided that it’s no longer your priority. Abortion is what pays your salary. … Corporate policy is simple: we are an abortion provider.
Sounds like abortion is more than 3 percent of what Planned Parenthood does?
All in all, “Unplanned” is a very persuasive movie. It’s not enjoyable in the traditional sense—it’s an emotional rollercoaster that will upset you repeatedly—but it is an incredibly powerful film that deliberately seeks a dialogue with people outside of the pro-life movement. This is what makes it so valuable and so important.
Go see it this weekend, but don’t just go by yourself. Take your family. Take your friends. Heck, take your accountant. No more euphemisms. No more ignoring the issue. It’s time for us all to see what abortion really is.