“Unplanned” is the true story of Abby Johnson, formerly one of America’s youngest Planned Parenthood clinic directors. A vocal pro-choice advocate, she oversaw the abortion of around 22,000 babies in her time with the organization and was a rising star until she witnessed an ultrasound-guided abortion and everything changed.
“Unplanned” opens in theaters on March 29 and follows Johnson from her time in college, where she has two abortions and meets her first husband, through her time at Planned Parenthood, to her court fight with the abortion giant after her resignation. The film is based on her best-selling book and is distributed by the same company that released “God’s Not Dead” and “The Case for Christ.”
Ratings, the MPAA, and Viewer Discretion
“Unplanned” received an R rating, causing quite a stir online. The distributor handling the movie is best known for movies that the whole family can see, so when a rating was released that will cut out large parts of families people were quick to worry that politics, not prudence, motivated it. Media bias against pro-life activists isn’t anything new, so it’s entirely fair for people to be concerned that “Unplanned” would be targeted.
Another pro-life movie was released last year and received a PG-13 rating from the MPAA. This movie was “Gosnell: the Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer.” Subject to an incredible amount of media blackouts and censorship, it focused on the life and ill-deeds of an abortionist from Philadelphia. Having the two very different films to contrast, side by side, presents a very compelling picture of the abortion industry and the dangers women face in clinics.
“Gosnell” focused more on the trial, the evidence gathering, the procedural nature of putting away a doctor who had a total disregard for the cleanliness and rules that clinics were bound to follow. The disrepair and filth that detectives found within the walls of his practice highlighted more than just his personal failings—they showcased a systemic failure that endangered mothers every time they walked through his doors.
Johnson’s clinic in this movie is incredibly different. Clean, brightly lit, staffed by women in matched scrubs behind large desks, it’s the opposite of the conditions Gosnell operated in. Yet for the babies inside their mothers, the end result was exactly the same: Death. This is the inescapable reality that “Unplanned” centers on in every scene, whether subtly or overtly: Abortion ends lives. And it is this reality that ultimately changed Johnson’s mind when she came face to face with the death of a baby in her clinic during an ultrasound-guided abortion.
In one of the most defining moments of both Johnson’s life and the film itself, she is called into a back room for a procedure to hold an ultrasound probe. She’s gentle and kind to the mother, who is crying, and the baby is visible on the ultrasound screen. This isn’t an unrecognizable mass of cells, but a 13-week-old baby, fully formed and obviously a human being. Johnson is horrified, and so is the viewer, knowing what is coming. The doctor is unaffected by the approaching death, and even jokes about it: “Beam me up, Scotty,” he says, as he turns on the suction to kill the baby.
This moment in the movie (and Johnson’s life) is a turning point for the pro-life movement. So much time is spent talking about the death that happens, but this is striking and clear. One moment there is a baby present, alive, and moving, and the next it is gone. One moment Johnson is pro-choice, one of the youngest directors of Planned Parenthood in the country, and the next, she is pro-life. In this moment the pro-life movement shifts, too, as Johnson enters it.
Johnson Isn’t Out of Touch with What Women Go Through
“Unplanned” is an intense movie, but it uses this intensity to tell a story that is unique and powerful. Johnson has seen and lived experiences that make her able to reach out to clinic workers, to women who have had abortions, to those considering abortion, with a clear and concise message: she has been there. She understands. There is peace and hope on the other side of this.
Johnson’s movie also centers her faith, and its importance in her story. It is this faith that helps her and her husband heal. As she leaves Planned Parenthood, it is this same faith that can give hope to all who pray outside clinics. This is not a fight without hope, and it is not a movie that ends on a note of despair.
“Unplanned” doesn’t pull any punches, but while it leaves you raw and aching at points this ache also renews the desire to engage and hope that this is the generation that sees the end of this hurt.
Johnson’s personal work in the years since she’s left Planned Parenthood mirrors the energy of this movie. She doesn’t believe that laws or the government will end abortion, but that people will: “This battle is not going to be one in the halls of Congress or in the White House. It’s going to be won through the conversion of hearts, through dialogue, through conversation, through the expansion of resources.”
That includes things like the conversations she had for years with Shawn Carney, the director of Coalition for Life, as she entered the Planned Parenthood while he stood outside praying. Eventually, this same relationship opened the door for her to turn to him when she left Planned Parenthood.
Ultrasound bills, where the mother must view or is offered the chance to see her baby on an ultrasound before an abortion, are controversial every time a new state passes them. Since seeing a baby on an ultrasound is what changed Johnson’s life so abruptly, her views on these bills and opposition to them makes sense: “They are trying to prevent maternal connections or maternal bonds between the mother and her child. So you dehumanize that person who she knows to be a person. Right? She knows that this is a baby.”
We’re no longer in the first days, post-Roe v. Wade, where medical information about abortion is lacking. Many abortion workers were born after the legalization of abortion, and Johnson thinks clinic workers do know that unborn babies are people:
Sixty percent of women who have abortions already have children at home. We’re not dealing with an uneducated public on the issues. I think that now we’re in an even more depraved state where people say, ‘Well, I know that abortion is taking a human life. I know that it’s killing and it’s acceptable to me because the mother’s rights always supersede the rights of the child.’ That’s a scarier position to me to be able to recognize the humanity of a human being and not have a problem with snuffing out that innocent life. But I think, I think there’s like a little mix of both. But I think in general, just in our society I think science has gotten to the point in medical technology where people can no longer say, ‘Oh, it’s just a, it’s just tissue, you know?’
It will be completely impossible for people to believe that abortion removes just tissue after seeing “Unplanned,” and anyone who might believe this should go watch the movie to put that idea to rest.