An old adage of war says you know you are over the target when you start drawing flak. The team behind “Unplanned,” the true story of Abby Johnson’s transformation from Planned Parenthood employee of the year to outspoken pro-life advocate, has drawn a lot of flak, but that’s not surprising when you make a pro-life movie in a pro-choice town.
As has been extensively reported, many cable networks and Google refused our ads, music publishers wouldn’t permit us to license their music, the MPAA unexpectedly slapped the film with an R rating (which meant our trailer could only be attached to other R-rated films), and Twitter temporarily took down our account for murky reasons on the film’s critical opening weekend, even though the account had been active without any difficulties for nearly seven months.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Forum. People turned out to see the film, by the millions. In its opening weekend, the film was the highest-grossing independent film in the country and the fourth-highest-grossing film overall. Even in its third weekend, the film remained in the top 10 against major studio tent-pole films. In addition, the film received an A+ Cinemascore, which only a few films receive each year, from the people who matter most: the movie-going public.
Suddenly, those who may have wished that the film would drift into oblivion apparently decided they could no longer ignore “Unplanned,” and thus began the campaign to discredit Johnson’s story.
Recent articles in Texas Monthly and the Huffington Post are representative of this effort. Honorable mentions are certainly due to The Cut for its outlandish headline that “Unplanned Is a Movie That Could Get Someone Killed” and to the film critic at the Hollywood Reporter who suggested that the true purpose of the film was to profit financially from abortion. Perhaps he also thinks Harriet Beecher Stowe “profited” from slavery when she wrote the abolitionist manifesto “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
Fine, Planned Parenthood: Produce the Records
In any event, most of these attacks on the authenticity of Abby’s story focus roughly on the same four items.
First, people have argued that records Planned Parenthood submitted to the state of Texas do not document the type of ultrasound-guided abortion of a 13-week fetus near the date Abby claims she witnessed such a procedure. In support of this claim, they have cited an unverified, computer-generated printout provided by Planned Parenthood that does not document any such procedure on the date in question.
Why should that document be afforded any credibility? Abby has already debunked this theory at The Federalist. Moreover, even as they cite comments from one of Abby’s co-workers in an attempt to discredit her story, the Texas Monthly aticle admits that the same co-worker “said that Johnson did in fact mention seeing an abortion performed on an ultrasound not long before she quit.” Is Planned Parenthood prepared to open its computer system to forensic analysis to determine if that entry was altered or, more importantly, if any entries were deleted or simply omitted?
Notably, Texas Monthly has begrudgingly acknowledged that “The law [in Texas] leaves disclosure up to the discretion of the Department of State Health Services, which declined to provide the records to Texas Monthly back in 2009, apparently as a matter of policy.” In other words, for all the purported storm and fury in the Texas Monthly article, the fact remains that, to this day, no one has seen any actual evidence from the state of Texas that refutes Abby’s story. Instead, that publication and others have chosen to rely on uncorroborated documents generated by Planned Parenthood.
13-Week Fetuses Do Move in the Womb
Second, various publications have cited certain physicians to argue that it is medically impossible for a 13-week fetus to feel pain or to consciously try to escape from an abortion instrument, as Abby describes in the film. But that argument is a complete red herring and misrepresents what is depicted in the film.
To be clear, Abby did not claim the fetus felt pain. Rather, it was at that transformative moment when she saw, for the first time, a fetus on an ultrasound and watched as it appeared to resist the abortionist’s vacuum that she fully appreciated the humanity of the unborn child and decided it was not simply a “clump of cells.”
Various studies have, in fact, concluded that a fetus, even at an early stage, can respond reflexively to sensory stimuli. So Abby’s reaction to seeing this phenomenon is hardly surprising, let alone contrived.
More importantly, however, since Abby’s detractors have chosen to raise the issue of “fetal pain,” at what stage would they agree that a fetus can feel pain—15 weeks, 20 weeks, 25 weeks? If the scientific consensus is that a fetus can feel pain at approximately 20 to 25 weeks, would these critics at least reasonably concede that abortion should be prohibited after that point? Indeed, isn’t it rather abhorrent to sanction, let alone celebrate, abortion at those late stages, as New York has recently chosen to do?
Changing Your Mind So Deeply Takes Time, Okay?
Third, Texas Monthly and others have attempted to cast doubt on Abby’s story because she waited approximately nine days to quit Planned Parenthood after she witnessed the ultrasound in question. In the interim, she didn’t mention the ultrasound in Facebook posts, but complained about a negative performance review and participated in a local interview hosted by a pro-choice friend on the Sunday after the abortion in question.
Once again, Abby has directly rebutted those arguments in her commentary for The Federalist. As she has said, it took a full week after she witnessed the ultrasound-guided abortion to reach out to the Coalition for Life. During that time, she was desperately trying to process what she had witnessed and come to grips with what it would mean to give up her employment, friends, and pro-choice identity of the past ten years. Abby had been conditioned to hate the pro-life movement and, up until the time she walked into the offices of the Coalition for Life, she assumed they hated her too.
Abortion Is Central to Planned Parenthood
Finally, various publications have rushed to Planned Parenthood’s defense by stating that the film incorrectly suggests that abortions constitute a disproportionate amount of Planned Parenthood’s business, even though (they claim) abortions account for only 3 percent of the procedures Planned Parenthood performs. That 3 percent figure, however, is grossly misleading.
Even the Washington Post’s fact checker, in an August 12, 2015 article, bestowed three Pinocchios on this 3 percent number and noted that it was dubiously derived by comparing abortion services to every other service that Planned Parenthood provides, even though there are obvious difference between a surgical (or even medical) abortion and a pregnancy test. Indeed, as that same Washington Post article noted, in 2013 Planned Parenthood health centers saw 2.7 million patients and performed 327,653 abortion procedures. This means abortions accounted for approximately 12 percent of total patients, not 3 percent.
Moreover, all of these Planned Parenthood defenses conveniently ignore the disproportionate amount of revenues (as opposed to percentage of total procedures) that Planned Parenthood receives from its abortion business, particularly since its advertised price for a surgical abortion can be as high as $1,500 (a sum that some patients pay out of pocket). Planned Parenthood performed approximately 330,000 abortions in 2018, according to its annual report for that year, while its adoption referrals for that same year dropped to approximately 2,800.
Why don’t the same reporters who have invested so much time in trying to debunk Abby’s story devote a fraction of their efforts to uncover the answer to that basic question? After all, no one disputes that Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest abortion provider, nor apparently do they dispute, as Abby has claimed, that her clinic awarded performance bonuses based on the number of abortions performed.
Abby’s Story Is Simply True. Deal With It
Regardless how one chooses to view these arguments, however, the following essential facts are not in dispute. Abby Johnson spent eight years working at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas where she rose through the ranks to become one of the youngest clinic directors in Planned Parenthood history and was even named a Planned Parenthood employee of the year.
During her time at Planned Parenthood, Abby was an outspoken pro-choice advocate at a facility that performed approximately 22,000 abortions during her tenure. In addition to working for Planned Parenthood, Abby had two abortions herself—one chemical and one surgical. Despite all of her “pro-choice” history, in 2009 she quit Planned Parenthood shortly after witnessing an ultrasound-guided abortion.
In the end, perhaps the best testament to the truth of Johnson’s story is this. As depicted in our film, Abby always insisted when she worked at Planned Parenthood that she was only going to have one child—“one and done,” as she put it. Since leaving Planned Parenthood, however, Abby is about to become the proud mother of her eighth child.
If her story is one elaborate ruse concocted by a disgruntled employee angry about a negative work review, rather than a legitimate pro-life conversion, then she has certainly gone to extreme lengths to maintain her cover. Ultimately, the public will have to decide which story makes the most sense, although it is worth noting that Planned Parenthood sought an injunction to silence Abby when she left in 2009. It was a case that Planned Parenthood promptly lost in court.