As one of the youngest Planned Parenthood clinic directors in the nation, Abby Johnson was involved in upwards of 22,000 abortions and counseled countless women on their reproductive choices. Her passion surrounding a woman’s right to choose led her to become a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood, fighting to enact legislation for the cause she so deeply believed in. Until the day she saw something that changed everything.
The tale of Abby Johnson and her confrontation of the abortion industry through her work with Planned Parenthood is told quite eloquently in the recent film, Unplanned, produced by Pure Flix. An extremely difficult topic to broach, this movie is the first of its kind—shining a light onto the practices of Planned Parenthood abortion clinics from behind closed doors.
First off, I commend both Abby Johnson, her family, and Pure Flix and all the movie production staff, writers, cinematographers, sound people, set people – I’m sure this was no picnic to make. For the lead actress who plays Abby Johnson, Ashley Bratcher, and to Abby herself – I’m blown away by the courage it took to make this film.
Not for the Faint of Heart
As a mother of four kids, and a pro-life advocate, I will caution those who go to see this film that it isn’t for the faint of heart. You’ll see what it is like in the abortion procedure room, the fetus moving on the ultrasound, patients in the recovery room, and several excruciating scenes of chemical abortions and abortions that went wrong. It is difficult to watch these scenes yet they’re important to cast a clear view of what actually happens during these procedures. Most of us remain shielded from this reality unless we ourselves have gone through it.
The film opens with the inciting incident—the moment when Abby’s world comes crashing down in her final day as director of the Brian, Texas Planned Parenthood. She is asked to hold the ultrasound wand for a new doctor, something she was never asked to do in eight years of working there. The patient is aborting a 13-week old fetus and Abby mentions as she’s holding the wand that she can see the fetus struggling away from the suction tube in what looks like a response to being in pain. Abby is suddenly horrified in what she sees and it clearly changes everything for her. [Note: This video of Abby Johnson being interviewed about this day and moment is extremely helpful and provides a lot of background not available in the film.]
In gross robotic motion, the doctor callously says, “beam me up, Scotty” right before sucking out the fetus. Abby gasps.
“What the hell is wrong with her,” the doctor chides.
The nurse says, “what is wrong with her?”
Abby runs off crying to the bathroom, then leaves the office.
The Whole Story
We as the viewer don’t yet know the events leading up to this moment, and the film then backs up and tells Abby’s whole story from being recruited by Planned Parenthood at a college career fair to the day her world came crashing down and she resigned from her role as director, eight years later.
What might be hard to comprehend for some viewers, including myself, is Abby’s personal experience with abortion. As the film shares her story, we find out that Abby had not one, but two abortions herself, one surgical and one chemical. While it is clear Abby was unhappy about her choices to abort both times, she felt she had no other options, like many of her future clients at the clinic. We are led to believe she has compassion for her patients.
However, as we follow the flashbacks, especially to the chemical abortion and how horrific this was for her, it is difficult to believe that she followed up this event with eight years of helping women go through the exact same terror she went through. Perhaps this is a flaw of the script—it is difficult to show all these conflicting emotions at once. To her credit, Abby was clearly in denial about the effects of abortion and this was evident as the film progressed.
In Defense of the ‘R’ Rating
As the film was reviewed and rated by the movie industry, there was some disappointment by the production team that the MPAA gave it an “R” rating. I would counter and agree that this film should be rated ‘R’ as there are some horrific, bloody and disturbing scenes dealing with complicated, extremely controversial issues. I can’t even imagine taking a 13-year old to see this; the topic and content are too difficult. Parents should proceed with caution.
Overall Film Quality
The acting was excellent in this film and Ashley Bratcher shined in her portrayal of Abby Johnson. She was sincere, authentic, and undaunted by the difficulty of the role, and her passion came through in her performance. Other supporting actors include the Planned Parenthood workers, Abby’s husband and parents, and other actors also performed very well and captured many of the nuances present in her story.
The soundtrack choices were strange at times, like when Mandisa’s ‘Overcomer’ played during a scene where the clinicians rescheduled 40 abortion procedures to get everyone in before Hurricane Ike hit. I can hardly imagine Mandisa would be happy to have her song about overcoming fear and trial in one’s life attributed to this particular ‘successful’ event. Yet, all other music was apropos and even thoughtful and poignant at times. Matthew West’s theme song, ’Unplanned,’ played at the end of the film was well done.
There were a few plot development issues, as noted above. There seems to be a bit of a disconnect between Abby’s personal experience of abortion, her family Christian upbringing, her husband’s Christianity, and her growing faith and church attendance, and her slowness to realize the damaging effects of abortion on everyone involved including herself.
The film suggests that her ambition was perhaps the reason she stayed on so long, but it seems slightly implausible even though this is based on a true story. It might be useful to note that Abby penned a full-length book on her exodus, which is currently a best seller on Amazon.
Planned Parenthood Vilified
The film painted a grim picture of the leadership within Planned Parenthood. Cheryl, the director who hires and trains Abby, seems almost like an evil queen building an abortion empire. While Abby is complicit through most of her career, as she begins her internal struggle with the choices she’s made, she begins to question Cheryl’s authority and challenges her. Abby is disciplined shortly after receiving the Planned Parenthood Employee of the Year Award. After she leaves Planned Parenthood, Abby brings a false claims case forward siting that Planned Parenthood has misappropriated governments funds. (The details of her case are not super clear in the film and I actually thought that Planned Parenthood sued Abby after watching the film). The film depicts Cheryl and Planned Parenthood getting shot down and Abby winning.
There are also mentions throughout the film that the goal of Planned Parenthood is to be a good abortion provider, as opposed to why Abby started working with them in the first place. She was sold on the idea that they were ‘women’s health and reproductive service providers’ yet the majority of their services rendered focus on performing abortions. Even their website highlights abortion—even over birth control, supposedly the primary solution Planned Parenthood aims to provide. (link to Texas PP here)
There are difficult scenes where Cheryl compares the money making-abortion procedures to that of cheap fast food fries and soda—the items that make the most money—that are pretty disturbing, even if they are overblown.
Distinct from many other Christian films that have the perfunctory salvation scene and overused Christian language often referred to as ‘Christianese,’ this film succeeded at steering clear of these somewhat clumsy elements of the standard Christian movie. Abby’s parents are Christian, and her mother repeatedly asks Abby to leave Planned Parenthood in various scenes. They also highly approve of Abby’s second husband, who is clearly Christian. They start attending church where the pastor preaches from Psalm 139 mentioning being “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
I appreciated that the film showed us Abby’s increasing faith through her growing discontent with the abortion industry, her boss at Planned Parenthood, and how she related to the picketers on the other side of the parking lot fence throughout the film.
In perhaps my favorite moment of the film, the waste disposal truck driver wheels out a blue drum of human waste—the 40 Days for Life protestors on the other side of the fence kindly ask if they can pray for the remains. The truck driver says he’s just a guy, who drives a truck. They ask again and he says, “Wait, I’ve got another one coming out.”
The truck driver shows visual softening, nearing tears, as he lowers his head and the pro-life protesters pray.
Here’s the piece of the puzzle that seals it for me: All human life is sacred, unique, commissioned by God, even though sometimes not intended in our own choices and circumstances, God orchestrates everything. He knows every hair on our head, he formed us when we were in our mother’s womb.
Indeed, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” as the Psalmist says.
All we can do is pray for those lost on the tables of the abortionist, we can pray for the women who have endured hard calls, fear, and subsequent remorse over their choices, and we can stand up in faith and pray for an end, one day soon, to legalized abortion.
Many anti-abortion activists say we need to take action in addition to praying. There are groups who offer support to women considering abortion – practical, emotional, and spiritual support throughout the pregnancy and after giving birth. Many also offer to connect them to adoption options if desired.
Other helpful resources:
- 73075 – text HOPE for help and support if you have had an abortion
- 40 Days for Life
- PluggedIn ‘Unplanned’ Film Review
- Unplanned Was Birthed Faithful Prayer, Christian Post
- ‘Unplanned’ Pulls in $6.1 million on Opening Weekend
- From Planned Parenthood to Pro-Life Activist, American Family Association
- ‘Unplanned’ Tickets: https://www.unplannedtickets.com/
- ‘Unplanned’ Film Website: https://www.unplannedfilm.com/
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