by Annemarie Arnold
Unplanned opened in select theaters around the US on March 29. The movie is based on the 2009 memoir by the same name by Abby Johnson. In her book, she tells of her experiences with Planned Parenthood, where she was a promising employee. In the opening scene, she watches the dilation and evacuation abortion of a 13-week-old child. She sees the baby in the ultrasound moving away from the tools, the woman squirms in pain, the doctor says, “Beam me up, Scottie,” and the fetal tissue whirls in a blender-like contraption. In her book, Johnson compares the baby to “a dishcloth, twirled and squeezed,” continuing, “The last thing I saw was the tiny, perfectly formed backbone sucked into the tube, and then it was gone.”
The movie, which highlights Johnson’s journey to become pro-life, experienced its share of obstacles. The day before its premier, the Unplanned Twitter account was shut down. After an hour of posts accusing Twitter of censorship, the account was restored. Other Twitter users took to the web to decry Google’s classification of the movie’s genre as Drama/Propaganda. The movie’s challenges began in February, when it became the first PureFlix movie to be rated R. Ironically, in twelve states it is legal for a woman under 18 to obtain an abortion without parents’ knowledge, whereas no person under 17 could see Unplanned without the accompaniment of an adult.
The movie portrays Planned Parenthood, its friends, and its enemies compassionately. A young Johnson wants to help women, and in an interview with America she confirms this saying, “I had a lot of drive and ambition, a desire to do good.” Her coworkers are passionate about helping women, except Cheryl. Cheryl, as head of Planned Parenthood, explains to Johnson, “Abortion is our fries-and-soda.” Cheryl is the face of the industry attitude Johnson described in an interview with Fox News: "Every meeting that we had was, 'We don't have enough money, we don't have enough money—we've got to keep these abortions coming.’"
In the depiction of Johnson’s own RU-486 abortion, she cries in agony as she bleeds and expels fetal tissue. She is left curled on her bathroom floor covered with blood, and suffers 8 weeks of pain afterwards. Surgical abortion is portrayed in another scene, as a girl bleeds out from the perforation of her uterus. As doctors try to stabilize her, the director of the clinic refuses to call an ambulance. Luckily, the girl is saved, as is the clinic’s reputation.
Women seeking abortions in the movie are not all alike. One walks in calmly as her family stands at the fence, crying to her. A teen is pressured by her father to have an abortion, and another swallows her RU-486 as she leaves the clinic alone.
Likewise, different types of enemies of Planned Parenthood are also depicted: the “graphic-images-in-your-face” protesters and the praying sidewalk counselors. By including both, the film does not deny that the Pro-Life movement can also have an ugly side.
In a purely quantitative sense, Unplanned was a David-and-Goliath victory. Because all publicity is good publicity, a film projected to bring in $2-3 million has now made $12.5 million. The R rating that Unplanned received was not unjust, particularly for post-abortive women and families expecting a tidy PureFlix movie. The reasoning behind the rating—violence against women and children—is also justified, given that abortion in real life should have an R rating across our nation, too.
The story itself is everything for Unplanned. Even the actress who portrayed Johnson has her own story of abortion survival, which may explain the sincerity of her character in the movie. The fact that Unplanned is based on the experience of one woman excuses it for not covering every facet of abortion and gives the movie more strength, despite the sometimes-corny attempts at breaking tension that come with every PureFlix film.
In terms of making a real difference, Chuck Konzelman revealed to the Senate subcommittee that since the film’s debut, 94 abortion clinic workers have contacted And Then There Were None, Johnson’s ministry to help such people leave the industry. Asked about her goals on Catholic Radio, Johnson replied, “This is not about making abortion illegal in our country. This is about making abortion unthinkable in our country.”