On Friday night I went to the Omniplex cinema in Dundalk to watch the first showing there of ‘Unplanned’. This is a film that shares the story of Abby Johnson, director of a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Houston, Texas, and at one time Planned Parenthood’s employee of the year. Abby came to the realisation that she was not supervising the removal of clumps of cells, but rather that she was supervising the killing of unborn children.
The film is certainly not light entertainment, not that you would expect it to be given the subject matter. There are several gory scenes – not showing an abortion in detail, but blood running through tubes, and blood dripping down legs, feet and onto the floor, and a representation on a black-and-white ultrasound screen of an unborn child being sucked out with an empty space left behind. Most of the procedures are left to the imagination, but you can understand why the censors gave it a 16 rating in Ireland. So not a film to take young children to.
Our views on films are often coloured by our expectations – for example, by the reviews that we read. I had heard glowing reports from pro-life sources about ‘Unplanned’ – so I made a point before viewing the film of reading a variety of reviews from international newspapers, magazines and film critics. These included pro-abortion websites that use euphemisms such as ‘reproductive justice’ (roughly translated as – ‘freedom to abort unborn children’). But I wanted to hear different perspectives so I could be more informed when deciding how effective this film could be when viewed by different kinds of people.
I came across three major objections to the film, so I went to watch it with these objections in mind. Because, if they were true, these objections would cause a serious problem if, for example, I wanted to take someone with me to view the film. I am passionately for the protection of all human life, but I despise dishonesty. I could not endorse a pro-life initiative that used dishonesty or misrepresentations to make its case.
The first objection was, according to a number of reviews, that the film portrays a foetus (unborn child) as moving around during a suction abortion procedure and trying to evade the doctor’s implements. Quite a bit has been made of this in certain newspapers, with it been claimed that this is medically impossible. A spokesperson for a pro-abotion group in Northern Ireland loudly protested that such a thing was not possible.
The second objection was that Planned Parenthood is portrayed in the film as a multi-billion dollar company, whereas it is really a non-profit.
The third objection was that the film exaggerates the numbers of abortions that go wrong – whereas the vast majority of abortions are perfectly safe (if not for the unborn child, then at least for the mother).
I have to say that, once I actually went and watched the film, I discovered that all three of these objections were not just unfounded, but dishonest. The film does not say that the foetus (unborn child) tried to avoid the doctor’s implements. Rather, the film shows the unborn child, on the ultrasound screen, wriggling around inside the womb, and the doctor says, “Oh, they all do that, that’s why we use the ultrasound.” Abby’s character is greatly impacted by these movements because it looks to her as if the child is trying to evade the abortion. Later in the film, when recounting why it made such an impact on her, she says, “It’s as if the baby was trying to get away.” The film nowhere claims that the unborn child really was taking evasive action, it simply gives Abby’s own perspective, that God used the movement of the child to give her such an impression and to open Abby’s eyes to the barbarity of the procedure that she was witnessing. So the allegation made in antagonistic reviews was extremely dishonest against the film.
The second allegation is that the film portrays Planned Parenthood as a multi-billion dollar company rather than as a non-profit. In fact, the film says quite clearly that Planned Parenthood is a non-profit – that, after all, was why Abby joined them in the first place. She wanted to help women by volunteering, and eventually being employed by, a non-profit concern. The film also states, quite correctly, that ‘non-profit’ is a tax status. It simply means that a company does not make profits for, or distribute dividends to, shareholders or directors. But a non-profit can still be run, particularly by those on the corporate side of the organisation, just as ruthlessly as any large business concern. Employees in non-profits, particularly in the upper echelons of its administration, can still command fat salaries and be judged on the basis of business turnover and market share. After all, we’ve seen this in the religious world, where some unscrupulous television evangelists have set up ‘non-profits’ that pay them obscene salaries and provide perks such as private jets. So there is no inconsistency whatsoever in the film’s assertion that, in Abby Johnson’s own experience, a non-profit concern acted like a multi-billion dollar business.
The third allegation was that the film exaggerates the number of abortions that go wrong. Once again, this is an unfounded and dishonest accusation against the film. There are only two incidences in the film of abortions that went wrong, and both of them are included, not because they are representative of the whole, but because they are key elements of Abby Johnson’s own story. One was Abby’s own second abortion, where taking an abortion pill proved to be much more traumatic and painful than she had been led to expect. Obviously, this had a huge impact on her, so its inclusion in the film is perfectly reasonable. The second instance of an abortion going catastrophically wrong was where the climic where Abby worked nearly lost a young girl through blood-loss. The whole point of recounting this incident is not that an abortion went wrong, but rather that the clinic covered it up to avoid adverse publicity. Abby was complicit in that cover-up, and the stress this caused her was another key element in her eventual change of mind and heart. Indeed, the film goes on to quote Abby as saying that, during her time with Planned Parenthood, she was complicit in the abortions of 22,000 unborn children. By only mentioned two botched abortions out of 22,000, the film actually underplays the number of abortions that go wrong by an extremely large margin.
So I was actually quite pleasantly surprised to discover that, when watching the film with the reservations of these three objections in mind, that all three turned out to be totally false. Otherwise this review would have had quite a different tone and message.
What about the film itself? For a Christian film, it’s surprisingly well made. I’ve seen too many Christian films that had poor production values, corny dialogue and that conveyed a preachy tone. This wasn’t like that. Abby Johnson’s personal story is told, and it’s told well. It’s told movingly. I felt emotionally touched by it. Although the film is not preachy, it is an unashamed testimony to the power of prayer, and refused to soft-peddle the spiritual side of Abby’s story. That’s very encouraging that a motion picture is not ashamed to portray a message of faith.
Another good point about the film is that it doesn’t shy away from the ugly side of the pro-life movement. We all know that there are some who, while being anti-abortion, do and say things that make the rest of us ashamed. The film acknowledged the existence of this. It showed people outside an abortion clinic shouting abuse at young girls, and it also featured violence at one point while recounting a true-life incident when an abortionist was shot and killed while worshipping in church. The film unflinchingly portrayed these things as part of the pro-life movement that is very wrong.
Now, overall, what can we say about the film? It’s certainly a film that pro-life people should go and see, not for entertainment, but because it is informative, affirming, and encouraging about the faith of those who want to support the right to life of unborn children. It is not a film for those on the pro-abortion side. It is not likely to convince those who are firmly opposed to a pro-life message. But it is a film that has the potential to speak powerfully to those who are undecided, and to those who are sitting on the fence. I would say if you can get such a person to attend this film with you, then it would be well worth their while in watching it.
Just one final note. I understand that on the opening night in Galway, a group called ‘Galway Pro-Choice’ picketed the cinema, stating their determination that there was no way this film would be shown in Galway. This is rather ironic. It used to be conservative Christians who picketed cinemas, before they caught themselves on. A famous episode of Father Ted had the priests outside a cinema with a sign saying, “Down With This Sort of Thing!” I find it rather funny that this group in Galway would become a parody and example of the kind of intolerance that they claim to despise. They want to deny anyone the opportunity to view a film that might express a viewpoint that is different to their own. Obviously, being ‘pro-choice,’ doesn’t extend to allowing others to choose which film they want to watch!
Update: Unplanned has been extended for a further week’s showing (11-17 Oct) at the following Omniplexes: Cork Mahon Point, Dundalk, Limerick, Galway Salthill, Sligo, Tralee, Wexford & Lifford. It will also be showing next week at IMC cinemas in Tallaght, Omagh, Dun Laoghaire, Dundalk, Tullamore, Enniskillen, Carlow, Kilkenny, Athlone, Santry & Newtownards. Also at the Eclipse in Bundoran, the Empire In Ennis & the Savoy in Dublin.