I tend to be skeptical of movies with a message. But I’d heard enough about this movie to be open to it, because it's more about story than message.
|Abby Johnson, now a pro-life speaker, whose story|
is told in the movie Unplanned,
screenshot from here
I don’t see R-rated movies—if the movie is rated for R based on sex, language, or violence, as you’d expect. I skip a lot of PG-13 movies for those very reasons. This movie has none of that. But there is some intensity. And there is some realistic blood.
Last week Glenn Beck talked about the movie quite a bit. He traveled to Utah for the opening—to encourage people who don’t usually attend an R-rated movie to make this one an exception. Reports are that attendance there was double the per screen rate of the rest of the country. In the country overall, the movie got a very good first weekend reception on about 1000 screens. I saw one report that it was a higher per screen rate than Captain Marvel, maybe because this is about real life female power against evil.
Glenn Beck had suggested that telling this story could end abortion in our lifetime. That might be an exaggeration. But it is powerful. It may be that telling this story truthfully to young people will reveal something about abortion—and about Planned Parenthood in particular—that will change the culture. The challenge, then, will be getting young people to see it.
It’s odd how the motion picture rating system works. Something can be truly vile and immoral, and shocking, and still get a PG-13 rating, meaning parents are cautioned, but no one asks any questions of teenagers going to see such a movie. But an R-rating means that a minor must be accompanied by an adult, because the material is so inappropriate that only a parent can override that decision.
Some of the promotional material has pointed out that a 13-year-old can get an actual abortion without parental consent, but can’t see this movie depicting what will happen during that abortion without parental consent.
The movie was closer to home than I had been aware. We were talking to our son on the way to the theater, and he says, “Oh, the one about the woman from Rockdale?” That’s a town a short distance from where they live; they drive there to their church building. I hadn’t known Abby Johnson was that local. I hadn’t been aware that the abortion clinic where she had worked was in Texas—Bryan, Texas, a suburb of the town where Texas A&M University is located. And there’s a portion of the story related to the Houston Planned Parenthood building, which I’ve seen so many times from the freeway on the way into downtown.
Here's the trailer:
Here's the trailer:
The movie does a couple of things really well. It describes what is going on in the minds of many of the pro-abortion (pro-choice) people. And it depicts the experience at the clinic.
One point Abby Johnson makes well is that scaring someone and yelling at them that they’re going to hell, when they’re facing a traumatic crisis in their life, is not likely to persuade them. Actually, the pro-life people who most frequently talk with her through the fence agree with that. They’re much more about loving-kindness and caring than you might expect, and that’s probably crucial to the story.
Most of us pro-life people have never seen the inside of an abortion clinic, let alone seen the actual procedure. This movie, by all reports, worked hard to be accurate. Even the doctors playing the role had been former abortion doctors.
You may have heard that the “violent” scene that garnered the R-rating depicts an actual abortion—CGI version (no babies were harmed in the making of this film). It shows a baby on ultrasound, dodging the suction tube, avoiding its own destruction, before being caught and sucked down a tube that suddenly becomes bloody.
This is actually the life-changing moment from Abby Johnson’s life. She was a career abortion provider, confessing that she was complicit in some 22,000 abortions over eight years with Planned Parenthood. But she had been able to convince herself that it was about helping young women in crisis, and working to make abortion rare—by offering birth control that would prevent the crisis pregnancy.
She was from a pro-life Christian family, with parents who continued to pray for her and love her anyway. And her husband—her second husband—was pro-life all along. It’s mystifying that he loved her when her job was so against his moral beliefs, but that is also probably key to her eventual epiphany.
She had gone through two abortions herself. The first was during her first year of college. First time away from home, and she let herself become a party girl right away. She had a relationship with a man ten years older. When she became pregnant, he insisted on the abortion. She was a freshman, afraid to tell her parents what she had become. And she knew she was not ready for parenthood. Pressured by the guy, she lets him take her to the Houston Planned Parenthood clinic. The guy doesn’t pay for it; she has to get a credit card on her own, and work her way out of the debt, to avoid telling her parents.
She marries that guy, to the dismay of her parents. He’s a bum. A year later, she finds out he’s unfaithful and immediately gets a divorce. And then finds out she’s pregnant again. At this point, the very idea of having a child that will connect her to that man is horrifying. So, again, abortion seems like the answer.
This time she goes to the local clinic in Bryan, TX, the one where she eventually works. Because it’s so early in the pregnancy, she is persuaded to do a chemically induced abortion—the RU-486 pill. She is told that she will have some mild cramping, and then her body will gently eliminate the pregnancy. She gets ready at home, takes the prescribed pills. And then suffers intense cramping, bleeding, clumps, more bleeding, more cramping—so that she fears this is how she will die. For 48 hours. Followed by twelve weeks of continued bleeding, passing clumps, and cramping.
This was the most affecting part of the movie for me. And possibly the most graphic. TMI, but my own pregnancy that ended prematurely was followed by very painful afterbirth, as if I were being ripped inside, more painful after birth than my full-term babies, and then about ten weeks of bleeding. But, as traumatic as it was, I wasn’t alone and uncared for or stricken by shame.
Abby angrily contacts the Planned Parenthood clinic. They tell her this is normal. And she demands to know why they didn’t warn her. How could this be normal and they not let her know ahead of time? They dismiss her and hang up.
It’s another year or two later, when she’s recruited to volunteer. By then she’s forgotten her anger toward Planned Parenthood, and has replaced it with self-loathing. Looking for a way to volunteer and do something better with her life, she at first resists the girl in the pink hat at the recruiting table. But pink girl insists to her that they’re about making abortion rare; that’s why they’re about birth control and women’s health. And to that she says, “Sign me up.”
For a person who wants to think of herself as doing good, she finds it surprisingly easy to lie. There’s a father that she knows who brings in his daughter, whom he clearly cares about. Abby Johnson assures them it’s a simple, safe procedure. She’ll be done shortly, and then following a short recovery time, they can go on their way. It doesn’t quite turn out that simple. The doctor perforates the uterine wall, something that can happen quite easily when no ultrasound is used during the procedure.
They did ultrasounds before the procedure—which they did not show to the client; they used it only for the purpose of determining size of the fetus, which then determined difference in cost. But they didn’t generally use ultrasounds during the procedure, despite increased safety for the mother, because it would require an extra several minutes to set up (added cost) plus the use of another worker (added cost).
Anyway, when this procedure goes badly, Abby is very upset. She had promised this girl and her father that all would be well. And now there was the possibility the girl could die. Abby’s quick work and that of the rest of the staff eventually saves the girl, who is unconscious throughout, so they do not even tell her there was a problem. Abby wanted to call 911, but her supervisor absolutely forbade her; it would look bad with all the protesters outside to see an ambulance come. They couldn’t afford the bad image. And then she chastised Abby for getting upset about a little blood. (It wasn’t a little.)
The supervisor orders her to go explain the delay to the father in the waiting room. She does, with a lie. She says there was an allergic reaction with another patient they were dealing with that took some extra time, but that his daughter was fine, and after a short time in recovery she’d be brought out to him.
There’s a day before Hurricane Ike (2008) that she reschedules all the Saturday clients to Friday to get them done ahead of the storm. She and her staff think of it as heroic work. She comes home exhausted and wet from the rain. Her little girl questions her about the blood on her shoes. She casually lies that a person at the clinic got a nosebleed.
Lying is too easy for her. That must come from shame.
The day of her change of heart, Abby was called in to help during a procedure, because the doctor who had been called in that day refused to do the procedure without the ultrasound help. She hadn’t, in all her years of working there and even running the clinic, been witness to the baby on ultrasound during the procedure.
There were a couple of other details leading to her being ready to recognize the truth that day. I’ll avoid any more spoilers. But there’s a lot of reality here.
Once she has left the clinic, and has begun her redemption journey, she talks through the fence to a girl arriving for an abortion, and she gets her to listen to the basics of what is going to happen inside that clinic. They aren’t going to offer her options; they are going to push her to have an abortion. She knows this, because she used to be really good at it. This was maybe one of the less natural moments in the film, but it is an effective speech—because by this time we’ve seen the truth. An abortion doesn’t make the problem go away. You can’t go through those clinic doors and come back out to the way things used to be; things are never the same.
Planned Parenthood is an ironic name. It’s not about planning to be a parent; it’s about avoiding being a parent. At all costs. It’s a political organization. And it’s a money-making “non-profit”; and money is made by doing more and more abortions.
There ought to be some truth in advertising. They wouldn’t have made such inroads into the culture if they’d honestly called themselves “Baby Killing and Disposal for Profit.” But that is their true name.
For those of you, like me, Christians, maybe even Latter-day Saints, who avoid R-rated movies, there’s one thing this movie depicts rather well. When we say Christ descended below all things, that He has atoned for all our sins—He really means it. Redemption is possible even for a woman who was complicit in the deaths of two of her own babies and tens of thousands of others. That’s a message of hope for our troubled, wicked world.
Abby Johnson speaks out against abortion. She also started a nonprofit (And Then There Were None) to help abortion workers leave what in some ways resembles a cult. In six years or so she has helped over 500 leave, including several actual abortion doctors. As she says, the goal isn’t to shut down clinics; the goal is to change the hearts of people so our culture says abortion is an unacceptable practice for civilized people.