The Real-Life Power of 'Unplanned'

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If you’re a 14-year-old girl where I live, you can walk into a clinic and get an abortion without your parents ever knowing. But if you want to go see “Unplanned,” a movie about abortion that opened in theaters nationwide Friday, you’ll need Mom or Dad (or some adult guardian) to accompany you. This is the strange state of affairs in our modern era, where abortion continues to be one of the most divisive political issues of the day.

“Unplanned” is the story of Abby Johnson, a former director of a Texas Planned Parenthood clinic, and the youngest in its history, at that. For eight years, she somehow worked at one of Planned Parenthood’s busiest abortion mills without ever watching one transpire. Until, one day, she did.

It was the moment, she describes, that “changed everything.”

It’s also the film’s opening scene -- the filmmakers waste no time. Abby feeds her daughter breakfast, drives to work, parks her car, and then gets called unexpectedly into the backroom, a windowless, sterile space where a girl lies whimpering on a table and a menacing abortion doctor, with a splatter shield covering his face, barks at Abby to hold the ultrasound wand while he performs the procedure.

Something about the abortion doctor made me shift uncomfortably in my seat. Later I learned why: The actor was a former abortion doctor who had performed over 1,000 abortions. He knew, quite literally, what he was doing. But like Abby, he experienced an event that changed everything: He witnessed his 6-year-old daughter struck by a car in front of their home. She died in his arms. When he returned to work, his first order of business was a late-term abortion. He performed it, but afterwards froze. In an interview he said:

“But after all those years, after 1,200 abortions, after over 100 late-term abortions, I really looked. I really looked at that pile of body parts on the side of the table. And for the first time in my life, all I could see was somebody’s son or daughter. And in that moment it hit me all at once, a lot like what Abby describes, it me so hard. … I had just buried my daughter, and here someone had come to me and offered me money to kill their son or daughter. And I said yes.”

The raw emotional intensity of the film no doubt draws on the very real ways that many of the actors have been personally touched by abortion. When the actress who plays Abby, Ashley Bratcher, called her mom to say she’d gotten the part, her mom tearfully revealed that she had planned to abort Ashley, only getting off the operating table when the sight of a very pregnant nurse made her too sick to follow through.

In an irony that only life could deliver, the directors had unwittingly cast an abortion survivor to play a survivor of the abortion industry. And they were wise to unveil the climax up front; undoubtedly people will walk out of this movie, unable to stomach the realities of abortion that it dramatizes. Young girls in pink gowns, drugged and groaning while a nurse rations out crackers. Nurses jokingly referring to the “products of conception” (or POC) room as the “pieces of children room.” Dead babies rolled out in canisters like any other trash. These are the realities of abortion that America chooses not to see.

But Abby Johnson saw a life taken before her eyes, and more and more people like her are speaking the truth about the abortion industry and its quotas and medical deceit and predatory behavior. Abby, through her organization, And Then There Were None, has helped over 500 abortion workers, including seven doctors, leave the industry. 

The message of “Unplanned” is ultimately a hopeful one. It’s a story about freedom and healing, something no doubt countless post-abortive women are in search of. Abby had two abortions herself, worked for the biggest abortion provider in the country, and was able to walk away and find peace. It's a story that every woman harmed by abortion has the right to hear. 

But it’s a story, and a film, that is certainly deserving of its R rating. Because sometimes the only way we can move forward into the light is to start by looking at the harshest of truths. 

Ashley McGuire is a senior fellow with The Catholic Association and the author of “Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female.” Follow her on Twitter: @AshMcG

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