New Film 'Unplanned' Tells Former Planned Parenthood Director Abby Johnson's Story
The film, from the writers of the Christian movie God’s Not Dead, had a meager $6 million budget and is based on Johnson’s memoir first published in 2010. And while Abby’s story is partly about abortion, she also wants people to see the redemptive power in Christ.
“I did not sign on to do this film, to make Abby Johnson a household name, I signed on to do this film to truly amplify God and to make Him a household name and show His redemptive power,” she said during a conference call with journalists and the public recently. “Because none of it is about me. I mean, this is really His story. And so I just kept having to put that at the forefront of my mind.”
One of Abby’s roles with Planned Parenthood was walking women from their car doors past anti-abortion protesters and into the clinic. She believed she was helping women by keeping abortion accessible but rare, until in a meeting, Planned Parenthood directors said to raise income they needed to raise the quota of abortions. Then eight years into her work for the organization, Abby saw an abortion performed for the first time.
Unplanned will be released nationwide on March 29. I attended an early preview of Unplanned at the Sheen Center early this month. The directors and writers of the film are Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon. Ashley Bratcher plays Abby Johnson. The webinar after the film screening was moderated by Lisa Wheeler and Alexis Walkenstein from Carmel Communications.
In the webinar Abby Johnson, Archbishop Joseph Naumann, and Vicki Thorn (Founder of Project Rachel) discuss the movie and the impact it could have for the pro-life movement.
“I think stories are the way that people are moved today. It's not so much by reasoning. Film and movie particularly have a power to inspire and motivate people,” Naumann said. “I think Unplanned is a story of a conversion. It's a story of redemption, and in many ways not to embarrass but to serve. And I think Abby is kind of a Saint Paul for the pro-life movement today. And her story I think, really has the power to open hearts, change minds and inspire people. So I pray that many will see it, and many will be influenced by it.”
The movie landed an R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). This could be seen as ironic considering that in some states teenage girls can have an abortion without any parental consent. On the Planned Parenthood website, the organization lists 12 states where teenage girls don’t need parental consent for abortion. As for the other states listed with parental requirements, Planned Parenthood gives information on how a teenager can be excused from that requirement. In my view, the R rating doesn't deter hope for the film finding an audience. And faith leaders tend to agree with the rating.
“We have had various faith leaders who have said to us we think this is a good thing that this movie is classified as R for the things that we see,” Wheeler said. “We've been so desensitized as a culture and it brings us back to the reality that abortion is violent, and the consequences of abortion and the violence of abortion must be seen.”
Not surprisingly, some reviews have given a low rating for what they see as “gory” anti-abortion propaganda. Though most mainstream outlets are not covering the low budget film, the Hollywood Reporter reported that nine out of 10 music record labels asked by the film directors denied licensing their songs, like a rendition of “How to Save a Life” by the Fray, a rock band that gained a Christian fan following.
As a viewer of the movie, I believe an R rating is sufficient. The depiction of the abortion scenes was not overdone. That is why these scenes are so haunting. There were such normalcy in the acts in the everyday life of the abortion provider, and they always left me uncomfortable. For Johnson all of these scenes stay true to what her life was like during this time.
“I feel like this film is going to really equip people with knowledge with truth and with hard truth. Because nothing in this film is embellished, exaggerated or over dramatized. This film is just truth. It is just my story,” Johnson said. “Abortion is bad enough. We didn't have to exaggerate anything. And so this is going to really amplify what's taking place across our nation.”
The film can also hold the power to spark educational discussions.
“This is an absolute epidemic, not only in our country, but around the world. And hopefully, sharing the story is going to touch a lot of hearts and lives. [Hopefully, it will] bring people to healing, bring them to a new awareness of how deep this whole thing is,” Thorn said. “Women are not untouched by an abortion even when they've had one. Because women carry cells from every baby they ever conceived for the rest of their lives and they carry more cells from children who are aborted and miscarried. The phenomena is called microchimerism,” Thorn said.
Johnson believes the timing of this movie is perfect, especially considering recent controversies over abortion laws on state levels. The new conservative makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court and new battles in states have resurfaced old policy debates about abortion and added new conflicts.
“The timing of this film is not something that any of us could have planned…,” Johnson said, noting that the film was in planning for five years. “The focus of so much in our country right now is on late term abortion, which is fine. But the overwhelming majority of Americans do not believe late term abortion is acceptable. The conversation we really need to be having is about the majority of abortions, and that's in the first trimester. And that's exactly what this film depicts.”
For information on theaters showing Unplanned go to https://www.unplannedfilm.com/, the website will also have information for theater buyouts for large groups.
Princess Jones is an intern with Religion Unplugged and an editorial clerk at The New York Post. She is a recent alumna of Trevecca Nazarene University and of the NYC Semester in Journalism at The King’s College in New York.