Allow me to nudge you over to ellenkolb.com for a link to a podcast I recorded this Ash Wednesday as a guest on The Catholic Current. Fr. Robert McTeigue, S.J. wanted to know what was going on with New Hampshire legislation. Did I have some answers for him…!
A note for readers, especially those long-suffering souls who have followed this pro-life blog since it was a hatchling seven years ago: a couple of years ago, I promised you a sort of best-of anthology from the first five years of the blog. (If you’ve forgotten, I forgive you.) That project, like a child with a mind of her own, has gone off in another direction.
The longer I worked on the manuscript, with all of the necessary prefaces to the posts in order to provide updates, the more I realized that the updates are the real story.
And so, a new e-book is simmering away on the figurative front burner. I am reaching out to some of the people whose stories I’ve had the privilege to share, hoping to discover where they’re heading now. I’m re-visiting places and recurring events, ready to give them a fresh look. I’m taking a look at how the Granite State has moved in terms of public policy. (That might be a short chapter.)
There’s good news to go along with all the challenges we face in New Hampshire regarding respect for life. We have neighbors people doing inspiring work. I’m excited about catching up with everything.
The goal: when I’m done writing, and after the whole edit-illustrate-format cycle(s), I’ll have a short book worth sharing with you. Stay tuned.
This is not an unbiased review. I have met and been profoundly impressed by the woman who inspired this movie. I’ll say this much, in case one paragraph is all you have time for: Unplanned is worth viewing. Whatever your belief about abortion – especially if “trust women” is your visceral response to pro-life messages – take the time to watch Abby Johnson’s story. Trust her. This dramatization of her book of the same name might seem unbelievable, but it is faithful to the true story.
The film’s R rating is a puzzler. Violence is apparently the issue, which is odd in a world where an ad for a television show about zombies is more violent than anything in this movie.
About ten years ago, Johnson quit a Planned Parenthood job she had once loved and at which she had excelled. She had no clear idea of what was to come next. What she was certain about was that her commitment to women’s health and her job at PP were no longer in sync. Abortion had become a bottom-line concern for her agency even as her own understanding of abortion had evolved.
At the same time, over a period of many months, past the barrier of a tall fence, the sidewalk outside Johnson’s PP facility was the scene of peaceful prayer by people committed to public witness to the value of life. (This was the first location of what later became 40 Days for Life, now a twice-yearly worldwide pro-life event.) They slowly built relationships by engaging in conversations with the workers at the clinic whenever they could. They offered assistance to women willing to consider alternatives to abortion. They were undeterred by the occasional spray from sprinklers on the clinic’s property, set off to discourage their presence.
Johnson was not naive about abortion, having had two of her own. Her facility provided abortions in the name of “health care.” While her husband and parents were pro-life and uncomfortable with her work, she deliberately chose not only to work at Planned Parenthood but to rise to the level of facility manager. So what happened?
One little thing after another over a long period, a word here, an observation there, along with prayers from people she barely knew, came together for Johnson one day. She was asked to assist at an ultrasound-guided abortion. As the film’s tag line says, what she saw changed everything for her. The humanity of the preborn child, no less than the humanity of the woman undergoing the abortion, hit her with full force.
The people praying outside her clinic gave her a place to land and catch her breath. Eventually, she joined them at the fence.
To this day, years later, the real-life Abby Johnson is calling on people to pray outside clinics. “Abortions aren’t happening in the halls of Congress,” she likes to say.
I wish the film had more room for Johnson’s more recent work: she founded an organization called And Then There Were None, dedicated to abortion workers seeking to leave the abortion industry. She and the team working with her have helped about 500 people make the transition away from abortion and toward life-affirming work.
Stories told in broad, bold strokes don’t always translate well to film. A pair of experienced filmmakers, Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman (God’s Not Dead) nonetheless took on the job with Unplanned. The film is as blunt and forthright as the woman whose story it relates.
Abby, as played by Ashley Bratcher, stands out in such sharp relief that the supporting characters in some scenes are overshadowed. One exception is Robia Scott, in the role of a Planned Parenthood supervisor ferociously protective of abortion as an integral part of her organization’s mission.
Planned Parenthood does not come off well in this story. Since leaving PP, Abby Johnson has been outspokenly critical of the organization and its financial reliance on abortion. Her own experience led her to conclude that women’s health was not PP’s core value. As anyone can discover who has examined Planned Parenthood and its influence on public policy, PP is the largest abortion provider in the nation, with the help of about half a billion dollars annually in taxpayer funding.
Two scenes may be responsible for the film’s R rating. Had the directors left them out, they would have left inexplicable holes in the story.
The first is the opening scene, showing the a-ha moment that drove Abby Johnson from her job. A grainy image on a sonogram screen (simulated but not exaggerated by special effects) shows what happens during a suction abortion.
The second scene is more extended and difficult to watch. One of Johnson’s abortions was “medical,” a sanitized term for a chemical abortion induced with drugs and completed at home. The counseling Johnson received did not prepare her for the pain and protracted hemorrhaging she experienced at home, alone, with no one from the clinic there to help her.
But an R rating? Why would anyone set up a barrier between a teen and Abby Johnson’s story? Not to protect the teen, that’s for sure.
I won’t dodge the inevitable comparison between Unplanned and the recent Gosnell movie. Gosnell was in essence a police procedural about horrific crimes, and its power was due in part to its understated tone. There is nothing understated about Unplanned. It’s personal. It’s the story of a woman with vivid memories, passionate commitments, and dramatic experiences. The mood is urgency. There’s no room for subtlety.
As the most fully-realized character in the story, Abby has to be just as believable as a college student as she is as a clinic director and later an ex-director. We have to stick around after that startling early scene to find out how she got from point A to such a distant point B. In portraying her, in persuading us to wonder what’s next, Ashley Bratcher carries the film.
Unplanned is such a cause célèbre among pro-life activists that people who consider abortion to be a facet of health care might be put off from seeing it. Go anyway. Something might strike a chord.
There’s no need to encourage viewing by the legions of people who have already been influenced by Abby Johnson’s books and activism. They’re already in line to see the movie, and they’ve probably already read Johnson’s books. (Look up Unplanned and The Walls Are Talking, available in print and as e-books.)
What can Unplanned offer a wider audience? Something they won’t find on any other screen: a chance to learn about Abby Johnson, who is a true American original; an invitation to walk with her on part of her still-unfolding journey; and a challenge to trust her and her witness to the value of all human life.
(All images in this post courtesy of unplannedfilm.com)
The dramatization of Abby Johnson’s book Unplanned, scheduled for theatrical release in March, has been given an R rating by the MPAA, the folks who hand out ratings. That means a 16-year-old won’t be admitted to a film depicting abortion unless she brings along a parent or guardian, but she could get an abortion without parental consent (or even knowledge).
I think the MPAA just ensured that when the film goes to video and on-demand, it’ll get plenty of attention from the teenagers the MPAA is pathetically trying to “protect.”
From the Facebook page for the Unplanned movie: “Unplanned has received an “R-Rating” from the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) because they said there is “disturbing images” – We agree… that’s why we made a movie about it. (there is no nudity, no foul language, no gun violence no sex… so #MPAAThinksAbortionIsViolent) …”
Featured image photo credit: Facebook/@UnplannedMovie
The first book I ever bought when I acquired an e-reader was Unplanned by Abby Johnson. I had never heard of her before. I knew that the book was by an ex-Planned Parenthood worker, and I’d never met such a person, so I thought I might have something to learn by reading her book.
I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. Abby’s story forced a course correction on the work I’d been doing my entire adult life. If not a correction, then an expansion. I had known abortion workers only from public hearings and press conferences. I’d certainly never known one who had left the industry.
My horizons have been expanded since the book was published in 2010. Unplanned nudged me out of my comfort zone.
Unplanned has been made into a movie, and it’ll be released in theaters next month, March 2019. I’m looking forward to it. Here’s the official trailer.
This brings to mind the first time I met Abby, when she spoke at Dartmouth College a few years ago. Recall her words:“What’s your standing appointment?”