On August 21, thousands of pro-life protestors rallied in Sydney to oppose New South Wales’ new abortion laws. On October 12, thousands of pro-life protestors in Melbourne will join the annual “March For the Babies” to oppose the same extreme laws that were passed in Victoria 11 years ago. And, as God’s timing would have it, in between these two dates, an independent pro-life film called Unplanned will be playing in cinemas across the country. Sadly, it will pass under the radar of most Australians, but it is a powerful and important film that I think every Christian should know about and consider going to see.
Unplanned will pass under the radar of most Australians, but it is a powerful and important film that I think every Christian should know about and consider going to see.
Screenings of Unplanned are currently being organised through the website FanForce and if you’ve noticed this film being talked about online, you might have a few questions: What’s the film about? Is it any good? How does it handle the sensitive topic of abortion? Which audience is it appropriate for?
I had the opportunity to see Unplanned twice recently and went in to the cinema with these same questions. I left deeply moved, a little disappointed, but most of all convinced that this is a film worth supporting, especially at this important time in Australia when abortion is in the public spotlight.
What’s it About?
Based on the memoir of the same name, Unplanned tells the true story of Abby Johnson—a former clinic director and “Employee of the Year” for Planned Parenthood (America’s largest abortion provider). It tells how Abby joined the pro-choice cause, as well as sharing her own personal experience of abortion. Through Abby’s eyes, we get a unique look behind the scenes at her clinic and see the genuine friendships and camaraderie of the staff. Women seeking abortion are portrayed without judgment, though clear criticism is targeted at boyfriends or fathers who push for the termination.
The story also depicts Abby’s interactions with the pro-lifers who often gathered outside the clinic. Although the prayerful “Coalition For Life” team come across as almost too squeaky clean, the film does—to its credit—also acknowledge the existence of the hate-filled anti-abortion protestors who are often so destructive to the pro-life message of love. Lastly, in the film’s quieter moments, it explores Abby’s close but challenging relationship with her Christian family, showing their loving concern and awkwardness over her chosen career.
A Confronting Scene
The focal point of Unplanned however, is captured by the movie tagline: “What she saw changed everything.” One day Abby was called to assist in the procedure room and witnessed for the first time an ultrasound-guided abortion of a 13-week old fetus. She watched as it reacted to the probing of the abortion instruments, before being dismembered and sucked up the catheter before her eyes.
Abby witnessed an ultrasound-guided abortion of a 13-week old fetus. She watched as it reacted to the probing of the abortion instruments, before being dismembered and sucked up the catheter before her eyes.
This shocking moment is presented within the first 7 minutes of the film, so be prepared. It is, however, an important scene, as this was the catalyst for Abby Johnson’s amazing conversion from pro-choice to pro-life. She has since become one of America’s most outspoken and influential pro-life advocates.
As a little bit of movie trivia, the doctor in this scene is played by Dr Anthony Levatino, who is actually a former abortionist who personally performed over 1,200 abortions. Dr Levatino has his own dramatic pro-life conversion story (watch it here) and his presence in this scene gives it extra weight and realism. He said of this scene: “The portrayal of a live, moving fetus disappearing is very accurate. You’re watching an abortion. It’s an accurate view of what’s happening. It’s disturbing if you recognize it’s a human life.”
Abortion is Disturbing
Squeamish viewers should note that there are a couple more graphic and uncomfortable scenes in Unplanned. They are a small percentage of the film’s run time, but confronting enough that the film was given (the equivalent of) an MA 15+ rating in the US. I wouldn’t describe Unplanned as gratuitous or gory, but there are a couple of realistic bloody moments that I would not advise younger teens to see without a parent present. As Abby Johnson herself observed in response to the rating, “we are pushing the boundaries of what has never been before …abortion is disturbing. It’s violent.”
Unplanned helps us see abortion for what it is. It reveals the humanity of those who work in abortion clinics, those who seek abortions, and most importantly, those in the womb. As Bernard Nathanson, another former abortionist turned pro-life, wrote in his book Aborting America, “fewer women would have abortions if wombs had windows.” This film provides that window.
Unplanned is Not Unflawed
Unplanned is an important film, especially for such a time as this when abortion laws are being hotly debated. But, is it a good film? Christian films don’t have a great reputation. They can come across as contrived, corny or as subtle as a brick to the head. Christians can turn a blind eye to a multitude of movie sins when the film is communicating a message we care about, but our non-Christian friends won’t be so forgiving. They’ll notice the flaws, so we might as well be honest about them.
Some reviews have highlighted the film’s overuse of narration and its occasionally unnatural dialogue—especially obvious whenever a character delivers a zinger pro-life argument. I have to agree with these critiques. I think the film does better in its quieter moments when the performers are given space to act and the director “shows” rather than “tells” you what is going on.
Many have also criticised the character of Abby’s boss, who comes across at times as cartoonishly evil. In order to make us hate her as the ultimate corporate villain, the script unfortunately gives her some unrealistic lines that do not appear in Abby’s book. For those looking for an excuse to label this pro-life film as manipulative propaganda (as Wikipedia has done) this creative license is be easily used to try to discredit the rest of the story. I found this especially disappointing because they generally did a great job at portraying characters on both sides of this debate with sensitivity, realism and nuance.
Overall, the acting is solid throughout the film. Ashley Bratcher in the lead role, gave a fantastic performance showing Abby’s complex and emotional journey. Amongst the supporting cast, Robin DeMarco was wonderful as Abby’s mother—struggling to love her daughter whilst disagreeing with her career.
There are also a couple of deeply moving scenes where the film really shines. The moment when the “Coalition For Life” team pray over barrels of aborted remains is very powerful, as is a scene near the end where Abby acknowledges her own two aborted children.
The Gospel in Unplanned
Unplanned generally does a great job at portraying Christians—both those who are immature in their faith and ones who have persevered in prayer for years. Prayer is actually a bit of a theme in the movie and there is a real encouragement for Christians to not give up praying.
There is one scene however, where the now-repentant Abby is grieving over her involvement in so many abortions and she asks how it is possible that God could forgive her sin. Her husband takes a breath and I was hoping for him to answer with some reference to the gospel or even a brief mention of Jesus, but his only reply is a simple, “because he’s God.” Now, I didn’t expect him to pull out a whiteboard and explain substitutionary atonement, but something as simple as “because Jesus died for you” might have been enough. In a film that did not shy away from proclaiming bold truths, it did feel like this moment was a lost gospel opportunity.
That’s not to say there are no gospel themes in Unplanned. Abortion is acknowledged as a sin that should be repented of—though the message is not one of shame or rejection, but of understanding, mercy and the offer of forgiveness. You should feel free to see this film if you or someone you invite has experienced abortion first hand. It may be confronting, but it will not be condemning.
Abortion is acknowledged as a sin that should be repented of—though the message is not one of shame or rejection, but of understanding, mercy and the offer of forgiveness.
You might be surprised that even those who work in the abortion industry would get a lot out of this film. At the end credits there is mention of Abby Johnson’s ministry “And Then There Were None” that helps abortion workers transition out of the industry. Daryl Lefever, one of the film’s producers, informed me that since the film was released in the US, Abby’s ministry has had around one or two calls every day from abortion workers wanting out.
Unplanned in Australia
Unplanned is an important, powerful and timely film. It has its flaws, but considering the limited resources they had as an independent film and the opposition they faced, it is honestly a great achievement.
The film had a tiny budget of 6 million USD (compare that to Dumbo which was released on the same weekend as Unplanned with a budget of 170 million). It had no big name movie stars to draw the crowds and several major tv networks refused to show the movie trailer due to, as one network said, the “sensitive nature of the film”. Then, without warning, on the very weekend of its release, the film’s official Twitter account was mistakenly suspended and to add insult to injury, a day after the account was restored, tens of thousands of its Twitter followers had mysteriously been removed. Despite all these setbacks, due to the support of churches, pro-life groups and curious movie-goers (as well as a lot of prayer), Unplanned surprised everyone by being the 4th most successful film in America for that weekend, beaten only by “Dumbo”, “Us” and “Captain Marvel”.
Now it’s Australia’s turn to see Unplanned. It’s our opportunity to use this film to continue drawing attention to the reality of abortion and the humanity of those in the womb.
I encourage you to consider whether Unplanned would be a film that not only you, but maybe even your church can get behind. Check out the FanForce website and find a local screening that you can invite people to. You could even apply to host one yourself.
If you have older teenage kids, consider taking them to discuss the issue of abortion and combat the pro-choice messages they will be constantly hearing from our society. If you have friends or family who are unsure where they stand on this issue,Unplanned would be an interesting film for you to see together. The film doesn’t try to tackle every pro-choice argument, but many have had their assumptions or their apathy about abortion challenged after seeing it. Most of all, after considering the pros and cons I have mentioned, I recommend going to see the film yourself.
The other day I had the wonderful opportunity to contact Abby Johnson herself and ask her how she felt about her story being shown in Australian cinemas. She replied:
I am thrilled that Unplanned is coming to Australia and in many other places around the world. The impact of this film has been astounding – so many people have told me they changed their minds on abortion, that they chose life for their babies, and that they have been motivated to pray outside abortion clinics or volunteer for their local pregnancy resource center. God has worked miracles through Unplanned and I can’t wait for the people of Australia to see it.
– Abby Johnson
First published at http://www.simoncamilleri.com/a-pro-life-film-for-such-a-time-as-this/
For Australian screenings, go to: https://fan-force.com/films/unplanned/
For more about the film, go to: https://www.unplannedfilm.com/
For more about Abby Johnson, go to: http://www.abbyjohnson.org/