‘Unplanned’ shows side of the abortion debate few audiences get to see
by Robert Hutchinson | April 08, 2019
Directed by Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman. Starring Ashley Bratcher, Brooks Ryan, Robia Scott. Length 106 minutes.
If you were wondering why the corporate news media and left-leaning American politicians are doing everything they can to stop audiences from seeing the new prolife film Unplanned, consider this.
Most of the leading Democratic candidates for president now support abortion on demand in the third trimester, even opposing laws that would require doctors to care for (that is, not deliberately kill) the children who miraculously survive such abortions.
Among the Democratic senators running for president, three – Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Elizabeth Warren -- co-sponsored a Senate bill that would override all state restrictions on third-trimester abortions.
This puts the Democrats wildly out of step with the US public – and they know it.
Gallup polls show that 77 percent of the adult population remains opposed to abortion on demand in the third trimester, and 53 percent are opposed to abortion even in the first trimester if the woman simply “does not want the child for any reason.”
Fully 64 percent support laws banning “partial birth abortion” in the second and third trimesters except to save the mother’s life.
This is why the media allies of the Democrats are pulling out all stops to denounce and censor coverage of Unplanned.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey suspended the Twitter account of Unplanned during opening weekend (later, as he usually does, calling it “an error”).
Facebook and all of the major TV networks – except for Fox -- refused to run ads.
Newspapers around the country highlighted Variety critic Owen Gleiberman’s denunciation of the film as “extremist propaganda.”
The Daily Beast’s Nick Schager went even further, calling the film “putrid” and “a leaden, self-righteous and wholly rancid affair.”
And those are the less hysterical reviews.
Yet despite the massive media assault and an R-rating – death for independent films – Unplanned posted an impressive opening gross of $6.1 million in 1,059 theatres, fourth behind blockbusters Dumbo, Us, and Captain Marvel.
This was double the amount projected by box office trackers – and testimony to just how strong prolife sentiment is in America despite media propaganda to the contrary.
Of course, like many “faith-based” films, Unplanned isn’t going to win any Oscars. With a micro $6 million budget and mostly unknown actors, the film has the look and feel of “Hallmark” TV movie of the week.
Yet the slim budget is more than made up for by the sheer power of the film’s central story – and the disconcerting realities of abortion that many people know very little about.
Directed by Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon, known for their evangelical drama God’s Not Dead, Unplanned is based on former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson’s 2011 memoir of the same name.
It chronicles her journey from die-hard abortion proponent (she had two abortions herself, including a gruesome chemical abortion depicted in the film) to a fervent champion of the prolife cause.
The film doesn’t pull any punches.
Right off the bat, we see the incident that triggered Abby’s conversion: her witnessing for the first time a routine first-trimester suction abortion.
Despite being a Planned Parenthood clinic director and working for nearly eight years in the clinic, Abby hadn’t, in fact, actually witnessed any abortions herself.
But one day in 2009, she was needed in a “procedure room” to hold the ultra sound probe so the abortionist could guide the vacuum cannula into the woman’s uterus and suction the fetus out.
Abby, played with sincerity and intensity by veteran actress Ashley Bratcher, is horrified by what she is witnessing: the 12-week fetus squirming and twisting just before the abortionist snuffs its life out and chortles, as he does so, “Beam me up, Scotty.”
The film then switches to an extended series of flashbacks that tells the story of how Abby found herself in this position.
Born into a religious, prolife family, she encounters chipper Planned Parenthood volunteers on campus at Texas A&M who recruit her and ask her to visit the local Planned Parenthood clinic.
Suppressing her instinctive dislike of abortion, Abby gradually becomes more and more involved with the clinic, telling herself that Planned Parenthood’s loss leader operation (handing out birth control pills) actually reduces the number of abortions and so is doing good.
Yet the soul-deadening reality that Abby soon encounters is that Planned Parenthood sells abortion, both literally and figuratively.
When Abby becomes a “counselor,” she sounds like the saleswoman she really is – offering to “throw in” the $150 ultrasound a terrified patient just had and cautioning that if the woman waits too long to make a decision the price goes up significantly.
The film is a mixed bag for both the pro-life and pro-abortion sides.
On the one hand, directors Konzelman and Solomon go out of their way to portray the clinic’s youthful staffers in a mostly sympathetic way, as people who believe they are helping women in very difficult circumstances.
The directors are even willing to take a few shots at the “bad pro-lifers” – the angry old white men shouting at the terrified customers not to kill their babies – even as they portray the “good pro-lifers,” young and good-looking sidewalk counselors, as living saints.
There are other caricatures. The heartless Planned Parenthood corporate executive, played with sinister relish by actress Robia LaMorte, is way over the top, snarling at Abby that abortion is what pays her salary and 401 (k).
When Abby protests that Planned Parenthood is a non-profit, Cheryl snaps, “That’s a tax status, not a business model.”
Also annoying is Abby’s second husband Doug (Brooks Ryan). As more than one commentator has noted, Doug is all-wise and all-knowing, an evangelical super-dad, clearly bothered by what Abby does for a living but infinitely patient and understanding.
Where Unplanned is on its most solid ground, both as a drama and as an expose, is with Abby’s detailed, insider knowledge of how the abortion industry in general, and Planned Parenthood in particular, operate.
When she is about to be promoted to clinic director, Abby is brought by Planned Parenthood executive Cheryl into the “POC” Room.
POC officially stands for “Products of Conception,” but a clinic worker tells Abby it really means, “pieces of children.” This is because, after every surgical abortion, staffers must reassemble, piece by piece in a petri dish, all of the body parts of the aborted fetus.
They must do this so that no piece of the fetus remains in the uterus to become infected. Clinic staffers must do this 30 to 40 times a day.
Abby calls the room the “holy of holies,” and clinic director Cheryl comes across as the priestess of some satanic death cult, as she initiates Abby, as the camera zooms into close-ups of torn fetal body parts, into the reality of what abortion really is.
This is where Unplanned really shines – as a gruesome horror film about the billion-dollar abortion industry.
Planned Parenthood is the largest single provider of abortion in the United States, each year “taking care of” – as the character Cheryl euphemistically puts it – more than 330,000 pregnancies a year. At roughly $400 per “termination,” that alone represents revenue of $1.3 billion annually.
The film depicts the abortion mill quality of what Planned Parenthood does with shots of stunned, drugged-up young girls, many just teenagers, slouched in chairs in the recovery room. In one particularly gruesome scene, one of the teens almost bleeds to death from a perforated uterus, blood pouring down her leg – and the callous Cheryl refuses to call for an ambulance due to the possible bad publicity.
The film does preach to the choir – not simply about abortion but also, unfortunately, about God. As a pro-life film, it could have been even more powerful without the explicit evangelical piety that permeates the film from start to finish.
This makes the pro-life message seem inextricably tied to Southern evangelicalism – when, clearly, it is not. You don’t have to be a believer in any religion to recoil from the horror that even first-trimester abortions can elicit.
Unplanned could have brought its very real expose of Planned Parenthood to an even larger audience than it is now reaching had it shown more -- and preached just a little less.
This film is rated only 50% fresh by 20 critics on Rotten Tomatoes – but 92% favorable by 2,922 ordinary viewers.
Robert J. Hutchinson is the author, most recently, of The Dawn of Christianity. He can be reached at CatholicSpeakers.com.