In a January profile of Leana Wen, Planned Parenthood’s new president, BuzzFeed News reported that she intended to start shifting the organization’s focus away from abortions. Wen repudiated the story at once, saying BuzzFeed had “completely misconstrue[d]” Planned Parenthood’s intentions. “Our core mission is providing, protecting and expanding access to abortion and reproductive health care,” she tweeted. “We will never back down from that fight.”
It was a clarifying moment for Planned Parenthood, which on other occasions has gone out of its way to downplay the importance of abortion to its mission. Wen’s tweet was spot-on: Planned Parenthood exists above all to abort pregnancies. According to its latest annual report, Planned Parenthood performed 332,757 abortions in 2017-18, an increase of more than 11,000 from the year before. Of the approximately 926,000 abortions performed annually in the United States, Planned Parenthood accounts for 35 percent. It is by far the nation’s largest abortion provider.
And now it is the subject of a controversial new movie.
Between 2001 and 2009, the Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas, performed roughly 22,000 abortions. That estimate comes from Abby Johnson, who worked at the Bryan facility throughout those eight years. Starting as a volunteer escort, she rose to become the clinic’s director, one of the youngest in America. In 2008, Planned Parenthood honored her as an “Employee of the Year” for her ardent pro-choice effectiveness.
By then, of course, Johnson was thoroughly familiar with the procedures that precede and follow abortions at her clinic — everything from personally escorting pregnant clients from the parking lot, to reconstructing the aborted fetus to confirm that no parts were left inside the uterus. Having had two abortions herself, Johnson was likewise familiar with the process from the perspective of the women going through it.
But it wasn’t until September 2009 that Johnson actually saw for the first time what happens in the womb during an abortion. The experience radically changed her life. She quit Planned Parenthood and became a pro-life activist. Her extraordinary metamorphosis is portrayed in “Unplanned,” a compelling new movie starring Ashley Bratcher and produced by Pure Flix, a Christian studio.
The film opens with the harrowing episode that turned Johnson’s perspective inside-out. She had been unexpectedly asked to fill in for an absent employee at an ultrasound-assisted abortion. As she watched the sonogram, the reality of what she was doing — of what she had defended so passionately for so long — stunned her.
“The fetus was 13 weeks old and I could easily see its head, arms, and legs,” she later wrote. “The abortion instrument — a suction tube — was on the screen as well. The baby jumped away from it but it was all for naught. The abortionist turned on the suction and I saw that baby get sucked apart right in front of me on the screen. . . In mere seconds, that fetus’s life ended and the screen only showed a black, empty uterus. The life that was there just a couple minutes ago was gone.”
“Unplanned” is an unabashed piece of pro-life advocacy, but it doesn’t make the mistake of depicting all foes of abortion rights as virtuous. An early scene focuses on obnoxious anti-abortion protesters outside the Bryan facility. One is dressed as the Grim Reaper. Another yells that a young woman is “a baby killer” who “couldn’t keep [her] legs closed.” Later, the film refers to the brutal 2009 murder of abortion doctor George Tiller, shot in the head by an anti-abortion zealot while at church.
Nor does “Unplanned” demonize everyone who is pro-choice. Most of the Planned Parenthood employees come across as likable, kind, and sincere, even if the organization itself comes across as manipulative and coldblooded. “There is right and wrong on both sides of this debate,” Johnson has said, “and that’s really a story that I wanted to tell.”
There is nothing in “Unplanned” about Roe v. Wade or politics. This isn’t a film about government policy, but about the reality of abortion — abortion minus the euphemisms of “freedom” and “choice,” abortion as it appears on an ultrasound monitor. Before it is anything else, the destruction of life in the womb is an act of violence against a helpless creature. Planned Parenthood and the pro-choice lobby go to great pains to disguise that reality, and for good reason. As Johnson proves, even a Planned Parenthood professional can turn 180 degrees upon witnessing the brutality at the heart of every abortion.
“Unplanned” was rated R, a decision that came as a blow to the movie’s producers. But because the film is honest about its subject, the Motion Picture Association of America made the only choice it could. The MPAA’s ratings are based on five components: nudity, sexual content, language, substance abuse, and violence. None of the first four is an issue in “Unplanned.” But there is violence aplenty — in this case, violence against unborn human beings. The best response to that violence, “Unplanned” argues, is love, prayer, patience, and compassion. But there must be truth as well. The violent truth of abortion isn’t easy to look upon. But it was learning that truth that set Abby Johnson free. Its R rating notwithstanding, “Unplanned” may have the same effect on others.