Story by Emily S.
The feature film “Unplanned,” based on pro-life activist Abby Johnson’s memoir as a former clinic director of Planned Parenthood, has received a lot of traction, and rightly so. The movie tells the story of former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson’s life-changing moment—when she was asked to assist in a 13-week old ultrasound-guided abortion—and her journey into the pro-life movement. Through its graphic depictions of abortion procedures and nuanced perspective on the stigma that surrounds pro-lifers, post-abortive women, and Planned Parenthood clinic employees, “Unplanned” presents a valuable opportunity to look behind closed doors.
The film begins as a happy Abby Johnson is woken up by her young daughter who does not want her to leave for work. Abby explains to her that Saturdays are her busiest days at the clinic. Once she is in the clinic, she is asked to help with an ultrasound-guided abortion, an unusual request for the clinic's director. During this procedure, she watches in horror as a 13-week old child in the womb tries to move away from the catheter before he/she is sucked through it and killed (Texas Monthly questioned Johnson’s account of this event, and Johnson has since provided a response here). Once the doctor, played by OB-GYN and former abortion provider Dr. Anthony Levatino, turns on the vacuum, we witness the ripping apart of the struggling fetus from head to leg until the camera pans to a still monitor of an empty womb. This scene naturally evokes a powerful gut reaction, leaving the audience at a loss for words. This image is crucial in not only grabbing the attention of the viewer, but also in unveiling the film's purpose: to reveal the truth of what abortion is and Planned Parenthood’s hand in it.
“Unplanned” also addresses the darker sides of the pro-life movement. As Abby turns into the Planned Parenthood parking lot to begin volunteering as a clinic escort, we see crowds of angry protestors shouting derogatory slurs like “baby-killer.” A little ways off, we meet a smaller prayer group called the Coalition For Life who do not speak unless to pray and to counsel women open to options other than abortion. Coalition For Life member Marilisa dislikes the hecklers’ tactics, which creates common ground between her and Abby, making them trust each other's sincerity in the work they do.
The film presents a similarly nuanced image of Planned Parenthood. Abby quickly becomes friends with the other employees, who lovingly support her own decision to parent and even throw her a baby shower. On the other hand, the director, Cheryl, is cold and calculating, prioritizing profit and reputation over women’s health. Critics of the movie argue that its portrayal of Planned Parenthood is therefore unfairly heartless and one-dimensional. However, this juxtaposition between Cheryl and Abby’s coworkers was an intentional choice on the part of the director. Abby and her coworkers at the clinic represent Planned Parenthood as a healthcare provider; Cheryl’s character represents Planned Parenthood as a business. No matter the good intentions of its workers, the national organization of Planned Parenthood has been the object of a plethora of lawsuits and investigations accusing it of prioritizing profit over the safety and wellbeing of their clients, such as this one concerning cover-up of sexual abuse.
Ultimately, “Unplanned” is a story of realization, forgiveness, and empowerment. Robia Scott, who plays Cheryl, said that the movie is “not condemning. There's no shame, pointing fingers, really honestly, the essence of the film is hope.” In “Unplanned,” the opportunity to look behind the closed doors of Planned Parenthood at the reality of abortion is gruesome and disturbing to most, but ultimately gives way to hope: hope for a better future, in which the world can confront, heal from, and finally leave behind the pain of abortion.