NASHVILLE (BP) — The pro-life movie “Unplanned” opens in theaters today (March 29) amid a flurry of media attention centered on the film’s realistic depiction of abortion and its political implications. But pro-life advocates hope the greatest impact of “Unplanned” will be changed lives.
“In the past four days, I have received three emails from women who previously worked in abortion clinics and are looking for healing resources,” said Abby Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood worker whose story the film tells. “In their emails, they all stated that they watched the trailer for Unplanned and realized that they needed healing from their past in order to really deepen their relationship with Christ.
“They realized that just from the trailer!!” Johnson wrote in a March 23 Facebook post. “God is about to shake up this country in a powerful way on March 29th.”
Produced by Pure Flix, “Unplanned” depicts Johnson’s ascent to become one of the youngest Planned Parenthood clinic directors in America as well as her subsequent conversion to pro-life views. The film, starring Ashley Bratcher, is based on Johnson’s 2011 book of the same title. “Unplanned” opens in 1,000 U.S. theaters.
Advertising “Unplanned” has been an uphill battle for Pure Flix, which also distributed “God’s Not Dead.” All cable networks other than Fox News and The Christian Broadcast Network refused to air commercials for it, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Lifetime, The Travel Channel, HGTV and Food Network, among other channels, all declined to advertise the movie due to its “sensitive nature.”
Despite the lack of TV advertising, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission communications vice president Dan Darling said he hopes “millions of people see ‘Unplanned’ and that it becomes a catalyst for creating a culture of life in America.”
“I’m grateful for the life and ministry of Abby Johnson and am glad a new generation of people will be able to see her transformation into an advocate for life and human dignity,” said Darling, author of “The Dignity Revolution: Reclaiming God’s Rich Vision for Humanity.”
“Planned Parenthood is a predatory agency who profits off of the extinguishing of human life in its most vulnerable stage,” Darling told Baptist Press in written comments. “Through her work, Abby has exposed the dark underbelly of Planned Parenthood, but has also demonstrated that God is at work even in these dark places and the image-bearers working there can see the light and become advocates for life.”
Reviews of “Unplanned” have been polarized. The conservative publication The Federalist called it “an intense movie” that “uses its intensity to tell a story that is unique and powerful.” Texas Baptist author and speaker Jim Denison said “Unplanned” “competes as cinema with anything Hollywood will release this year.”
More negatively, The Guardian called it “a dim-witted Christian drama” “based on the anti-choice activist Abby Johnson’s memoir.” Variety said the movie tells Johnson’s story “in the flat didactic style of an ideological Sunday-school lesson” and “does a skillful job of using religious piety to conceal its underlying political agenda.”
That agenda, Variety claimed, is “mobilizing those on the pro-life side to come out and vote for politicians who will step up the legal assault on abortion rights” as abortion laws already “are being eaten away at by state legislatures and conservative judges.”
Johnson told ABC News she believes abortion will become increasingly unconscionable in America. But the shift will come “through testimonies” of abortion survivors and former clinic workers, not as a “big legislative victory.”
The movie’s R rating — for “some disturbing/bloody images” according to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) — possibly was motivated by “politics, not prudence,” The Federalist’s Holly Scheer wrote, raising the possibility of “media bias against pro-life activists.”
Johnson wrote in an open letter to parents that the R rating was given because of two scenes. The first depicts a computer-generated recreation of what an abortion procedure looks like on an ultrasound monitor. The second depicts the hemorrhage Johnson experienced when she underwent a chemical abortion.
“The movie does not have profanity,” Johnson wrote. “The Lord’s Name is not taken in vain or disrespected. There is no nudity, no immodesty, and certainly no sex or ‘suggestive’ moments. None.”
Johnson told BP previously the MPAA, in giving “Unplanned” an R rating, “stumbled backwards into the truth, admitting that abortion is violent.”
Planned Parenthood said in a statement, “The movie promotes many falsehoods including most importantly, distortions and incorrect depictions about healthcare,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The Federalist’s Scheer had a different take: “It will be completely impossible for people to believe that abortion removes just tissue after seeing ‘Unplanned,’ and anyone who might believe this should go watch the movie to put that idea to rest.”