A Pastor's Review of Unplanned: Uncertain of its Own Message
Unplanned is a movie based on the true story of Abby Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood director who famously became pro-life. The movie is produced by PureFlix, creators of such films like God's Not Dead, Mom's Night Out, The Case for Christ, and several rapture movies. Unplanned stars Ashley Bratcher as Abby Johnson, Brooks Ryan as Abby's husband, Doug, and Robia Scott as the wicked witch of the south. As far as the story goes, I rather liked the movie, but it was a hard watch. The violence of abortion is portrayed with chilling effect.
With the formalities out of the way, let me be upfront about two things. First, the R-rating on Unplanned is deserved. I know the film's promoters made a big deal about the MPAA slapping an R-rating on their movie. Charisma News called the rating "devious." An award-winning producer of Schindler's List called it "biased." If the outrage was expressed to hype the movie and get attention, more power to them, I guess. But the MPAA should be applauded for their decision. I'll come back to this later.
The second thing I want to be upfront about is this—the gospel is not in this movie. This is a pro-life film more than it is a Christian film, and those two things are not synonymous. The God-fearing Christian cherishes all human life as sacred from conception to natural death. But not all who call themselves pro-life are Christians. While the movie might win some people to the pro-life side of the political aisle, no one will leave the theater a Christian because no one will have heard the gospel.
Unplanned pulls back the curtain on many of the horrors of the abortion industry, and I appreciate that. At the same time, the filmmakers are confused about their own message, and that's evident within the story itself.
Abortion is murder. That's what you will see in the movie—the dramatic portrayal of babies being killed. The visuals and sounds are disturbing. You will witness at least two babies being aborted. Of course, what you're watching is cinematic drama, made up of make-up and special effects, music and tension. But it's depicting something very real, done thousands of times a day in America. Roughly 3,000 unborn children are killed daily. One Planned Parenthood clinic murders as many as three-dozen babies per day.
The first abortion is within the first ten minutes of the film. It is what's called a D&C abortion, or an abortion by suction catheter. You will see hoses and tubes and containers fill up with blood and organs as a 13-week-old baby is being pulled part, all while watching the child squirm in the womb on an ultrasound screen. The story goes that this was the abortion that pushed Abby Johnson over the edge from pro-abortion to pro-life. It is a difficult scene to watch—even more-so when you know this is something that really happens.
Before the scene began, a father sitting one row back from me realized what was about to occur. He quickly took up his son, about 7 or 8 years old, and rushed him out of the theater. I don't think he returned. Really, don't bring your kids to this movie until you've seen it first. (I saw another person leave after the scene was over, and another two people left in the second abortion scene.)
The second abortion happens about ten minutes later. I thought this scene was more difficult than the first. It shows what RU-486, or the abortion pill, does to a woman, and it's not pretty. You will see a woman have her abortion (painfully) in the shower, and in a sobbing mess she tries to pick up pieces of her aborted child. At the close of the scene, the camera pans up and away from the bathroom, and you see blood in the shower and in the toilet, on the woman and on the floor.
In one scene, a teenage girl's uterus is perforated during an abortion procedure. There's blood everywhere and she nearly dies. In another scene, Abby closely examines the leftover remains of a dissected child in a petri dish. The camera zooms in on the pieces of this tiny baby. Like I said, the R-rating is well-deserved. So it's rather confusing that the filmmakers got upset with the MPAA for labeling the movie "violent."
Think about it—If abortion is a simple medical procedure to remove unwanted tissue, as Planned Parenthood wants the public to believe, then showing an abortion should be no different than any operation you might see depicted in a hospital drama on network television. But if abortion is the brutal, calculated murder of innocent children, then of course the dramatization of such butchery should get an R-rating!
Furthermore—and this has been pointed out elsewhere—the fact that Unplanned has an R-rating means that a 15-year-old girl can get an abortion without her parents' consent, but that same teenage girl cannot see a film about abortion unless her parents are with her. This exposes the seared conscience of our culture. The R-rating was a gift, but it was poorly utilized by the film's promotional team.
Though in the movie abortion is shown to be the mortal death of unborn children, as far as I could tell it was connected with death only twice. It's called "murder" by the protestors outside the abortion clinic toward the start of the movie; then in a sobbing mess during her redemption scene, Abby says that she was complicit in having "killed" over 20,000 babies. (She said this while crying, and I can't be sure that "killed" was the word she used.)
It's widely known that Abby Johnson—speaking of the real-life Abby Johnson—strongly dislikes abortion protestors. She hates that anyone would stand outside an abortion clinic warning women about what actually goes on inside, which is the murder of innocent children. She's opposed to using graphic imagery like pictures of aborted babies—unless that graphic imagery is in her movie, I guess.
The movie depicts abortion protestors as fat, hairy slobs with bad teeth (I'm not kidding) carrying Bibles, hurling insults, and making death threats. But these are the only ones in the whole film to call abortion murder. The movie shows it's murder, but it won't say it's murder. Apparently us fat, hairy slobs who call abortion murder (I speak for myself) know something the filmmakers don't.
In one of the more contradictory sequences, Abby doubled-up all of her clinic's scheduled abortions in order to get them done before Hurricane Ike made landfall, and the scene is set to the song You're an Overcomer by Mandisa. It was like the film made Abby and her employees out to be heroes. What on earth were the filmmakers thinking? If I were Mandisa, I'd be horrified that my song was used in such a way. The movie regularly held up Abby as an accomplished woman, despite that her accomplishments were killing babies. Sometimes you had to wonder exactly whose side this movie is on.
The movie also portrays Abby's husband, Doug, as pro-life, but this man was not pro-life in the movie nor in real-life. As Jon Speed, pastor of Christ is King Baptist in NY, said in his review, "How in the world does someone who is pro-life marry someone who volunteers at Planned Parenthood?" If Doug truly cared about the lives of unborn children, he would not have married a woman who was complicit in the murder of three-dozen lives per day.
Speed goes on to say, "Abby told a journalist that her husband wanted her to work at the Planned Parenthood for a couple of weeks after she quit because they could not make it on one income. She couldn't take it after one week, so she quit. One more week killing babies surgically, handing out the bloody RU-486 to suburban teenagers, and doing an interview with a Feminist radio show the day after her mid-abortion conversion." (Check out Speed's review for the myths and the mythology of the movie and the pro-life movement.)
Doug and Abby are shown to be church-going Christians (their pastor is played by heretic Kris Vallotton of Bethel Church, which did most of the movie's soundtrack). When I say the film shows them as church-going Christians, I mean that in the story they were always church-going Christians. Abby was not an unbeliever who became a believer in this film. She never had a come-to-Jesus moment because the viewer is led to think she believed in God the entire time.
Her conversion in the story was from pro-abortion to pro-life, not from sinner to saint. When she's sobbing in her living room, she asks her husband how she will ever get over the guilt for the babies she killed. Doug says, "You say you're sorry and God will forgive you." She says, "But how can he do that?" Doug replies, "Because he's God."
If you went the rest of your life believing the message in that scene, you would still be dead in your sins and perish under the wrath of God on judgment day. We are forgiven when we know that we have sinned against a holy God and what we deserve is death, but God sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins and conquer death by rising again from the grave. All who believe in Him will not perish but will have His eternal life.
If we ask forgiveness for our sins, God cleanses us from all unrighteousness because Jesus died in our place—not "because he's God," but because He is "just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:26). He forgives because Christ has paid. We receive the immeasurable riches of His grace by faith in Christ alone and no other way. That's the gospel. When you hear that message and you believe it, you will turn from your sin and become a follower Jesus.
Abby never came to know that message in the movie, and she does not know it in real life either. Abby Johnson is a Catholic. In addition to not understanding the faith, she doesn't understand being pro-life. When legislation came up in Texas to abolish abortion and criminalize it as murder, Abby opposed it. "I do not support this bill because it is unconstitutional," she said. It's unconstitutional to criminalize murder? Abby went on to say, "I also do not support legislation that punishes women." Then who's responsible for abortion?
Like the real-life Abby's worldview, Unplanned leaves a lot of questions unanswered: Is abortion murder or not? If it's murder, who's at fault? If it's not murder, why is it wrong? How can a woman who has had an abortion be relieved of her guilt? How can the father of an aborted baby be relieved of his guilt? If a woman is convinced having an abortion is wrong, but she still doesn't think she can keep her baby, what else can she do? (See preborn.org for more info.)
As a movie, I liked the story. Movies can convey truth through storytelling, and I believe Unplanned does that very effectively—despite how uncertain the filmmakers were of their own message. When it comes to truth, we must be clear about what we are saying. We have been called to share the message of the gospel, the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes in Jesus, as God has planned.
Edit: Previously this article read that Abby Johnson "hates abortion protestors." I meant that she hates what they do, not that she hates the people themselves. The words "strongly dislikes" have been put in place of "hates."
The most common criticism I've received is that the goal of "Unplanned" was to raise awareness, not share the gospel. According to Abby Johnson, in her own words, this film was mostly about the "amazing, ready mercy of Jesus Christ that is available to everyone—whether you've been touched by abortion or not—that Christ is so ready to redeem us."
For answers to other common criticisms, please watch this video.