Pureflix’s Unplanned (based on the book of the same name)tells the story of Abby Johnson (Ashley Bratcher), a director of a Planned Parenthood clinic who in 2009 left the organization and joined the pro-life cause. Unplanned is the story of her journey.
I was nervous when I read the film was written by the writers of God’s Not Dead. I had a lot of problems with that film as I detailed in my review five years ago. I was pleasantly surprised to find Unplanned to be a focused, well-produced film. With one exception, it stayed away from negative stereotypes and presented a loving and redemptive Christian message.
The film’s characters are complex and realistic. The personnel of the Planned Parenthood clinic, outside of one abortionist, are portrayed as dedicated and believing they’re doing a good service for women, even while they find aspects of their work emotionally disturbing. Planned Parenthood referred to the room where aborted babies are re-assembled as the POC room. POC officially stands for Product of Conception but the film had its own definition of the acronym: Pieces of Children.
The film highlights an encounter Abby Johnson has on her first day volunteering at Planned Parenthood, where a man hatefully screams at a woman entering the clinic. The scene is meant to illustrate the ineffectiveness of such a vitriolic approach and the film hints this man helped to push Johnson towards working for Planned Parenthood.
However, most of the film’s portrayals of Christians are more positive. Johnson’s parents and her husband both oppose her work at Planned Parenthood and her continued work there is emotionally painful. However, they do love her and don’t try to make everything about her work, although there are moments when the disagreements flare up. Still, there’s no question they care about her, and that can be seen when they protectively come together around her after the murder of George Tiller while attending church.
Shawn (Jared Lotz) and Marilisa (Emma Elle Roberts) Carney are leaders in the local Coalition for Life and portray a winsome and compassionate attitude in their interactions with Johnson, even as Johnson began as very hostile to them based on the behavior of other protestors.
Unplanned grasps film as a visual medium and communicates a lot with short moments and brief bits of dialogue. Thus, the scenes featuring secondary characters compliment Johnson’s story without distracting from it or bogging it down.
For me, one of the most powerful scenes in the film was when a man from a waste disposal business brought out a barrel containing the remains of aborted babies and Shawn Carney asked to pray over it. It’s heartbreaking, and this scene and several others communicate how gut-wrenching it is for the Carneys to continue to engage in a pro-life battle where they are often quite alone and the odds are against them.
Ashley Bratcher does a superb job playing Johnson through all the highs and lows that she goes through. Bratcher plays Johnson with absolutely sincerity in every step she takes, believing through her work, she’s actually reducing the number of abortions. This intense sincerity leaves Johnson willing to defy everyone she knows in her life who loves her in order to do her job for Planned Parenthood. When a hurricane’s bearing down and will force the clinic’s closure on its normal abortion day, Johnson develops a plan to get all these women to their appointments. Bratcher also portrays Johnson as an equally passionate advocate against the organization when she finally changes her mind.
There has been some controversy regarding the film’s R-Rating. It has no sexual content or language above what would merit a PG-rating, however it deals with abortion as it is. While it’s not as graphic as many abortion placards, it has some uncomfortable moments in it. Johnson assists an abortion that is shown on an ultrasound. Johnson’s own chemical abortion goes wrong and the severe bleeding and pain she experienced is show on-screen. Another young woman’s uterus was perforated during an abortion and Johnson notices the young woman bleeding in the recovery room.
I’d say the film’s content makes the decision of an R-rating vs. a PG-13 rating a bit of a gray area. The MPAA was not necessarily biased in choosing the R-rating. However, it does create an absurd situation in many states where a sixteen-year-old girl would not be allowed to see this film unaccompanied but could down to an abortion clinic and have a procedure portrayed in the film performed on herself without parental consent and possibly have the same sort of complications as portrayed in the film.
In terms of quality, the film did have minor issues. Much like Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer, in terms of production, Unplanned felt like it would have made more sense as a TV movie or Netflix original rather than a theatrical release. However, the reality is, due to bias, no TV network would have greenlit this film, which necessitated the theatrical release.
The roughest part of the film in terms of quality is the beginning. It starts with a strong dramatic opening with Johnson participating in the abortion that brings her to the moment of crisis. The film moves several years back in time to when she was first recruited by Planned Parenthood and her first day volunteering for them. Then the film goes back a few more years to recount Johnson’s abortions and her bad first marriage before returning to her early career at Planned Parenthood. This may have been true to Johnson’s book, but it makes the film hard to follow until it settles into a chronological narrative.
The other potential issue with this movie is the character of Cheryl (Robia Scott.) Cheryl is director of the local Planned Parenthood when Johnson comes to volunteer and grooms Abby as her successor when she’s set to go to work for the state organized. While other Planned Parenthood employees are portrayed as normal human characters, Cheryl seems way over the top. Planned Parenthood staff hide that they’re going to throw Johnson a baby shower because they don’t want Cheryl to find out. She’s controlling, abusive, makes the decision to not call the hospital for the woman with the perforated uterus, and when she enjoys a leadership role over the state of Texas, commands all the clinics to increase the number of abortions they sell and gives Johnson a lecture on how Planned Parenthood is an abortion provider. Later, when Johnson switches to pro-life counseling outside the clinic she used to direct, Cheryl came down from the state headquarters to deliver a villainous threat.
Unplanned is based on a true story. While it seems to cut against the rest of the film, that doesn’t make the portrayal of Cheryl unrealistic. As various exposes of Planned Parenthood have shown, including the hidden videos taken by the Center for Medical Progress, some people who work for that organization are unethical and unpleasant. Based on the way she’s written, it also seems likely Cheryl is a composite of a few
Overall, Unplanned is a difficult movie to watch, but it’s solidly written and acted. It has several messages that flow organically out of the story. For Christians and pro-life activists, the film has a lot to say about the importance of acting with kindness and grace. Through the Carneys’ example, there’s also a strong encouragement to stand firm and be faithful even if it feels like your efforts are wasted. When she left Planned Parenthood, Johnson revealed to the Carneys that on the days people were praying outside the clinics, the number of cancellations skyrocketed.
At the same time, the film portrays the power of God’s grace to women who’ve had abortions, and to those who’ve been involved in the abortion industry. Since her departure from Planned Parenthood, Johnson has had a strong focus on helping others leave the abortion Industry through her organization And Then There Were None. The credits stated Johnson’s organization had helped 500 abortion clinic workers leave the industry. As of earlier this month, ninety-four additional workers had contacted Johnson’s organization. That number is more important than the film’s decent box office totals in gauging the film’s success.