Movie Review: Unplanned
Unplanned films are not good films, but this is effective propaganda – or, at least, if you belong to the targeted group: those who believe that abortion in America, even though it is a legal right, is really a crime. It’s hard to imagine a film that attracts a lot of audiences outside of its own chosen demographics. “Unplanned” preaching to pro-life choirs, and it does so by making cases of abortion absolute and extreme, at certain points turning “facts” into conspiracy narratives. (Planned Parenthood is described as a profit-driven corporation such as Standard Oil.)
But “Unplanned” also does work that is skilled at using religious piety to hide the underlying political agenda. The film is based on memoirs by Abby Johnson, an anti-abortion activist who worked for eight years at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas. He began as a volunteer, escorted women from their cars past protesters at the gate, then rose to become director of the clinic, overseeing thousands of abortions; from the start, he did two abortions on his own. This film is a conversion story about how Johnson evolved from a pro-choice attitude to the belief that abortion – any abortion – is wrong. At the end of the film, a title tells us that the activist organization he participated in, 40 Days for Life, has issued 500 workers to get out of what he described as “the abortion industry.” He offers telephone numbers for other people as they call.
But the idea that abortion in America will end if only those who give them experience a leap of conscience are nothing more than canard, fig leaves for the film’s real agenda. “Unplanned” came at a time when the Supreme Court was tilted, for the first time since the 1960s, in a very conservative direction, and when abortion laws were eaten by state legislatures and conservative judges. The film appears like it is trying to make people repent, but what it really does is mobilize people on the pro-life side to get out and vote for politicians who will increase the legal attack on abortion rights. This film combines melodramatic manipulation and cold calculation. This may look like a sermon, but this is really a campaign.
It began as a pro-life alarm horror film, and it was not a difficult thing to do, because Abby, even when he was in the pro-choice phase, made the point that “abortion is not beautiful.” Abby is played, by the attractive Ashley Bratcher, as a crusader who is less than an ordinary woman, full of feelings of brotherhood that she longs to be active, even when she marries a holy Christian man (Brooks Ryan) who is completely anti-abortion, like also his parents. (And they are all very calm about it; as if you were being pro-life and being one of those blessed, losing anger or self-doubt.) “Unplanned” opened with experience, eight years became Abby’s job at Planned Parenthood, which produce the last turn against abortion. Having never actually witnessed one, he was suddenly called to help in an ultrasound-guided abortion of a 13-week-old fetus, and what he saw on the monitor looked like a baby reacting to what was done to him.
The film was then played back eight years, and we witnessed several incidents that escalated in the disaster: Abby’s first abortion (the result of a relationship with an older woman in her apartment building), then the second (after she married and divorced a homeless), was induced with RU pill -486, which a woman at the clinic told her would make it easy, only with some “mild” bleeding. Instead, after taking the pill, Abby thought he was dying, because he was wracked with extreme pain and the bleeding was not at all mild.
This was followed by the moral horror that Abby felt when a high school girl, was taken to a clinic by her father, suffered severe bleeding and other complications, and the head of the clinic, a women’s rights activist who was not imprisoned, Cheryl (Robia Scott), refused to call ambulance. That’s because the protesters will see – and potentially record – an ambulance, and will therefore hurt the cause.
Obviously, for health clinics to refuse medical treatment that is right for anyone it cannot be maintained. But the director of “Unplanned,” Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon, seemed immune to the fact that Cheryl’s cowardly motivation – he was reluctant to do anything that could help others – would not be in the first place if the legal rights to abortion were not carried out on ice as thin that. Do protesters have errors? Of course they don’t! In “Unplanned,” trauma and inhumanity only cuts one way. Films, which are told in a didactic style flat from ideological Sunday school lessons, are not interested in the real life of girls and women who want to end their pregnancy. It only sees their choices as wrong and says that their lives, by definition, will work better if they make different choices. The risks and catastrophes of illegal abortion, of course, have never been mentioned.
At an expo, a representative of Planned Parenthood assured Abby that the organization was about reducing the number of abortions (which among others were). And that’s why he joined. But since he volunteered, he was involved in sympathetic dialogue with demonstrators outside. Some of them are bellicose, carrying photographs of a disabled fetus, but members of the Coalition for a better and softer life. They don’t believe in strong tactics; they believe in persuasion through love. Cheryl, who finally anointed Abby as the clinic director, was described as a corporate wizard – Cruella de Vil from abortion – who greeted every question about her method as heresy. It was he who revealed what the film presented as Planned Parenthood’s dirty secret: that organizations make the most money from abortion, and therefore – according to “Not Planned” – the hidden agenda is to maximize the number of abortion procedures performed. This organization is described as an abortion factory.
Planned Parenthood is just as imperfect as any bureaucracy, but the idea that the painful decision to have an abortion, for tens of thousands of women, secretly guided by profit motives is a deviant and arguably paranoid view. But it plays into a sense of outrage right now, which is co-opting the anti-establishment trope of the 60s, resulting in a feverish type of fake rebel that allows Donald Trump to rise by running against big government and big business. In “Unplanned,” babies, families, and Christian love are all attacked by the abortion industry. The only salvation came when Abby looked at the ultrasound image and saw the light. No one argues with this point of view, and that’s the whole problem. “Unplanned” sees man himself in black and white.