Unplanned: an Honest, Accurate and Persuasive Appeal to Stop the Killing
Theodore K Fenske
As a practicing physician, parent of three children, and long-time member of the Christian Medical and Dental Association of Canada, I strongly endorse the film, Unplanned, and commend its viewing to everyone (teenaged and older). This also includes those who are against abortion, those who are committed to promoting this so-called “reproductive health choice,” as well as those who are either ambivalent on the issue or, if pressed, feel abortion should be permitted. For the former group, my hope is that the film would encourage active involvement in pro-life work, and for the others, that it might awaken a clearer understanding as to the horror of abortion, and stimulate a rethink of their stance.
To get a feel for the film’s initial reception, I scanned a variety of reviews before watching it myself. Not surprisingly, it was a love/hate uptake, with some reviewers lauding its content, courage, and veracity, and others saying quite the opposite. One such negative review really took me aback. Describing the film as a “morality tale.” National Post writer, Chris Knight, criticised the film as being “useless propaganda and poorly made cinema packed with lies.” Needless to say, my interest was piqued. But as a result of reading all the negative critiques, I started having doubts about the film quality myself. I was concerned that, while intending to deliver a clear pro-life message, the production company, Pure Flix (God’s Not Dead, The Case for Christ, A Question of Faith), may have overstated certain features of the abortion debate in the film, all the while avoiding the more embarrassing bits, and deliberately exaggerating other aspects. Many movie producers do this, of course, and to their film’s detriment. As I sat down in the packed-out theatre with my wife, popcorn in one hand and Twizzlers in the other, I braced myself for disappointment. Fortunately, none came. Quite the opposite, in fact. From the riveting opening scene of the real-time ultrasound-guided abortion, to the concluding credits scrolling along to the thoughtful soundtrack, I experienced a whole host of feelings: shock, guilt, revulsion, confusion, anger, nausea, and an alarming degree of deep-down grief. But no disappointment. Like other challenging films, such as Schindler’s List and The Passion of The Christ, the movie left me beaten up, but didn’t let me down.
The film unashamedly brings attention to the reality of the abortion procedure. While “pro-choice” activists might prefer this information be kept behind closed doors, the bottom line of abortion is that babies are killed. There’s no denying this. After it’s all said and done, innocent lives are lost, and in unfathomable numbers. Rhetorical claims to freedom of choice can’t hide this truth. The producer of the film had a pro-life agenda, to be sure, but the notion that one can hold to a neutral position on abortion is a complete myth. The abortion activists certainly don’t sit on so-called neutral ground as they bully conscientiously objecting physicians, and should certainly not decry the production of a pro-life perspective, regardless of how revealing its images may be and persuasive its message. There is an important difference between propaganda and persuasion that needs to be understood. The film does not use misleading audiovisuals to manipulate viewers, nor cheap theatrics, nor does it rely upon misinformation. While Mr. Knight criticized the film for misrepresenting Planned Parenthood’s abortion agenda, he didn’t substantiate his charges, (very similar, in fact, to the failed lawsuit launched by Planned Parenthood against the film’s real-life protagonist, Abby Johnson). The abortion statistics available in the public domain certainly support the film’s concerns. For example, although the number of abortions performed in the US has fallen off in recent years owing to improved contraception access, Planned Parenthood’s share of the abortion market has substantially grown. The group’s own annual report indicates that the number of abortions provided by its clinics amounted to more than half of all the officially reported abortions in the U.S. Nothing short of an aggressive marketing strategy and shrewd business model could account for this expansion in the face of an overall national decline.
From a medical standpoint, the depiction of the abortion procedure in the film is accurate. I know this from experience and recall it now with some embarrassment. During my training, I spent numerous days in the Vancouver Women’s Pavilion surgical suites providing anaesthesia for long slates of abortion cases. I remember all too well the vacutainer filling in spurts and starts with blood and body parts, as the gynecologist made light of the situation with attempts at dark humor and distracting comments about golfing or the stock market. It sickened me then, and recalling the film’s opening scene, sickens me still. I can appreciate how witnessing the black and white ultrasound image of the baby fetus being suctioned apart, juxtaposed with the bright red blood filling the container, was so horrifying to Abby Johnson that she not only resigned as Clinic Director, but made her life mission one of pro-life activism.
The film doesn’t limit its emphasis to the surgical suite and the abortion procedure, but thoughtfully delves into a full array of the subject’s complexities. There are recurring scenes which take place at the Planned Parenthood Clinic’s parking lot fence, for example, depicting the communications that employees and patients have with various groups of protesters. Some of these interactions, such as the angry accusations shouted by clinic staff to those at the fence and their immature use of the sprinkler system to purposely soak them, or the protesters dressed in Grim Reaper costumes yelling vulgarities at arriving patients, expose ugly aspects of the abortion debate. However, there are also numerous tender scenes that take place at the fence, as well, depicting pro-life groups praying over the clinic, holding vigil for the unborn, and making tireless attempts to engage patients and staff in relational conversation. This is important because although this is a hyper-polarized, emotionally-supercharged topic, if an end to abortion is to be realized, it won’t be from argumentation alone, but will require the development of genuine caring relationships. The film portrays well the inner turmoil and anguish experienced by expectant mothers who are struggling with an unwanted pregnancy, and underscores their vulnerability and need for compassionate care. In addition, the film emphasizes not only the need for life-giving alternatives to pregnancy termination, but the importance of extending compassion to those involved in abortion clinic work and pro-abortion activism.
Despite the negative media coverage of the film and the imposed limited theatre run, Unplanned has swept the nation, selling out in theatres from coast to coast, even on weeknight viewings. Supplemented by numerous private buy-outs across the country, the film has even reached the number one position for per screen average in North America, and is positioned for an extensive global expansion. The timing of the film is critical because lives are hanging in the balance, and momentum is building to help counter our current abortion-on-demand status. With the growing number of American states passing “heartbeat” bills in the US, which will ban abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy, the day may be drawing nearer when the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case of Roe v.Wade gets overturned. This would be welcome news for prolife advocacy groups worldwide, particularly in our nation, where abortion is without legal restriction and remains lawful at all stages of pregnancy. Advocacy and resolve will be needed to stop this killing. Make sure to take an important step in this direction and plan to see Unplanned.