MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
If you are looking for controversy in our Christian faith, there is probably nothing more divisive than conversations around the subject of abortion. This topic is such a potential tinderbox that even our own Book of Discipline states that “Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion. But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother and the unborn child... We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control.” (¶161.II.K)
Neither does Planned Parenthood, an organization that offers birth control, family planning and health and wellness services along with safe abortions. But you wouldn’t know this by viewing Unplanned, a new film based on the memoir of Abby Johnson (Bratcher), a former director of Planned Parenthood who later left the organization to become involved with the pro-life groups “Forty Day for Life” (well represented in this movie) and “And Then There Were None”. Bratcher’s conversion story follows a convincing trajectory: She had two abortions while young and then volunteered at Planned Parenthood before eventually joining their staff. Viewing an ultrasound of a 13-week-old fetus during a routine abortion convinced her that she was participating in ending a life. And she saw the light.
There’s no denying Johnson’s personal integrity and willingness to change her point of view. But integrity is clearly in short supply in Unplanned. Rather than showing Planned Parenthood as an organization designed to help folks with reproductive decisions, the company is depicted as evil incarnate. Counseling is designed to guide women into choosing abortion even when there is obvious hesitation, since that’s where the money is made. Comparing how fast food restaurants make most of their profit on inexpensive but overpriced side items, the executive director (Emma Elle Roberts) says “Abortions are our fries and soda”. Depictions of abortion procedures onsite are bloody and a scene involving the RU-486 aborticide pill (used at home) is even bloodier, ending in a scene of bathroom carnage rivaling the murder in Psycho.
Even though this film is aimed at a Christian audience, the name of Jesus Christ is absent. When Abby is struggling with her past and wondering how God could possibly forgive her, a friend simply says: “Because He is God.” I’m sure that this elicits a smile and a nod from many viewers, but I wouldn’t call it the gospel.
Speaking of smiles, for some reason the film shifts gears in its last twenty minutes with Abby on the defense against her former employer. She hires a smirking lawyer (Kaiser Johnson) who advertises on billboards that “You’ll Get What’s Coming to You!” We never do see that trial (it happens offscreen) and I think the humor is meant to distract us from the fact that the screenwriters just didn’t know how to write a convincing courtroom scene.
Back in the fifties films like Blue Denim depicted sleazy abortions in backrooms as something to be feared. Unplanned depicts safe abortions as a fantasy foisted by pro-choice advocates. These days a woman’s right to a safe abortion are once again being challenged. While I would like to live in a world in which every birth is a blessing and every child wanted, until that day arrives, we need to provide the safest means to avoid unwanted pregnancy and compassionate alternatives to those who struggle with pregnancy as well as single parenthood. That’s for another film to handle, since Unplanned offers no such wisdom.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Three halos: A respectable pro-life message is not to be found in this sensational fact-skewering exploitation film.
One pitchfork: Extremely bloody and shocking depictions of abortions; mild swearing; social drinking.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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