By Michael Battenfield
With some anticipation, I went to see “Unplanned,” the real-life story of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director. Going in, I entered a skeptic, as I generally do when a film is billed as a “Christian”, faith-based film, particularly from the Pure Flix label. As a staunchly pro-life Christian pastor, I enter such films with a thick biblical lens that tends to color my opinion.
“Unplanned” has received both critical acclaim and vitriolic panning, often based more on subject matter (abortion) than quality. The MPAA assigned an “R” rating to this film despite it containing no nudity, sexual content, or profanity, raising questions of bias. Without giving away spoiler details, rating was based on more than just the subject matter, as the gruesome opening series and multiple brutally honest (and bloody) depictions do beg some caution. This brutal honesty still does not justify the R rating, as many films receive a lower rating with far more blood and objectionable content.
The story unfolds from this opening scene and first-person narration, to a flashback to Abby’s Junior year at Texas A&M as a psychology major and her first contact with Planned Parenthood at an on-campus event. The story progresses in a well-timed progression of her rising in the ranks of that organization, eventually becoming the director of the Bryan, Texas location.
The drama unfolds with scenes of her own “bad decisions,” as the main character puts in in her narration, and even has a brief scene of church attendance with the familary text of Psalm 139: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”
“Unplanned” takes a serious, brutally honest look at the realities of abortion, particularly in the most infamous of provider Planned Parenthood. The movie depicts the corruption and evil nature of this profit-driven “non-profit” machine. This film also depicts Coalition For Life (now known as 40 Days For Life) in a positive light, in stark contrast to “other” groups (see below).
A major plus, particularly in comparison to the typical releases from Pure Flix: production quality. This is likely one of the best-produced films to come out of that company, with solid believable cast performances, quality camera work, and generally believable effects for the abortion scenes.
While “Unplanned” does provide an honest look at Planned Parenthood, it also depicts those outside the primarily Catholic 40 Days For Life organization as brutal bullies who try to shame abortion “clients.” While this may be true in some cases, this is not an accurate portrayal of the majority of those trying to save lives, though not affiliated with Catholic organizations.
Also, while heavily promoted to churches and Christians across denominational lines, this film is not a “Christian film.” It is not a gospel film. It is not a film that attempts to approach the eternally important themes of redemption, regeneration, or even saving faith. While the main character’s parents are strongly pro-life, even their faith is not specified in the film, nor is the background of Johnson being raised (according to her biography) Southern Baptist, but having fled from that denomination because of the church’s pro-life stand. She and her husband joined the Episcopal Church where she received support in her job at Planned Parenthood (again, not depicted in the film).
What the film also fails to show is that Abby Johnson has directly opposed legislation that would abolish abortion altogether, stating that it risks previous less-restrictive victories. She has also, since converting to Roman Catholicism, strongly denounced groups that proclaim the gospel at abortion mills. This is particularly troubling as it is the gospel itself that changes hearts, it is the gospel that can provide the restoration to God that all the soft-talk and prayers alone can never bring.
Abby’s own “conversion” – on the subject of abortion itself – is followed by tears and the question how she could ever be forgiven; with husband simply stating that God loves her and that “He is God.” No mention of repentance or faith. nothing about the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. Indeed, while many articles (including one in Baptist Press) about Abby Johnson include the term “her Christian faith”, no mention in the film nor in any of those articles ever mention any form of spiritual conversion or even a description of what that means, and it certainly doesn’t fit the storyline of a believer who grew up “Southern Baptist” to become a Planned Parenthood clinic director. Neither the film, nor any other record of this story calls abortion “sin” or something that should be repented of. There is “sorrow” expressed, but no illustration of faith or repentance.
Should you watch?
If one can go with the sole purpose of seeing a film that puts a serious face to the abortion industry, including the very real horrors and deception engaged in on a regular basis, then go see the film. But if you are looking for a film as gospel tool, or as a faith-building experience, this wouldn’t be the movie for you, as you will come away disappointed. I left the theater sensing the lack of the gospel mirrors the real story of Abby Johnson, and a desire to pray for her.
If this review hasn’t jaded you toward this film, and you simply want to see the change of heart of a woman from pro-choice to pro-life (mostly), and to gain a tiny peek into the real world of Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry, go see it. This film does deal a blow to the pro-choice position and could help change minds. Just don’t go looking for Jesus, because He is left out of the picture.
Michael Battenfield is a husband, father, and passionate minister of the gospel who currently serves as the pastor of a small, growing church in northwest Arkansas.