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Beyond abortion polemics, “Unplanned” gets personal

Abby Johnson’s personal story is more powerful than a political treatise ever could be.

Abby Johnson, portrayed by Ashley Bratcher, reacts to what she is seeing on the ultrasound screen while assisting with an abortion in this clip from the movie "Unplanned." (

MPAA Rating: R
Reel Rating: 4 out of 5

My mother gave me the book Unplanned a few years ago, saying she heard Abby Johnson speak and immediately bought me a signed copy. I was vaguely aware of her story: the former Planned Parenthood director turned pro-life advocate. I started her memoir…and didn’t make it past the third chapter. I couldn’t handle it. You can imagine my unease when I heard there was a film adaptation in the works. If the book was too much for me, how could I possibly see the movie? This visual adaptation was indeed direct, honest, and difficult to watch, but it was also, in the end, hopeful.

Both the book and film begin with the turning point in Abby’s conversion, when she is asked to assist in an ultrasound-guided abortion and witnesses firsthand the torture and execution of a fetus in real time. It’s a heartbreaking scene, but only the first of many. It was impressive how the directors Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon were able to dramatize an abortion visually in a manner that was direct and brutal but not offensive or unnecessarily graphic.

Most of the story is told as a narrated flashback from this event, beginning in college when Abby volunteers as a Planned Parenthood clinic escort, distracting pregnant mothers from protesters and getting them inside the clinic quickly. She soon becomes a professional counselor, genuinely believing that she is helping women make sound life decisions, but admitting that she was “selling abortion hard,” having two abortions of her own in the meantime. Eventually, Abby becomes the clinic director, even winning awards from Planned Parenthood for her track record. Unlike her predecessor, she engages pro-life protestors directly and discovers they are not as monstrous as she was lead to believe. These scenes of interaction occur through the fence of the abortion clinic’s gated fortress; cinematographer Drew Maw films Abby in a way that suggests both the bars of a prison and the grille of a confessional.

Unlike other PureFlix films like God’s Not Dead or The Case for Christ, Unplanned is not a treatise, but a personal story. That has the potential to sway more hearts than any syllogism.

Throughout the film, Abby claims to be a good Christian. In her first conversation with a Planned Parenthood representative, she tells the perky girl in the pink cowgirl hat that she “figures she is pro-life because her family is.” The volunteer agrees, “Planned Parenthood is working to make abortion rare, but if a woman does make that choice, it should be safe.” Abby continues to attend church services, read the Bible, and pray throughout her journey, although not every church is welcoming. She becomes an expert at compartmentalizing. At she tells her daughter that a coworker “had a nosebleed,” and that’s why there’s blood on mommy’s shoes; she interprets a promotion as a sign from God that she’s doing the right thing. Yet, there are always those pesky protestors who seem to have an answer for every objection, and who treat Abby with a kindness not found in her corporate overlords.

One of my biggest worries was how Unplanned would handle the Planned Parenthood employees. If the filmmakers went too far in demonizing the opposition, it would be easy to write off Unplanned as unrealistic or biased. This was not the case. Most of the nurses and staff at Abby’s clinic are portrayed as normal, usually-compassionate individuals who believe they are promoting a noble cause. When Abby is pregnant, her co-workers throw her a baby shower right in the clinic. For the purposes of narrative, the “true villains” are the Planned Parenthood administrators and doctors who seem less with safety than with image and profits.

It must be said that the movie can be a bit wordy at times. Though nowhere nearly as preachy as Courageous or Fireproof, some of the conversations do drag. A bigger concern is the intended audience. It would be hard to call Unplanned entertainment, although there is a healthy amount of levity to take the audience through the horrific moments. Nor could it be used as a devotional piece like The Passion of the Christ. I’d like to think it could be used in schools as an educational tool, but it is not really appropriate for a setting younger than college. It’s hard to find the niche where this movie could thrive.

This movie was difficult to experience; more than once I took off my glasses to purposely obscure my vision, especially during the fallout from a chemical abortion. Nonetheless, I was glad I saw it, and even gladder it cracked the top five at the box office last weekend. Unplanned is a testament to the truth, and the more people know about the abortion industry, the harder it is to obscure that truth.

Disclaimer: There was a significant amount of controversy when the MPAA gave Unplanned a restricted rating (R), preventing anyone under 17 seeing it without a guardian. It is a grave evil and irony that in many states a woman under 17 could obtain an abortion without parental consent or even knowledge but could not see a film about abortion. However, this is the fault of our society, not the MPAA. Unplanned contains several scenes that graphically but honestly portray abortion and its aftermath. The R rating is appropriate. Please remember that the MPAA only rates films based on their content, not their moral outlook.

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About Nick Olszyk 190 Articles
Nick Olszyk teaches theology at Marist Catholic High School in Eugene, Oregon. He was raised on bad science fiction movies, jelly beans, and TV shows that make fun of bad science fiction movies. Visit him online at his website, Catholic Cinema Crusade.


  1. Thank you, Catholic World Report for this article, and at least mentioning the movie. I have seen it it I thought it was great! I had wet eyes quite a few times, even for the PPH executive that actually thought she was serving women. For quite a few years now the phrase “a woman’s right to choose” has disgusted me. They say that are pro-choice but what they are is pro-death. Most women have no idea what an abortion actually is and this movie really brings it out. The pro-lifers are winning the fight against abortion and I really believe that in the future people will look back on these years that abortion has been legal and think “How could we have been so uncaring. How could we have been so stupid!” We do this now for the treatment of the American Indian and the treatment of African-Americans with slavery and we will do it with abortion. Let’s think about it…..there is a reason it’s called abortion. Everyone should see this movie!

  2. The movie industry gave Unplanned an R rating because they back Planned Parenthood and is trying to discourage people from seeing the movie. There is more violence and bad language in a PG13 then Unplanned

  3. Good review. I sidewalk counseled in front of a PP clinic for nearly 20 years. We had our own “Abby Johnson” but she never went public. After her departure PP put much more cold hearted directors in charge. There were a few pleasant employees… one would even let us know if there were no “procedures “ that day (particularly if the weather was bad). But most of the staff grew colder and angrier as the years passed. That’s what killing kids will do to a soul.

  4. I saw the movie a few weeks ago. For the life of me I cannot imagine anyone seeing the opening scene in which a fetus is trying to defend itself from attack yet is systematically pulled apart without being moved.

    We live in evil times.

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