On March 30, I went to see Unplanned with various members of Trinity University’s student organization Tigers For Life, a pro-life club. The movie is based on Abby Johnson’s story as she became a director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, TX, and eventually became an outspoken pro-life activist.
I am an active member of Tigers For Life and consider myself knowledgeable about abortion and Planned Parenthood, as the club often hosts tables on campus to talk to our peers about abortion and other pro-life options available to women. I thought I was prepared to watch Abby Johnson’s story.
I was wrong.
Before seeing Unplanned, abortion was something that I knew about in clinical terms. I knew that suction was used to forcibly remove the unborn child from the mother’s womb. I knew that abortion is a traumatic experience for women, and that it has lasting physical and psychological effects on women. However, all of this knowledge was abstract to me.
But when watching the movie, I watched those facts and numbers and figures become the stories of the women with whom Abby Johnson interacted. I had to turn away when Johnson saw the ultrasound of a woman’s baby as it was being aborted. I cried when the fetus tried to move away from the probe, as the baby struggled desperately to save its own life.
Throughout the movie, Johnson’s Planned Parenthood clinic was watched and prayed over by a group called 40 Days for Life. Johnson had multiple conversations with the members of the group, as she often had to interact with them in order to bring patients into the clinic. The movie showed two very different pro-life groups. One was 40 Days for Life, as they peacefully prayed outside the clinic and tried to offer help and other options to the women who were scheduled to have abortions. The other group were not peaceful nor at all helpful.
In the movie, the people who were a part of 40 Days for Life condemned the other group. The other group is what some pro-choicers try to paint all pro-lifers as. People who shame women for having an abortion, and who hate them for having to make a difficult, terrible choice. They were the ones waving signs with graphic pictures of abortion and its effects on a fetus. And Unplanned did a wonderful job of showing audiences that that is not what the pro-life movement is about. Everyone whom Abby interacted with at 40 Days for Life was understanding and compassionate. While they disagreed with abortion and found it wrong, they did not hurl insults at the women at the Planned Parenthood clinic. We should not condemn someone for their beliefs or for their actions. We can only look at them with compassion and sympathy, and help those around us find a solution for their problems.
Because those with 40 Days for Life were so compassionate and understanding, they became the people to whom Johnson turned when she realized all of the evil that was happening at Planned Parenthood. I—and many others in the audience, judging by the loud sniffling and quiet sobbing that filled the theater—cried with Abby Johnson as her movie-representation cried over all of the lives she had ended.
After Johnson became pro-life, she shared a statistic that immediately caught my attention. She told Shawn Carney, the president of 40 Days for Life, that if people are praying outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic, then almost 75% of the women will not show up for their abortion appointments. Oftentimes, I feel useless when doing pro-life work. It feels like no matter how much our group tables on campus, or however much volunteer work we do, our work doesn’t affect those around us. I think that many people feel the same way. But in the movie, Johnson told Carney that, “You can’t even see how much your work actually does.” And that inspires me to keep going and to keep working. Maybe I can’t see how my actions are actually affecting those around me, but I have to have faith that my small words and deeds really can make a difference.
Unplanned opened my eyes to abortion. It forced me to confront abortion. I walked into the movie theatre with a knowledge of abortion, but I was emotionally closed off from it. I was closed off from the horror that is purposefully killing an innocent life. I didn’t let myself think about how truly terrible abortion is, even if I had a vague idea that abortion is bad. Unplanned forced me to confront abortion, and has made me even more eager to do what I can to help the pro-life movement.
Cover image courtesy of Victoria Ydens; depicting Tigers for Life attending Unplanned.