The movie Unplanned, which tells the story of former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson’s conversion to the pro-life cause, has been a surprise niche hit. It has already earned some $12 million at the box office after just two weeks—twice its $6 million production cost. This, despite the fact that Unplanned earned an R rating because abortion isn’t pretty; was denied trailer advertising by every major television network except Fox; got briefly suspended from Twitter until pro-lifers complained; and garnered negative reviews from mainstream media film critics.
The nastiest review was published in the Guardian by Jordan Hoffman, who criticized the film’s portrayal of “[g]risly abortion procedures in which chunks of bloody fetal tissue slap against cold tile floors.” He’s describing the pill-fueled “medical abortion” Abby has as a young woman at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas, where she later works her way up the ladder from volunteer to director. Planned Parenthood’s cost-conscious protocol, contrary to federal Food and Drug Administration guidelines, requires that its abortion-pill patients expel their fetuses at home instead of in a clinical setting, which means that the “cold tile floors” are in Abby’s own bathroom, where, alone and in extreme pain, she bleeds far more profusely than she expects. In another scene, at the clinic itself, a teenage girl brought there by her father suffers a punctured uterus—which does happen in real life. “[S]o much blood,” the squeamish Hoffman complains.
But Hoffman’s real beef with Unplanned wasn’t the gore. It was the pro-life message—a message Hoffman found so alarming that he couldn’t stop talking about it, hauling in every extraneous argument he could think of: An African-American Planned Parenthood patient defies her weeping mother to stride into the clinic—so that means the movie must be racist. The Christian group Coalition for Life, whose members pray outside the clinic fence and beg patients to change their minds, “shames women.” The Bryan clinic finally goes out of business (as it did in real life), so Hoffman grumbles about “restricting women from their own constitutionally protected reproductive health.” In his last sentence he announces, “I’ll be making a donation to Planned Parenthood.” Is he a film critic or a pro-choice shill?
Hoffman is not alone in his personal investment. Forbes film critic Luke Y. Thompson announces in his review: “I have utilized Planned Parenthood for emergency birth control in the past.” Like Hoffman, Thompson works in a racism angle: Since Abby and most of the Coalition for Life people are white (as are 70 percent of Texans), “Unplanned ultimately posits the most bland whiteness as the ultimate signal of Christian goodness.” Thompson makes much of the fact that $1 million of the movie’s budget came from MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who—horror of horrors—contributed to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Lindell plays a cameo role in the film as a construction worker who knocks down the Planned Parenthood sign after the clinic folds. Thompson concludes: “[I]f you like Trump rallies, especially the ones featuring Mike Pence, this is probably the movie for you.”
Chicago Tribune reviewer Owen Gleiberman focuses almost exclusively on abortion politics. “The movie comes on like it’s trying to make converts, but what it’s really doing is mobilizing those on the pro-life side to come out and vote for politicians who will step up the legal assault on abortion rights,” Gleiberman writes. “‘Unplanned’…does a skillful job of using religious piety to conceal its underlying political agenda…It may look like it’s preaching, but it’s really campaigning.” And in case the reader didn’t get the message: “Unplanned” isn’t a good movie, but it’s effective propaganda.”
Gleiberman and his fellow reviewers are right: Unplanned isn’t a good movie. The acting is competent but not compelling. Steven D. Greydanus of the National Catholic Register has a fair assessment: He notes that instead of culminating with Abby’s conversion—when she assists with an abortion and sees a 13-week fetus on ultrasound helplessly trying to move away from the suction cannula dismembering it—Unplanned opens with this harrowing scene. This scene too patly assures its pro-life audience which side it is on, all with the help of Abby’s voice-over narration. Greydanus writes: “Imagine a version of this story that dared to open with the start of Abby’s first day” (which features shrill, Bible-toting anti-abortion protesters at their worst). “An opening like that would signal trust in the audience and in the power of the story to convey the message without handholding.”
I agree. Abby’s character isn’t convincing. Why would a young woman who has already had a ghastly abortion experience at a Planned Parenthood clinic want to take a job at that same clinic? Why is Abby so resolutely pro-choice throughout most of the movie (a series of flashbacks) when her parents and her husband are deeply religious and opposed to abortion? Unplanned could have explored possible tension points: Perhaps Abby, a graduate of Texas A&M University, absorbed too much liberal campus culture or saw a hookup scene that left girls feeling abandoned if they got pregnant. A more carefully constructed story arc would have shown the Planned Parenthood scales falling steadily from Abby’s eyes as she witnesses one morally problematic scene at the clinic after another. The abortion she watches on ultrasound should have been the final straw in a series of incidents—as the opening scene, it feels anticlimactic.
But though Unplanned has flaws as a movie, it is a compelling indictment of Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood really is Murder, Inc. As Abby’s Cruella De Vil boss, Cheryl, explains, abortion really is Planned Parenthood’s cash cow. The 332,757 abortions performed at Planned Parenthood’s affiliate clinics during fiscal 2017–2018 accounted for about 35 percent of the 926,000 or so abortions performed annually in the U.S. (and that doesn’t count the 1.79 million “emergency birth control” kits dispensed by Planned Parenthood that sometimes work as abortifacients).
Don’t believe Planned Parenthood’s oft-repeated canard that abortion accounts for only 3 percent of its services (a figure even liberal publications like the Washington Post have deemed misleading). Out of its $1.7 billion in annual revenue for 2017–2018, $365.7 million came from “non-governmental health services,” which essentially means abortions, since Planned Parenthood uses taxpayer funds (some $563.8 million in 2017–2018) to pay for the other services it dispenses (in an ever-diminishing number), such as contraceptives and STD tests. That means abortion likely accounts for at least 22 percent of Planned Parenthood’s annual revenues—it gets the 3 percent figure by unbundling its client services, so that each packet of birth-control pills counts separately. Furthermore, Planned Parenthood realized a $244.8 million “profit” in 2017–2018 and increased its asset stockpile to $1.8 billion. When Cheryl tells Abby, “Nonprofit is a tax status, not a business model,” she is not kidding.
Furthermore, Planned Parenthood’s “counselors” really do push abortion as virtually the only option for their pregnant patients (one of my own friends experienced this pressure at a Planned Parenthood facility). And it has worked tirelessly to discredit Abby Johnson’s story. First came a lawsuit (recounted in the movie) to slap a gag order onto her; a judge dismissed the claims a week later. Next, Planned Parenthood fed Texas Monthly a document that claimed no ultrasound-guided 13-week abortions, much less one witnessed by Johnson, had occurred on the crucial day of her 2009 conversion. The Texas Monthly article, implying that Johnson had made it all up, has worked its way into many a mainstream media review of the movie, including Hoffman’s and Thompson’s. (Johnson’s riposte in an April 8 article puts paid to Planned Parenthood’s and Texas Monthly’s claims.)
Everyone who cares about human life ought to see Unplanned. It’s not a perfect movie, but it is powerful—and that’s why it has the progressive media running scared.
Charlotte Allen is a writer living in Washington, D.C.