March 22, 2019

Based on book, Unplanned film on abortion shares a faith-filled story of ‘hope, forgiveness and love’

Actress Ashley Bratcher, portraying Abby Johnson, reacting to what she sees on an ultrasound screen while assisting with an abortion in this clip from the movie Unplanned. The movie will officially be released on March 29, although in some locations it can be seen as early as March 25. (Film clip courtesy of www.Unplanned.com.)

Actress Ashley Bratcher, portraying Abby Johnson, reacting to what she sees on an ultrasound screen while assisting with an abortion in this clip from the movie Unplanned. The movie will officially be released on March 29, although in some locations it can be seen as early as March 25. (Film clip courtesy of www.Unplanned.com.)

By Natalie Hoefer

Abby Johnson’s life had already become an open book. Next week, it will also become a national box office film.

“It’s not a film inspired by my life story,” she said. “It is my life story.”

Johnson, 38, is a former pro-choice Planned Parenthood facility director turned national pro-life advocate. She spoke on March 14 during a webinar about the film, Unplanned, which is based on her 2011 book of the same name.

The movie officially opens in theaters on the weekend of March 29. But through theater buyouts by groups, the film can be viewed in some places as early as March 25—appropriately, the feast of the Annunciation of the Lord.

As suggested in the film’s tagline, “What she saw changed everything,” Johnson said the movie “will expose [viewers] to the truth of what happens inside the abortion industry.”

But mostly, she noted, the film is about the “amazing, ready mercy of Jesus Christ that is available to everyone—whether you’ve been touched by abortion or not—that Christ is so ready to redeem us.”

‘I signed on to truly amplify God’

Johnson admitted that the release of the film has made her feel “vulnerable.”

After watching the film for the first time with her husband Doug in their Colorado home, she felt a bit of panic.

“I looked at Doug and said, ‘Is it too late? Can I back out?’ I felt so exposed, especially the scene with my RU-486 [chemical] abortion,” Johnson said.

“I had to remind myself that I didn’t sign on to do this film to make ‘Abby Johnson’ a household name. I signed on to truly amplify God and make him a household name and show his redeeming power. None of this is about me. This is his story,” she said emphatically.

Johnson’s story of God’s redemption in her life began to unfold in September 2009. Johnson, then one of Planned Parenthood’s youngest facility directors, was called in to assist with an abortion.

What she saw on the ultrasound convinced her that what she’d been told about abortion—and what she’d repeated to women for nearly 22,000 abortions during her eight years working for Planned Parenthood—was grossly wrong.

This story, said Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., “has the power to open hearts, change minds and inspire people.” He is chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities and spoke during the webinar.

He compared Johnson’s story of conversion to that of Saul-to-St. Paul, but “for the pro-life movement.”

“I think stories are the way people are moved today, not so much by reason,” Archbishop Naumann said. “And film in particular has the ability to inspire people.”

While her story had already been told in her book, Abby agreed to spread that story further when she was approached by two men roughly five years ago about making her book into a movie.

“It’s one thing to read something in a book, but we know that visual [images] can be very impactful for us,” she said.

‘It’s about … hope, forgiveness and love’

Johnson didn’t say yes to just anyone to share her story on film. Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon are devoutly Catholic Christian men with years of experience in the film industry.

The two men, friends since childhood, have written and co-produced numerous Christian box office movies, including The Book of Daniel, Do You Believe?, and three God’s Not Dead films. They wrote the script for Unplanned, and also donned directors’ hats for the film

Konzelman and Solomon, who were not part of the webinar, granted an interview with The Criterion the same evening.

Miracles abounded throughout the filming, they said, including an unsolicited donation of $1 million from Michael Lindell, inventor of My Pillow and CEO of My Pillow, Inc. At the time of Lindell’s donation, Solomon said there was $13.17 left in the film’s bank account.

They’ve shown the film to people “all over the U.S.,” said Solomon. “And everyone has the same reaction: ‘This is going to free every woman who’s had an abortion.’ It’s not about anger or blame, but hope and forgiveness and love.”

Solomon noted one person long on the pro-choice side of abortion who nevertheless shared the same positive reaction after watching the film: a former nurse of abortionist Kermit Gosnell, who was sentenced to life in prison with no parole in 2013 for his illegal abortion practices, and for at least one woman and three born infants who died under his care.

“We asked her, ‘What do you think?’” said Solomon. “And she said, ‘On that screen, I saw nothing but love.’ We’ve got that on film.”

Unplanned provides an opportunity not just to observe compassion, but to experience it as well. At the end of the film, Johnson said, a number will appear on the screen.

“So if a woman is in a crisis pregnancy, needs help after an abortion, if a man needs post-abortion help, if someone works or worked in the [abortion] industry—there will be help for them right after the film … staffed 24/7,” she explained.

It is just such compassion and help that post-abortion women and men need, said Vicki Thorn during the webinar. She is executive director of the National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing and founder of the Project Rachel post-abortion ministry.

She noted that women can “keep [their abortion] a secret for a long time. … Abortion is an isolating issue. Women are alone in the decision and the aftermath.” For them, she added, “This film can be a tool of healing.”

Johnson agreed.

“I think women who have had an abortion will have some vindication” after watching Unplanned, she said. “Their voices are silenced. They’re told that [having an abortion] is no big deal. … That’s what happened to me. ...

“This film shows it’s not normal, it’s not an easy process to go through. … It will help them find their voice.”

Archbishop Naumann also pointed out the film’s depiction of the positive role that pro-life sidewalk counselors played in Johnson’s walk from the abortion industry.

“It shows how pro-life advocates that pray and respectfully interact with those involved with abortion or that are thinking about having an abortion, that they can really have an impact,” he said.

‘Not a political event, but a conversion story’

Johnson expressed hope that the film, too, will inspire those involved with abortion to leave that industry.

She’s even given them a place to turn for help. In 2012, Johnson started a non‑profit organization called “And Then There Were None” to help abortion clinic workers leave the abortion industry.

So far, the ministry has “helped almost 500 people leave their job, find Christ and get into our program with therapy that can help them,” she said.

The film has also provided Johnson a second way to reach abortion workers. She purchased and is mailing tickets for Unplanned to abortion facilities near theaters showing the film. She’ll include a letter inviting feedback on the movie.

The goal is to “open up a dialogue with those who are pro-choice,” she explained. “We have to always be open to plant those seeds that the Holy Spirit can nurture in their life. ...

“On the other hand, some have said it’s only going to be Christians who see the film. I say fantastic. If half of the people sitting in our churches were taking more action,” she said, then abortion might not exist today.

Archbishop Naumann encouraged priests to talk to their congregations about the film.

“Talk about it from the whole idea of a conversion story,” he said. “[T]ell them this is a film you can invite people to go with you [to see], and it can help open up conversations. It isn’t a judgmental film, but a film that speaks the truth about this issue … .”

Archbishop Naumann admitted that priests “sometimes get shy on this issue because we think its political. This [film] isn’t a political event. It’s a chance to invite someone to a see a conversion story, and that makes a big difference.”

He also encouraged priests to be upfront about one thing: the film’s rating.

Film ‘will equip people with the truth’

Because of a scene depicting the truth of what an abortion looks like, Johnson explained, the film received an R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America.

“Don’t let the R rating scare you. Nothing is over dramatic” in the film, she assured. “Abortion is bad enough—we didn’t have to embellish anything.”

Archbishop Naumann noted two ironies about the film’s rating.

First, he said, “I never thought I’d promote an R-rated film.

“But the great irony is that a

15-year-old girl can’t go to this movie, but she could have an abortion and her parents will never know it.”

Johnson commented that if a young person has watched a PG-13 movie or cable television, “they have seen far worse than they will see in Unplanned.”

While she acknowledged that parents need to consider the readiness of a junior high student to see the film, she said for high school students the movie is “a must see because that’s who the abortion industry is targeting.

“I’ve heard parents say they don’t want to expose their kids to abortion. We performed abortion on girls as young as 10 and 11.

“You’re not doing your children any favors by sheltering them from abortion and not having these conversations. If you’re not talking with them about this, somebody else will, and 99 percent of the time the message they get is not what you want them to hear.”

As for the film’s upcoming release, Johnson credited God with the timing.

“We were ready to go [about] five years ago,” she said. “But the Lord said, ‘Wait.’ ”

She said none of those involved with the film could have foreseen the prevalence of abortion in the news now in terms of various state and federal legislation on both sides of the issue.

Despite the many aspects of abortion making the news today, Johnson said that “the conversation we really need to be having is that the majority of abortions are in the first trimester. And that’s what this film talks about. ...

“I think [Unplanned] will really change the dialogue about abortion in this country,” Johnson said.

“For far too long, people haven’t really known how to talk about abortion. People are scared of the topic. They don’t know what to say, so they don’t say anything.

“I think this film will equip people with truth.”
 

(For information about the film, when and where it will be showing, how to buy out a theater and more, go to www.Unplannedfilm.com. The film can also be shown with Spanish subtitles. For more information, go to www.inesperadolapelicula.com.)

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