Unplanned - the movie about changing your mind on abortion - on a screen near you

The voiceover at the outset of pro-life movie Unplanned says the story will probably make you squirm a bit – and it will. There is an awful lot of blood involved in this controversial memoir of a Planned Parenthood clinic director who changed her mind about abortion.

Actually, it’s not that there is so much blood – only about 90 seconds of screen time compared with nine minutes in Rambo: Last Blood – but what there is will churn you up.

What makes it so powerful is knowing that it’s real, says Cary Solomon, one of the two writers and directors of the film, which is about to get a cinematic release in Brisbane next month (see below) as well as showing through FanForce in 200 locations across the country.

“See, what people are picking up is what’s in their soul, they know what they’re seeing is real. So, they think about that, that this is happening all over the world,” he tells Eternity by Skype from Los Angeles.

When Solomon and co-writer/director Chuck Konzelman started to write the script based on the memoir of Abby Johnson – the clinic director who changed camps after saying she saw a foetus fight for life during an abortion – they debated how graphic the film should be.

“We had two groups – don’t show anything, just talk about it; and show everything. We were saying, ‘Lord, what do you want us to do?’ And what we felt was placed heavily on our heart was that we have to show it because if we didn’t show it, things wouldn’t change,” Solomon explains.

“My job was selling abortions and I was very good at it.” – Abby Johnson

Unplanned is based on the contested memoir of a young director of a Planned Parenthood clinic, who says she was so horrified by witnessing an abortion on an ultrasound monitor that she quit her job and joined the anti-abortion movement. Ten years ago, investigative journalists in Texas portrayed Abby as a disgruntled sacked employee of Planned Parenthood and debunked her “road to Damascus” conversion as made up and inconsistent with clinical records. Recently, with the release of the film, Johnson has responded to the allegations, insisting that she really did see an unborn child struggle for its life against the abortion instruments.

In the movie, the role of Abby is played with conviction by American actress and anti-abortion activist Ashley Bratcher, who has revealed in a promotional video that she was almost aborted – her mother was minutes away from having her pregnancy terminated when she changed her mind.

As Abby rises up the ranks from volunteer to counsellor and then clinic director, she seriously thinks she is helping women in crisis by telling them to kill their babies – believing the foetus is just a lump of tissues that cannot feel pain. She is brutally honest about her mindset at this time, admitting: “My job was selling abortions and I was very good at it.”

“It moved and it was twisting and fighting for its life – and then it was just gone,” she says. “I never want to be part of an abortion again.”

The first knock to Abby’s confidence comes when a high school student almost dies from a perforated uterus and her boss forbids her to call an ambulance for fear of what the protesters outside will say. Abby’s rueful comment is that they performed 38 terminations that afternoon.

Writers and directors Chuck Konzelman, left, and Cary Solomon on location

The crunch comes when, after eight years of working at Planned Parenthood, Abby is called in unexpectedly to help a surgical team with an abortion. In horror, as she holds the ultrasound probe, she watches the image of the 13-week-old foetus trying to move out of the way of the catheter.

“It moved and it was twisting and fighting for its life – and then it was just gone,” she says. “I never want to be part of an abortion again.”

The emotional twist in the storyline is that the protagonist, Abby Johnson, had two abortions during her college years – and we witness the agony, horror and gore of the second, after she takes abortion pill RU-486 – but she turns her anger against Planned Parenthood into self-loathing and shame.

When she finally quits her job, crushed by the weight of guilt of seeing how she deceived and betrayed women and being complicit in 20,000 abortions, she asks her husband: “How can God forgive me?”

“Because he’s God,” he replies.

I ask the filmmakers – who also made God’s Not Dead – why the script didn’t say: “Because of our Saviour. Only through Jesus taking the blame for our sins can God hear your cries and forgive you.”

Konzelman says: “Because, with all due respect, that’s the way people preach … but not the way they talk. What you’re suggesting is sound theology but makes for bad dialogue. And in the bigger picture, isn’t Jesus, God?”

They say helping women who have had abortions to find forgiveness and healing is one of the goals of the movie, along with changing hearts and minds in the campaign to make abortion illegal.

“When you see women come out and they’re crying and they’re like ‘I’m free, I’m free, I had an abortion 30, 40, 50 years ago and it ruined my life, destroyed my marriage and my family, my children and now I’m free.’ What do you say about that? And we’ve had thousands and thousands of women – maybe millions,” says Solomon.

Konzelman says they were not prepared for the wave of stories that hit them once people started started seeing the movie.

Among the hundreds of comments the filmmakers have received since Unplanned opened in March this year was one from a dyed-in-the-wool pro-choicer who instantly became pro-life after seeing the film on opening night in Hollywood.

“I had women reading Scripture, reading God’s word on the couch in the waiting room, waiting for their name to be called.” – Abby Johnson

“I was not part of the choir by any means, but it challenged my thinking entirely. I’ve heard all the arguments and I’ve had all the logical rebuttals but to actually see it, it just made it indefensible and it cut the legs out from under me,” she wrote.

“Any intellectually honest pro-choicer should be willing to test their beliefs and some lame Christian film wouldn’t be a threat, I told myself, but dammit, all my best talking points dissolved in the light of this portrayal … I’m at a loss because this is fundamental to my belief system and now I find it insupportable. As a woman I cannot ever again claim to be pro-woman and stand in favour of abortion. I’m out.”

Konzelman believes the church – across all denominations – needs to wake up from a state of denial about the numbers of women who have had abortions in its ranks.

“Abby said ‘when I ran my clinic, 70 per cent of my clients self-identified as Christians.’ Some churches will say, ‘well, that’s people that we never see.’ She said, ‘look, I had women reading Scripture, reading God’s word on the couch in the waiting room, waiting for their name to be called.’ She said, ‘I had other women half naked in their johnnies climbing up on the abortion table fingering rosary beads and’ – I thought this was so poignant – ‘begging God for forgiveness for a sin they hadn’t committed yet,’” he says.

“This is how deep this particular sin strikes and we need healing. We’ve got to recognise that this has happened, we’ve got to lead people on a path of forgiveness and that those who’ve been affected have to help those in their lives to avoid this future.”

He believes Christian women who have had abortions need to “go out to their study groups in their lives and their social circles and say ‘this is what happened to me, it doesn’t have to happen to you. You don’t have to go through what I went through. Let me explain.’ Because no one does that.”

While the filmmakers say they made the movie in obedience to a call from God, they say they are surprised by its dramatic consequences.

“I don’t know if we understood what was going to happen because the movie has become a movement all over the world. So we figured we’d make the movie and then we’d go make another movie and another movie. It’s not quite worked that way because it’s going to every single country on the face of the earth,” says Solomon.

“We’ve got to lead people on a path of forgiveness and that those who’ve been affected have to help those in their lives to avoid this future.” – Chuck Konzelman

“I also think there’s a profound sharing experience that people that have not had an abortion can’t relate to somebody who has. But when you have so many women that have had an abortion … I mean there’s probably a billion and a half women in the world that are post-abortive, since 1980 – it’s crazy, it’s unbelievable – so when you have that many people that know the truth now, that kind of coalesces into this massive kind of weight.”

Solomon adds: “We’d like every man, woman and child on the face of the earth to see it and then make a decision. I believe this is a divine act of mercy because what the Lord is doing is he’s saying, ‘look, you’ve been marketed.’ Everybody has been advertised to: Planned Parenthood, or whatever they call it in Australia or China, markets abortion like McDonald’s markets hamburgers. And people buy into this.

“It’s almost forgivable as far as I’m concerned; I can understand a woman going in for an abortion if she buys into the ‘it’s only a clump of cells, it feels no pain, it’s like pulling a tooth,’ which is what they say, right? But what has the Lord done here? He’s revealed, he’s shown that it’s not a clump of cells. We now have ultrasound machines that show it’s not a clump of cells, this is a baby. So what he is saying is ‘now you know what you’re going to do. If you choose to save it, if you choose to kill it, now you know.’

“So it’s a fine act of mercy because it’s saying to all those people who were kind of on the line, or didn’t know: ‘look, it is a baby, seek forgiveness, seek redemption, ask to be forgiven.’ He’s in that business, obviously. The Lord does what he does, right?”

Unplanned will open in Brisbane, Australia on October 10 at Cineplex Australia locations: Victoria Point, Redbank, Balmoral and South Bank.

To find out where Unplanned is showing through FanForce or to bring it to a community not listed, visit here.