Unplanned (2019) and Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer (2018)

Unplanned is a pro-life movie distributed by PureFlix, the production and distribution company that gave us God’s Not Dead (2014), and if you’ve seen the latter, you’ll know what to expect from the former.  It is the sweet, loving, pro-life Christians pitted against the mean, selfish, abortionists.

The movie is based on a book by Abby Johnson, telling of her personal experience with abortion and her work at a Planned Parenthood clinic until she converted to being pro-life.  She goes to work for Planned Parenthood thinking she is helping women avoid abortions, but is eventually told that things like birth-control and counseling are not what’s important, because it’s abortions that bring in all the money.  And they need to meet their new growth target by doubling the number of abortions in the upcoming fiscal year.  When Abby protests that Planned Parenthood is a nonprofit organization, she is told, “Nonprofit is a tax status, not a business model.”  And just in case we still have any doubts that Planned Parenthood is evil, we are informed that George Soros supports the organization.

The movie intends to be persuasive, but not in the manner of a discursive argument.  The question of when human life begins is only touched on, just to enough to give us a sense of Abby’s overall view of things.  At a family gathering, Abby says that life begins with viability, before which it is just undeveloped tissue.  Others object that viability changes with technology.  Her mother disapprovingly says that life begins at conception.  But we can expect no more than that from a movie.  If a movie is to persuade, it must do so dramatically and through images.

Dramatically speaking, conversions can be persuasive.  Typically, there is an appeal to an experience one has had that others have not, and it is hoped that by relating that experience to others, they can be converted as well.  In the case of Abby, her experience is that of having had two abortions herself and working at a Planned Parenthood clinic where she witnessed an actual procedure.  It is this latter experience that differentiates her from most of us.  Lots of women have had abortions, but few have worked in an abortion clinic.

The experience consists of two sorts:  pain and gore.  As for pain, in the scene where Abby participates in an abortion, the young woman having the procedure is crying from the pain, notwithstanding the pain medication she was presumably given.  I am guessing that the point of this is to discourage women from having an abortion.  But if the pain of having an abortion is supposed to be an argument against this procedure, then it is undermined later when Abby has a baby and seems to undergo even greater pain from childbirth.

Abby also goes through the pain of having abortions herself:  the first being a surgical abortion; the second, a chemically-induced abortion, using RU-486.  The latter is portrayed as being excruciating, especially soon after taking the pills, followed by eight weeks of cramping.  If it’s really as bad as all that, then I guess women would be well-advised to opt for a surgical abortion instead.

The second part of the experience is the gore.  We get to see a fetus sucked out through a catheter, and after Abby takes the RU-486 pills, we get to see gobs of embryo fall out of her vagina onto the floor or being dumped into the toilet.  The we see her sprawled out on the bathroom floor surrounded by embryo blood and goo.

I’ll leave it to the reader’s imagination how Abby eventually quits Planned Parenthood and joins a pro-life organization, bringing joy to the hearts of her family at the return of their prodigal daughter.  Instead, I’ll comment on something about the movie that surprised me.  My pro-life friends are always harping on late-term abortions, and one has recently started expressing moral outrage over what he calls “after-birth abortions.”  Whereas people that are pro-choice are perfectly comfortable with abortion-on-demand during the first trimester, doubt and uncertainly increase the further along a woman gets in her pregnancy.  And it is there that a lot of pro-life advocates choose to make their case, sensing weakness in the pro-choice position during the later months.

I expected this movie to focus on that as well.  In fact, I had recently seen Gosnell:  The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer, which is all about that sort of thing.  According to this movie, if Dr. Gosnell, who ran a filthy, disgusting clinic, was a little late getting around to performing an abortion, the drugs that the technicians had already administered would sometimes result in the fetus/baby coming out before he got there, still moving, still alive.  No problem, Gosnell would just grab some scissors and snip the spinal cord.  However, what he was doing was illegal, and he is now spending the rest of his life in prison for murder.

At first, I thought this movie might be pro-choice.  After all, this was about illegal abortions.  However, the movie argues that pro-choice advocates are the real villains, because it was fear of them that led Republican Governor Tom Ridge to end annual inspections of abortion clinics, allowing Gosnell to operate with impunity.   Furthermore, at Gosnell’s trial, a Dr. North testifies as to how legal abortions are performed.  As she goes into detail, the look on her face shows signs of distress, almost horror, as if it never occurred to her before what a terrible thing she had been doing, notwithstanding the fact that she had performed thirty thousand of them, making it clear that the distinction between Gosnell’s illegal abortions and those of the legal sort is insignificant.

Anyway, I thought Abby’s moment of truth would come when she witnessed the Grand Guignol of a late-term abortion of the sort Dr. North described.  Much to my surprise, all the abortions in Unplanned are in the first trimester.  There is reference later in the movie to a new facility that will allow for more abortions to be performed up to the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy, but we see none of that.  In a way, this makes sense.  When pro-life advocates make their case against late-term abortions, they are implicitly conceding the field to those that are pro-choice when it comes to early abortions.  Instead Unplanned is determined to attack abortions in the place where pro-choice advocates feel secure, in hopes of putting an end to all abortion.

Though I have said that this movie intends to be persuasive, yet I doubt those who made it are under any illusions that those of us who are pro-choice will actually change our minds.  They probably don’t even expect us to watch this movie.  I did so out of curiosity.  Rather, it is intended to strengthen the resolve of those that are already opposed to abortion.  In fact, my pro-life bridge partner said she was especially eager to see this movie.

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