Propaganda doesn’t come more putrid than Unplanned, which is the perfect way to spend a Friday or Saturday night if you’re a die-hard right-to-lifer who views Planned Parenthood as a scourge upon the face of the Earth. Smacking you upside the head with its message for 110 god-awful minutes via every cornball cliché in the (not-so-good) Christian-movie book, it’s a leaden, self-righteous and wholly rancid affair, designed only to preach to its choir by maligning the non-profit organization.
In other words, Unplanned is the cinematic equivalent of an anti-abortion pamphlet peddled by one of those holier-than-thou creeps who lurk outside clinics, reciting biblical quotes in order to terrorize (often young) women looking for much-needed reproductive health care.
Lest that sound like hyperbole, let me quote directly from Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon’s film (debuting in theaters this weekend). According to their foul drama, Planned Parenthood is a “billion-dollar corporation”—supported by the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and (anti-Semitic dog-whistle alert!) George Soros—and “one of the most powerful organizations on the planet.” Worse, that wealth and power comes from murder, since their story makes clear that, regardless of its birth control and counseling services, Planned Parenthood is solely interested in “selling” evil abortions to as many people as possible.
As articulated by venomous Planned Parenthood bigwig Cheryl (Robia Scott), “Abortion is what pays for all of it”—“it” being the entire business. Consequently, “corporate policy is clear: We are an abortion provider.”
I’ll let Planned Parenthood’s lawyers decide if such attacks rise to the level of slander. Certainly, though, Konzelman and Solomon’s film is an unabashed hit-job. Based on its subject’s memoir of the same name, Unplanned tells the tale of Abby Johnson (Ashley Bratcher), a Texas woman whom we first meet working as the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic. Called in to assist with an abortion, Abby is horrified by what she witnesses: the sonogram sight of the fetus, resembling a fully formed infant, writhing about in desperate agony and trying to cling to her mother’s uterus as it’s sucked out of the womb by a callous doctor. That absurd depiction is complemented by plentiful cutaways to bloody goo whooshing through tubes and the teenage mother crying out “It hurts!” while nurses physically hold her down. It’s a portrait of abortion as painful assault and monstrous homicide.
This incident brings Abby to tears. To explain how she found herself in this situation, Unplanned jumps back in time to detail the preposterous path that led Abby to this fateful moment—and to the spiritual conversion it eventually begat. Abby, as it turns out, had two abortions herself as a young woman, both the result of a bad marriage to a bum who eventually cheated on her. The first abortion, done surgically, is a haunting ordeal that ends with her recovering alongside other miserable patients (with only a few crackers to eat!). The second is via RU486 (aka “The Abortion Pill”), which results in unholy agony that Konzelman and Solomon dramatize in over-the-top graphic terms: bloody streaks down a toilet bowl; clumps of fetal matter being scooped out of a shower; and Abby curling into a ball on her blood-stained bathroom floor.
Unplanned revels in fancifully grotesque abortion imagery (it’s the first R-rated production by religious outfit Pure Flix). Its true ire, however, is reserved for Planned Parenthood itself.
The person responsible for Abby’s RU486 misery is Renee (Tina Toner), an employee who flippantly lies about how bad the experience will be while counting cash, and later responds to Ally’s phone-call complaints by hanging up on her. Would you be surprised to learn that this right-wing film—replete with a late cameo from My Pillow founder and Trump acolyte Michael J. Lindell—presents the heartless, duplicitous Renee as a short-haired wise-ass, thereby coding her as a lesbian? Or that Cheryl advises Abby against carrying her own pregnancy to term (“I can take care of that for you,” she smirks), while Abby’s mother chides her for having “aspirations” (a negative conflation of pro-choice beliefs and female careerism)? Or that, aside from a few fleeting nutjobs, Unplanned’s anti-abortion characters are wholesome, funny, non-confrontational prayer zealots? Of course not, because Unplanned is a brazen conservative screed.
Despite her own nightmarish abortions, Abby opts to work at Planned Parenthood (due to her support for women’s rights). And she continues to stay even though Cheryl is a demonic dragon-lady who sneers at her for getting queasy during a procedure-gone-awry. Before long, the organization has turned Abby into a lying abortion saleswoman. At a corporate meeting, Cheryl announces that they’ll soon be building the largest facility in the country (performing procedures up to 24 weeks!), and that all clinics are to double their annual number of abortions. When Abby objects, she’s roundly censured by Cheryl, who tells her that fast food places make their profits not from burgers but from fries and soda—and that “abortion is our fries and soda!”
The real-life Abby presumably claims this is all true—including her fictional surrogate’s contention that Planned Parenthood has secret statistics proving that in-person prayer is an effective method of turning away “customers.” Nonetheless, the fact that Abby suffers, and is corrupted, and is disapprovingly glared at by her devout parents and husband, and yet still sticks around Planned Parenthood—even earning Employee of the Year honors—is so laughable as to be insulting. Not that Unplanned cares about convincing you of anything. Rather, it’s the sort of jeremiad in which Abby’s come-to-Jesus moment occurs at the same time that anti-abortion couple Shawn (Jared Lotz) and Marilisa (Emma Elle Roberts) are holding their hands over a barrel of Planned Parenthood waste to “pray to end the sin of abortion.”
Abby does finally depart Planned Parenthood, albeit initially in secret, because the place is cast as a Big Brother-ish entity that “will go to any lengths to destroy someone they see as a threat.” Asked how she feels about her departure, she cheerily admits, “Like I just got out of prison” (hence the barred gates surrounding the place!). As befitting a crude sermon such as this, courtroom triumph and redemption soon follow, set to heavenly music and driven by hilariously clunky conversations—for example, Abby asking how God could love her after she oversaw 22,000 abortions, and her husband responding, “Because He’s God.” At least the dismal dialogue feels right at home in the mouths of Unplanned’s cast, whose acting wouldn’t pass muster in your average Hallmark Channel original movie.
Unplanned contends that abortion is unholy slaughter facilitated by immoral monetary transactions that enrich a tyrannical non-profit organization—all of which is an affront to God. Those who agree will enjoy bathing in its pious ugliness. The rest will likely come away feeling an urgent desire to donate to Planned Parenthood.