Theatrical release poster
by Abby Johnson
|Music by||Stephen Blake Kanicka|
Soli Deo Gloria
|Distributed by||Pure Flix|
|Box office||$19.3 million|
Unplanned is a 2019 American anti-abortion drama film written and directed by Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman. It is based on the disputed memoir Unplanned by Abby Johnson. The film stars Ashley Bratcher, Brooks Ryan and Robia Scott, following Johnson's life as a clinic director for Planned Parenthood and her subsequent transition to anti-abortion activism.
The film was theatrically released in the United States by production and distribution house Pure Flix on March 29, 2019. The film has been alleged by Jennifer Villavicencio, an obstetrician who performs abortions, to be factually inaccurate and heavily politicized. The working title was Redeemed, and details of its subject were kept from the public in order to minimize protests by abortion rights advocates. Some TV channels refused to air ads for the film due to its subject matter. Despite the controversy and limited promotional campaign, the film was a moderate box office success, grossing $19 million on a $6 million budget.
In 2001 Texas, Abby Johnson sees a Planned Parenthood booth at a college career fair and agrees to volunteer after being told their ultimate goal was to reduce the number of abortions. As a clinic escort, she meets director Cheryl and witnesses anti-abortion protesters being verbally confrontational towards the women going in. One protester, Marilisa, agrees with Abby about this approach being uncharitable; her group instead prays and calmly talks with the women, directing them to resources to help them raise their child. Abby reveals to her that she has had an abortion; she reflects that it was as a college student with deadbeat boyfriend, Mark, who encouraged her to obtain one when she became pregnant.
Abby marries Mark, but divorces him a year later after he cheats on her. Two weeks later, she discovers that she is pregnant again and chooses to have a medical abortion at the clinic where she now volunteers. Abby is told it will "gently empty out her uterus", but the experience is painful, resulting in bleeding and eight weeks of cramping. In narration, Abby says that her anger turned from being directed at Planned Parenthood to being directed at herself. Abby continues to volunteer and becomes a public relations director and later counselor who answers questions from women about to have an abortion, and says she is very good at convincing them to go through with it. Abby marries Doug, who loves her, but does not approve of her career. They soon discover she is pregnant and Cheryl suggests she get an abortion, but Abby chooses to keep her child. Throughout these events, Abby continues to talk with Marilisa and her husband Shawn, despite their opposing views on abortion.
Cheryl shows Abby the room of "products of conception", which are the fetal remains after abortion, and tells Abby that she would like her to succeed her as director, which she agrees to do. As director, Abby's clinic becomes the best performing in the region, and she is awarded "Employee of the Year". During a company conference, she publicly voices her concerns towards a new directive to increase the number of abortions, especially medical abortions, because they are more profitable, for which she is formally reprimanded. Abby also looks at her own medical records from her previous medical abortion and sees the sonogram of her unborn child.
In 2009, Abby is called in to assist in an ultrasound-guided suction aspiration abortion at thirteen weeks gestation. She notes that she has never witnessed an abortion before, and she is concerned when she sees the fetus on the ultrasound, which is moving away from the suction tube. The doctor turns on the suction machine and Abby finds the process gruesome and disturbing. Upon seeing an empty womb, Abby leaves in tears.
Abby goes to the office of 40 Days for Life, run by Marilisa and Shawn, and tearfully tells them that she cannot stay in her job after what she has seen. They support Abby and offer to help her find employment. Abby formally resigns and begins to help with their campaign, even being on the other side of the clinic fence encouraging women not to go through with their abortions. However, Planned Parenthood sues Abby for allegedly leaking confidential information about their operations, and Shawn convinces his laid-back lawyer friend Jeff to defend them. While Planned Parenthood intimidates Abby into thinking they have a strong case, the judge quickly finds it without merit and rules in favor of Abby.
In 2013, when the clinic Abby worked at has closed, she organizes a pro-life event at the abandoned building in which she expresses regret for performing abortions as well as having two. She ties two roses to the fence and leaves a private letter marked "To my children", before her husband and daughter join her and they leave. The closing captions say that Abby continues to work with the ministry "And Then There Were None", helping other abortion clinic workers leave and find employment elsewhere.
Accuracy of portrayal
Jennifer Villavicencio, an obstetrician who performs abortions, told the New York Times that a 13-week-old fetus lacks the neurological capacity to recoil from pain, so its movements during an abortion should not be interpreted as "fighting for its life". Villavicencio stated to the Huffington Post that most abortions last 3-10 minutes and are "well tolerated". In the film, Planned Parenthood is portrayed as promoting abortion for the sake of profit, with one character stating "'Nonprofit' is a tax status, not a business model!". There is no one agreed measure but the proportion of Planned Parenthood's activities that are abortion related is probably between 12% and 37%, but may be as low as 7% of all treatment events.
- Ashley Bratcher as Abby Johnson
- Brooks Ryan as Doug
- Robia Scott as Cheryl
- Jared Lotz as Shawn
- Emma Elle Roberts as Marilisa
- Robin DeMarco as Kathleen
- Robert Thomason as Mike
- Tina Toner as Renee
- Sarah Hernandez as Elena
- Maura Corsini as Megan
- Lezl Gonzales as Taylor
- Kaiser Johnson as Jeff
- Andee Grace Burton as Grace
- Alexander Kane as Mark
- Stacey Bradshaw as Karen
In September 2018, it was announced that principal photography on a new Pure Flix film with a working title of Redeemed had been completed. Out of fear for potential protests due to the subject matter, everyone involved with the project signed a confidentiality agreement, whereby they agreed not to engage in social media posts about the film nor any press interaction. Additionally, the film was secretly shot in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Based on Johnson's memoir of the same name, Unplanned was produced on a $6 million budget. Michael J. Lindell, founder and owner of My Pillow, was a major backer of the film, contributing $1 million to production and having a cameo.
Directors Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon sent a draft of their script to Johnson for review. Upon reading, Johnson reacted, "I read the script. And in the first 15 pages, I hated me. Then I got to the end of the script, and I loved it. It was me!" During casting, producers warned potential cast members that their participation in the film might result in their not getting future roles in the film industry due to the film's subject matter. Unlike the upcoming Roe v. Wade – which had some crew who quit once they learned of the film's subject matter – Unplanned did not suffer from the same fate since those involved knew about the film's focus when hired.
Bratcher has related that following her acceptance of the role – and just prior to commencement of filming – she found out that her mother had had an abortion during her teens and almost had an abortion while she was pregnant with her. Bratcher's mother has a role as an extra.
The factual basis of the memoir has been questioned, specifically her statements that "higher-up at Planned Parenthood encouraged her to increase abortions for financial reasons". Johnson also stated that the patient in question was a black woman. However, based on reporting by Texas Monthly, which relied on Planned Parenthood clinic records, only one patient from September 26, 2009 was black, and she was in the sixth week (not the 13th week) of her pregnancy.
Music labels denied the rights to use such songs as The Fray's "How to Save a Life", "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper, One Direction's "Story of My Life", Oingo Boingo's "Dead Man's Party" and "The Guardian Suite" by Trevor Rabin. Christian singer Matthew West wrote a song for the film called "Unplanned", posting its music video a week before the film's release.
Unplanned was given an R rating (the first for any Pure Flix film) by the MPAA, who cited the graphic abortion-related scenes as the reason for the rating and notified the producers of the film that the film would remain R-rated unless those scenes were removed, denying that it had assigned the rating due to political bias. Pure Flix, which had been expecting a PG-13 rating, decided not to contest the MPAA's action due to concerns that such conflict may delay the film's release. However, regarding the classification, co-directors Konzelman and Solomon said this:
[w]e consider the MPAA's current standards to be deeply flawed, insofar as they allowed scenes of remarkably graphic sex, violence, degradation, murder and mayhem to have a PG-13 rating, whereas our film, highlighting the grave dangers of abortion in a straightforward manner, is considered dangerous for the American people to view[.]
Ken Rather, Vice President of Distribution at Pure Flix, made a similar comment: "[a] 15 year-old-girl can get an abortion without her parent’s permission but she can’t see this movie without adult supervision? That’s sad."
Johnson, however, acknowledged that the R rating may have been assigned in good faith:
We are pushing the boundaries of what has never been before on such a wide scale by showing America exactly what abortion is — and abortion is disturbing. It’s violent . . . . In my opinion, one of the most impactful films of our time is The Passion of the Christ. It was rated R. So I feel like Unplanned is in good company. An R rating from the MPAA isn’t going to slow this movie down. I believe people are ready for the truth.
In response to the film's rating, the MPAA was sent a complaint signed by twenty-nine people uninvolved in the production of the film. The signers include former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, political commentator Glenn Beck, actor Kevin Sorbo, and Academy Award-winning film producers Gerald R. Molen and Gray Frederickson. Despite this, the MPAA did not revoke the rating, saying that "[t]he filmmakers did not make use of the rating appeal process."
Johnson subsequently wrote an open letter addressed to parents, explaining why the MPAA had assigned the R rating and stating that the film contained no nudity, sex or profanity. A second open letter, signed by the same twenty-nine people from the MPAA complaint, encouraged faith communities to ignore the R rating and turn out for the film as they did for The Passion of the Christ.
Unplanned was released in the United States on March 29, 2019. The film received a pre-screening on February 21, 2019, in lower Manhattan, and again on March 28, 2019, in Indiana, one day before its release date.
Many media outlets declined to air advertising for the film on account of the controversial subject matter and/or the film's R rating, including Google, A&E Networks, Discovery, Inc., Hallmark Channel, NBCUniversal, and Christian radio network K-Love. Google also listed the film as "drama/propaganda" in search results for a period of time. Only Fox News, who also did editorial coverage of the production, and the Christian Broadcasting Network agreed to air ads.
During the opening weekend, its official Twitter account was suspended (reportedly because it was linked to another account that violated Twitter's code of conduct). It was soon reinstated, gaining thousands of additional followers within several hours, eventually exceeding the number of followers for Planned Parenthood. Twitter was then accused of dropping followers of the film's account from over 200,000 to approximately 16,000. Senator Josh Hawley accused Twitter of censoring conservative views, and in a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, requested that an outside independent audit be made into Twitter's speech policies. Twitter responded and "said follower counts can often take up to 24 hours to stabilize following a suspension and that any issues with page follows should also be resolved shortly"; the next day, according to Newsweek, "the official account for the film appeared to confirm Twitter’s statement" in a tweet.
No Canadian distributors were initially interested in the movie, which prevented movie theaters from picking it up. In June 2019, the small distribution company Cinedicom agreed to make it available to the Canadian market, its president stating the decision to distribute the film was based on divine inspiration. The producers accused Canada's dominant movie theater chain Cineplex Entertainment of effectively banning the movie in the country by not showing it in its theaters. However, the company's usual practice is to only consider movies if their distributor presents a marketing plan and obtains a rating from a provincial ratings board.
Cineplex later reversed its decision, opting to screen the film in 14 locations. The competing chain Landmark Cinemas also screened the film at 10 locations. On July 12, 2019, the film took in $352,000 on its opening weekend on 56 screens across Canada for a per-screen average of around $7,100. Unplanned made $643,000 CAD at the Canadian box office.
In the United States, Unplanned was released alongside The Beach Bum and Dumbo, and based upon tracking was projected to gross $3-5 million from 1,060 theaters its opening weekend. The film made $3 million on its first day, including $700,000 from Thursday night previews. It went on to debut to $6.4 million, exceeding box office projections and finishing 4th at the box office, marking the second-best opening for a Pure Flix film behind God's Not Dead 2 ($7.6 million in 2016); the film played best in conservative-leaning states in the Midwest and South. Deadline Hollywood said the opening was "remarkable considering that the film was rated R [and was] boxed out from running TV spots on most major cable networks and Christian radio." It was reported that churches across the country had bought out entire screenings for the picture. 40 Days for Life also hosted nearly 300 screenings. In its second weekend the film was added to 456 additional theaters (for a total of 1,516) and made $3.2 million. By the end of its theatrical run, the film had grossed $19 million.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 40% based on 25 reviews with an average rating of 4.79/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "A dramatic approach to a hot-button topic whose agenda is immediately clear, Unplanned will only reinforce the feelings of viewers on either side of the issue." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 10 out of 100, based on seven critics, indicating "overwhelming dislike". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a rare "A+" grade, and those at PostTrak gave it an overall positive score of 80% and a 65% "definite recommend".
Writing for the National Catholic Reporter, Rose Pacatte said that "Unplanned is an important film, a designation that directors hate to hear. It is not entertaining (until the cheesy lawyer shows up) but tells an emotional story with wide-ranging implications." In a review for The Catholic World Report, Nick Olszyk stated that, "Unplanned is a testament to the truth, and the more people know about the abortion industry, the harder it is to obscure that truth." The Deseret News's Josh Terry wrote that the film "...may not bridge the divide between the different sides of the abortion issue, but it will provide some food for thought for the undecideds", ultimately concluding that "Unplanned has room for praise and criticism."
In contrast, The Hollywood Reporter's Frank Scheck criticized Unplanned as "proselytizing agitprop" comparable to a "basic cable television movie in its mediocre production values and subpar performances". Similarly, Owen Gleiberman of Variety said the film "isn't good drama but it's effective propaganda"  and The A.V. Club's Vadim Rizov stated that "[while Unplanned] has greater technical finesse than its foundational forebears...[,] there's not a single scene that speaks to characters with lives outside their streamlined narrative function; they're performers in a parable traced over a Chick tract, filmed with a bland competence at odds with the true perversity of the material".
The Canadian news industry was generally critical of Unplanned. The Globe and Mail, the Ottawa Citizen and the Toronto Sun all described the film as dishonest religious, social, and political propaganda. However, Christian news programs such as 100 Huntley Street, The Faytene Show and Salt + Light Hour were supportive of it.
Luke Thompson, in Forbes, notes the heavily political nature of the film, which "naturally, drops the name of George Soros and claims the nonprofit is one of the most powerful organizations on the planet...as opposed to, say, a political punching bag constantly in danger of being defunded".
Planned Parenthood reaction
Shortly before release, the American division of Planned Parenthood stated that the arguments in it were false. Additionally, the Ottawa chapter opposed the film's first Canadian screening, held at Parliament Hill on April 11, 2019 with four Conservative Party members of Parliament.[better source needed]
A soundtrack album was released on March 22, 2019 with the title track being interpreted by Matthew West. Blake Kanicka, the music supervisor for Unplanned failed to license songs from more established mainstream artists and from a half dozen of the largest music companies.
- "Masterpiece" by Danny Gokey
- "Unplanned" by Matthew West (Written by Matthew West & AJ Pruis)
- "This Could Change Everything" by Francesca Battistelli (Written by Francesca Battistelli, Jason Walker, Tommee Profitt)
- "Weddingmarch" by London Festival Orchestra (Written by Mendelssohn)
- "Mercy and Majesty" by Brian Johnson and Jenn Johnson (Written by Brian Johnson, Jeremy Riddle, Matt Redman, Jason Ingram, Jonas Myrin, Benjamin Glover) (Instrumental)
- "Merrydeath" by Neon Ridge (Written by Mikael Kallin)
- "Cecie's Lullaby" by Steffany Gretzinger (Written by Steffany Gretzinger)
- "To Our God" by Brian Johnson (Written by Brian Johnson, Jeremy Riddle, Joel Taylor) (Without words)
- "We Dance" by Steffany Gretzinger (Written by Steffany Gretzinger & Amanda Cook)
- "Exigency" by Charlie Ryan (Written by Charlie Ryan)
- "Overcomer" by Mandisa (Written by Ben Glover, Christopher Stevens, David Garcia)
- "Como Un Flor" by MML (Written by Antonio Garcia Isaac)
- "It Is Well (Live) by Kristene DiMarco (Written by Kristene DiMarco) (Without words)
- "Foreboding" by Kyle Preston (Written by Kyle Preston)
- "You're Gonna Be OK" by Jenn Johnson (Written by Jenn Johnson, Seth Mosley, Jeremy Riddle)
- "Cleanse" by Be Still the Earth (Written by Marshall Usinger)
- "Monster On My Mind" by David Stebels and Brent Keast (Written by David Siebels & Brent Keast)
- "And So They Watched as the Years Passed Us By" by This Patch of Sky (Written by Kit Day, Joshua Carlton, Alex Abrams, Joel Erickson)
- Abortion in the United States
- Gosnell: The Trial of America's Biggest Serial Killer, a 2018 film surrounding Kermit Gosnell
- 180, a 2011 pro-life documentary
- The Silent Scream, a 1984 pro life documentary by Bernard Nathanson describing the abortion process via ultrasound
- Roe v. Wade, an upcoming 2019 dramatization of the 1973 US Supreme Court legalization
- God's Not Dead
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