Theatrical release poster
|Music by||Stephen Blake Kanicka|
Soli Deo Gloria
|Distributed by||Pure Flix|
|Box office||$21.3 million|
Unplanned is a 2019 American drama anti-abortion 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 evangelical Christian production and distribution house Pure Flix on March 29, 2019. 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. The film grossed $21 million worldwide on a $6 million budget. The accuracy of the film's portrayal of abortion and of Planned Parenthood have been severely criticized by doctors and advocates for Planned Parenthood, with several commentators describing it as political propaganda.
The plot closely follows the account found in Abby Johnson's memoir, Unplanned. The film opens with a depiction of Johnson's home life with her husband, Doug, and daughter, Grace. In voice-over, Abby Johnson says she was tricked into participating with Planned Parenthood and the scene shifts to a time in 2009 when she claims she was asked to assist in an ultrasound-guided suction aspiration abortion at thirteen weeks gestation. The scene ends with Abby leaving in tears. Johnson then describes, in voice over, that her story started her junior year at Texas A&M. The scene is depicted in flashback of a Planned Parenthood booth at a career fair. Johnson agrees to volunteer after the representative in the booth says to her that 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, is depicted as being kinder to women than the other protestors and says that those from her organization, "Coalition for Life", are "not here to hurt them or condemn them".
A flashback within a flashback then happens to when Abby had her two abortions, the first as a college student and the second after she marries then divorces. During the second abortion, for $400.00, she is given mifepristone at the clinic and is told there will be "a little bleeding", but the experience is depicted as being excruciatingly painful, over twelve hours and then followed up with "eight weeks of blood clots and excruciating cramps" causing her to fear for her life.
The film then cuts back to Abby's continuing work at the clinic, and she recounts in voice-over that it became "my career, despite the disapproval of virtually everyone in my life". The film flashes forward to her second marriage to Doug, a man who proclaims love while, like her parents, disapproving of her career on religious and moral grounds. Abby describes starting her life with Doug and attending a church with him that is decidedly opposed to abortion even while she continues to work at Planned Parenthood.
Abby becomes pregnant by Doug and decides to keep it. In the meantime, a scene is depicted of a botched abortion taking place at the clinic where Abby is told not to call an ambulance because of the way it would "look". Abby gives birth to Grace and is promoted to director when Cheryl is transferred to Houston. Before Hurricane Ike strikes, Abby coordinates all of the abortions to happen beforehand, anticipating that it won't be possible to perform the procedures for a while after the hurricane. Abby wins Employee of the Year while also being told by Cheryl that she should double the number of abortions. Cheryl explains that "Non-profit is a tax status, not a business model!", and says the organization makes its money off of abortions the way that fast food restaurants make money off fries and soda. Abby is scolded for objecting to this, and then eventually reprimanded by Cheryl for insubordination after which the first few moments of the film are repeated just prior to Abby's participation in the procedure.
Abby is then depicted going to the office of 40 Days for Life, run by Marilisa and her husband, Shawn, and tearfully telling them that she cannot stay in her job after what she has seen. They offer to help her find employment. Abby formally resigns from Planned Parenthood and begins to help with the 40 Days for Life campaign, to the point of being on the other side of the clinic fence encouraging women not to go through with their abortions. Planned Parenthood sues Abby for leaking confidential information about their operations, and Shawn convinces his laid-back lawyer friend Jeff to defend her.
In 2013, when the clinic Abby worked at has closed, she organizes a celebration at the abandoned building in which she expresses regret for performing abortions as well as having two. 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
The New York Times reported on an evaluation of the film's first scene:
In that first scene, teased in the trailer and on posters as "the moment that changed everything", Abby, played by Bratcher, witnesses an ultrasound-guided termination of a pregnancy at 13 weeks. The ultrasound, as depicted onscreen, shows a fetus with a discernible head, torso and limbs frantically squirming away from a doctor's probe — an action that Abby later describes as "twisting and fighting for its life" — before being liquefied by suction.
Given a description of this scene, Jennifer Villavicencio, a fellow with the nonpartisan American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists who performs ultrasound-guided abortions but has not seen the film, said that while an ultrasound of a 13-week-old fetus may show a visible head and body, the notion that it would be "fighting for its life" is misleading.
"If you watch an ultrasound, certainly there is movement, but it's not kicking its legs or recoiling", said Villavicencio. She noted broad scientific consensus that fetuses cannot experience pain, and therefore would not recoil from it, until well after 13 weeks. "There is no neurological capability for awareness of danger — that part of the brain is simply not there yet", she said.
The film has been criticized for uncritically portraying events as Johnson claims they occurred in spite of a variety of journalists casting doubt on the veracity of her account. Johnson stated that the patient whose abortion led to her decision to leave Planned Parenthood was a black woman. However, based on reporting by Texas Monthly (which relied on Planned Parenthood clinic records), only one patient served by Johnson's then-employer on September 26, 2009 was black, and she was in the sixth week—not the 13th week—of her pregnancy.
The film purports to depict Planned Parenthood:: as promoting abortion for the sake of profit. A character, Cheryl (Robia Scott), claims that Planned Parenthood makes its money off of abortions the way that fast food restaurants make money by selling French fries and soda.
- 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. Mike 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.
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 film's producers that it would remain R-rated unless those scenes were removed. (They denied assigning 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.
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, 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, with the follower count briefly appearing to shoot up as high as 200,000. 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 distributors in Canada were initially interested in the film, 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 film in the country by not showing it in its theaters. However, the company's usual practice is to only consider filmsif 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.
Unplanned premiered exclusively in SM Supermalls cinemas in the Philippines on August 21, 2019. Felicidad Tan-Sy, the widow of SM founder Henry Sy, cried during its local premiere and stated that "Every Filipino, every person needs to see this movie."
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. 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 $21 million.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 42% based on 26 reviews, with an average rating of 5.70/10. 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 after seeing the film gave it 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." 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 performed by Matthew West. Blake Kanicka, the music supervisor for Unplanned, failed in attempts 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 about abortion provider Kermit Gosnell
- 180, a 2011 anti-abortion documentary
- The Silent Scream, a 1984 anti-abortion documentary by Bernard Nathanson describing the abortion process via ultrasound
- Roe v. Wade, an upcoming dramatization of the 1973 US Supreme Court legalization
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