From writer/director duo Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon, the creative team behind the 2014 sleeper hit "God's Not Dead," comes a pro-life film unlike any other: "Unplanned" — the untold story of Planned Parenthood defector, Abby Johnson.
Though Johnson began in what she describes as a "conservative, pro-life family," she eventually became one of Planned Parenthood's star employees. After joining the organization in 2001, her views on abortion began to tilt leftward to the point that she would eventually identify herself as "extremely pro-choice." As clinic director of a Bryan, Texas facility, Johnson frequently accompanied women from their cars into the clinic and would even assist in abortion procedures at times. In 2008, the clinic crowned her "Employee of the Year."
Things took an unexpected turn for Johnson in September 2009, however, when doctors asked her to assist in an ultra-sound-guided abortion for a 13-week-old fetus. It was in witnessing this inhumane act that Johnson experienced a change of heart. In her memoir, she recalled how the baby squirmed in fright as the vacuum tore it from its mother's womb.
"For the briefest moment," she wrote, "the baby looked as if it were being wrung like a dishcloth, twirled and squeezed. And then it crumpled and began disappearing into the cannula before my eyes. The last thing I saw was the tiny, perfectly formed backbone sucked into the tube, and then it was gone."
The traumatic event caused such a stir in Johnson that she resigned from her post at Planned Parenthood and never looked back. Today, she is undoubtedly one of the fiercest figures in the pro-life movement, whose memoir is now the basis for a Hollywood motion picture. She will be played in the film by "90 Minutes In Heaven" actress Ashley Bratcher.
Expect to find "Unplanned" in theaters nationwide in the spring of 2019.
Working in concert with "I Can Only Imagine" producer Daryl Lefever, Chuck and Cary went to great lengths to bring Johnson's story to the silver screen. In an exclusive interview with The Daily Wire, the creative pair had the following to say:
What sets "Unplanned" apart from other pro-life films that have been released in recent years?
Well let’s face it, the pro-life films that have been released in recent years have been a little "soft" in terms of story. If we’re going to generalize, we’d say they tend toward sentimentality. And that’s fine, for what they were. But that’s not this story.
There are also a couple of other pro-life films that are soon to be released. Without looking to demean those other films in any way, one difference that comes to mind from their plot descriptions is that those stories seem to be told from the "outside in" in terms of character: One is a thriller, with a detective looking to investigate the notorious Gosnell clinic situation … but who wasn’t directly involved in the goings-on there. And the other is sort of a sweeping, decades-long overview of the whole abortion movement, including the court battles and political wrangling.
Our story is a lot more personal: We experience Abby’s journey from the "inside out" in terms of the audience seeing and feeling the events from the point of view of one woman who’s encountering things on an individual level. She experiences them from both sides of the pro-choice/pro-life battle … and by living out her story, she became the only person who could possibly tell it.
Why do you think the Abby Johnson story is so compelling versus the countless other stories pertaining to abortion?
The one thing that was always true for Abby was that all she ever wanted to do was help women. And the great thing is it’s not only true, but it’s endearing in terms of creating audience empathy. It’s something that female viewers in particular should be able to relate to: Here’s a young woman who underwent two abortions herself … then served as a volunteer escort, counselor, and clinic director, becoming one of the youngest clinic directors in the country, and ultimately winning "employee of the year" award for her entire affiliate, before switching sides. But when she saw the real-time image on an ultrasound screen of one child fighting for its life, against the intrusion of the suction catheter that was about to end its existence, it changed her entire belief system in the space of a few seconds. Because she realized that what she was looking at was undeniably human and very much alive … until suddenly it wasn’t.
Ironically, that’s an image that many abortionists and their med techs spend their entire career without ever seeing, because the vast majority of abortions are performed without the ultrasound guidance, in the interest of saving time. Using ultrasound adds an average of about three minutes to every procedure, and when you’re doing thirty or forty procedures in a day, it starts to add up, negatively affecting the bottom line.
What kind of research did you employ to ensure the authenticity of Abby Johnson’s story?
Well, first there’s Abby’s book, which details her experiences in quite a bit of detail. But in order to go deeper, we spent about ten days in Texas with Abby and her family, interviewing them and asking a lot of questions. We met with Abby’s mom and dad, her husband, and several of their friends. We wanted to know what Abby's personal life looked and felt like during this period. The interesting thing was that no one in Abby’s personal life agreed with her career choices.
Then we interviewed Sean and Marilisa Carney, and a number of other prayer warriors who were on the "other side of the fence" with the Coalition for Life (which has since become 40 Days for Life) during Abby’s tenure as clinic director. We toured the inside of the Bryan facility, which was sort of "frozen in time" because it had closed its doors, but hadn’t yet been refurbished. We also spoke with Jeff Paradowski, the attorney who defended Abby when Planned Parenthood sued her for a number of serious-but-unfounded allegations, which were thrown out of court. He was kind enough to provide us with a copy of the hearing transcript, which made for interesting reading.
How accurately does “Unplanned" portray the abortion industry, particularly in regard to Planned Parenthood?
To the greatest extent possible. The vocabulary, counseling techniques and patient routines were all very familiar to Abby, and we portrayed them in the film. Part of what Abby also conveyed was the sense that the "front end" of the facility was actually a fun and interesting place to work, most of the time. To illustrate the point, on one "procedure" Saturday, after finishing with nearly forty elective terminations, Abby’s co-workers threw her a baby shower, with cake and balloons and the usual gifts. They all had fun, and except for a slight twinge on Abby’s part, nobody thought it was unusual.
In seeking to recreate the physical world of our story, we toured a lot of medical office space in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, but couldn’t find anything that felt enough like the Bryan, Texas facility where Abby worked. So we built out a 4,000 square standing set; something that’s very aggressive for a film of this size. We brought in a construction crew, and our design mirrored a surgical abortion facility: the waiting area, admin offices, recovery area, and the procedure suites which form the heart of the complex. A working facility generally has two surgical suites — plus a makeshift lab facility called the "P.O.C." (short for "products of conception") room that sits between the two suites. That was the layout in Abby’s clinic, so that’s what we built.
For the abortion procedure that changes Abby’s life, we used Dr. Anthony Levatino, a former abortionist who performed well over a thousand abortions. So when he sat down at his surgical stool and started arranging the instruments on his tray, you knew it was with the easy grace of a veteran professional. And when he handles his instruments and equipment on screen, it’s with authority and expertise we could never have hoped for from an actor. Abby was actually on set the day we filmed that sequence … and afterward, she nodded and said, "That looked real." That’s what we were going for. Not sensationalization … but objective reality.
Ironically, this authenticity also means that pro-lifers are going to feel uncomfortable for portions of this story, because they’re going to be watching Abby say and do things they don’t agree with. But the truthful intensity of her conviction helps make those things relatable: we understand what she’s doing, even if we don’t agree with it.
What do you hope people (both liberal and conservative) can take away from this film?
For the women who’ve undergone procedures, we’re hoping they realize that God’s love and forgiveness are readily available. That it’s okay to talk about this … and for their honesty to help steer other women from making the same mistake. One of our producers was recently speaking with a woman who’s a mental health professional, and she commented that 100% of her adult female patients dealing with depression are post-abortive. That’s pretty scary … and says something about the pool of unresolved guilt and shame out there. We’re talking about widespread societal denial.
On the political side, we’re hoping that we can return to a place where both conservatives and liberals can agree on the sanctity of life … and we can argue about everything else. Fifty years ago that didn’t seem unreasonable. Maybe it can happen again. But only if we can come to a consensus that any termination of pregnancy is involuntary from the point of view of a very tiny human being. Or as Theodore Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) put it, “a person’s a person, no matter how small."
Surely, the Left will do everything in their power to sabotage and discredit this film. We have already seen that with the Roe v. Wade movie. How will you respond to the coming smear campaign?
We will look to speak the truth, in love. And in the end, what can they say? That Abby didn’t experience these events? Sure, they can claim that … but who’s gonna believe it?