By Maria Oswalt
I often get discouraged as a pro-life activist. Sometimes the weight of what we're up against feels like it's just too much — I remember that babies are killed by the thousands each day, I see once-pro-life friends defending legal abortion online, I hear about the Supreme Court shooting down common-sense regulations for abortion clinics in Louisiana — and it can be easy to slip into a sort of despair. I want to cry for those children. I want to rage against the system that allows this violence to continue. I want to wallow in my emotions. While this is certainly a reasonable response to large-scale violence, my despair isn't going to change any hearts and minds. Connecting with other pro-life activists and knowing that I'm not alone when I feel this way is helpful, but sometimes the only cure for a discouraged heart is to witness an authentic success story. A win.
Enter Unplanned, the soon-to-be-released film depiction of Abby Johnson's journey.
Many may already be familiar with Johnson's work, but here is a synopsis of her story for the unacquainted: she became involved with Planned Parenthood while in college at Texas A&M University. After meeting an employee at the student fair, she was convinced that Planned Parenthood cared for women in need, so she signed up to be a clinic volunteer. Johnson rose through the ranks over the years, becoming increasingly convinced of the necessity of abortion and Planned Parenthood, and she eventually became the director of her local clinic. Planned Parenthood named her employee of the year in 2008.
Throughout this journey, Johnson developed a complicated friendship with the sidewalk counselors from 40 Days for Life who would often pray outside of her clinic. Their peaceful, prayerful presence — in contrast with more aggressive activists, who would use graphic imagery and yell at women going inside the clinic — had built a trust between them. This trust became crucial when Johnson's eyes were opened to the violence of abortion; on a September day in 2009, she walked out of Planned Parenthood and headed straight for the 40 Days for Life office. They gave her the encouragement she needed to leave her job and to face the many legal attacks thrown at her by Planned Parenthood. She's been a pro-life activist ever since. With her ministry, And Then There Were None, Johnson now assists other abortion workers as they leave the industry.
I was lucky enough to view the director's cut of Unplanned in Washington, DC, the weekend of the national March for Life. It is one of the most frank and realistic pro-life movies I've ever seen. It spares no details in its truthful retelling of Johnson's journey, and in my opinion, it fairly represents the motivations that lead people to work in the abortion industry — which is extremely important for pro-life activists to understand if they hope to convince pro-choicers to switch sides. It's an intense, poignant, must-see for anyone involved in the pro-life movement.
Outside the pro-life movement, this film could be hugely beneficial as a discussion-starter. While I can't say how many pro-choicers will choose to view the film independently (of course, I hope that many will, but let's be honest, with "FROM THE PRODUCERS OF GOD'S NOT DEAD" on much of the film's marketing, pro-choicers uninterested in challenging their worldview will steer clear of it), I think that providing ample opportunities for them to do so, through mainstream theaters and student groups hosting campus viewings, could lead to many conversions. The film gets to the root of the abortion issue. It doesn't shy away from honestly depicting what drew Abby Johnson into the abortion industry, as well as what convinced her to break free from it. At its core, it's just the story of a woman seeking truth and goodness, which pro-choicers and pro-lifers alike can relate to.
As I mentioned earlier, this film is also the perfect success story for activists in need of encouragement. Unplanned doesn't bother with feel-good fluff, which would make it feel inauthentic; it sticks to the facts, and the facts alone are motivation enough. Abby Johnson's conversion is proof that patient, persistent love is what changes hearts.
To find more information on Unplanned, such as ticket and theater information visit: www.unplannedfilm.com.
This article originally appeared in Volume 7 Issue 1 of Life Matters Journal.