In May 2018, I attended my first press junket to watch the filming of the “Unplanned” movie — the true-life story of former Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson’s flight from the abortion industry — at a secret location in Oklahoma City.
There, with other communicators, I dined with Abby and her family, along with the film’s actors; toured the set; interviewed the directors — including Abby and the actress who plays her, Ashley Bratcher — and watched some of the filming.
My second junket experience happened a few months later, this time in Mexico City, where I previewed the horror film, “The Nun,” at an old convent in the Mexican jungle.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago now. My mouth dropped at the news. If someone had told me last summer that 100 percent of my press-junket experiences in 2018 would be focused on Rated-R movies, I’d have said, “No way.” Never would I have guessed, having read Abby’s story and pondered it many times, that its cinematic depiction would garner an “R” rating.
Truth be told, this new development made me even more eager to see the film, for though I’d met and interviewed the directors and actors while in Oklahoma, I’d still not seen the film in whole. And the rating forced questions begging for answers.
From what I’d read — and quite frankly, assumed — “Unplanned” contains none of the usual sexual imagery, harsh profanity, or most other modern-day, soul-numbing, offending elements. What within it could be more offensive than any number of questionable contents our children are exposed to daily in our culture?
I wondered, with others, if the rating had been given to prevent more from viewing “Unplanned” by covert Planned Parenthood sympathizers.
If that’s too far-fetched a theory, I return to this: what could be horrifying enough to merit the surprising rating that even surpassed the PG-13 given to the documentary-movie detailing the conviction of “House of Horrors” late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell?
Maybe, as with the “Passion of the Christ,” the nature of the content, mixed with a little blood, was enough to disturb the senses, I surmised. This had to be it; the reason Abby ultimately fled Planned Parenthood: the gut-wrenching reality of abortion.
But I wanted to see for myself. Not wanting to watch it without a second set of eyes to process with me, I summoned my 18-year-old daughter to be my “Unplanned” movie-mate and screening partner. She’d also been with me on two March for Life trips to Washington, D.C., had heard plenty about my sidewalk advocacy, and was within frequent earshot the year I worked on co-authoring Ramona Trevino’s conversion story, “Redeemed by Grace: A Catholic Woman’s Journey to Planned Parenthood and Back.”
As we watched, I began to understand better the rating, and why the film’s directors, in the end, did not contest it. It’s one thing to READ about witnessing a baby being aborted by seeing it on an ultrasound screen, to READ about the women’s anguish, to READ how an abortion worker pieced through baby body parts in the “products of conception” (P.O.C) room…and quite another to be brought into those scenes visually on screen.
I’ll admit it: It was hard. Some very sensitive adults might struggle through it. And yet, when one thinks of what’s at stake, there’s no doubt: this is a film that should be widely seen — including by older children who’ve been properly prepared.
Indeed, despite all the preparations that had preceded my viewing, my soul was seized in a way I wasn’t quite expecting. And yet, the film was done extremely well. I allowed myself one bathroom break and made it happen quickly.
As an aside, watching “Unplanned” with my own young-adult daughter proved powerful, as it brought to mind the day we learned of her existence, just three months after we tragically lost our third baby to miscarriage. Sitting with her there in the dark, taking in this challenging story together, gratitude for her mere presence in my life overcame me. She’d made it out of my womb and through the hands of an intensive-care team, all to be with me in this moment, and so many more. I knew many who’ve had abortions will grieve these lost moments, because, no matter how life might go on after an abortion, the chances for those moments with the one who slipped past will not return, not this side of heaven at least.
Seeing “Unplanned” had another effect, too. It motivated me to get back to praying at our state’s only abortion facility, reminding me not only of the powerful witness of sidewalk advocacy, but the deep sadness we’re trying to prevent. Returning to the sidewalk the day after my screening, a memory returned of the day Abby prayed in the very same spot where I was, witnessing to pro-choice escorts during one of her visits to Fargo, N.D., shortly after the release of her book.
“America wants abortion,” Abby’s former supervisor told her after she left her high-powered position. Exposing the lies of abortion, as Abby has through sharing her story, can bring us all one step closer to erasing this reality.
As the directors commented in an interview shortly after the rating was announced: “As the wife of our lead film attorney put it: ‘This is a movie that every mother of a teenage girl needs to take her daughter by the hand and go see with her.’ So as far as we’re concerned, ‘R’ means ‘Recommended.’”
I concur. “Unplanned,” which opens March 29, is one more important movie being produced right now to bring levity to our world’s atrophied sense of the sacred. Find a theater showing the film, and do what you can to ensure its success. I’ve determined “Unplanned” will join the same rare rank as “The Passion” for being an exception to the rule of R-rated films I’d allow my youngest two children, 13 and 16, to see.
And as we consider all the implications, please join with me in covering Abby, her family, and all those who are in the thick of the battle, with fervent prayer.
Q4U: What parameters do you set for your children regarding their film viewing? How does the R rating for this pro-life film challenge you?