They gave the movie an "R" rating -- which meant the trailer could only run before "R"- rated movies and no one younger than 17 under could see it without a parent's permission. A half-dozen major music labels refused producers' requests to license music for the film. Many major television networks except Fox News and the Christian Broadcasting Network refused to run ads promoting it. Then, curiously, the movie's Twitter account was suspended through no fault of its own during opening weekend.
(Twitter restored the account after outraged filmgoers flooded them with complaints). Tens of thousands of users (myself included) mysteriously found themselves involuntarily removed from the account's followers and/or unable to follow it in the first place.
Get the feeling someone doesn't want you to see "Unplanned"?
The film tells the true story of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood "employee of the year" turned pro-life activist.
Over eight years, Johnson rose through the Planned Parenthood ranks from volunteer escort, to counselor to one of the youngest clinic directors in the country. But everything changed one day, when she was asked to assist in the ultrasound-guided abortion of a 13-week-old child -- a moment captured in the movie's opening scene.
As she administered the sonogram, Johnson heard a beating heart and saw a human life. "I could easily see its head, arms, and legs," she says. Then she watched in horror as the doctor inserted the suction tube. "The baby jumped away from it but it was all for naught. The abortionist turned on the suction and I saw that baby get sucked apart right in front of me on the screen and inches from the probe I was holding." She quit Planned Parenthood and joined the pro-life activists praying outside the gates of her old clinic which, thanks in part to her efforts, eventually closed.
Johnson calculates she was personally culpable in about 22,000 Planned Parenthood abortions -- including two of her own unborn children. The movie is a story not of condemnation, but of redemption, forgiveness and hope. Apparently that is a message that resonates with moviegoers. Despite all the obstacles thrown in its way, "Unplanned" more than doubled its projected $3 million in opening weekend ticket sales, grossing $6.4 million, and came in at No. 4 for the weekend. The film is opening on 700 more screens this weekend, to a total of 1,700.
The "R" rating didn't stop "Unplanned." Instead, it validated the film's premise. As Ashley Bratcher, the actress who plays Johnson, explained, "We don't have nudity, we don't have sex, we don't have language, so the only thing they could give us an 'R' for is violence. So that means they agree that abortion is a violent and disturbing act." They would not give it an "R" if it depicted a tonsillectomy.
Critics dismiss "Unplanned" as propaganda, but this is incorrect. Yes, Cheryl, the clinic director who hired Abby, is evil to the point of caricature. But the movie also shows Abby, before her conversion, passionately explaining to her parents why she believes she is helping women. She wants to reduce the number of abortions by making abortion less necessary. And "Unplanned" is brutally honest about the flaws of the pro-life movement. In one scene, a man outside the clinic gates, Bible in hand, screams at a frightened young girl and calling her a "baby-killer." In another, we see Abby's terror after hearing the news that Kansas late-term abortionist George Tiller was shot and killed in his church. "I knew him," Abby wails. "He had a family."
Not everyone who claims to be pro-life really is.
But the movie also shows us what really takes place inside a Planned Parenthood clinic. The passcode to get into the clinic is "2-2-2-9" (a wicked joke; it spells "baby"). At one point, Cheryl invites Abby to chat with her in the "P.O.C." room. When a nurse asks if Abby knows what "P.O.C." stands for, she replies "products of conception." No, her colleague says, it means "pieces of children." Every aborted child must be reconstructed so that they can be sure no parts were left inside the womb.
In another horrifying scene, the clinic director refuses to call 911 after an abortion doctor accidentally punctures a teenage girl's uterus because it could result in bad publicity.
Ultimately, the movie is a testament to the power of prayer. Abby's family prays for her to leave Planned Parenthood, but they never reject her. They know she is a good person who does not yet understand the evil of abortion.
There are millions like her. The film's goal is to reach them by showing us the humanity of the unborn child. This is why abortion supporters don't want to you to see "Unplanned." See it anyway.
Marc A. Thiessen is a columnist with The Washington Post.