“I saw it, and it was like it was twisting and fighting for its life.” So says Abby Johnson, former Planned Parenthood clinic director and lead character in Unplanned, the anti-abortion propaganda movie – based on the widely debunked memoir by a woman of the same name – which has become a runaway US hit, making over $14 million in its first two weeks.
Unplanned depict Johnsons account of her experience as a formerly enthusiastic Planned Parenthood employee, and how – as she describes it – she gradually became jaded, then horrified by her first sight of an abortion. The movie ends with her quitting her job at the clinic to join The Coalition for Life, an anti-abortion group down the street. In real life, Johnson has spent her time since quitting Planned Parenthood in 2009 becoming a prominent advocate for anti-abortion, publishing the memoir on which the film is based in 2011.
Unplanned was the fourth-highest grossing movie in the US on its opening weekend (March 29-31), and has already received endorsements from Mike Pence, Donald Trump Jr. and Ted Cruz. The films trailer promises viewers they will “discover the truth,” but the reality is one of manipulation, misrepresentation, and the invigoration of a nationwide trend which threatens the safety of women and their rights over their bodies.
The reach of such films must not be underestimated. Another anti-abortion movie, Gosnell, was screened by the White House last week. President Trump was apparently not present, but he has already proven himself an enthusiastic proponent of blatant abortion lies for the sake of political capital – claiming in a statement in February that New York lawmakers would happily “allow a baby to be ripped from the mothers womb moments before birth.”
Planned Parenthood is depicted as “one of the most powerful organisations in the world,” a ruthless machine devoted to coercing women into as many abortions as possible for profit. This is hugely misleading. Over 70 percent of Planned Parenthoods revenue comes from private contributions, government health services reimbursements, and grants. Abortions account for only 4 percent of Planned Parenthood activities, more than 90 per cent of which are preventative. These include wellness exams, contraception, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment.
By default, the organisations activities minimise abortions, by preventing unwanted pregnancies. To suggest otherwise perpetuates the false narrative of a heartless “abortion industry” beloved by the conservative press, which has already seized upon the films spin. But the menaced threat of Planned Parenthood is far from the most dangerous message of Unplanned.
The fighting foetus of the 13 week abortion Johnson describes witnessesing prior to her conversion is impossible. A foetus doesnt develop the capacity to perceive pain – let alone respond to it – until at least the third trimester. The sight of Johnson first guiding people towards having abortions, then sobbing and shocked, paints women as ignorant pawns. It amplifies a message which gained traction with Kavanaughs journey to the Supreme Court last year – that women who seek abortions must not be fully aware of what they are doing, because what they are doing is so awful that no-one in good conscience could go through with it. It is logic based in the premise that there is no distinction between a developing foetus and a functioning human.
That portrayal of early foetuses as sentient creatures tugs at the an emotional and wholly unscientific thread which continues to spur legislative change. The foetal heartbeat bill passed in Ohio last Thursday sees abortions banned as early as five or six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant.
A fully-formed heart can be hooked up to a machine and beat outside of the body, but independently of a complete and fully-functioning human to go with it, a beating heart is not a signifier of conscious human life. The very name of the foetal heartbeat bill bypasses this critical technicality, and like Unplanned, tugs at the heartstrings, rather than appealing to the brain. Ohio is the fifth state to pass such a bill.
The bloody horror-show of the on-screen procedure itself is also incredibly misleading. Less than one per cent of women experience complications during abortions. DIY abortions on the other hand are very dangerous, even when managed with unprescribed pills rather than invasive procedures – and