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Unplanned Speaks the Unspeakable

After a week where she watched a film that takes viewers inside the U.S. abortion industry, then observed the annual March for Life on Parliament Hill, Convivium’s Rebecca Atkinson says Canadians must be allowed to debate the “choice” being made.

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Unplanned Speaks the Unspeakable May 10, 2019  |  By Rebecca Atkinson
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Abby Johnson worked at Planned Parenthood for eight years before she saw what was actually happening behind the closed doors in the clinic she managed. Unplanned, a recent movie that has caused quite the uproar, depicts her story of having had two abortions, working in the world of administering them, then having a total change of heart and working as a pro-life activist. 

The film does not apologize for its themes or any of the explicit material that shows the ins and outs of life at an abortion clinic. The women employed at the clinic believe they are indeed doing something good, and understandably so. These women see unwanted pregnancies as a simple problem that needs solving. A woman comes in, the procedure is completed, and she leaves: no repercussions, she’s promised, and certainly no physical or mental after effects. Life goes on.

But as seen in Johnson’s story and her own life of having had two abortions, this is far from the truth. Each abortion was accompanied by physical and mental strain, though she buried the memories deep down as she moved on to work as director of the clinic. 

She strove to do something she thought was good.

I had the opportunity to see the film this past week, after watching the pro-life community grow inflamed over Unplanned not being publicly screened in Canada. 

The screening was an invitation-only event – no public advertising, no sharing of the event link, all very hush-hush. I was explicitly told not to tell a soul that I would be attending so as to deter any unwanted attention, protest or intervention.

The movie shows a reality no one in their right mind would likely want to see – but is a very real display of what’s happening daily. It is a harrowing, gruesome reality.

In a wide juxtaposition of sorts, I was present two days later on Parliament Hill for the annual March for Life. I saw thousands ­– attendance numbers are systematically contested by both sides – waving signs proclaiming phrases such as “love them both,” “I regret my abortion,” “defend life.” There was also, of course, a small group of angry counter protesters present, fully equipped with outlandish costumes – comparatively a minute fraction of people when seen next to the March gathered on the Hill. They had their own signs, spewed vulgarities, and pent-up anger towards people with whom they very clearly disagreed. 

The two events were so widely different: a movie wherein all invited parties were to keep quiet, then thousands at a public demonstration of desire for change from the daily evils of abortion and its counterparts. Yet the March for Life and Unplanned serve equally as reminders that the abortion debate in Canada will not be stilled just because some vociferously seek to shut it down.

As I watched the film, I understood why. It shows very clearly how an abortion is performed. I wanted to look away on so many occasions. The gut-wrenching heartbreak in the theatre was evident from those around me wiping their eyes and sniffing away tears. So, what would I – or anyone, for that matter – gain by closing my eyes, pretending this isn’t something that happens countless times a day? 

Ignoring or looking away won’t make the reality disappear. This is one of the very problems with abortion – it is a daily occurrence. Yet it is happening under such secrecy, and the facts are little known or greatly ignored. If it smells of injustice or infringement on so-called “rights,” then the response is to cry out “what about the woman’s choice?” while altogether ignoring anything to do with a baby in the womb. 

It is all happening routinely in abortion clinics just down the street from where we work, eat, live, play. Unplanned outs what an abortion actually is, what it more or less looks like. I felt as though I was inside an abortion clinic and, in some ways, could almost reconcile what I saw: women trying to help other women, give them a choice and a solution to their problems. But even in my most empathetic state, I could not rationalize or bring myself to see how this evil could be so widely accepted.

After the showing, Abby Johnson was present, along with others who supported the production of the film, in part to support the fight to have the movie accessible to Canadians across the country. In the United States, where the women live, the film has been publicly available for viewing, which certainly points to the differences in free speech across the two countries.

The movie is a factual depiction of an abortion clinic and a woman who turned away from the industry. It is Johnson’s personal story, one that could change hearts. It could mark a gateway for conversations about abortion, instead of keeping the “choice” it represents behind closed doors. Keeping that from Canadians is an intellectual, political, and moral disservice. Yet we have gone so far as to not even allow its perspective to be aired. 

 “It’s going to be our stories that are going to be able to permeate the callous that has been built around the heart of our society regarding this issue,” Johnson said after the screening, encouraging people to speak their stories on the subject of abortion, instead of relying solely on bigger-picture laws and legislations.

 “Abortion will only end when we as a people can no longer even conceptualize the act of abortion,” added Lisa Wheeler, of Carmel Communications. 

The fight for life can seem grim, but the stigmatization of the issue can be worse – not only for those on the pro-life side, but for those women seeking other options. Removing the option of seeing the film takes away any opportunity to talk about the issue; angry demonstrations in face of peaceful marches are not any better.

Still, the question remains for those supportive of abortion “rights”: Is removing the conversation altogether the most conducive way to help women in need?

Photo by Rebecca Atkinson.


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