April 8, 2019

Perhaps you’ve heard about the film.

Unplanned hit theaters a few weeks ago. It opened strong—the fifth-most popular movie that weekend. Life-affirming individuals, congregations, and groups have been filling the seats and even buying out entire showings. The picture’s buzz is flooding social media. Inquiring Lutheran minds want to know: should we see it?

It’s based on a bestselling autobiographical book of the same name. Unplanned tells the story of Abby Johnson. She volunteered at a Planned Parenthood in Texas during college and then they made her an employee. Soon she ascended to the position of clinic director—the youngest one in PP’s history (despite the objections of her parents and her husband). Though she grew up Christian, she underwent two abortions of her own. After encountering “40 Days for Life” demonstrators and participating directly in an abortion procedure, Abby left the industry and the cause. She founded a ministry called “And Then There Were None,” which assists abortion workers to abandon the business.

My wife and I enjoyed a private invitation to preview Unplanned before its release. (One of the producers also addressed the audience!) I had been looking forward to the movie, as I have read the book and met Abby in person. Her experiences powerfully illustrate the redemption that Jesus brings about even in lives broken by abortion. She testifies to the hope and the joy that the sanctity of life delivers regardless of age, appearance, or ability. And LFL appreciates the Gospel motivation with which her organization operates.

The film is poignant. With unflinching accuracy it captures the high stakes in life issues, accurately portraying that we’re dealing with much more than mere political controversies or personal choices. The plot and the characters powerfully depict that real hearts and real hurts are involved, whatever a person’s perspectives. Unlike most other popular media, it portrays the compassion with which life-affirming persons (especially our gentle, sidewalk-counseling brothers and sisters) courageously enter the sufferings of their neighbors, even the neighbors who may resent them. It proclaims the irreplaceable blessings that family, faith, and prayer provide in the valley of death’s shadow. And it’s quite timely, keeping the magnitude of surprise pregnancy and unborn children in the public’s consciousness at a moment when the profile of life issues has perhaps never been higher.

However, Unplanned applies a little heavier hand than LFL prefers. Its central message emphasizes how bad abortions and the Planned Parenthood corporation are. The MPAA infamously assigned the picture an R rating, and this is quite appropriate. Two scenes in particular that occur very near the beginning are as graphic as any horror movie. One shows a computer-recreated ultrasound of a little one being vacuum-aspirated limb by limb into tubes and canisters. The other follows the main character through her gory-and-traumatic chemical-abortion process, and the actress plays them with gut-wrenching authenticity. I want my own sixteen-year-old son to have another year of maturity and security before viewing them.

Most problematically, this show implies the Gospel more than it announces it. In what could be considered the film’s central scene (theologically, at least), Abby asks, “How can God ever forgive me?” The actor portraying her husband responds, “He’s God. He’s merciful.” It conspicuously misses the golden opportunity to declare Jesus Christ, who has come, loved, served, died, and risen to deliver unconditional grace and healing in Word and Church. The story does depict a conversion from pro-choice to pro-life, but it doesn’t really express the redemption I anticipated—from proud and desperate sinner to forgiven child of God and beloved disciple of Jesus, and from what we intend for evil to what He utilizes for good.

Take these reflections as one person’s opinion. Others at LFL have seen the movie and would highly recommend it as a caring and compassionate message, showing the horror and sinfulness of abortion but also pointing people to God. Feel free to see the film yourself, form your own impressions, and share them with us. (Or, for a more cheerful aftertaste that communicates both forceful Law and full-strength Gospel, check out Bella or October Baby.) It seems to me that if Unplanned changes anyone’s mind about abortion, it will do so because of its attention to the awfulness of it. But we can gratefully take advantage of the opportunity to proclaim and perform how God creates, redeems, and calls every member of our race to be His own precious treasure forever.

To that end, we offer you an Unplanned discussion guide. One of our LCMS District Life Coordinators, Rev. Dr. Craig Meissner, prepared it for us to distribute and use. It appropriately completes the conversation that the movie begins. And remember our Word of Hope crisis care and healing hotline ministry (888-21STORY or 888-217-8679; www.word-of-hope.org). Deaconess Chrissie Gillet will answer, listen, and share God’s love and grace in the distinctively Lutheran spirit with every caller for whom viewing the movie triggers grief and guilt.

And thank you so much for making this mission possible!


Unplanned – The Movie – Perspectives from Lutherans For Life