by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Who does not love a good story?
Many children beg their parents to tell them or read them a story before going to bed. Movies, videos and television are extremely powerful vehicles for communicating stories in a compelling manner.
These visual media tools have reshaped our cultural moral values by communicating stories — often fictitious, sometimes based on actual events — that are designed to cause viewers to reconsider moral convictions that previously were nearly universally accepted.
This same technology, however, can be used to relate stories that support moral truths.
Next Friday, the movie “Unplanned” will premiere at movie theaters in Kansas City and across the nation. “Unplanned” tells the true story of Abby Johnson’s conversion from a former Planned Parenthood clinic director to an eloquent pro-life advocate.
Like St. Paul who went from being a persecutor of the disciples of Jesus to becoming the greatest Christian evangelist of all time, Abby went from being Planned Parenthood’s employee of the year to one of our nation’s most effective defenders of the sanctity of human life.
“Unplanned’s” tagline is: “What she saw changed everything.” Assisting with an ultrasound- guided abortion, Abby witnessed a 13-week-old unborn child unsuccessfully struggling to escape the lethal instruments of the abortionist.
She left Planned Parenthood forever the next day. The movie is not preachy and it does not villainize abortion clinic personnel. Abby originally volunteered and later became a valued employee, because she believed that Planned Parenthood was genuinely seeking to assist women and prevent abortions.
Abby’s current ministry, And Then There Were None, has helped over 500 former employees cease working at abortion clinics.
“Unplanned” has been given an R rating by the Motion Picture Association of America for violent content.
Several years ago, I endorsed Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” that also received an R rating for graphic violence.
Like “The Passion of the Christ,” the violence in “Unplanned” is not gratuitous but essential to accurately tell Abby’s story. The motion picture industry, in giving the movie an R rating, is acknowledging what many abortion advocates attempt to deny — namely, the brutal violence that every abortion inflicts upon mother and child.
One irony about the R rating is that a 16-year-old cannot see “Unplanned” without being accompanied by a parent, but in many states that same 16-year-old could have an abortion without her parents’ consent or even knowledge.
Parents will want to see “Unplanned” before allowing their adolescent children to attend. Parents will have to make their own decision about its suitability for their teenagers.
However, with young people being vulnerable and targeted for abortion, I think it is an important movie for our youth to see. I encourage parents to consider viewing “Unplanned” with your adolescent sons and daughters, then having a frank and open discussion with them about the film.
Abby had two abortions. At least in one case, she became pregnant while using contraceptives. This exposes the big fallacy in Planned Parenthood’s claim that their distribution of contraceptives to young people without parental knowledge is helping to prevent abortions.
Abby discovered as a Planned Parenthood clinic counselor and eventual director that around half of those who procure abortions were using a form of contraception.
An important part of Abby’s story is how prayerful sidewalk counselors, treating Abby with respect and compassion, played a key role in her departure from Planned Parenthood.
When she walked out of the abortion clinic, because of the relationships that had developed with the sidewalk counselors, Abby immediately went to their office for assistance. The film is instructive for those engaged in pro-life advocacy. It makes clear the methods that are effective and those that are counterproductive.
“Unplanned” is a story about conversion, mercy, redemption and love. The film depicts the faithful love of Abby’s parents and husband, who never wanted Abby to work for Planned Parenthood.
“Unplanned” is a story about the humility to acknowledge the errors of the past and the courage to change and embark upon an uncertain future. Abby did not know what lay ahead for her when she left Planned Parenthood, but she trusted that God would be with her if she followed the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
She never dreamed that walking out of the abortion clinic would not only dramatically change her own life but would also be a grace and blessing for so many others.
Whether you consider yourself pro-life or you feel conflicted about this issue that has divided our nation for almost 50 years, I encourage you to view “Unplanned.” We all need to be better informed about an issue that results in the deaths of nearly 1 million American children every year as well as the emotional, spiritual and sometimes physical scarring of their mothers and fathers.
This is a pivotal moment for our country. With the new composition of the United States Supreme Court, abortion advocates are panicked by the prospect of the court allowing states to prohibit or at least significantly limit abortions. Supporters of legalized abortion are attempting to pass laws in state legislatures that would not only keep abortion legal through all nine months of pregnancy, but would allow even for infanticide, killing newborn children.
I urge you to go see “Unplanned.” Once you have seen it, please encourage and invite family and friends to also view this movie. Abby Johnson had the courage to share her story. Please have the courage to invite others to view “Unplanned.”
I pray that Abby’s conversion will inspire America’s conversion making abortion soon unthinkable in our nation.
Archbishop Neumann, thank you for your column on this important film and your leadership as chairman of the USCCB Pro-Life Committee. As chairman, I wonder if you would consider urging our nation’s priests and pastors to find a way to talk about this issue from the pulpit. And to go beyond the Church’s teaching on abortion and the need for us to get involved in the fight.
We are undoubtedly facing the most important life-or-death crisis of the 21st century. However, it’s necessary to take a step back and consider the “why” behind so many of these abortions. It’s because these girls and woman are scared. More than that, probably. They are terrified…they wonder if their family will kick them out, their boyfriend will leave or if anyone will ever love them again. They are often alone, confused, desperate, hopeless. As a church, we need to be doing more for these women BEFORE they show up at a Planned Parenthood. We need to let them know God’s instructions on marriage and sex will always stand in the Catholic Church because they are good and for our good. And then in the next breath, our priests need to remind the congregation that their church is here for them. IF, IF, IF they are ever in a desperate situation. WE, their church family, are here for them. No condemnation, no judgment. We will love them and hold their hand. We will help them find solutions and help them tell their parents, if that’s what they need. Our church’s women and girls need to know, even before they NEED to know, that their priest and their church family will surround them with compassion and care…IF.
Just for a moment, imagine how many abortions that message could potentially prevent. How can our church leaders NOT say something? Jesus calls us to be bold and brave and radical. This is something that’s likely way outside of many pastors’ comfort zones. But it’s necessary. They need to say it. In case these girls and women need to hear it or remember it one day. And not just “one and done,” but a message that is consistently repeated so that they don’t forget.
Thank you for your time, Archbishop, and may God continue to bless your work.