The Catholic Impact on Abby Johnson

"Unplanned” filmmakers Chuck Konzelman (L) and Cary Solomon (R) with Abby Johnson, main character of the movie. Photo courtesy of the filmmakers.

“Unplanned” filmmakers Chuck Konzelman (L) and Cary Solomon (R) with Abby Johnson, main character of the movie. Photo courtesy of the filmmakers.

The movie “Unplanned” is about how brutal truth helped Abby Johnson to choose beautiful truth and redemption. Ten years ago, Johnson left her job as the director of Planned Parenthood’s facility in Bryan, Texas, where she had passionately sold about 22,000 abortions. Since then, Johnson has exposed the abortion industry as a whole to lawmakers and blown the whistle on medical and legal infractions at her former facility, causing it to go out of business. Today she helps abortion workers leave the deadly trade and find good jobs. Here, Johnson and the filmmakers explain why they made the movie and the Catholic impact on it.

The feature film comes from Johnson’s 2010 book “Unplanned: The dramatic true story of a former Planned Parenthood leader’s eye-opening journey across the life line.” Johnson’s change of mind and heart began as she assisted in an abortion and watched it on a sonogram. “It was clear to me that I wasn’t watching a simple choice. It was very gruesome, the taking of a life,” she said. “I saw the baby’s body being twisted and burned. As I said in the book, the baby was wrung like a dish cloth and its body just kind of crumbled into the tube. It was terrible to watch.”

“Unplanned” takes Johnson’s former job and shows the deadly truth about the impact of abortion on today’s world. Despite its forthright and controversial message, the filmmakers gained unforeseen success. Starting on March 29, 2019, the movie showed in U.S. theaters for 19 weeks and earned a profit. According to Box Office Mojo, the production budget was $6 million and the movie grossed almost $19 million. “Unplanned” is now available for purchase on DVD and BluRay.

Why See the Movie?

Is “Unplanned” a good movie worth your time and money? Yes.

The Motion Picture Association of America rated “Unplanned” R, which dictated that theaters shouldn’t admit persons under the age of 17 without a parent or adult guardian. Prior to release in U.S. theaters, Johnson, the filmmakers, and the distributors pointed out the irony that underage girls can get abortion drugs or surgical abortions without parental consent – but they’re banned from seeing the warnings portrayed in “Unplanned.”

Nevertheless, they acknowledge the R rating as fair because it shows that abortion is violent and takes human lives. Some scenes are shocking, scary and heartbreaking, and all of them are necessary.

In “Unplanned” (2019), Lezi Gonzales plays the grieving mother and grandmother who begs her daughter not to enter Planned Parenthood for an abortion.

The Filmmakers Were Stunned

Hollywood filmmakers Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman worked on many mainstream, big-studio movies, but became famous for their own films “God’s Not Dead,” starring Kevin Sorbo, and “God’s Not Dead 2,” made in 2014 and 2016. However, they said the Holy Spirit “told” them to make “Unplanned” in 2012.

“We’ve actually had quite a few occurrences like that, but it started with us at a Starbucks,” Solomon explained. “We were just sitting outside having coffee and a girl came up to us and handed us the book ‘Unplanned’ and said ‘You should make this a movie.’ At first we were like, ‘I don’t think so.’ After we read the book, we were so compelled, we prayed on it and the funny thing was, when we prayed on it, we could just feel the Spirit on it – that the Lord wanted this to happen. When we prayed on it, I heard: ‘Not yet’ and I’m thinking to myself, ‘Why are we going through all this if it’s not yet?’And so we kind of got bummed for a week and all of sudden the Spirit fell on us and I felt and heard the Lord say: ‘Not yet doesn’t mean no. It means not yet.’

“So that was stunning to us,” Solomon continued. “We figured that would happen in a month or two months and all of sudden four years had gone by and we’re in our office, and the Spirit drops on us, and says ‘Now’ and we knew exactly what He was talking about. That was 10 days before President Trump – to the surprise of the world – was going to be elected. What we came to realize at that very moment was the wisdom of God because, if we had done it six years ago, it would have been during the Obama administration with people who were not as sympathetic as Trump is to ending abortion. We saw the wisdom of this after Trump got elected.”

Cary Solomon referred to some states pushing infanticide and said: “We realized, especially now if you look in the news, what’s happening now in New York and Virginia and all these things, it’s in the Lord’s perfect timing. And all along the way as well. We’ve had the Lord telling us, ‘We’re going to do this.’ This is going to happen, that’s going to happen, do this, do that. So He’s been our shepherd. We are sheep following the Shepherd. That’s the best way I can say it.”

Solomon and Konzelman don’t shrink away from personal responsibility in politics and law. They realize that voters, lawmakers, judges, governors, and the president all have the duty to secure human rights. As Chuck Konzelman summed it up: “I don’t think Jesus gave us permission to divorce our daily actions from our faith. I read the Gospel and never saw that anywhere.”

They said Abby Johnson credits so many men and women in her book that they couldn’t include everyone “because the movie would be nine hours long.” Many, if not most of those men and women, are Catholic.

Behind the Scenes

Ashley Bratcher plays Abby Johnson in “Unplanned.” The movie introduces Johnson while she’s the single student named Abby Brannam at Texas A&M University, where the conflict between her faith and reason began. While she was single, Abby secretly had a surgical abortion. She started her abortion career as a volunteer escort at Planned Parenthood, and had a chemical abortion after her first husband cheated on her.

What was Johnson’s mindset at the time? She said: “Honestly, the first abortion I had was really to not disappoint my parents. The second abortion I had – the RU-486 – was truly because I did not want to have any connection to my ex-husband and so I just thought this is the only way to make that happen. I thought because I was already involved as a Planned Parenthood volunteer, it was a pretty easy decision for me to make,” she said. “I didn’t know much about the medication abortion procedure itself, but I remembered everything I heard and I thought ‘Oh, this is so natural, and it’s so easy and it’s like a heavy period, and it will be like nothing and you’ll be back to normal in no time.’”

The movie shows how Johnson’s chemical abortion was so violent that she thought she was dying and said a prayer of sorts that her mother wouldn’t find her dead. After she recovered, Johnson told women and girls at Planned Parenthood: “You do not want to have a medication abortion. It’s awful. You definitely want to have a surgical abortion. This is what I went through. … You want to wait until Saturday for the surgical abortion.”

Abortion is a high-profit business for Planned Parenthood. When Johnson worked there, the price of surgical abortions ranged from $450 to over $800, depending on how far along the babies had developed in their mothers’ wombs. Chemical “medication” abortions didn’t require paying an abortionist and they were priced at $450.

Johnson’s Leaps of Faith

“When I went to college I fell away from my faith,” Johnson explained. “I went to church periodically but I can’t say I had a relationship with God. I thought of it as something that I ought to do. I ought to go to church and my parents were always asking me ‘Are you going to church?’ And so I wanted to be able to tell them ‘Yes. I went to church last Sunday.’ But I wasn’t walking with the Lord at all. So I can’t say that there was ever a time – it’s strange to think about, actually – but I can’t say there was ever really a time where I thought ‘What would God think about me having an abortion?’ That never even crossed my mind. It’s the complete disappointment that I thought my parents would feel and the embarrassment that they would feel. Which, of course now, I know that it was completely blown out of proportion, but at the time I thought I cannot disappoint them. They cannot find this out.

“What I hear a lot from pro-lifers is ‘We never thought of praying for [abortion] clinic workers,” said Johnson. “‘We never thought of reaching out to them’ and I hope this [movie] will get people thinking about how they can reach out to abortion workers and do it in kindness and charity.”

In “Unplanned” (2019), Ashley Bratcher acting as Abby Johnson addresses a crowd outside the Planned Parenthood facility where she worked.

Johnson’s book and the movie end with her conversion to a pro-life warrior, but there’s more to the story. She and her husband Doug (played by Brooks Ryan) joined the Catholic Church on Easter 2012.

“Honestly,” said Johnson, “I left the clinic and I had to make all new friends because none of my friends from Planned Parenthood were my friends anymore. And so I befriended a lot of people who were working in the pro-life movement and the majority of my newfound friends were Catholic. My husband and I had been going to an Episcopal church, which very openly supported abortion and supported my work with Planned Parenthood. So I knew that when I left the clinic I would also have to leave the church, but then what happened was the priest actually called us in and told us we were no longer welcome in the Episcopal Church because we were publicly pro-life.”

“So we were going to different churches and nothing really felt right and all of our new friends were going to Mass,” continued Johnson. “My husband and I both grew-up with quite a bit of anti-Catholic sentiments and we weren’t interested in becoming Catholic. Then we decided let’s go, we’ll go to Mass, we’ll say that we hated it and then they’ll stop bothering us. So we went and we both really walked away surprised and saying ‘Okay. That felt right. That was weird because we expected to hate it but we actually really loved it and we feel very drawn to learn more.’ We ended up enrolling in RCIA [the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults] and the more we looked into the faith, the more we learned about the Catholic Church, the more we looked into history, we knew that was the place we wanted to be.” This was magnificent because the Johnsons brought their children into the Church as well.

Incidentally, “Unplanned” movie writers and directors Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman are Catholic too. Konzelman is a revert who influenced his best friend Solomon, and Solomon converted because the Catholic Church taught him to love the heavenly persons, including the Holy Trinity, the Holy Family, the saints, and the holy angels.

While the movie doesn’t explicitly include the Catholic impact on Abby Johnson’s conversion, it can help you to save babies and their mothers and fathers from the tragedy of abortion – and many of those mothers are vulnerable teenagers. Ultimately, Johnson’s conversion is a tribute to all good people who pray outside of abortion facilities and before the Lord in churches with the mission of ending abortion.

About Anita Crane

Anita Crane is an analyst, writer and editor for Human Life International. She earned a B.A. in Catholic Theology from Christendom College and is certified by the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia in VIRTUS training called Protecting God's Children. She lives near Washington, D.C. and her background includes working as a promo producer and scriptwriter for the C-SPAN Networks, and working as senior editor of the national pro-life magazine Celebrate Life. She has written many articles about the Catholic stance on faith, human rights, politics, movies, and other media for internet publishers, some with millions of readers.

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