Healing the Shockwaves of Abortion

The Movie Unplanned: You Had an Abortion – Should You See this Film? Self-Care and Opportunities for Outreach

By Kevin Burke, LSW

The movie Unplanned tells the story of Abby Johnson. Johnson is a former Planned Parenthood director at a facility where over 22,000 preborn children were aborted. Johnson was a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood and believed strongly in the ideology of “reproductive rights.” She personally experienced a first-trimester abortion and later a chemical abortion.

All this changed when Johnson was present during a surgical abortion at her Planned Parenthood and witnessed the reality of the procedure. This scene is one of a number of very graphic and powerful presentations in the film Unplanned, which lifts the veil on “choice” as we get a closer look behind the walls of a Planned Parenthood facility.

The disturbing scene takes place in the procedure room during a first-trimester abortion. You witness the bloody remains of what was once a developing child sucked into a tube and deposited in a jar. What is particularly moving, and jarring, is the sound of the fetal heartbeat as the procedure begins – and the deadly silence when the procedure successfully destroys the little boy or girl.

Another trauma triggering scene accurately depicts the suffering of women that experience a chemical abortion in their home. Ashley Bratcher, who portrays Abby Johnson in the film, shares in The Stream:

“Mentally and physically, the most difficult scene so far has been where Abby had an abortion by taking the RU-486 pill,” says Bratcher. “On Friday, it was almost like torture, reliving this moment in her life for hours. Every single take, I physically went there. I allowed myself to be emotional to the point that I literally threw up during one of the takes.” [1]

Abby Johnson describes her RU-486 abortion, re-enacted in the movie Unplanned:

“… I started to feel pain in my abdomen unlike anything I had ever experienced. Then the blood came. It was gushing out of me…The only thing I could do was sit on the toilet. I sat there for hours…bleeding, throwing up into the bathroom trashcan, crying and sweating…. I filled the tub and climbed in…The cramps kept coming, but the water helped soothe them somewhat. I opened my eyes after 15 minutes and was horrified. My bathwater was bright red… I stood up slowly and straightened out my body. As soon as I was completely upright, I felt a pain worse than any other I had experienced…Then I felt a release…and a splash in the water that was draining beneath me. A blood clot the size of a lemon had fallen into my bath water. Was that my baby?[2]

Other Traumatic Triggering Scenes

So many women and men who lost children to abortion are troubled by the question: “what happened to my baby?” For them, this scene will be very painful:

  • Two large barrels containing the remains of aborted children, marked as “medical waste,” are being prepared for removal. A nearby group of pro-life advocates plead with the disposal company employees to allow them to pray over the children’s remains before they are hauled away.

Another scene depicts a Planned Parenthood employee lifting a tiny severed arm out of the bloody remains of an abortion procedure – to ensure that no fetal tissue was left inside the mother that could lead to infection.

Grandparents of aborted children may also find that the film connects them in a deeper and more immediate way to their grief and pain:

  • A father brings his pregnant daughter for an abortion. As he sits in the waiting room, he is kept in the dark about his daughter having serious complications after the procedure.
  • In another heart-breaking scene a mother pleads with her daughter not to enter the Planned Parenthood facility. The mother’s pleas fall on deaf ears as the daughter walks into the facility to end the life of her grandbaby.

Women with Abortion Loss Who Viewed the Film

We have consulted with a number of women who have experienced abortion loss, have been through a healing program, and are involved in outreach to women and men hurting after abortion.

After viewing Unplanned they shared that the experience was deeply painful and disturbing. One woman was angry feeling that she was not properly warned of some of the more graphic and traumatic scenes.

The majority expressed that while it was challenging to watch, there is great value in this intimate encounter with Abby’s story, as it is the story of so many women (and men who accompany their partners and daughters to abortion centers.)

All agreed that there should be information available to those who might need to talk to someone or attend an abortion recovery program after seeing Unplanned. (There will be hotline numbers and other resources included at the close of the movie when it opens in theaters March 28th.)

Jody Duffy of PATH (Post Abortion Treatment and Healing of Atlanta) said their ministry will have trained abortion recovery volunteers who will be present at the two screening locations of Unplanned in the Atlanta area on March 28th. Jody shares:

“The PATH volunteers will be available to speak to anyone who may be triggered by the movie and will also have information on hand about our Rachel’s Vineyard retreats and SaveOne Bible studies.”

Should You See The Movie – Recommend It to Others?

A movie like Unplanned has great potential to advance the cause of life and raise awareness and understanding in our nation. The movie also has the potential to have a positive impact on those in pro-life advocacy and abortion recovery ministry.

Some women and men involved in this type of outreach can sometimes experience a type of vicarious trauma. Therapist Donna Gardner shares an experience that can help us better understand the hidden grief of pro-life advocates:

“I recently spoke with an older group of pro-life veterans who spent years in prolife ministry and advocacy. I asked them to close their eyes and bring to mind one particular situation; think of that one baby lost to abortion that especially touched you deeply. They all began to tear up and express the grief that has been hidden in their hearts for many years.”

Such a powerful story like Unplanned can connect us to our own need for deeper emotional and spiritual healing from the grief and pain associated with the destruction of the unborn and the traumatization of their parents. Some will benefit from attending an abortion recovery program, or a special time of prayer and fellowship to process their feelings and share their own stories of grief and loss.

Such a painful journey of faith can nurture a renewed commitment to our pro-life vocations and fresh energy and zeal for activism and outreach, grounded in humility and faith.

For those who have personally experienced the abortion procedure, it’s ok if you decide after prayerful discernment, that this is not a good time to see such a graphic movie presentation on abortion.

You can still be involved in promoting the film, making viewers aware of healing resources, and praying that the film touches those who most need to encounter this powerful story of Abby Johnson and Unplanned.

[1] The Stream. Josh Shepherd, Finding Abby: Actress Who Portrays Johnson in Film Unplanned Nearly Lost to Abortion. Published on October 4, 2018

[2] Abortion Pill Risks. Abby Johnson’s Story.