Panel previews and discusses ND alumnus’ pro-life film ‘Unplanned’
Thomas Murphy | Friday, March 22, 2019
Members of the Notre Dame community gathered Thursday evening at Browning Cinema in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center for a panel discussion about the upcoming pro-life film “Unplanned” hosted by the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture.
The panel, whose discussion was partly based on clips from the film shown to the audience, was moderated by O. Carter Snead, the director of the Center for Ethics and Culture. The panel’s four members included Abby Johnson, whose life is the subject of the film, Mary FioRito, a pro-life activist and fellow at the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture, Chuck Konzelman, a Notre Dame alumnus from the class of 1982 who co-wrote and co-directed the film, and Cary Solomon, Konzelman’s fellow co-writer and co-director.
“Unplanned,” which comes out March 29, is based on Johnson’s memoir of the same name. The story follows Johnson’s journey from a clinic manager for Planned Parenthood to an outspoken advocate for the pro-life movement following a life-changing experience she had while assisting with an ultrasound abortion.
In an interview prior to the event, Konzelman said he and Solomon became aware of Johnson’s story after being approached in a coffee shop by a stranger who recommended they read her memoir.
“What was neat in terms of the story was that all [Johnson] ever wanted to do was help women. That’s all she ever wanted to do,” Konzelman said. “So, she was a very sympathetic character, and even in her story and the film, while watching her do things that particularly the pro-life audience will look at and say, ‘That action is an unsympathetic action, that action isn’t something we don’t agree with … yet we understand her motivation and we can forgive her based on what it was she was trying to accomplish.’”
Konzelman and Solomon said they made a conscious decision to make the film as factual as possible. For them, this meant not only including an accurate portrayal of the abortion process, but also of those who work at Planned Parenthood clinics. Solomon said it would have been counter-productive and dishonest to paint Planned Parenthood employees in an evil light. Instead, they emphasized the humanity and honest intentions of all involved.
These portrayals make the film an especially valuable contribution to the national conversation on abortion, Johnson said.
“In a time where we live with all these, ‘His truth, and her truth, and my truth and your truth,’ and people are just like, ‘What is the dang truth? Not your version, but the truth, the absolute truth,’” Johnson said. “This film does a really beautiful job of showing that truth for really what I believe to be the first time in a pro-life film. This film has really pushed the boundaries.”
Konzelman said he and Solomon felt called to share Johnson’s story of conversion with audiences on the big screen.
“Regardless of how pro-choice you are, you’re probably never going to be as pro-choice as Abby was, and regardless of how pro-life you are, you’re probably not going to get as pro-life as Abby has become,” Konzelman said. “Something happened here. She had her Saul of Tarsus moment. This story was scripted by the Holy Spirit, Abby lived it and it was just our job to translate it.”
The movie was produced with an eye towards performing the work of God, Solomon said.
“The way we look at it is we labor in the fields of the Lord,” he said. “So, it wasn’t about art for us, this is not about our glory, it’s about His glory.”
Because abortion has become “the third rail of American politics,” Konzelman said they have struggled to convince major outlets to advertise the film’s release.
“We don’t talk about it for the most part. There’s this societal agreement not to talk about it,” he said. “This week we can’t advertise on Lifetime because they won’t take our ads, we can’t advertise on Hallmark, they won’t take our ad dollars … The mainstream press for the most part is still busy pretending this film doesn’t exist. We’re opening wide on a thousand screens next week, and yet there’s this real effort to just kind of squelch it and hope it will die a quiet death and go away.”
Regardless of any difficulties with media attention, Johnson said the honesty of “Unplanned” will have a lasting influence on the very nature of the abortion debate in America.
“Abortion continues to be perpetuated and escalate in the way it is in our society because abortion is done in secret,” Johnson said. “You can see the aftermath of it, you can see pictures like that all day on Facebook and on the internet, but to watch a person’s life be extinguished is a very powerful thing to witness. It is the most tragic thing you will ever witness. And finally we have something that is going to pull back the curtain so that it is no longer a secret to our society.”