My younger sister, parents, and I went and watched the movie Unplanned. It is the true story of Abby Johnson, who went from Planned Parenthood clinic director to pro-life advocate shortly after being called in to assist with an ultrasound guided abortion. I had heard many things about the movie, most of them about how sad it was or how it had the ability to change hearts and minds.
I thought it gave an accurate portrayal of the positives and negatives of both the pro-life and the pro-choice side. (Note: I use the terms pro-life and pro-choice because those are generally what each side wants to be called and if I want to engage in a genuine conversation, I don’t start off by alienating them over a title.) Not all pro-lifers are compassionate figures who reach out in love to assist women. Similarly, not all pro-choicers are concerned only about the money behind abortion. The situation is more complex than a simple good people vs. evil people.
During my time outside an abortion clinic in Pittsburgh, I saw some of each type of person depicted in the movie. I saw people who loved the men and women entering the clinic so much they endured hours of standing in the cold and being cruelly mocked by the pro-choice escorts. Yet I also saw pro-life people yelling at abortionists that they are baby killers who are going to burn in Hell or that the women will for having an abortion. While there, I encountered people who genuinely thought abortion was the best option for some women and thus volunteered their Saturday mornings to assist these women. I also met pro-choicers who were extremely hardened, who intentionally pushed into me when I tried to talk to the women, who stood in circles as they joked about physically harming those of us who were praying.
It is because of my time spent at the abortion clinic in Pittsburgh that I watched Unplanned and didn’t think it was as difficult to take in as some people had said it would be. No, I didn’t enjoy watching it, but I had already watched countless women, escorted by best friends, boyfriends, husbands, and parents, walk passed me and into an abortion clinic. I saw women slowly walk out of the clinic after they had their abortions. The reality is far harder to take in than watching a movie about it, as powerful as the movie may be.
Abby Johnson was recruited to be a volunteer escort at an abortion clinic in Texas. On Saturday mornings in college, I would watch other college students show up to be pro-choice escorts and they usually didn’t last very long. Early on, the new escorts were instructed to not speak to us, the people praying or sidewalk counseling. Yet you could see in their faces that they were confused about why we presented such a big threat. The pro-choice escorts were obviously filled with bitterness as they made jokes about our apparel, our prayers, our school, and the words we said to the women.
Sometimes, the escorts would carry a radio blasting music to distract the women. Other times, they would back us against a wall or get right in our faces. Yet the young people being trained into this volunteer position generally saw through the facade. They saw the young college students (about the same age as them) praying and speaking kindly to the women on one side and then they shifted to see the adult pro-choice escorts who acted boisterous, angry, and bitter on the other side. We were their favorite joke and yet we didn’t yell at them or speak angrily to them. This clear witness made the new escorts question what they were doing with the angry escorts—while some returned a few times, none stayed for very long. The escorts that remained were typically older and several had been volunteering there for several years.
This witness of gentleness was beautifully portrayed in the story of Shawn and Marilisa Carney, as shown in Unplanned. It made me want to be them, patiently waiting outside an abortion clinic to offer love and mercy at a very difficult moment. The consistent gentle presence is what will change hearts and minds, not loudly shouting or harshly condemning. However, being gentle doesn’t mean sacrificing the truth of abortion. Being approached as a person first (instead of as the committer of a particular sin) goes a long way to engaging in an authentic conversation. Think of Christ speaking to and about the woman caught in the act of adultery: He spoke in such a way that the woman herself felt free to speak with Him once the others walked away. He didn’t water down the reality of what she had done, but He lovingly made it clear that she needed to live differently.
I would encourage you to go see Unplanned for yourself, even if it makes you uncomfortable to do so. Then consider what unique way God might be calling you to enter more deeply into the pro-life movement. There are many ways we are called to witness to the sanctity of life. Whatever the Lord calls you to, simply seek to do it well.