Fri | Oct 30, 2020

Anti-abortion movie premieres in Jamaica - Canada bans ‘Unplanned’ for hate speech

Published:Friday | May 24, 2019 | 12:25 AMSade Gardner /Gleaner Writer
A section of the audience at the premiere of ‘Unplanned’.
A section of the audience at the premiere of ‘Unplanned’.

When Texas college student Abby Johnson shows up at a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic to volunteer, protesters are unreservedly belittling patients, with one even shouting “Baby killer!” But in the midst of the protesters stand Shawn Carney and his wife, Marilisa, pro-life sidewalk counsellors at Coalition for Life. Their gentle approach helps foster a relationship with Johnson, whose eight-year stay at the clinic, from counsellor to director, influences her decision to become a pro-life activist.

Various layers of the abortion debate are presented in the movie Unplanned, which premiered at the Courtleigh Auditorium in New Kingston on Wednesday. However, it is the emerging pro-life strategy which stands out most, as more film-makers are using narrative to reach audiences, some of whom may be on the fence.

Early in the film, Johnson has two abortions, the latter clinically induced by medication. What should have only been “gently emptying her uterus”, as described by a nurse, turned into eight weeks of haemorrhaging, intense pain, and even scenes where Johnson picks up a blood clot big enough to fit in her hand, and throws it in the toilet, before stumbling on the bathroom floor marred by blood.

Despite her own ordeal, Johnson (played by Ashley Bratcher) spends her days selling abortions, rather than other solutions, to “women in crisis”, due to a moneymaking agenda which is explored in the film. Even though she observes gory behind-the-scenes details, for example, a teenager who is found bleeding to her socks in the recovery room after her abortion procedure, it takes the witnessing of a foetus ‘fighting for its life’ during an ultrasound-guided abortion for Johnson to resign from the clinic in 2009.


She joins forces with the Carneys in their mission to encourage abortion clinic employees to leave their jobs, while offering a compassionate listening ear and help to patients.

The clinic, which was closed in 2013, is now the HQ for Carney’s pro-life organisation, 40 Days for Life.

Johnson, now expecting her eighth child, heads And Then There Were None, a pro-life organisation that helps abortion clinic workers leave the industry.

Founder of the Missionaries of the Poor, Father Richard Ho Lung, revealed that Unplanned will be in theatres on Wednesday.

Since its American premier in March, the film has grossed $18 million, surpassing its $6 million budget. But it has also received an R-rating, with Canadian government banning the film on the basis of “hate speech”.

Nine-month Boycott

One of the film’s producers, Michael Manhardt, says that this will not deter their efforts in distributing the film internationally. In fact, Canadian pro-life activists have already created a website lobbying for the airing of the movie, vowing a nine-month boycott on Cineplex, one of the country’s biggest movie theatre operators.

Currently illegal in Jamaica, abortion has been the subject of much debate following a motion by MP Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn to have the abortion law reviewed, based on social justice and human rights. She also revealed that she had an abortion at age 19.

Manhardt told The Gleaner that “the way forward is life” and to practise and legalise abortion is more than non-progressive.

“The way forward is to respect and to understand the sanctity and dignity of life,” he said. “We all agree that the human being is made up of two parts – body and soul. We think it’s OK to kill that body, but do you ever think that you’ve killed someone’s soul? We can’t be killing anything when it comes to the human being, body or soul. So, to move forward, we need to have a deeper respect for life and one another, with compassion and mercy, and that’s what this movie does.”

Also in attendance was pro-life advocate Dr Alveda King, the niece of the late Reverend Dr Martin Luther King. She shared that she had two abortions in the 1970s, one of which was done at Planned Parenthood and which inflicted internal damage. She spoke about the racist nature of abortions, noting that the act was created as a way to reduce the African American population, citing supporting quotes of Planned Parenthood’s founder Margaret Sanger.

Attendee Dwaynehue Collash told The Gleaner he was pro-choice prior to watching the film, and is now pro-life, regardless of the circumstance.

“I’ve actually followed some young ladies to do abortions, just to be the helping hand, but now after seeing this, I’m actually apologetic. I have a feeling I’ll be making some phone calls to these young ladies to apologise to them for being a helping hand in killing their child. I honestly didn’t see it like that before.”