In April, the anti-abortion propaganda film Unplanned debuted aimed at a mainstream audience with the supposed real-life story of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director-turned vocal anti-abortion activist. Including graphic scenes of aborted fetuses, ceaseless lies about abortion procedures, and misrepresentations of anti-abortion protesters as gentle and kind, at the core of Unplanned is the myth that the deeply sexist anti-abortion movement is somehow “pro-woman.”
And unfortunately, Unplanned’s deceit doesn’t stop at the end of the film. Since its release, many of the movie’s lies have extended beyond the movie into the real world.
Unplanned first seemed to draw mainstream media coverage when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) wasted the time and resources of the Senate Judiciary Committee to make baseless allegations that the movie had fallen victim to ‘liberal media bias’ and ‘censorship’ from technology companies. Reproaction’s Campaign Coordinator Kara Mailman wrote more about the pro-life movement’s strategic use of censorship claims aimed at the tech industry, here.
The accusations of media censorship by Unplanned’s creators and Senate allies follow a long, baseless trend of conservative activists accusing mainstream media of liberal bias. Unplanned isn’t the only movie in recent memory to receive the faux censorship treatment from conservatives: as Reproaction’s co-director Erin Matson has previously pointed out, the Gosnell movie received coverage in nearly all major publications within one week of its release, but still earned cries of supposed anti-conservative bias from its filmmakers and the media. In direct contradiction with these censorship claims, we can hardly ignore the boost Unplanned received from leading politicians, including the vice president of the United States.
Deception surrounding Unplanned doesn’t end with controversy around coverage and advertising of the film. Unplanned also includes several highly misleading plot points about so-called “abortion pill reversal,” a process by which pro-life activists claim the effects of the abortion pill can be reversed. It’s important to clarify that “abortion pill reversal” is not based on sound science and amounts to an unethical experiment performed upon women by the anti-abortion movement.
Stemming from two poorly formed and widely discredited studies, “abortion pill reversal” first emerged when an anti-abortion, California-based doctor used a pregnant woman for an experiment. I wrote about that in my last post for the Reproaction blog, and the subsequent laws pushing reversal in state houses, here.
Not only has “reversal” been widely discredited by experts and researchers, but it could also place patients in danger, and inflict long-term emotional damage and trauma on those who attempt it.
In the weeks following Unplanned’s release, anti-abortion websites started to make a number of uncorroborated claims they say points to the success of the movie in shaming people out of having abortions or providing abortions. Of course, the veracity of these claims regarding the movie’s influence is worth questioning, considering anti-abortion websites don’t have the best record where telling the truth is concerned. But that said, spreading of lies about abortion in movies like Unplanned remains undeniably dangerous.
Whether or not Unplanned has impacted demand for “abortion pill reversal,” it has impacted abortion clinics in other ways. Some clinic workers and volunteers have reported receiving increased harassment, in the form of both threatening mail and protesters outside clinics, often referencing the content of Unplanned. The sheer volume of threats of violence, bombs, arson, vandalism, and in several documented cases, murders and assaults, directed at abortion clinics mean that more protesters escalate the already high danger levels clinic workers and volunteers face.
In today’s polarized landscape surrounding reproductive rights issues, the stigma, lies, and calls to anti-abortion action surrounding Unplanned is a safety hazard to communities, including abortion providers and their staff.