REVIEW: Unplanned and the abortion business

The movie premieres March 29 in the U.S.

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Abby Johnson was astounded when in a meeting her supervisor Cheryl told her that her plan consisted in doubling the number of abortions in every clinic. After receiving the award for the best Planned Parenthood employee, Abby had the courage to publicly disagree with her boss’ intentions. She asked her boss if the goal of Planned Parenthood was really to provide contraceptive methods for women in order to avoid the rise in the number of abortions. Abby made it clear that this had been her motivation for joining the organization. Cheryl later rebuked her in private telling her that abortion is what brings Planned Parenthood the greatest profit – just as a burger business benefits more from French fries and fountain drinks than from burgers themselves. “Abortion is for us like soda and French fries,” Cheryl says to her.

Unplanned tells the story of Abby Johnson, who decided to volunteer at Planned Parenthood when she was a college student. It reveals how this young woman, full of dreams to help others, becomes trapped by the arguments she hears – full of apparent goodness. The engaging narrative, with its use of flashbacks and great acting by the main actress Ashely Bratcher, highlights important elements, such as Abby’s strong emotional experience throughout this journey and the internal battle with her own conscience, which seems to call out the gravity of her actions. Perhaps, this is also due to the fact that she knew her parents firmly believed in defending the life of the unborn. Moreover, the production stresses the perseverance of the activists of 40 Days for Life, who continually prayed for the souls of aborted babies and tried to convince the women arriving at Planned Parenthood to choose life.

After being a volunteer, Abby was hired by the organization and later named the director of an abortion clinic in Bryan, TX, becoming the youngest person to hold such position at Planned Parenthood. As director, she would welcome women who arrived at the clinic for abortions and would advise them, telling them not to worry since the fetus in their womb was not yet a human being; it was still too little and wouldn’t feel anything. She would encourage them not to be afraid because nothing bad would happen to them. This, however, was not always the case. Johnson formed part of the organization for eight years and collaborated in nearly 22,000 abortions. However, everything ended when she walked into an abortion room to assist a woman for the first time. When she saw the ultrasound – which expecting mothers are not allowed to see – she saw a baby of 13 weeks fighting for his life.

Unplanned often shows with severity the drama of abortion, the loneliness of many women who arrive at the clinic deceived and afraid to terminate their pregnancy, without fully knowing about the humanity of the being in their womb. It reveals the way in which the abortion industry wants to conceal or reduce the tremendous negative consequences that such an action has on women’s physical, psychological and spiritual wellbeing. It is a story well told, in which Abby, after encountering different circumstances and being surrounded by people who loved her and respected her liberty – yet not without telling her the truth – reconsiders her actions and eventually turns from a professional woman in the abortion business, to a convinced advocate of the unborn.

COMING UP: Repenting and renewing our role as shepherds

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Jesus tells the disciples in St. John’s Gospel, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” contrasting his goodness with the thieves who come only to steal and destroy.  This past week my fellow U.S. bishops and I sought to act as good shepherds by approving three measures to increase our vigilance and prevention of the evil of sexual abuse by bishops, shepherds who have betrayed the flock entrusted to them.

This last weekend we celebrated Father’s Day, which should remind biological and spiritual fathers of their great responsibility of protecting and raising up new life. This mission is further emphasized by the Rite for the Ordination of a Bishop, which says, “In the Church entrusted to you, be a faithful steward, moderator and guardian of the mysteries of Christ. Since you are chosen by the Father to rule over his family, be mindful always of the Good Shepherd, who knows his sheep and is known by them, and who did not hesitate to lay down his life for them.” This is the model for all bishops.

But the scandals of Theodore McCarrick, Bishop Bransfield and others have made it clear that our vigilance has not been adequate. To quote from the just-issued “Affirming Our Episcopal Commitment” statement, “We, the bishops of the United States, have heard the anger expressed by so many within and outside of the Church over these failures.  The anger is justified; it has humbled us, prompting us into self-examination, repentance, and a desire to do better.” This sentiment was clear in my interactions with my fellow bishops in Baltimore this past week.

As evidence of our commitment, we overwhelmingly passed a set of directives for the bishops’ conference to implement Pope Francis’ Vos estis lux mundi document on handling abuse by priests and bishops. These directives include the creation by May 31, 2020 of a third-party phone and online system that receives reports of potential violations by bishops, the establishment of a protocol in which the Holy See designates and authorizes metropolitan archbishops to investigate cases of alleged abuse by bishops, and the expectation that the investigating bishop involve lay experts in assisting with these inquiries. For any investigations that falls under my jurisdiction, I will ensure that lay experts are involved, as I’ve done throughout my time as a bishop. As the new directives indicate, I will also appoint a lay person to receive complaints from the third-party reporting system, publicize how to make reports, ascertain the credibility of reports and gather any additional information necessary for an investigation to commence.

I also want to highlight that the bishops overwhelmingly approved protocols for imposing limitations on former bishops who were removed from office for grave reasons and that we adopted a code of conduct for bishops, which explicitly states that the Dallas Charter will now include bishops.

All these measures are in addition to those we have been enforcing since 2002 in relation to preventing sexual abuse of minors by priests. The Archdiocese of Denver has a strong track record of actively working to protect children, including annual audits, background checks of employees and clergy, and a code of conduct that previous bishops and I have all signed, and a robust training program aimed at fostering safe environments for children. The effectiveness of these measures over the past 20 years has made us a model for other institutions seeking to combat abuse.

Pope Francis rightly noted in a January 2019 personal letter to the U.S. bishops that the consequences of our failures cannot be fixed by being administrators of new programs or committees.  They can only be resolved by humility, listening, self-examination and conversion.

My brother bishops and I hope that by obeying the Word of God, seeking the will of the Father and embracing what the Church expects of us, we will imitate Christ, the Good Shepherd.

Read more

Pope Francis’ motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi can be read at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/motu_proprio/documents/papa-francesco-motu-proprio-20190507_vos-estis-lux-mundi.html

The USCCB Directives implementing Vos estis can be read at: http://www.usccb.org/about/leadership/usccb-general-assembly/2019-june-meeting/upload/usccb-modified-amended-directives-2019-06.pdf

Reach out

Christi Sullivan serves as the Protection Specialist for the Office of Child and Youth Protection and can be reached at 303-715-3241 or Christi.Sullivan@archden.org.

Victims of abuse can reach out to Dr. Jim Langley, the Victim Assistance Coordinator, at 720-239-2832 or Victim.Assistance@ArchDen.org.