Published May 1, 2019
George Weigel's weekly column The Catholic Difference
For over a half-century, what styles itself the “pro-choice” movement has thrived because of its extraordinary ability to mask what it’s really about—the willful taking of innocent human lives in abortion—through various rhetorical deceptions.
Planned Parenthood clinicians ask frightened and often ignorant young women, “Would you like us to restore your period?” Legislators in thrall to Big Abortion dollars vie to keep sidewalk counselors away from abortuaries, in order to maintain the pretense that what goes on inside those chop-shops involves no more than unwanted “tissue.” The governor of New York celebrates the passage of a bill that would legally permit abortions up to the moment of birth because this is all a matter of “women’s reproductive health.” The governor of Virginia babbles about letting children who survive abortions die, thinking himself humane because he insists that the victims will be kept comfortable. Last month, a Georgia state senator decried legal protection for unborn children who display “what some call a heartbeat.”
George Orwell, call your office.
Forty years of pro-life argumentation have dented the armor of euphemism surrounding this slaughter of the innocents, which, while still appallingly high, is now at its lowest rate in decades. Thoughtful pro-life veterans will acknowledge, however, that what made a considerable difference to our cause was the invention of the sonogram: the technological marvel which proves that a picture is more powerful than a thousand lies about blobs of tissue. Now comes a hit motion picture, Unplanned, which takes the war against euphemism in the abortion debate to another level.
Unplanned tells the story of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director and onetime Planned Parenthood employee-of-the-year, who became a pro-life activist after being called from her safe, euphemism-ridden director’s office to assist in a “procedure.” Watching what was indisputably a human creature trying desperately to avoid the instruments of impending intrauterine murder, Abby Johnson saw the truth of what abortion does, as what she described as a “perfect baby” was sucked out of the womb. She then had the honesty, and courage, to acknowledge what she had learned, leave her remunerative Planned Parenthood job, and try to teach others the truth that had seized her imagination.
That effort to witness to the truth continues in Unplanned, which reminds me of Pope St. Paul VI’s comment that modern men and women learn better from witnesses than from teachers; and if self-conscious moderns listen to teachers, it’s because they’re first witnesses. Abby Johnson, just such a witnessing teacher, is beautifully portrayed in the film by Ashley Bratcher—who also deserves credit for putting her own career at risk, given the assault that’s been mounted on Unplanned by the “pro-choice” Hollywood commentariat in the mainstream media, and by attempts to censor positive comments about Unplanned on social media.
Thus far, the campaign against Unplanned hasn’t worked. The film has been a box office success, despite efforts to black out advertising for, or coverage of, its first weeks on the silver screen. And we may hope that the campaign against Unplanned will eventually boomerang, as it becomes ever more clear that what Big Abortion, its ideological allies, and its political facilitators fear most of all is the truth—the truth that strips away the rhetorical façade behind which the campaign for “liberalized” abortion laws has been conducted since the late 1960s.
In his informal memoir, At Ease, Dwight D. Eisenhower lamented the loss in World War II of millions of “lives that might have been creatively lived,” and noted that the memory of that slaughter “scars the mind of the modern world.” It cannot be doubted that the tens of millions of lives lost to the abortion license in America since Roe v. Wade—lives that might have been creatively lived—scar the national conscience, whatever the euphemisms that put band-aids over the scars. There are also the scars borne by women who have chosen abortion; their healing, and effective service to women in crisis pregnancies, must always be the complement to argument and witness in pro-life activism.
And then there are the irresponsible men. Hollywood’s rating system labeled Unplanned “R,” presumably because of its devastating first scene, where Abby Johnson meets the truth about abortion. That scene, and indeed the whole film, should be watched most carefully by men, who have benefited for far too long from Big Abortion and its wicked language games.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington, D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.