Guest Commentary

‘Unplanned’ is soft propaganda that normalizes the extreme in our society

After reading a column on the movie “Unplanned” by the Washington Post’s Marc A. Thiessen, “The movie abortion supporters would never want you to see” (April 4 Eagle), it’s hard to know where to start to respond. “Unplanned” is a recent film claiming to depict the life story of Abby Johnson, an anti-choice extremist, who previously worked for Planned Parenthood.

Thiessen claims the film is not propaganda and that there is a vast conspiracy to keep the film from reaching audiences. He seems to be under the impression that everything that appears in film must be true and that no one would have a political (or monetary) agenda in claiming the truth of their product with no proof of its veracity. Let’s be honest. Johnson heads an anti-abortion organization and has made a living selling her “story” for years to anti-choice donors who are willing to believe anything about the doctors and staff who provide women with abortion care. This movie is a work of fiction.

Dr. George Tiller was my boss and mentor. When he was assassinated, I learned, again, that the narrative the anti-choice movement tells can inspire people to terrible acts. The fact of the matter is that those who are anti-choice and who seek to limit access to abortion only view the world through their own narrow value lens, not understanding that others may not hold their religious or ideological beliefs. Unfortunately, this strict world view, held by people like Ms. Johnson, leads to the mandatory subjugation of women who would be forced to carry pregnancies they may not be equipped to continue.

Additionally, at this time, in a variety state legislatures, some anti-choice bills would criminalize women for seeking abortion services. This punitive approach to abortion will only lead women to obtain unsafe abortion care. This hardline approach will lead women to prison for their actions or death due to lack of proper medical attention. This is what we see in countries where abortion is illegal, such as El Salvador. This was also what we saw in the United States before abortion was legalized. Films like “Unplanned” are no different than other propaganda films: they seek to normalize an extreme narrative for political gain.

In times like these, when our president’s violent rhetoric goes as far as inspiring violence in other countries, we have to start addressing the softer propaganda that normalizes the extreme in our society. “Unplanned” is just that kind of propaganda. It uses mass media to push the idea that abortion is murder, and that the people who provide abortion or have abortions are the perpetrators, which is a falsehood.

Demonizing women who have abortions and the people who provide them adds nothing towards the improvement of maternal health outcomes in areas where people are already suffering due to lack of health care providers. Equitable access, even to abortion, only helps women lead healthy lives and to better manage their own hopes, dreams and aspirations.

No matter how the anti-choice movement wants to dress it up — which seems to be in the trappings of a Hallmark movie — the movement, plainly put, seeks to criminalize women and doctors. The reality the anti-choice movement seeks to create is not glamorous or cozy — it is full of women turned into criminals and families that end up without mothers.

Julie A. Burkhart is the founder and CEO of Trust Women Foundation, which operates Trust Women Wichita.