The Power of an Image - "Unplanned" Reviewed

Photo: Pure Flix Films

Photo: Pure Flix Films

Daniel Bahuaud

The most gripping moment of Unplanned occurs when Abby Johnson, played by Ashley Bratcher, assists with an ultrasound-guided abortion.

For the real-life Planned Parenthood clinic director turned pro-life activist, this is a pivotal moment. The pivotal moment, and a sobering one for viewers as we see a 13-week old unborn human being struggle against the abortionist’s vacuum cannula before its life is violently taken.

Those with squeamish hearts might be shocked by some of the bloodier aspects of the procedure, presented with a clinical sterility echoing the abortion doctor’s casual callousness.

For my part, I was constantly drawn to the image on the monitor, marvelling at the impact ultrasound technology – with us with ever increasing sophistication and clarity since the 1950s – has had on the pro-life movement.

No wonder, really, since real-time ultrasound images provide a highly compelling argument that we are indeed looking at a human being. I was personally convinced in 1984, on viewing Jack Duane Dabner’s difficult-to-watch short documentary The Silent Scream, which takes viewers step by step through an abortion.

Later, I was blessed to see my two unborn children, thanks to ultrasound images. A much happier experience to be sure.

Which brings me back to Unplanned. This is a film I very much want to take my now teenaged children to see. I want them to marvel at the tiny unborn human being on the monitor screen. And to understand, in an unflinchingly way, what abortion ultimately is. Like The Silent Scream, Unplanned’s powerful and disturbing image exposes the deep lie regarding abortion that too many people still accept:  that this is solely about a woman’s right over her body and is not, ultimately, the taking of human life.

The child on the ultrasound monitor was the final straw in Abby Johnson’s personal and ethical journey – one that led her to become pro-life and, ultimately, to convert to Catholicism.

Her journey is well told throughout the movie, thanks to a judicious use of flashbacks. As well, Ashley Bratcher creates a very human and often conflicted Abby Johnson. Her honest, raw and powerful performance is one of Unplanned’s highlights.

Other aspects of the film are less successful. Some performances are not particularly convincing. Unplanned also has an unnecessary voice-over that simply restates what we’re seeing, almost as if directors and screenwriters Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman felt it necessary to hold the audience’s hand throughout Abby Johnson’s ethical and spiritual journey. Ditto for the overly emotional song score that serves no useful purpose besides emphasizing emotions we are already feeling. With such a compelling story, the filmmakers should have greater confidence in an audience.

Of course, these are peripheral details in what is, at heart, a 106-minute argument for the protection of the unborn. Viewing Unplanned, those already convinced of the truth that life begins at conception will be confirmed in their convictions, but hopefully will also  come away forcefully reminded of the necessity of helping by all means possible those women, often young and single, who have ultimately chosen not to abort their child in a crisis pregnancy situation.

Watching Unplanned, those that aren’t pro-life may come to rethink their position, and ultimately understand that what is legally permitted is not necessarily ethical. I hope they will not be put off by the somewhat polemical tone the film sometimes slides into.

My most fervent hope is that they are moved by the power of that one ultrasound image.


Daniel Bahuaud is the Communications Coordinator at the Archdiocese of St. Boniface


Directed by Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman
Starring Ashley Bratcher, Brooks Ryan and Robia Scott
Based on Unplanned, Abby Johnson’s memoir of her eight years as a Planned Parenthood volunteer, and employee and director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas.

Grace Here and Now

by Leah Perrault

I have found God inescapable for most of my life.  Even when I try to run away, there He is.  God shows up in feeling and experience, touch and sound, churches and skies.  Words generally show up after, inadequate but pressing to be spoken as a sort of verification of the miracle that has happened but cannot be held.  The word for this constant gift of presence is grace.

Three years ago, I sat in a coffee shop with a friend and graphic designer to talk about a website and a brand for a new column, Barefoot and Preaching.  I wanted something authentic that would communicate God’s faithfulness in and to me, as well as the unique way that God seems to be using me.  My dual vocation to ministry and motherhood cannot be contained fully in my home or a church building.

It is a strange thing to talk about branding a person, because a person is not the sort of thing that can be captured by a logo or a name or a set of colours.  As a person, I cannot be packaged in the words that make up a column.  And yet this column I’ve been writing has also become a particular kind of grace for me.

Over the last three years, I have been writing about God showing up in my life, in depression and gratitude, in rest and longing, in grief and hope.  Writing deadlines have turned into powerful invitations to pay attention to what God is teaching me.  Publishing the pieces has become a connection to a community of beautiful people walking barefoot in their own lives.  It has been my experience that sharing the stories of God showing up in my life becomes an invitation for others to do the same.  It is such a miracle that walking barefoot through my life could also be a gift for others.

I began the column thinking about God’s words to Moses: “Remove your sandals for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” These words were for Moses and for us.  Our lives are the places where God encounters us.  Our floors, our yards, the neighbourhood, and the whole world are holy ground.  Even though my feet cringe at the idea of walking on the grass without shoes, I am choosing to walk through life barefoot when it comes to spirituality.

In this season of life, I am home with a new baby and caring for three older siblings.  God calls though requests for snacks, cries over the baby monitor, markers and scissors and glue.  My growth feels like regression: reminding myself not to try to do too much in one day, resting when a few minutes present the chance, making time for slow walks noticing ants and sidewalk cracks.  I fail at least as much as I succeed.  The dividends are paid in sticky kisses and toddler to adolescent whispers of “Love you too…”.

After witnessing a bird in flight, Annie Dillard wrote in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek that “beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them.  The least we can do is try to be there.”  Since God is showing up for us constantly, I want to respond by expecting to find grace in the moments that make up my life.

What if it is not only possible, but actually probable that God is going to show up in the ketchup and crusts left on plastic plates, in the hand-knitted sweater that arrives as a baby gift in the mail, and in the daily marathon that is getting everyone to bed?  How could it be any other way?  If God cannot show up everywhere, then it seems unlikely that He’ll show up anywhere.

Grace is seeping into every possible place.  God comes in with the air when the doors and windows open.  God shows up in the faces and words and kindnesses of friends and strangers.  God speaks in whatever sounds touch our souls.  When my feet are bare, I am walking with sensitivity to what lies beneath them.  When my soul is bare, I’m feeling for grace.

And when I find it, words swirl around inside me, making meaning out of the mystery, stirring to stumble out of my mouth and fingers, to be proclaimed to whoever needs them.  Barefoot and Preaching has been carried to readers through the Prairie Messenger until its sad closure this spring, and this month is making its first appearance in the Catholic Register. Whether you find these words in print in these generous Canadian Catholic newspapers or online on my website,, I’m grateful if my words find a resonance in you.

Avoiding the MAID Mindset

In the wake its legalization, in June of 2016, medical assistance in dying is becoming more and more normalized. A situation that Katarina Lee, clinical ethicist at St. Boniface Hospital, finds particularly troubling.

On March 2nd, you will be giving a workshop on advance care planning and end-of-life issues. (1) You’ll also speak about the social and medical repercussions of medical assistance in dying (MAID), which are of great concern.

I’m deeply worried about MAID’s impact in all areas. In health care, in medical research, in what specifically triggers a request for MAID and how it’s assessed. I’m also troubled by the language surrounding MAID, which is creating a new mindset. There’s this concept that MAID “ends suffering”. People also talk about avoiding “being a burden” to others. This language needs to be questioned. Robustly.

Because MAID is now a legal option…

Yes. And if there’s no deep and honest reflection about MAID, the new language surrounding it will start to describe a default position. Take “MAID ends suffering”. Is that really true? For one thing, death doesn’t end suffering. There’s the pain and grief of those who have just lost a loved one.

Medically speaking, we don’t even know if someone who has died from MAID suffers or not. You’re given a paralytic and so you stop moving, but are you in pain? No one knows.

As for the patient who is in great pain and says, I can’t take this anymore. I can’t do this anymore, what exactly does that mean? Does he really want to end his life? Or is he asking for relief because he’s having a particularly bad day as a patient? We all have moments of discouragement. We all have bad days.

And yet we often recover…

Exactly. There’s a lot of medical and psychological literature on the value of resiliency. People who have suffered and bounced back often grow. They have much to contribute to society. There are benefits. And yet people don’t see any value in suffering. They view it as a negative thing to be eradicated. I’d argue that’s not a realistic position. Whether we’re healthy or ill.

Our culture certainly has the mindset that pain must be avoided

In the face of an illness, or a debilitating disease, it’s natural to be scared. The trap, now that MAID is legal, is to believe it’s the ultimate option, the last and only resort. A person receives a discouraging diagnosis, and he quickly leaps to MAID. The MAID mindset says You’ve got Parkinson’s. It’s a terminal disease. You’re going to suffer, so why not just choose MAID? That’s what a woman in British Columbia decided. She was not near death, but she petitioned for MAID. Suffering was completely out of the picture. In the end, she won her case and was granted MAID in 2017.

More and more people want to be eligible for MAID…

That’s another worry. Bill C-14 was sufficiently vague that different provinces came up with different regulations surrounding it. Who qualifies for MAID? What is the waiting period for it? And because the law is vague, there’s been a push to extend its boundaries. More people are asking to qualify for MAID. Which contributes to the MAID mindset.

Surely treatments have improved, so why would one make the leap to MAID?

That’s one of medicine’s ironies. There’s increasingly better pain management. Better than ten years ago, and exceedingly better than at the turn of the century. One would think that fewer people would choose MAID.

From a medical standpoint, when people suffer, we continually figure out how to reduce that suffering. We figure out how to cure diseases or reduce symptoms. We introduce new treatments, deal with drug side effects, and build programs to keep people alive. We invest our energy and resources in healing and improving quality of care and life.

Palliative care has also greatly improved…

Absolutely. The sad truth is that we don’t fund that many beds for palliative care. Especially in the country. People in rural areas have much better access to MAID than palliative care. And if you’ve developed the MAID mindset, of course you may start to think I want to die peacefully. There aren’t resources here and I don’t want to drive out to the city to access them, because I don’t want to be a burden to my family.

Since Bill C-14 was passed in 2016, there hasn’t been much of a public debate on MAID…

That’s one of the more troublesome aspects of the current situation, because our culture is somewhat apathetic. Canadians often think that if an issue doesn’t affect them, they don’t feel a need to speak out. Take abortion. Canada has no actual law on abortion. There’s been a legal void since the Supreme Court declared in 1988 that Section 251 of the Criminal Code had no force or effect. And yet, Canadians simply act like there is a law. And many who think abortion is wrong won’t go out of their way to object to someone else having one.

Which is why it’s important for people of faith to state their beliefs. We Catholics need to talk about MAID, abortion and other life and death issues. Not just amongst ourselves, but with our friends who have a different view, and in the public square. We need to make known the solid reasons why we object to MAID. We need to push for more funding for palliative care and medical research. Above all, we need to share our fundamental vision: that we are called to preserve life from conception to natural death.

Katarina Lee is Manitoba born, and was raised just outside of Carman. A devout Catholic, she became interested in questions surrounding medical care at age 12, when her grandmother was hospitalised for 19 months. Those questions led her to study philosophy, law and bioethics. She is the clinical ethicist at St. Boniface Hospital and an assistant professor in Family Medicine at the University of Manitoba.

(1) The Marriage, Family and Life Service of the Archdiocese of Saint-Boniface is pleased to offer a Free Advance Care planning, End-of-Life Decisions & MAID workshop, Saturday, March 2, 2019, from 9:30 AM – 11:30 AM in the Saint Boniface Cathedral Hall. Presented by Katarina Lee, this workshop will provide education, benefits and pitfalls regarding advance care planning, including the use of advance care directives and health care proxies. Discussions from a Catholic perspective of medical decisions such as nutrition, hydration, resuscitation and ventilation will also be explored, as well as, palliative care and an overview of Medical Aid in Dying and the impact recent legislation has had on society and the practice of medicine. Space is limited, please register online at:

For more information: or 204-594-0295. To view the poster,
click here.