Kathy Schiffer is a Catholic blogger. In addition to her blog Seasons of Grace, her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Zenit, the Michigan Catholic, Legatus Magazine, and other Catholic publications. She’s worked for Catholic and other Christian ministries since 1988, as radio producer, director of special events and media relations coordinator. Kathy and her husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, have three adult children.
On March 29, “Unplanned” – the true story of former Planned Parenthood clinical director Abby Johnson’s change of heart after witnessing an abortion firsthand – will open in theaters across America. But in the weeks leading up to the film’s opening, the film has generated plenty of controversy.
That’s because last week, the Motion Picture Association of America gave the film an “R” rating. That means that a 15-year-old girl can, without her parents' consent, choose to have an abortion – but that same girl cannot see this film about abortion.
Social media has exploded with criticism of the harsh rating. Pro-life activists want everyone – including and especially young people – to see the film, because they believe it will influence moviegoers to respect Life and to understand how evil abortion actually is. Studio executives from Pure Flix Entertainment want the rating changed to PG-13 because, of course, they want to sell more tickets and reach a wider audience. Others associated with the film, including Abby Johnson, objected because they, too, would like a wide audience for the story – and teens are big moviegoers.
Mike Lindell, inventor and CEO of MyPillow who invested $1 million in “Unplanned,” showed up in the film he financed, driving a truck that was about to demolish a Planned Parenthood clinic to make way for the offices of 40 Days for Life. Lindell criticized the rating in an interview with Fox News:
“I feel the fix is in. Whoever rated this movie must not be watching TV or videos on social media! I have a cameo in this movie and do not appreciate the R-rating. I got involved to get a message out to everyone with this true story. What a shame that some might be blocked by an R-rating from getting the truth. I hope millions of Americans will ignore this attempt at moviegoer suppression and flood the box office on opening day.”
And Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman, the co-writers and co-directors of “Unplanned,” wrote in a letter to MPAA CEO Charles Rivkin:
“We consider the MPAA’s current standards to be deeply flawed, insofar as they allowed scenes of remarkably graphic sex, violence, degradation, murder and mayhem to have a PG-13 rating, whereas our film, highlighting the grave dangers of abortion in a straightforward manner, is considered dangerous for the American people to view.”
But no, the MPAA refuses to budge – insisting that they won't change the rating unless footage depicting an abortion is removed. Three scenes in the movie were of concern; but in particular, one scene caught the attention of the MPAA executives. In that scene, a doctor (portrayed by former abortionist turned pro-life advocate Dr. Anthony Levatino) is staring at a computer screen on which appears a blurred sonogram image of an unborn baby that has been killed in an abortion procedure.
Does “Unplanned” deserve the R-rating that MPAA has given it, considering its violent subject matter? I'd have to say strongly Yes – but then again, No. Here are my reasons:
NO. “Unplanned” should be rated PG-13 instead of R, because it’s no more violent than many PG-13 films.
I confess, I'm not a fan of R-rated films and don't generally see them. (“The Passion of the Christ” was one exception.) But poking around online, I found a number of films which the MPAA rated PG-13 and which, according to viewers, should have been rated R. Here are just a few of the mis-rated PG-13 films:
“The Dark Knight” (2008) – Batman is a good guy, so any Batman movie is good for children, right? Not according to film critic Jenny McCartney, who writes in the Telegraph about the violence she saw on the big screen:
But the greatest surprise of all – even for me, after eight years spent working as a film critic – has been the sustained level of intensely sadistic brutality throughout the film.
I will attempt to confine my plot spoilers to the opening: the film begins with a heist carried out by men in sinister clown masks. As each clown completes a task, another shoots him point-blank in the head. The scene ends with a clown – The Joker – stuffing a bomb into a wounded bank employee’s mouth.
After the murderous clown heist, things slip downhill. A man’s face is filleted by a knife, and another’s is burned half off. A man’s eye is slammed into a pencil. A bomb can be seen crudely stitched inside another man’s stomach, which subsequently explodes. A trussed-up man is bound to a chair and set alight atop a pile of banknotes.
A plainly terrorised child is threatened at gunpoint by a man with a melted face. It is all intensely realistic. Oh but don't worry, folks: there isn't any nudity.
“Beowulf” (2007) – According to one reviewer, Grendel stabs his victims, breaks necks, tears off heads and eats them, rips people in half, throws guys into fires, and crushes heads.
“Taken” (2008) – In this crime thriller, there is a lengthy and very graphic torture scene.
“Angels and Demons” (2009) – The first murder victim in Dan Brown’s controversial Vatican tale has his eyeball spooned out. The second victim is stuffed full of dirt, and the third has his lungs pierced in such a way that when symbologist Robert Langdon’s sidekick Vittoria attempts mouth to mouth respiration, blood sprays from his chest.
“Drag Me to Hell” (2009) – This award-winning comic horror film includes a scene in which a witch’s head is crushed, causing brain matter and eyes to spurt onto a character.
Given all of this violence in PG-13 films, why would the MPAA inflict its harshest rating on “Unplanned”? Is it possible that by giving the film an “R” rating, as director Konzelman told Catholic News Agency, the MPAA is inadvertently supporting the belief that “anything that has to do with abortion is an act of extreme violence”? That’s one reason why it may, in fact, be reasonable to warn people about the senseless violence evident in “Unplanned.”
YES. “Unplanned” should be rated “R” because abortion is such a violent act.
So, an alternate perspective. The Motion Picture Association may have done the right thing, when they protected young viewers from the harsh reality of abortion.
Every abortion has two victims: the developing child, and the despairing mother. For the child, abortion is every bit as violent and as merciless as those scenes in “Angels and Demons” – with the physician doing the slicing, dicing, and severing of body parts in a heartless, painful and ultimately life-ending display of barbarity. One can make the case that children should not see other children’s lives ended in this way.
Also viewers will see that for the pregnant woman, the act of abortion is a cruel admission of hopelessness. She is a second victim, her shame or selfishness or despair driving her to an action which belies her God-given maternal instinct. Her injuries may be purely emotional and psychological, a deep wound of the soul which she will carry through life; or in some cases, she may be physically injured, as well – suffering pain, future infertility, or more severe injuries, even death.
Teens already know on some level that abortion stops a beating heart, and they should be assured that there is always another answer to a problem pregnancy. In today’s society they will learn, most certainly, the terrible truth that the smallest among us are often killed in the harshest manner. But an R rating for “Unplanned” ensures that they will come to fully understand the horror of abortion only when they're ready, and only in the tender care of loving parents.