Lauretta Brown is the Register’s Washington-based staff writer.
Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, disclosed via the Washington Post Monday its direct control over the way abortion is portrayed in popular television shows and movies.
The Washington Post magazine explored the work of Caren Spruch, Planned Parenthood’s director of arts and entertainment engagement. According to the magazine, Spruch “encourages screenwriters to tell stories about abortion and works as a script doctor for those who do.”
Spruch told the Post that since assisting with the portrayal of abortion in the movie Obvious Child in 2012, Planned Parenthood “has advised on more than 150 movies and shows.” These include the shows Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Jane the Virgin, The Deuce, The Fosters, and Parenthood.
Gillian Robespierre, writer-director of Obvious Child, called Spruch “Planned Parenthood’s secret weapon.”
“A lot of people learn about sexual and reproductive health care through pop culture and entertainment programs,” Melanie Roussell Newman, Planned Parenthood’s senior vice president of communications and culture, told the Post. “We’ve seen pop culture change views around LGBTQ issues, for example, and pop culture has the power to challenge abortion stigma, too.”
The article’s author Nora Caplan Bricker did include comments from pro-life advocates including Lila Rose, founder and CEO of Live Action, who pointed out that Spruch’s role in movies is “like the tobacco industry getting to fact-check how smoking is treated in films … they have no business influencing anyone’s screenwriting … It’s a real injustice.”
“When Planned Parenthood tries to create positive story lines around abortion, it’s not good art, it’s propaganda,” Rose said. “You’ll never find content coming from Planned Parenthood and friends of Planned Parenthood that is honest about what abortion is.”
Lobbying for Abortion Rights
Spruch claimed that “she doesn’t meddle with characters’ emotions or impose an ideological purity test” and that her job “is to correct with facts… those are the types of issues I address and look for.” However, “Spruch does attempt to ensure that if a script features a Planned Parenthood clinic specifically, the organization isn’t put in an unflattering light.”
She was asked if the “promise of entertainment is in part that movies and TV will still be available vehicles even if the justices overturn Roe,” and responded that “focusing on culture would hopefully activate more people and prevent that from happening.”
Spruch discussed some of her early work in the film industry which included approaching actors and actresses for advocacy help. Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal said when she was introduced to her, “I think I said to her, ‘Just use me however you want… She has asked me to give some speeches that I’m really proud of.”
This revelation that Planned Parenthood is literally able to put words in the mouth of a prominent actress is unsurprising given that abortion is a favorite cause of many in Hollywood. Spruch reportedly has even influenced stars to wear Planned Parenthood apparel during public appearances, like Emma Stone and Dakota Fanning’s Planned Parenthood pins on the red carpet at the 2017 Oscars.
Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Poehler, Judd Apatow, and many other celebrities starred in a video in 2017 calling on the public to ask their representatives not to defund Planned Parenthood. Former Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards was honored onstage at the 2018 Oscars. Most recently, over 100 celebrity musicians including Selena Gomez and Lady Gaga signed a “Bans off My Body” Planned Parenthood campaign to protest state abortion restrictions.
Pro-Life Films’ Success
The article did go on to note the success of pro-life films like Gosnell and Unplanned — a success attained without help from Hollywood. “Planned Parenthood and its Hollywood allies, after all, aren’t the only ones putting abortion on-screen,” the article conceded.
“Conservative Christian filmmakers Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon released ‘Unplanned,’ based on the memoir of a former Planned Parenthood clinic director named Abby Johnson, who became a hero in the antiabortion movement after she renounced her former employer,” Bricker wrote. “Many theaters refused to show the movie, and major TV networks wouldn’t air the trailer. Still, ‘Unplanned’ was a hit, raking in more than $14 million at the box office in its first two weeks.”
Bricker noted the “fury” of Unplanned directors Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon over “what they perceive as an effort to silence their side.”
“It’s an open secret that there’s a tremendous industry-wide push for more story lines” about abortion, Konzelman said. “But I don’t think they’re pushing for more stories from our side of the fence. … We knew from the beginning that there would be no studio money for us and that we would have trouble finding distribution.”
The Unplanned producers told the Register in the past about the many obstacles they faced with the film, including networks refusing to let them advertise it, receiving an “R” rating by the Motion Picture Association of America, and initially being listed as “drama/propaganda” on Google.
Planned Parenthood’s Next Narrative?
The article went on to explore the next Planned Parenthood narrative that could be coming to a theater near you. Bricker said that “most movies and shows ignore the issue of cost” of abortion and emphasized that “nearly half of abortion patients live below the federal poverty level, but the Hyde Amendment bars federal Medicaid funds from covering the procedure (except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the pregnant person).”
Opposition to the Hyde Amendment is not in line with the views of the majority of Americans and there are conscience rights concerns over forcing taxpayers who disagree with abortion to fund it. January polling from Marist found that 54% of Americans oppose any taxpayer funding of abortion. And a Politico/Morning Consult poll from June found that 41% of Democratic women support the Hyde Amendment, compared to 39% who oppose it.
However, attacking Hyde is in line with the agenda of abortion advocacy groups and it could be added to the list of issues the abortion lobby is attempting to control the narrative on through popular television and movies.
Spruch has “been nudging her Hollywood contacts to think about the dramas that could unfold around abortion restrictions, or the stories they could tell from abortion providers’ perspectives.”
“I always talk about the things that I think are missing,” she said of her influence on these issues in Hollywood. “And they come to be.”