French TV Channel Brings Public Uproar, Government Scrutiny After Airing ‘Unplanned’

Calling the movie a “despicable anti-abortion propaganda tool,” the French government strongly condemned the broadcast network for being guilty of “obstruction to abortion.”

LEFT: Élisabeth Moreno attends a conference at Parc des Expositions Porte de Versailles on June 15, 2017, in Paris. RIGHT: Movie poster for ‘Unplanned.’
LEFT: Élisabeth Moreno attends a conference at Parc des Expositions Porte de Versailles on June 15, 2017, in Paris. RIGHT: Movie poster for ‘Unplanned.’ (photo: Christophe Morin / IP3/Getty Images and Pure Flix)

The American film Unplanned, broadcast for the first time on French television Aug. 16, is still causing an uproar across the country, including in the highest government circles.

In a tweet published during the broadcast of the movie, Minister Delegate for Gender Equality Élisabeth Moreno “firmly condemned” the fiction that “goes against the government’s values,” calling it a “despicable anti-abortion propaganda tool.” She claimed that abortion was a “progress for our society” and that it was a “fundamental and inalienable right for all women.” Her tweet was accompanied by the hashtag, “My body my choice.”

Portraying the life of Abby Johnson, former director of a Planned Parenthood center in Texas who became later a passionate pro-life activist, Unplanned was meant to shed light on the reality of abortion by showing what goes on behind the scenes of this international business, and the real tragedy that such practice represents for countless women.

The film, which is distributed by Evangelical Christian studio Pure Flix, provoked the wrath of the French progressive government. In an Aug. 17 communiqué, Élisabeth Moreno reiterated “the state’s unwavering support for Planned Parenthood,” which she said “has already been attacked several times recently, as well as for all the feminist associations that carry out considerable work to provide access to the law, to education on sexuality, contraception, abortion, and equal rights for women and men.”

While “reaffirming the inalienable nature of the right to control one’s own body,” Moreno added that “France fights against all those who would try to prevent women from having control over their bodies.”

According to her, by broadcasting this movie at a peak viewing hour, TV channel C8 — owned by Catholic French billionaire Vincent Bolloré — expressed its support to “anti-choice movements” and is guilty of “obstruction to abortion,” which has been criminalized in the country since 2017. She justified her accusation by the fact that the film “puts forward scientific untruths that inexorably misleads the viewer.”

The 2017 law characterizes the crime of obstruction to abortion as “preventing or attempting to prevent the performance of or access to information about a voluntary termination of pregnancy […] by any means, including electronically or online, in particular by disseminating or transmitting allegations or information of such a nature as to intentionally mislead, for the purpose of dissuasion, as to the characteristics or medical consequences of a voluntary termination of pregnancy.”

This legal argument raised by the minister, however, was challenged by lawyer Adeline Le Gouvello, for whom such accusation is unfounded since the movie in question is adapted from a true story, and from a lived experience. Thus, as she claimed in an interview with Catholic newspaper La Croix, “putting this experience into images is a matter of artistic freedom and freedom of expression. To call this into question would fall within the ambit of crime of opinion.”

She later clarified in an Aug. 18 tweet that contrary to the minister’s claims, abortion was never recognized as a fundamental right but is an exception to the principle of respect for life — one that “opens a possibility for women to resort to it.”

The French Audiovisual Superior Council (CSA) told The Huffington Post that its experts would investigate this matter after receiving several reports from viewers. The CSA said it will be screening the film as well as conducting a review of the referrals received, and that in case of failure to comply with the legal obligations to which it is subject, it will intervene with the TV channel. The council should render its verdict in a few weeks. 

Prior to the broadcast of Unplanned, the council also known as the “broadcasting gendarme” was already challenged on social media by several citizens who called the authority to prevent the broadcast of the controversial movie, notably through a petition signed by some 20,000 people. In a tweet in response to these solicitations, the CSA said that as the “guarantor of freedom of speech and audiovisual communication” in the country, it “does not intervene in the programming of channels” and that the latter “are free to choose their programs,” but said it could intervene afterward should there be a possible breach of law.