My Uber driver a few mornings ago didn’t mind the relatively short ride we embarked on. “Every trip counts,” he said, “no one is more or less important than the other.” He prefers the short rides to the long ones in seemingly endless traffic — “I had one of those last night,” he said with obvious regret. “I like my short rides. They get me to a bonus, he assured me. It wasn’t quite 8 a.m. yet, and he was just grateful he wasn’t stuck on a highway, but moving through side streets. The woman who rang up my breakfast in a crowded shop had red-tipped dreadlocks and a sweet, shy smile. Here in the United States, especially those of us in urban settings, we encounter so many people during the course of a day. Each and every one of them has a story.
I think that’s the power of the new movie Unplanned. It’s the story of a woman and her desire to help women, to have a purpose, to do something good with her life. She believed she was doing that as a volunteer in college and then when she worked at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas. It also hurt the hearts of some of those dearest around her — her parents, her boyfriend who became her husband — who believed that the abortions done at her clinic were the ending of human lives. But they loved her through that intimate, emotional difference of opinion. Love can do that. Love is sacrificial and hopeful and accepts people as they are.
I watched Unplanned thinking of so many of the caricatures we sometimes make people into. With certain words or associations, we jump to conclusions about people, ascribing all kinds of ideas and values and motivations that might not be fair. One opinion voiced, one article tweeted, and we may write off people, un-friend them, dismiss them as nothing short of everything we perceive wrong with the world.
I participated in early screenings of Unplanned. It’s certainly has what is an undeniably pro-life message. But it’s nobody’s talking points. It’s the real story of that young woman, Abby Johnson. She’s a real wife and mother who had two abortions herself. She never closed herself off to learning, to befriending people she disagreed with, including the pro-life activists to whom she was able to turn when she realized she needed to leave her job as an award-winning Planned Parenthood clinic director. Her message is one of mercy and of not being afraid to change your mind, even if it implicates your livelihood, even if it means a mea culpa of what might seem existential proportions.
“Look at the face of the other and to discover that he has a soul, a history and a life, that he is a person and that God loves this person as much as he loves [him]self,” Pope Benedict XVI said in 2010.
This is what Unplanned asks us to do. This is a solution — on whatever front it is, whatever our relationship with the person. And it’s not confined to abortion. But abortion is a particular intimate violence requiring a great deal of healing. Here’s what Benedict pointed to as being at the heart of the darkness of violence against man:
It is necessary to start afresh from the heart of the problem! It is necessary to start afresh from the meaning of the person! . . . Violence must never be the way for anyone to solve difficulties.
One of the best-kept secrets in the pro-life movement may be the ministry Abby Johnson started, And Then There Were None. She helps people be truly free to choose to leave the industry that immiserates. She’s carved out space for people to rethink and change their minds and way of life. She was able to walk away from the ideology that no longer made sense to her once she had seen too much — an ultrasound abortion where the baby in utero tried to pull away from its instrument of death — because of pro-life people who treated her with love.
She makes it possible for others to do the same, if they choose, once they see. So far, almost 500 clinic workers and seven doctors have left abortion behind with this assistance — because people looked at them as people full of hopes and dreams and histories, with futures.
There’s a lot of radicalizing happening right now. When it’s generosity and love, that’s something we can welcome. That’s lifegiving. When it’s doubling down on an ideology of death, that’s strangling us. And screaming at one another about that isn’t going to help, either. True love of the sort on display during the movie Unplanned is a help. Whatever your position on abortion, consider seeing it with an open heart for mercy. We can all afford to grow in that.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.