Unplanned’: A Triumph … and a Trigger

By Joni W. Shepherd
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Watching the movie Unplanned will likely affect you on some level, no matter your stance on abortion before viewing it. But those who’ve had some involvement in a past abortion may find that the film triggers a much deeper traumatic wound.

Unplanned is a film telling the story of Abby Johnson, former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic. It is an accurate picture of how the abortion industry operates – portraying the effect of abortion on clinic workers, clients and their families.

It is also a difficult movie for some of us to watch.

It’s Rated R for a Reason

The R-rating for Unplanned is appropriate. Some of the content, especially near the beginning, is quite graphic and depicts a lot of blood. The subject matter alone is not for the faint of heart, nor for most preteens. Watching this movie will likely affect you on some level, no matter your stance on abortion before viewing it.

Someone who is not too squeamish or hasn’t had some involvement in a past abortion might not find it too disturbing, but will likely think harder about the subject than ever before.

But those who have lost children to abortion, been involved in the decision process or are close to someone who has experienced it may very well find that Unplanned triggers a much deeper traumatic wound. You’ll need to decide for yourself whether to see the movie. If you feel it might be too much for you, that’s OK. There is no right or wrong decision.

How Unplanned Affected Me

I lost two children to abortion in my late teens. By God’s grace, just a few years after my abortions, I was able to experience healing through a Bible study for women who have had an abortion. I have led many other women through this study over the past 32 years. I’ve shared my testimony numerous times over the years and have experienced more healing than many people ever do.

Yet, when I viewed Unplanned, I sat there and sobbed like a baby, with my friend holding my hand. It was hard to watch, and I had to look away at times. It brought back memories I thought I had forgotten. I can’t imagine watching Unplanned without the healing I experienced in a safe community.

Post-Abortion Syndrome is a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. While the American Psychological Association and other secular national organizations deny this, the symptoms of post-abortion trauma are undeniably similar to those of PTSD.

Just as normally benign pictures, sounds and smells can trigger a combat veteran, causing him/her to relive their trauma, even a movie as vital as Unplanned can trigger someone traumatized by a past abortion. It doesn’t matter if the abortion was 50 years ago or yesterday. If there has not been purposeful and substantial healing, the wound can feel as fresh and irreconcilable as if it happened yesterday.

Please Exercise Caution

I write this because, while Unplanned is a phenomenal movie – a story of redemption and grace – please don’t go to this movie alone if you have lost a child to abortion and have not yet gone through significant healing with others. The depth of your response may vary depending on several factors:

  • How you felt about it at the time. If you didn’t want the abortion but felt pressured into it or were forced, you will likely experience more sorrow and regret than someone who was more ambivalent. If you were ambivalent at the time, Unplanned could bring you out of denial for the first time and devastate you.
  • How long it’s been since the abortion. If the wound is fresh, in the past few months or within a year, you may not be as deeply set in your denial of how it affected you as someone who is practiced at suppressing it for decades.
  • If you are approaching an anniversary date – such as date of the abortion, would-be birthdate, or date of conception – your body and subconscious mind may already be reacting to the memory even if you do not have a conscious memory of it, which can make the response more powerful.
  • You’re still suffering with frequent regret, shame and guilt since the abortion. This trigger can make you feel like it is too much to bear.
  • You’ve been going through the healing process on your own. You may handle it better than someone who has not experienced any healing at all, but you will likely need to find a safe environment in which to talk about it.

If you’ve been through a comprehensive Bible study with other people and have experienced significant healing and the ability to let go of the pain, you may be able to handle watching Unplanned without feeling like you need a counselor. But you might still benefit from debriefing the film afterward with someone who understands how to navigate this kind of trigger.

Graphic Pictures Can Trigger Destructive Thoughts

The first triggers for my abortion wound happened when I was married and pregnant on purpose. As I studied prenatal development for the first time, I was beyond devastated to learn that my aborted babies were obviously more than the “pieces of tissue” I had been told they were.

I was still in this first desired pregnancy when I came across information on abortion procedures (with pictures). At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to take my own life. How could I live with myself after recognizing what I had done to my children?

But if I acted on those thoughts, I realized I would also be taking the life of yet another child. I felt trapped. If it wasn’t safe to talk to anyone about my unplanned pregnancies, I certainly couldn’t talk to anyone about my abortions. I believe if I hadn’t known the character and love of my heavenly Father, my baby and I might not have made it through this pregnancy alive.

If I had seen a movie like Unplanned at that time in my life, with no one to talk with, I suspect that I would have needed to be hospitalized. The end of the film lists where to go for help if you are struggling with a past abortion. I’m thankful that the filmmakers included this information.

I know it may be too late for some, but no one who has been through an abortion or been involved in one without experiencing post-abortion healing should watch this film alone. I believe there is the potential for destructive behavior among some at-risk individuals.

Where to Find Help

If you have seen Unplanned and feel you need to talk with someone, please find a way to share your trauma in a safe environment – confidential and without condemnation. You are not alone, and you can best get through this in the company of others who’ve been there. Professional counseling can be helpful, but you probably want to find a counselor specifically trained in post-abortion healing.

If you do not have a past-abortion wound, please be thoughtful and sensitive when asking others to watch the film with you. Just to be safe, be aware of resources available online and nearby – such as a local pregnancy resource center – that can provide information to share with your friends. Then be willing to pray for and walk with your wounded friends through their healing process.

You will be a conduit of God’s grace.

If you or someone you know has had an abortion, there’s a good chance that the experience has had a stronger impact than you realized. If this is your situation and you’d like to talk more about your concerns, call our Counseling department for a free over-the-phone consultation. You can contact us Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Mountain time) at: 855-771-HELP (4357).


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© 2019 Joni W. Shepherd. Used with permission.

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