More Than Politics

I recently was honored to appear on Julie Varner Walsh‘s brand-new podcast, More Than Politics,  a “podcast for those of us who want something more than what we’ve come to expect from politics — and from our political discourse. Each week, More Than Politics will feature a conversation that helps put today’s politics in context, that honestly and charitably explores the issues of the day, that encourages us to engage in politics in a moral, even loving way.

I have been enjoying the podcast since it began–I feel smarter every time I listen!  Julie and I had a great discussion about feeling politically uncomfortable.  You can listen to it here.

And you can expect to be seeing more political posts from me (or that’s what I currently intend, anyway) as we get closer to the Presidential Election.

Unethical Vaccines: From HeLa to COVID-19

I recently wrote an article on the connection between abortion and vaccines for the American Life League‘s Celebrate Life magazine:

Baltimore, 1951: A young woman lay dying in her hospital bed, her body riddled with cancer. Before her death, doctors scraped some cells from her cervix. Later, without her knowledge or consent, those cells—“the first immortal human cells ever grown in a laboratory”—became instrumental in innumerable medical studies and discoveries.1 They also generated incalculable wealth. 

That young woman was Henrietta Lacks, and if you’ve heard her name, it’s because of Rebecca Skloot’s curiosity. One day in a biology class, Skloot encountered a picture of the unnamed woman whose cells were known as HeLa, their donor little more than a footnote in a textbook. Skloot’s determination to learn that woman’s name led to her best-selling book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Lacks’ descendants, many of them struggling in poverty, have never received a penny from the millions generated by her cells.

But Lacks is not the only unknown and unknowing person whose cells have contributed to medical advances.

Read the rest here.

There Is No Foreseeable Future

There is no foreseeable future.

Read it again: There is no foreseeable future.

Now, this isn’t a grammar rant, though that irksome phrase cries out for one.  Because, y’all, unless you believe in clairvoyance (and actually even if you do!), no one can foresee any part of the future–that time which has not yet come.

Still, the ubiquity of that utterance suggests that we think we can, and worse, that we think we should be able to.  And both beliefs are a recipe for suffering, especially in the Year of Our Lord 2020.

2020 Vision

Remember all those memes in December and January, all that clarity we were sure to experience in a year when we would all finally have 2020 vision?  Now we’ve moved on to memes about that most useless of all purchases: a 2020 planner.

If you take nothing else away from this unprecedented year, I hope this is it: there is  no 2020 vision when it comes to the future.

Planning and Control

Many years ago, I encountered a newspaper ad that triumphantly declared: “The secret to a happy life is planning!”  Y’all, I am here to tell you that planning is NOT the secret to a happy life. (Want the REAL secret? I wrote about it right here.)

An obsession with planning reflects a grasping for control.  Guess what? Not only can you not foresee the future, you also cannot control it.

Let me share a couple of examples from my own life, moving from dramatic and life-changing to small and mundane.

Nine years ago, we left town for a few days to attend a funeral.  While we were gone, our house burned to the ground.  I promise we did not see that one coming.  That unforeseeable event changed our lives–it changed our futures.  We moved to a different part of town–somewhere I never envisioned living.  There were new schools and new friends for the kids, changing job opportunities and pastimes for the adults. Even my outlook on life took on an entirely new shape because of that one event.

On a smaller scale, a couple of weeks ago, Lorelei and I were making dinner.  I had the whole evening planned out–I’ve coped with quarantine by devising and living by a regular daily schedule.  But then Lorelei sliced open a finger while opening a can of fruit.  We spent the whole evening in the emergency room–breaking our strict quarantine to hang out in the last place one would wish to go during a pandemic.  That was NOT the evening I had “foreseen.”

Given 30 seconds to think, you would come up with your own examples, of course.  But the truth is that not even our next breath is promised us.

Those who know me might think I’m attempting to justify my family’s haphazard existence–it’s true that we’ve always been a leap-of-faith kind of family.  But I promise it’s not.  I actually love planning things–more than doing them, if I’m honest.  I own a Catholic Women Shine planner and I’ve used it to accomplish quite a bit while safe at home this year.  It’s very natural to look toward the future–which we imagine we can foresee because generally it has a somewhat predictable shape–work, school, vacations.  It’s the absence of that shape right now that is so disconcerting but which also offers us a lesson and an opportunity.

Planning and Worrying

Our attempts at foreseeing the future are especially dangerous for those with a tendency toward anxiety and a predilection for worrying.  It’s called “living in the wreckage of the future” and it is a miserable way to spend your life–imagining every worst-case scenario and suffering RIGHT NOW over events that probably won’t happen.  And even if they DO happen, being miserable NOW, wasting the opportunity you have NOW for happiness, won’t change anything.

I may have mentioned a time or two that we Shollys are extremely focused Star Trek fans.  In the pilot episode of Deep Space Nine, Commander Benjamin Sisko finds himself explaining the concept of linear time to the god-like beings called the Prophets who exist outside of time.  At one point they show him a painful memory of his wife’s death, an experience which continues to cause him guilt, anger, and grief.  He says:  It’s difficult to be here, more difficult than any other memory. . .  this was the day that I lost Jennifer. I don’t want to be here.
One of the Prophets replies:  Then why do you exist here?

This encounter helps Sisko to move forward with his life.  Most of us understand that living in the past is a bad idea, but living in the future is just as bad.  As Leo Buscaglia said:  “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.”

So I have a proposition for you.  Rather than worrying about everything that could go wrong in the future–in fact, even rather than dreaming about all that could go right with it–what if you do your best to focus only on the day in front of you? What if you let yourself see the future as a beautiful surprise just waiting to unfold?

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Love Your Neighbor: Wear Your Mask

Once upon a time, a man was given the opportunity to pay a visit to both Heaven and Hell, accompanied by a guide.

Upon arriving in Hell, he was amazed to see a long table laden with a banquet of every delicious food imaginable.  But rather than enjoying the food, the residents of Hell were arguing, complaining, crying.  It was then that he realized the only utensils available to the would-be diners were spoons so long that it was impossible for anyone to eat with them.  The condemned were doomed to suffer an eternity of longing for food they were unable to eat.

Next his guide led the man to Heaven, where he was surprised to see a nearly identical scene–the delectable banquet, the extra-long spoons.  But instead of the wailing and gnashing of teeth he had witnessed in Hell, he saw that the inhabitants of Heaven were smiling, talking with one another, even laughing–and EATING.  The difference? In Heaven, everyone was using their long spoons to feed their neighbors on the opposite side of the table.

I read this story over 40 years ago in one of my grandmother’s old Readers Digests, but I’ve never forgotten it and have often repeated it.  And it rose into my mind abruptly this week when I read a local reporter’s account of the failure of most people to wear the masks that have been recommended while in public as long as pandemic conditions continue.

Every day I read online diatribes from those who refuse to wear masks because this is America or because they are so uncomfortable or because they don’t like being forced to do anything or even because no one should tell them what to do with their own bodies.  Do I even need to tell you how ridiculous it sounds when professed pro-life Christians go around saying such things?

Here’s the real reason people aren’t wearing masks: mask-wearing has a negligible protective effect upon the wearer.  What masks do well, though, is prevent a potentially ill wearer from spreading germs to others.  I wear a mask to protect you, and you wear one to protect me.  Some especially vulnerable folks–like my friend’s medically fragile son–have difficulty wearing masks and are especially counting on the goodwill and compliance of the rest of us.

The freedom and individualism prized by Americans diametrically oppose the idea of being required to do something that only benefits others, not themselves.  However, some 75% of Americans claim to be Christians and should therefore be ready to love their vulnerable neighbor by wearing masks even if it were not required.

Instead, it would appear that we Americans are a selfish bunch doomed to a Hell of our own making.

Guest Post: Honoring the Dignity of the Shortest Lives

The following is a guest post from my friend Heidi Indahl, and all photos are hers.  You can learn more about Heidi and her ministry at the end.

From Conception to Natural Death.

As Catholics, we use this phrase often.  Honoring the dignity of life from conception leads us to protest abortion laws and educate others on the nature of contraception.  The dignity of life at the point of natural death leads us to rally against assisted suicide laws and elder abuse.  To honor the space in between is to act for social justice and for the benefit of the marginalized.  Have you ever stopped to consider, however, what honoring the dignity of the human person from conception to natural death looks like when only a short time passes between the two?

Such are cases of miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death.

As a church, can we do a better job of including these smallest of persons (and as an extension, their families) into our work as a pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-family people?

I think we can.

And more importantly, I believe we should.

I believe speaking for babies lost to miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death is as hard as it is because the world has written these lives off as unpreventable losses . . . casualties of natural law and the fallen state.  Health care providers blur the line between early miscarriage and chemically induced abortion in their usage of terminology and procedures.  Celebrities grieve their miscarriage publicly one day and shout their abortion the next.  Family and friends tell women every single day to get over it because it just happens.  We all have a thousand messages a day telling us that the unborn baby is not a life that is important.  Even when we know the truth, the culture makes it easy . . . indeed, safer . . . to just stand by thinking, man, I hope that doesn’t happen to me!

And yet, it does happen.

Statistics of pregnancy and infant loss remain relatively unchanged.  We might not be able to change the frequency of this death through legislation or social justice action, but we can change the reality for a forgotten group of people inside our faith communities.

All of the unborn deserve dignity in their deaths.  They deserve to be properly buried if at all possible.  They deserve to be remembered in the prayers of the Church through mass and other available rites.  Their families need the same social support and comfort that we provide to all those grieving the loss of a beloved member of their family.  We are not just supposed to bury the dead, pray for the dead, and comfort the sorrowful when it is convenient, easy, and socially acceptable.  We are supposed to do it for every single human person that it is in our control to do so for.

I regularly speak with well-catechized, every-Sunday Catholics who have no idea that the Church provides a variety of funeral and naming rites, memorial suggestions, burial sites and more** for infants who pass away before or shortly after birth.   Women whose doctors say flush the fetus and they do, because no one has ever told them there is another option.

We can do better for our friends, our family, and ourselves.

A couple facing pregnancy and infant loss should never wonder inside the walls of the Catholic Church if their child’s life was valued and important.  It was.  Our whole pro-life argument is centered around the idea that the value of a life isn’t different because the life hasn’t existed as long or hasn’t produced the same contribution to society.  That doesn’t cease to be true because a person has passed away.

Every person matters from conception to natural death, because we know God formed human beings in His image and likeness.  Not because of their contribution to society.  Not because of their age, race, gender, or hair color.  Not because of the circumstances of their conception or death.  But because in them is the image and likeness of God himself.

And in them we can find God.

**Check with your local diocese for approved options.  If they don’t know, advocate for the next family to face this grave loss by helping get something in place!
_________________________________________________________

The mother of seven living children, three miscarried babies, a stillborn daughter, and a daughter who passed away shortly after birth, Heidi Indahl is the author of Blessed Is the Fruit of Thy Womb: Rosary Reflections for Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Loss and 67 Ways to Do the Works of Mercy with Your Kids.   With a passion for sharing her pregnancy and infant loss journey, she does so in a way that can enrich the spiritual life of all women while also improving the way we think and talk about pregnancy and infant loss to promote a genuine culture of life, centered in the truths of our Catholic faith. 

For more information and additional pregnancy and infant loss resources, visit Heidi’s website.

 

GUEST POST: What I Want Christians to Know about Mental Illness

This guest post was written by a young Catholic man who asked that I publish it anonymously due to the personal nature of the subject.  I was happy to do so as mental illness affects so many families, including mine.

There has been a significant growth of awareness about mental illness in recent years, and I am grateful for it. As a Christian who suffers from mental illness, I want my fellow believers who may be unfamiliar with it to know a few things.

What is a mental illness?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these.)” Mental illness is common. The American Psychiatric Association also say that in any given year, 19% of U.S. adults experience some form of mental illness, and 4.1% of Americans have a serious mental illness.

How does it work?

I’m not a doctor, but I like to explain the foundation of mental illness and the need for treatment by comparing it to physical illness, something almost everyone can relate to.

When a person experiences a physical illness, it essentially means that their body isn’t functioning the way it would when healthy. When a person has the flu, a very common physical illness, they have a viral infection of their respiratory tract. This infection causes symptoms, including fever, fatigue, and physical pain.

When a person experiences a mental illness, it means that their brain isn’t functioning the way it would when healthy. Mental illnesses often last for years or even a lifetime.

I want to address the most commonly referred to forms of mental illness: Depression, Anxiety, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, more commonly known as OCD. These terms are often used to describe everyday experiences and emotions that are not necessarily mental illnesses, which leads to confusion.

Depression

Depression is a commonly used term, and feeling depressed does not necessarily mean a person experiences mental illness. It is ordinary for a person to feel depressed and sad when life is hard.

Major Depressive Disorder, a mental illness, can cause people to feel depressed and sad when things in life are good. It alters the brain, causing chemical and hormonal imbalances that affect a person in negative ways.

When people suffer from Depression, the mental illness, they may experience sadness, hopelessness, and excessive feelings of guilt and worthlessness. Physically, they may experience restlessness, fatigue, or sleep in excess or lack. If left untreated, or if treatment is ineffective, it can lead to suicidal thoughts and inclinations.

Anxiety

As with depression, anxiety is a commonly used term and a widely experienced emotion. Feeling anxious does not necessarily mean that a person experiences mental illness.

There are several types of what are called anxiety disorders. Among them are Generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Anxiety disorders are mental illnesses; the brain’s functioning is altered.

When a person has an anxiety disorder, their anxieties, or worries, are often persistent and irrational. A person may fixate on a specific thought or happening nonstop for hours or an entire day. These fixations can be so severe that they hinder a person’s ability to function.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

OCD is a term that is widely misused to describe someone who is a perfectionist or very detail-oriented. According to Mayo Clinic, OCD “features a pattern of unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions).”

They also say that “Ultimately, you feel driven to perform compulsive acts to try to ease your stress. Despite efforts to ignore or get rid of bothersome thoughts or urges, they keep coming back.”

Obsessive-compulsive disorder causes what is known as a vicious cycle where obsessive thoughts and compulsive behavior beget only more obsessive thoughts and compulsive behavior. Obsessions and compulsions can be physical, mental, or both. Individuals who suffer from OCD can experience obsessions such as repetitively washing hands, needing to re-check whether a door is locked, arranging physical items a certain way, or repeating specific thoughts or prayers for lengthy periods without respite.

How to and not to treat a Christian with mental illness

The Bible has a lot to say about worry and anxiety.

In Philippians 4:6, St. Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” In Matthew 6:34, Jesus says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” 1 Peter 5:7 says about the Lord, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

These verses are easy to remember and share with others but may be of no solace to a person who experiences mental illness. Why is this?

When you suffer from mental illness, not worrying, not being anxious, and being happy can often be beyond your control, even with the help of medicine.

If I get provoked by criticism, a personal attack, or hearing bad news, I can literally think about such a thing for the rest of the day, making it take longer to go to sleep.

I know to my core that God loves me, but telling me not to worry, or to be joyful at times doesn’t help because it is simply something I’m often not able to control. Prominent Christian speakers have said things such as “there is no such thing as a sad Christian,” and “worry is practical atheism,” which I think are insensitive and untrue, especially when considering the experience of Christians with mental illness, and that those are common, natural emotions.

Never, ever, ever, criticize a person’s faith when they are struggling not to worry, or when they feel depressed and sad rather than joyful. I’m not less holy, less faithful, or less believing than anyone else if I don’t feel joyful or if I am overwhelmed by worry.

What should you do?

From my perspective, offering a listening ear, without telling people how to think, is the best thing a person can do to help. Suggestions may be welcome and helpful, but at times they may not be. Praying for them is essential and asking to pray with them when in-person can also be comforting.

Seeking treatment

Though miraculous healings occur, as with a physical illness, mental illnesses such as Depression and anxiety disorders are not problems that you can simply pray away: it requires treatment and stigma has no place in preventing someone from seeking it out.

If you know someone who shows signs of depression or an anxiety disorder, ask if they are seeing a counselor and taking medicine, and if they say no, encourage them to speak with their doctor and a licensed counselor. A psychiatrist can evaluate someone and determine if they have a mental illness, and then provide them with medication and refer them to a counselor. A counselor can provide practical ways that a person can cope with their thoughts and experiences, which when combined with medicine can make things much better.

Illegal or Unthinkable: One Pro-Life Catholic’s Perspective on How to End Abortion

Confession: I really don’t want to write this post.  Despite evidence to the contrary, I don’t court controversy and don’t enjoy being bombarded by people from both sides of our country’s political divide. And so I’ve been uncomfortable but quiet over the past few weeks as many of my pro-life friends celebrated and most of my pro-choice friends decried the latest laws limiting abortion.

Then I attended my 30-year Georgetown Reunion, and took part in a workshop on Social Justice.  One of the takeaways was that although the need for change can seem overwhelming, and we may wonder what–if any–impact an individual can have, we all have spheres of influence where we can hope to make a difference.  And we were charged with committing to doing what we could within those spheres.

So here I am, y’all.  A blog (and its associated social media) seems like a pretty obvious sphere.  And not writing about the controversy surrounding the new abortion laws is starting to feel like cowardice.  After all, I have a history of writing at the intersection of the Catholic faith and social justice, and even though I have been keeping quiet, it’s not as though I have nothing to say.  So here goes.

The Goal of the Pro-Life Movement

Let’s start with a question: what is the goal of the pro-life movement? I suspect if you asked a pro-choice person, he’d say it’s to make abortion illegal.  On the other hand, if you asked a pro-life person, I’d hope her answer would be that it’s to END abortion.

By itself, outlawing abortion won’t END abortion, because women with means will procure safe illegal abortions while poor women resort to unsafe ones.  Babies–and some mothers–will continue to die.

What we should really want is to make abortion UNTHINKABLE.

Tell me, why don’t you beat your children? Until 1875, there were no laws in the United States to protect them from abuse.  But is that why you don’t beat them, because you are afraid of being caught and arrested? No, you don’t beat them because it is abhorrent and you would never dream of doing such a thing.  That’s how we should want everyone to feel about abortion in the future.

If you think all of the above means that I don’t think abortion should be illegal, you’d be wrong.  If an unborn baby is a human person, then it deserves the same protections as any other human person.  We cannot allow killing an innocent human person to be legal.

The “Heartbeat Laws”

So why am I not enthusiastic about the “Heartbeat Laws” virtually banning abortions (because most women would not find out they were pregnant in time to get one)?  There are a number of reasons and I am here to break them down for you.

These laws have not yet gone into effect and I doubt they ever will.  They were drafted with one goal in mind–and it wasn’t to make abortion  unthinkable.  Rather it was to force a challenge to the Roe v. Wade decision, gambling that the latest conservative-leaning Supreme Court justices will seize this opportunity to overturn it.  AND I DON’T THINK THEY WILL.

These laws are going to be challenged and overturned, as they are currently unconstitutional, as they were designed to be.  Babies will continue to be aborted as the laws make their way through the courts.  If the Supreme Court chooses to take them up–and remember, they can refuse to–I believe they are so extreme (not including the rape and incest exceptions that most Americans–NOT ME–favor) that the justices will uphold Roe v. Wade as settled law.

I might be 100% wrong.  I hope I am.  But remember, even if Roe v. Wade goes away, that leaves many states where abortions will continue to be legal, and where those pro-abortion laws will no doubt become even more entrenched in response.

An Incremental Approach

The legislative approach I prefer is an incremental one.  For example, it’s perfectly licit for a Catholic legislator to vote for an abortion-limiting law that contains exceptions for rape and incest, not because those babies ought to have any fewer rights, but because it is still better than the current situation and such bills have a better chance of passing into law and being upheld by the courts.  In the same vein, there are other laws that could be proposed to limit abortions that the majority of Americans find reasonable.  Laws that limit abortions after a fetus can feel pain, laws requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital, laws regulating abortion clinics in the same manner that other free-standing medical clinics are regulated, laws requiring parental consent:  these are measures that the majority of Americans who are in the mushy middle on abortion can understand and support.

The Mushy Middle

And that’s most Americans.  Most Americans don’t embrace the extreme positions represented in our online debates.  They think abortion is wrong and should be limited but not prohibited before a certain point.  Most Americans would be perfectly happy with unlimited abortion in the first trimester and increasing regulations thereafter, with exceptions for rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, and to save the mother’s life.

For practicing Catholics (and other pro-life supporters) and extreme pro-choice supporters alike that position doesn’t make any logical sense.  To be clear, if abortion is killing a human being, it is always gravely wrong; and on the opposite end of the argument, if it’s ever acceptable it must be always acceptable.  These are the facts that underlie the entrenched positions of those of us doing most of the arguing, that we cannot ever really get past.  But the position of most Americans on abortion–the folks I call the “mushy middle”–is not rooted in logic.  It’s rooted in their feelings–their feelings of distaste for the procedure AND their feelings of compassion for women in difficult circumstances.

Making Abortion Unthinkable

Those people in the mushy middle are the ones we have to win over if we really want to end abortion.  And we are not winning them over by passing extreme laws.  They are horrified by diagrams of partial-birth abortion, but they are equally horrified at the prospect of twelve-year-old incest victims forced to bear their rapists’ children.  Never mind that both of those scenarios are rare compared to the total number of abortions; they are what we both sides trot out to to try to sway opinions and they end up canceling each other out.

I fear these new laws will take those moderate folks and turn them radical, that they will be more moved by the “my body my choice” argument as they see abortions becoming illegal without the exceptions they largely favor.  And that would be a shame because we have been making progress with them!  Millennials are a more pro-life generation.  People with disabilities are becoming more visible, many of them advocating themselves for their right to be here.  We’ve succeeded in some states at passing more moderate laws limiting abortions.  Clinics have been closing.  Abortion rates have slowed.

So how do we continue the progress we have made?  By helping women.

Respecting All Life

Look, I know that there are lots of folks active in the pro-life movement who are also providing assistance to women and their unborn babies and caring for babies after they are born.  I know all about Catholic Charities.  And I know that I’m not the only pro-life “social justice warrior” in the state of Tennessee, not even close!  I also know that some people who oppose legislation to help the poor are very generous on a personal level.  And while it’s true that people of good will can disagree about the best way to help these women, it’s hard to ignore the statistics in articles like this one demonstrating that abortion rates go down during Democratic administrations.

But this is the reality: women are aborting babies because they don’t have affordable day care, because they don’t have maternity leave, because they don’t have affordable housing, because they are desperate.  Until we fix some of this, abortion will remain the first thought for many desperate women, and the people in the mushy middle will want them to have access to it, thinking that is compassionate.  If every pregnant woman had the support she needed, the perceived need for most abortions would disappear and most Americans wouldn’t see any reason for it anymore.  In time we could look back on the past 40 years and wonder how this ever could have happened and why on earth it took so long to fix it.

I know that most pro-life people really do care about babies, but I also understand why many Americans don’t believe that.   When we vote to end abortion but for caging migrant children,  against health care reform,  for removing welfare funds, and against family leave, we don’t seem pro-life.  We don’t look consistent.  We really make it look like “controlling women’s bodies” is all that we care about.  If we can demonstrate through common-sense, compassionate legislation that we really love them both and that our opposition to abortion is rooted in our respect for ALL life, I believe that’s when we will start to change hearts and minds.

And while legislation may make accessing abortion more difficult, it’s changed hearts and minds that will make abortion unthinkable.

Unplanned: Can Its Truth Reach Those Who Need It?

I hear that Unplanned, the movie that recounts Abby Johnson‘s conversion from Planned Parenthood clinic director of the year to pro-life activist, is under a media blackout, but you’d never know it from my newsfeed.  I’d been hearing about it from all my Catholic pro-life friends for weeks before it premiered, and I had no interest in seeing it.

But my next door neighbor and dear friend talked me into going with her and I’m glad I did.  I can’t really say I enjoyed it because of the subject matter, but the movie held my attention.  I was impressed and I wasn’t really expecting to be.

The irony that it’s legal for a 17-year-old to have an abortion without a parent’s consent but not to watch one simulated on screen is not lost on me, but even so I wouldn’t take my own teenagers to this movie.  I believe the R rating is justified and I had to avert my eyes more than once.

That’s not to suggest that Unplanned‘s gore is gratuitous.  As Abby herself says to her husband when she arrives home in blood-spattered sneakers, “Nobody ever said that abortion is pretty.”  The scenes were appropriate and effective within the context of the story, although the aftermath of Abby’s at-home chemical abortion probably could have been cut shorter.

Reading the above, you might assume that Unplanned is just a moving-picture version of those awful graphic photos with which over-the-top activists like to assault unsuspecting bystanders.  On the contrary, the film is surprisingly nuanced.  Even as an unapologetic pro-choice clinic director, Abby is a sympathetic character, and so are the other women who work with her (the obvious exception is her villainous, money-grubbing boss: “Non-profit is a tax status, not a business model.”).  They truly believe the work they do helps women, and Abby sees the real mission of her clinic as providing healthcare and resources to prevent unplanned pregnancies and, by extension, abortions.

I was shocked and then thrilled to see some pro-life protesters who were decidedly unsympathetic, screaming at women, calling them murderers, waving aborted baby pictures at them.  It was honest of the movie to confront this abusive behavior head on, and to use the prayerful, kind protesters to rebut it and to demonstrate throughout the movie the importance of dialogue and respect and finding common ground.

While Unplanned left me with a mostly positive impression, I do have two criticisms.  And while that may not seem like much, I fear that they are quite damaging to the film’s potential to change the minds and hearts of abortion rights supporters.

At the very beginning of the movie, we get a disclaimer: Based on a true story.  I know lots of movies begin that way.  I know translating events from a book to film requires a certain amount of dramatic licenses.  Still, this immediately called every event into question for me.  I had to wonder what exactly was changed? What exactly was not strictly true? And while there is Truth to be found even in completely fictional stories, if I were a skeptical pro-choice Planned Parenthood fan watching this movie, I would take the disclaimer as license to question–even discount–everything I saw.

Even worse was the confrontation between Abby and her former boss, Cheryl, just after Abby makes her debut into the world of sidewalk counseling outside the fence of the very clinic she once ran.  As a way of intimidating Abby with the power and influence of Planned Parenthood, Cheryl brags, “We’ve got Soros, Gates, Buffet . . . ”

Maybe Cheryl really said those exact words in real life, although it didn’t sound to me like anything a real person would say, but I was immediately pulled right out of the movie, cringing inwardly as I imagined how a pro-choice viewer would react to the name-dropping of George Soros in particular.  Don’t comment and tell me how much money Soros donates to Planned Parenthood.  I am sure he does and you don’t have to convince me, but he’s also constantly accused of being involved in various “liberal conspiracies” by far right wing types, and including this here will make some viewers dismiss the entirety of the movie.

Which leads me to the big question I was left with after watching Unplanned:  Who is the movie for?  I can see it as a vehicle for energizing those who are already against abortion, or perhaps as a recruitment tool for 40 Days for Life.  I can see it providing topics for discussion among pro-lifers.  But even if we can get pro-choice people into the theatre to watch, because of the foregoing I am not sure I can see it changing their minds about abortion or Planned Parenthood; and it’s a shame that reservations about the truth of events in a movie might obscure the Truth about abortion.

Bold, Brave, Catholic: Living Like Others are Watching

A lot of people think of bravery in terms of combat or mountain climbing or running into a burning building to rescue someone.  And no doubt it takes bravery to do those things.  But I think most of us don’t give ourselves enough credit for the small moments every day in which we overcome our fear.   I know I’ve read—and agree—that bravery is not a lack of fear but rather is feeling fear but acting anyway.  Being bold to me means being a little extra-brave.  It would be brave, for example, to pray in front of an abortion clinic.  It would be bold to offer to pray with someone who was on her way inside.

Read the rest of this guest post at A Beautiful, Camouflaged, Mess of a Life.