Ashley Bratcher, star of the new movie “Unplanned,” recently sat down with The Daily Signal to talk about the film, which opens Friday. It tells the true story of Abby Johnson, a Planned Parenthood clinic director who left the nation’s largest abortion provider in 2009 after a conversion experience. You can listen to the interview with Bratcher on the podcast or read a lightly edited transcript below.
Rachel del Guidice: We’re joined on The Daily Signal Podcast today by Ashley Bratcher. She’s the lead actress in the movie “Unplanned.” The movie tells the story of Abby Johnson, the youngest Planned Parenthood clinic director who in 2009 left Planned Parenthood due to a change of heart. Ashley, thank you so much for being with us today.
Ashley Bratcher: Yes, thank you for having me.
del Guidice: First off, I want to start off to ask you what it was like to be a lead role in a film that tells such an incredible story about not only the horrors of the abortion industry, but also the beauty of the pro-life movement?
Bratcher: Yeah, playing a real person, especially someone like Abby Johnson, is a huge responsibility. She’s just so charismatic and fun and witty. To be able to be the storyteller of her transformation was such an honor.
What’s so powerful about her story is that she made the complete 180. She was an insider at Planned Parenthood and she was able to say, “I was wrong.” To come out and tell her story, which it was very courageous and brave because she faced a lot of backlash from Planned Parenthood. Being able to really share what she went through, and the grace that she found along the way and forgiveness has been just incredible.
del Guidice: You’ve recently spoken about how this film became very personal for you, when you found out in the early stages of filming “Unplanned” that you were almost aborted. Could you tell us a little bit about how that revolution happened?
Bratcher: When I first got cast for “Unplanned,” it all happened really quickly. I’m talking four hours was the notice I got. They said, “Can you be on the plane?” And I said, “Yes.” Without hesitation. I landed in Oklahoma, hit the ground running. I didn’t have a lot of time to tell people where I was or explain.
When my mom called me on the fourth day of filming, I was a little hesitant to share with her the story because she had shared with me when she was younger that she’d had an abortion. I didn’t want her to think that I judged her or that I thought any less of her or that this was even a movie about condemnation, because it certainly isn’t. It doesn’t point fingers at anyone.
I was really proud to tell her Abby’s story. As I did, she became undone more so than I expected. She was weeping through the phone. She said, “Ashley, I need to tell you something that I never told you before.” I could just tell that this was breaking her heart. She said, “Actually, what you don’t know is that when I was 19, I was at the clinic for the second time and I had my name called back, I was being examined by a very pregnant nurse. I was on the table and I got very sick to my stomach. I told her I couldn’t go through with it. I got up, I walked out, and I chose to have you.”
It was such a profound moment because I never knew that. It was incredibly shocking and overwhelming, and so many other words I can’t even create right now in my mind, because I was here telling Abby Johnson’s story, one of the greatest pro-life voices of our time, never realizing that I was almost a victim of abortion. I was almost never here on this earth to share this story. It was definitely something that put life into perspective for me.
del Guidice: Well, that’s beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing that. This movie is coming at a particularly intense time for the pro-life movement. We’ve seen New York recently legalizing abortion up to the time of birth and similar legislation being pursued in states like Virginia and Rhode Island. How do you hope this movie might play a role in the current debate we’re seeing?
Bratcher: Well, I think the timing of the movie is absolutely divine. I would love to say that we’re marketing geniuses, but that is just not the case. This just all happened to come out at a time that I think our country desperately needs it. I think that there is a lot of misinformation out there, and people are just wrapped up in the lie that it’s just a clump of cells, or it’s just tissue, it’s just fetal matter. But that is just not the case.
Science backs the pro-life movement in the sense that a unique individual human life is created at the point of fertilization. We need a face to the victim. This is a movie that actually gives the victim a face. Because for so long, there has been a silent Holocaust happening, if you will. This is something that’s done in secret behind closed doors. For the most part, women don’t even see their ultrasounds. For the first time, we are taking people behind those closed doors to reveal what is really happening in the abortion industry.
del Guidice: What is your take on “Unplanned” receiving an “R” rating? I think I saw a report saying that “R” rating was going to stay unless all the abortion scenes were removed. What’s your take on this whole rating that its been given?
Bratcher: I think it’s completely accurate. We didn’t receive the “R” rating for nudity because there’s no nudity. There’s no sex, there’s no language. The only reason we received the “R” was for violence and disturbing images.
Well, unfortunately, that is exactly what abortion is. It’s a disturbing and violent act. The NPAA actually agrees with us, which is ironic. I think that the “R” rating is warranted because we don’t hold back. We don’t do it for the blood and gore, but we do it to reveal the truth.
I think that parents who do take their children need to have a very serious conversation about what abortion really is, this is going to definitely wake them up.
I do think that there is a serious issue in our country with the law. Because a girl as young as 13 can be pregnant and go in many states across the nation and have an abortion, but she can’t go see the movie without parental consent. She can have an abortion without parental consent, but she can’t see the movie. That to me says more about protecting women in our society than we are. Just to be able to see a movie is a lot different than going and being able to take a life.
del Guidice: Exactly. No, you’re so right. It’s no secret that pro-life movies, we rarely see them over at the box office. How has your involvement in this movie been received by those in the film industry and the media?
Bratcher: I think other people have been way more concerned than I have about where my career is headed after this. I already have offers on the table. I am a part of some projects that are in the works. It’s not really hurting my career, so to speak.
I think that anyone who is wise enough and honest enough in the film industry, any critic, any artist can look at this role and see the artistic value. Because no matter where you stand on the subject, Abby is an incredibly dynamic character. The role is challenging physically, mentally, emotionally, but it’s an incredible stretch for any actor to be able to have a role like this.
It’s just a really great story. The film industry has to acknowledge that, and if they don’t, that says more about where they stand on their political agenda than I do.
del Guidice: Speaking of the political agenda, and just the attacks we’ve seen on people who do get involved in films like this that are antithetical to what Hollywood produces, what would you say to other people who might have an opportunity like this, but they may be too caught up in their own career or the future? You’re in this movement, and you’re making a profound difference, what would you say to people who are straddling that choice?
Bratcher: I’d say that you being true to yourself is the most important thing you can do in this industry. Because this is an industry that will eat you up and spit you out if you don’t know who you are. Knowing who you are, and what the mark is that you want to leave in this industry and on the world is incredibly important. Because if you know that, and you can root yourself in your purpose, no matter what you do, you can always stand on that.
I know that in 40 years, I’m not going to look back on this project and regret it. I’m going to be very proud of my work. That’s something that I’ve always taken pride in is knowing that I only do projects that I feel moved to do. If I’m a part of that, I’m going to be able to stand behind it and back it and say, “Yeah, I did it, and here’s why.”
I think that people really need to be able to say that. They need to know why they’re doing what they’re doing regardless of what someone else thinks. You’re going to live without regret if you do what is true to you, and people are going to respect you more for being honest and authentic about it.
del Guidice: What was the hardest part about making this film as well as the best part about making it?
Bratcher: The hardest part, I would say, was the 24/7, nonstop commitment to the film. It’s definitely the hardest I’ve ever worked because it didn’t stop when the cameras turned off. It was so labor intensive, as far as research is concerned that it was go, go, go.
I would be eating dinner listening to Abby’s audio book, looking at YouTube videos. I wasn’t even taking a shower without having something playing in the background. It was intense because I was so committed to a truthful performance that I wanted to know the ins and outs of everything that she experienced.
My favorite part about making the film is that these people have truly become my family. I know that people say that all the time, but this is just different than anything I’ve ever been a part of.
I know that these are people that will be in my life for the long haul. They’re friends that call me up regularly and check on me and say, “How are you doing?” And we can have conversations outside of just the movie industry. We really developed a close sense of family because we were all gathered together for a unified purpose, and we knew that.
del Guidice: How do you hope that this film will impact society and specifically the pro-life and pro-abortion movements in particular?
Bratcher: I think this film is going to start a conversation. This is something we desperately need to talk about. I heard one of the Georgia House representatives say last week that abortion is so outside the scope of polite conversation that we can’t even bear to look at it. We can’t even come face to face with the ripping apart of a human being.
He’s right. We have to face this as a society, we have to talk about it. We have to acknowledge it. Because if we don’t, we’re turning a blind eye and nothing is happening to move this forward and progress.
This is a movie that, like I said, is going to put a face to the victim. For the first time, America is going to have to recognize that. They’re going to have to look at what’s being done and say, “Am I OK with this?” You can’t walk out and be ambivalent anymore. You’re going to have to make a choice.
del Guidice: Ashley, thank you so much for being with us today. We really appreciate it.
Bratcher: Yes, thank you for having me.