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Creators Of Anti-Abortion Film To Testify That Twitter Censors Them


Conservatives who say they have been censored by tech companies are going to be on Capitol Hill today. Among those testifying at the Senate hearing is one of the creators of an anti-abortion Christian film that recently opened in theaters nationwide. It is called "Unplanned," and it tells the story of a former Planned Parenthood clinic director from Texas who is now an anti-abortion rights activist.


ASHLEY BRATCHER: (As Abby Johnson) Hi. My name is Abby Johnson. I used to be the director of this clinic. I quit because my conscience wouldn't let me stay.

MARTIN: It's a small-budget film, and it is exceeding expectations at the box office. NPR's Sarah McCammon joins us now to talk about the movie and its impact.

Hey, Sarah.


MARTIN: Just introduce us to the story here in "Unplanned."

MCCAMMON: Well, it's based on the autobiography of Abby Johnson, and we just heard that clip. She says that in 2009, after having worked at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas, for several years, she witnessed an abortion procedure that led to a change of heart about abortion. And this film has earned already close to $13 million, which isn't bad for a film that just had a budget of $6 million. It's been in the box office for a couple of weeks, and it's stayed in the top 10. And, Rachel, Abby Johnson, whose character's portrayed in the film, she now leads an organization called And Then There Were None that encourages other clinic workers to leave their jobs.

Now, about this hearing - anti-abortion activists accuse Twitter of censoring the film's account by temporarily blocking it a couple weeks ago. Twitter says the account was mistakenly blocked by an automated system but was put back online right away as soon as that mistake was brought to their attention.

MARTIN: And who's behind the film? I mean, who are the producers? Who's making this film happen?

MCCAMMON: Right. Some of the creators include the same team behind another relatively high-profile Christian movie that some folks might have heard of called "God's Not Dead." And it got some funding from some prominent conservatives. Also, it's been getting a lot of support from abortion rights opponents who would like to see more restrictions on the procedure and would like to see all public funding to groups like Planned Parenthood cut off. And its supporters include Vice President Mike Pence, who's tweeted support for it.

MARTIN: The film portrays Planned Parenthood in a negative light, I think it's fair to say. What's the organization - how are they responding to this? Are they responding?

MCCAMMON: Well, Planned Parenthood has disputed some of Abby Johnson's claims for a long time. She wrote an autobiography by the same name, "Unplanned." And they dispute the circumstances that led to her resignation as well as the portrayal of some of Planned Parenthood's facilities and procedures. I talked to a former vice president of Planned Parenthood who now runs a communications firm, Elizabeth Toledo. She describes this film as propaganda.

ELIZABETH TOLEDO: It's a drama. It's not a documentary. It's not a real-life account of what actually happens at Planned Parenthood or any medical provider.

MCCAMMON: And Toledo says she believes the timing of the film is meant to tap into the renewed political battles we've been seeing around abortion rights.

MARTIN: Well, is this about politics? Because, you know, the election, 2020, is around the corner, and Christians in particular have long felt like Hollywood has just ignored them, that that is not a space for them, that pop culture is not a place where they can get their political views out there.

MCCAMMON: That's right. And so there is a lot of excitement, a lot of grassroots excitement, among church groups, conservative groups, again, conservative leaders about this film. And this is out at a moment where abortion rights are sort of - there's a battle about them being waged in a lot of state legislatures that was sort of sparked by the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who, of course, has tilted the court to the right.

There's a lot of - a lot of eyes are watching what will happen with abortion rights as some of these restrictive measures that have passed in state legislatures in recent weeks, including banning abortion as early as six weeks, as those work their way through the court system, potentially to the Supreme Court. And it is, of course, coming up in the 2020 presidential campaign. President Trump has used it as a - the issue of abortion as a rallying cry. So it's not clear, Rachel, whether this film, "Unplanned," will change any minds about abortion, but it is certainly rallying some members of the Republican base at a key time.

MARTIN: NPR's Sarah McCammon for us this morning.

Sarah, thanks. We appreciate it.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.