She sees the numbers from a distance. Squinting eyes widen with hope like the father spotting his prodigal son. She doubts herself for a moment and quickly digs into the heavy grey purse on her lap, pushing past the rattle of medications and an unnecessary pile of tissues. She pulls out a faded bus timetable and the scratched plastic reading glasses that she had bought at her local chemist back in 2011. Only $6. Why waste money at a fancy Optometrist when you can buy everything you need at the chemist for $6? She nodded to herself in agreement as she put them on and held up the paper close to her nose to try to catch the tiny writing between the scratches on the lenses.
Bus 566 – Lalor. She smiled. That’s the one.
She looked back up to the road as the 566 approached, rolling towards her like a lumbering dog running to its master. She started to wave at the bus as if it would smile and raise one of its wheels to wave back. Groan. Her joy was interrupted by the ache of a stubborn hip. One hour was a long time to wait and the steel frame of the bus stop bench showed no mercy. But it was either one hour here or another hour at home. Her empty house had been a cold museum for the last few months. The walls lined with framed memories of family gatherings teasing her in her isolation. With her Type 2 Diabetes and history of lung cancer she was deemed high risk. Immuno-something-or-other her doctor said. So the anticipation of physical touch now that the restrictions had finally been lifted were worth every ache and pain.
Her hands, worn and crumpled as the old paper timetable she clutched, now tightened their grip as the 566 reached her stop with a hiss. The sound reminded her of the steam trains of her childhood growing up in Ireland. She would wait at the station with her mother for her father to arrive back from his long business trips in the city. When she spotted him step on to the platform she would squeal with delight and run into his open arms. His embrace was warm and safe and full of love. She longed again for that embrace. She could no longer run, but now she lifted her shaky frame off her seat with the kind assistance of her trusty walker. The doors of the 566 opened with a mechanical clunk and one person hopped off with a backpack and a beaming smile.
This was my contribution to a creative challenge set by a Writer’s Group I am part of. We had to write around three paragraphs based on the prompt “A woman at a bus stop”. Our challenge was to write it using interesting and creative words or phrases.
It was wonderful to write and then go back over a sentence and think “How else could I describe this?”
It was also wonderful to try to express some of the longing and loss that many feel during this pandemic season, especially the elderly and the isolated.
We are all longing to be able to embrace our loved ones again.
This is the Kid’s Talk that I put together for my church’s Easter Service.
It was maybe the second time I had done a kid’s talk for church (the last time being around 15 years ago), and it was definitely the first time I had done one on video.
It was a lot of work to put together, but I had the support and help of my wife Cat (who provided the voice of Mary) and my 4 year old daughter Dot (who voiced the angels).
This year is a particularly difficult time for kids as they have lost so much due to the restrictions caused by the pandemic. It is easy for Easter to be lost in the chaos and confusion of this time. So I wanted to acknowledge that and point the kids (and the adults watching) to the joy of the resurrection that we not only read about, but are invited to share in.
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PERSON 1 – Reads some article somewhere that toilet paper might run out if Coronavirus hits our shores.
PERSON 2 – Thinks person 1 is silly for believing that article but sees them buying all the toilet paper and doesn’t want to be left with none, so buys a bunch as well.
PERSON 3 – Hasn’t read any article but sees persons 1 & 2 buying toilet paper and concludes there must be a national shortage and so buys whatever toilet paper they can.
PERSON 4 – Just ran out of toilet paper at home and just wants to find a couple of rolls. Takes a photo of empty supermarket shelves and posts it to social media expressing how silly it is that people are freaking out.
PERSON 5 – Sees multiple photos of empty supermarket shelves on social media and completely freaks out. They go on Ebay and pay $100 for a roll of toilet paper thinking it might be the last there is.
PERSON 6 – Bought a bunch of toilet paper early and is selling it on Ebay. They wrote the article and sent it to person 1.
On Saturday 12th October, several thousand people of all walks of life will attend a peaceful protest in the city of Melbourne called “March for the Babies”. At the same time, a counter protest will also take place in the city. At one march will be mostly people who identify themselves as “pro-life” and at the other march will be mostly people who identify as “pro-choice”.
I say “mostly” because many people don’t like the rigidity of such terms. On the complex and sensitive issue of abortion, people often have mixed emotions, views, beliefs and opinions. Sometimes a label like “pro-life” or “pro-choice” doesn’t accurately describe someone’s position on abortion.
To clarify, let me try to summarise the two positions as generously and unbiasedly as I can:
The pro-life position focusses on the life of the unborn child arguing for its right to be protected from abortion.
The pro-choice position focusses on the choice of the pregnant woman, arguing for her right to have an abortion if she wants to.
When two protests like this take place, it is easy to suggest that these two positions are absolute and that there is no overlap. The sides are polarising and people feel pressured to choose which side you wholeheartedly support. I do not think this needs to be the case. Although, I personally am pro-life, I also acknowledge that there are many positions that a person may hold and I would hate for someone to feel excluded from attending the March for the Babies, simply because they felt they were not sure they were a 100% pro-lifer.
I would even suggest that a pro-choicer might feel free to join the March for the Babies. In fact, I think there are good reasons to do so.
5 REASONS WHY A PRO-CHOICER MIGHT JOIN THE “MARCH FOR THE BABIES”
1. The march is not about taking away women’s rights.
The march began back in 2009, one year after certain abortion laws were passed in Victoria. As it says of the March for the Babies website: “On October 10, 2008, the Victorian Parliament passed the Abortion Law Reform Act, one of the most extreme abortion laws in the world. This law eliminated all legal protection for Victorian children until the moment of birth.” The goal of the march is to draw attention to these laws with a hope that they will one day be repealed. Sure, many people present at the march will have strong views about all abortion. Sure, you may disagree with people you would be marching alongside. But you would agree on one point though – that the laws in Victoria are too extreme and should be changed.
2. The Victorian laws as they presently stand allow for abortion all the way up to birth.
Many people are unsure about when a human being should be granted the right to life. At the point of conception, the human doesn’t appear to have many of the qualities of what we would call a “person”, but few people can see a late term baby in the womb with all the features of a newborn, knowing that they can feel physical pain during abortion, and that they could survive outside of the womb, and still think that they do not deserve some protection. Even if you are fine with first term abortion, march for the sake of those late term babies.
3. Doctors and nurses are forced to be complicit in the process of abortion.
Often the argument is put forward, “If you think that abortion is wrong, then don’t have one.” Well, Victorian doctors and nurses do not have that freedom. Even if they believes that abortion is a form of murder, or even if the child is in its final term, then by law the doctor or nurse must either perform the abortion themselves or refer the patient to someone who will. If you are pro-choice you may also believe in a medical practitioner’s right to choose. If you think that doctors and nurses should be allowed to conscientiously object to being complicit in an abortion, then join us in marching for this law to be changed.
4. Our current laws allow for partial-birth abortion.
Partial-birth abortion, also known as Intact dilation and extraction (IDX) is a very controversial form of abortion that is banned in many places around the world. It involves killing the child on the very verge of being born, when its entire body is out of the womb except for its head. This is the sworn testimony of nurse, Brenda Shafer, who describes what happens during the procedure:
“I stood at the doctor’s side and watched him perform a partial-birth abortion on a woman who was six months pregnant. The baby’s heartbeat was clearly visible on the ultrasound screen. The doctor delivered the baby’s body and arms, everything but his little head. The baby’s body was moving. His little fingers were clasping together. He was kicking his feet. The doctor took a pair of scissors and inserted them into the back of the baby’s head, and the baby’s arms jerked out in a flinch, a startled reaction, like a baby does when he thinks that he might fall. Then the doctor opened the scissors up. Then he stuck the high-powered suction tube into the hole and sucked the baby’s brains out. Now the baby was completely limp. I never went back to the clinic. But I am still haunted by the face of that little boy. It was the most perfect, angelic face I have ever seen.”
Partial-birth abortion is as close to infanticide as you can get. It is killing a baby when it is almost completely out of the womb and justifying it by the fact that the babies head is not outside as well. And it is legal in Victoria.
Whether you call yourself pro-life or pro-choice, if that law turns your stomach, then join us on Saturday.
5. If an abortion fails, the living baby is left to die.
This may sound extreme, but it is actually true. Consider the scenario… During a late term abortion, the baby is removed but they abortionist failed in their attempt to terminate the child. Now they have on their hands a living, breathing, BORN child. What must they do? Well, in Victoria the child still has no right to life, and these unwanted babies are left to die without food or medical support.
Every year in Victoria, more than 50 babies die shortly after failed abortions. In 2010, Peter Kavanagh MLC (DLP, Western Victoria) raised a motion that these deaths should be investigated. The motion was voted down. They didn’t even want to investigate it. In a media release, Peter Kavanagh said:“My suspicion that abortionists assume the right to kill any baby after birth, whom they try but fail to kill before birth, is now confirmed, however, with the revelation that survivors of abortion are being deliberately neglected to death. One nurse even reports that she was told to drop a surviving victim of an abortion into a bucket of formaldehyde.”
Most people, even hard core pro-choice advocates, would agree that a child should be afforded basic human rights after it is out of the womb, and that if partial-birth abortions aren’t infanticide, this surely is. And yet, in Victoria, that is what the law allows.
If all this information about the Victorian abortion laws is new to you, then check out the following video, which explains it in a bit more detail:
There are many questions raised by the issue of abortion. There are many discussions worth having and there are many compassionate and thoughtful people on both sides of the debate.
But even if you fall more on the pro-choice side, you might still be able to stand with some pro-lifers in saying that Victoria’s abortion laws, as they currently stand, are wrong and worth protesting.
I hope to see you there.
Saturday 12th October, meet at Treasury Gardens in Melbourne by 1pm.
A foetus was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by abortionists. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.
An evangelical happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the foetus, he passed by on the other side because it wasn’t a gospel issue.
But a heretic, as he travelled, came where the foetus was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.
After a while, the evangelical felt bad that he hadn’t helped the foetus and so he went to the inn where the foetus was being cared for.
But when he saw that a heretic was helping the foetus and had provided bandages, oil, wine, a donkey and financial support, the evangelical began to worry that if he helped as well, those watching might associate him with the heretic and his heresy.
In fact, he thought, the heretic probably only took the foetus to that inn to look good in order to promote their heretical ideas.
The evangelical immediately went home to write a scathing review of the inn to warn all other decerning travellers not to go there due to its secretive association with the heretic.
Meanwhile, the foetus, not knowing or caring who came to their assistance, rested, recovered and thanked the person sitting next to them for their kindness.
On August 21, thousands of pro-life protestors rallied in Sydney to oppose New South Wales’ new abortion laws. On October 12, thousands of pro-life protestors in Melbourne will join the annual March For the Babies to oppose the same extreme laws that were passed in Victoria 11 years ago. And as God’s timing would have it, in between these two dates, an independent pro-life film called Unplanned will be playing in cinemas across the country. Sadly, it will go under the radar of most Australians, but it is a powerful and important film that I think every Christian should know about and consider going to see.
Screenings of Unplanned are currently being organised through the website FanForce and if you’ve noticed this film being talked about online, you might have a few questions: What’s the film about? Is it any good? How does it handle the sensitive topic of abortion? Which audience is it appropriate for?
I had the opportunity to see Unplanned twice recently and went in to the cinema with these same questions. I left deeply moved, a little disappointed, but most of all convinced that this is a film worth supporting, especially at this important time in Australia when abortion is in the public spotlight.
What’s it About?
Based on the memoir of the same name, Unplanned tells the true story of Abby Johnson, following her experiences working for eight years at Planned Parenthood, America’s largest abortion provider. Starting as a passionate volunteer, she eventually rose to become the company’s youngest ever clinic director and winner of Employee of the Year.
The film explores Abby’s sincere motivations for supporting the pro-choice cause, as well as sharing, with compassion and honesty, her own personal story of having two abortions. Through Abby’s experience, we get a unique look behind the scenes at her clinic and see the genuine friendship and camaraderie of the staff Abby worked alongside. Stories of women seeking abortion are portrayed without judgement, though clear criticism is targetted at boyfriends or fathers who push for the termination.
The story takes us through Abby’s interactions with the pro-lifers who often gathered outside the clinic. Although the prayerful “Coalition For Life” team come across as almost too squeaky clean, to its credit the film does also acknowledge the existence of the hate-filled anti-abortion protestors who are often so destructive to the pro-life message of love. Lastly, in the film’s quieter moments, it explores Abby’s close but challenging relationship with her Christian family, showing their loving concern and awkwardness over her chosen career.
A Confronting Scene
The focal point of Unplanned however, is captured by the movie tagline: “What she saw changed everything”. One day Abby was called to assist in the procedure room and witnessed for the first time an ultrasound-guided abortion of a 13-week old fetus. She watched as it reacted to the probing of the abortion instruments, before being dismembered and sucked up the catheter before her eyes.
This shocking moment was the catalyst for Abby Johnson’s amazing conversion from pro-choice to pro-life and she has since become one of America’s most outspoken and influential pro-life advocates.
Now some of you might be thinking: “SPOILER ALERT! Why are you telling us the ending before we’ve even seen the film!” Well, both Abby’s book and the film waste no time getting its message across. This scene is presented within the first 7 minutes of the film, so be prepared. Although the depiction of the fetus on the ultrasound is fairly obviously computer-generated, it is still a very confronting, uncomfortable and upsetting scene. You will not enjoy watching it, but it is an important scene and the filmmakers did an excellent job giving it the appropriate gravity.
As a little bit of movie trivia, the doctor in this scene is played by Dr Anthony Levatino, who is actually a former abortionist who personally performed over 1,200 abortions. Dr Levatino has his own dramatic pro-life conversion story (watch it here) and his presence in this scene gives it extra weight and realism. He said of this scene: “The portrayal of a live, moving fetus disappearing is very accurate. You’re watching an abortion. It’s an accurate view of what’s happening. It’s disturbing if you recognize it’s a human life.”
Abortion is Disturbing
It is also worth noting that there are a couple more graphic and uncomfortable scenes in Unplanned. They are a small percentage of the film’s run time, but confronting enough that the film was given an R rating in the US. Now, this is quite different from the R 18+ rating in Australia and is more equivalent to our MA 15+, but it is still worth noting for those who can’t cope with the sight of blood.
The Motion Picture Association of America justified their rating decision by citing “some disturbing/bloody images”. Some were shocked by this and felt it was a way of trying to suppress the film’s reach. Personally, I think it is warranted. I wouldn’t describe Unplanned as gratuitous or gory, but there are a couple of realistic bloody moments that I would not advise younger teens to see without a parent present.
In the end, the filmmakers embraced the strong rating. Chuck Konzelman, one of the co-directors said that the rating was an acknowledgement that “abortion is an act of extreme violence.” Even Abby Johnson herself responded to the rating by saying “We are pushing the boundaries of what has never been before on such a wide scale by showing America exactly what abortion is – and abortion is disturbing. It’s violent.”
Unplanned does not try to sanitise the reality of abortion or simply talk about the topic on a theoretical level. This is Abby Johnson’s testimony and as the poster says “What she saw changed everything”. In trying to tell her story with integrity, the filmmakers made the bold choice to let us see it too.
At the heart of it, that’s what this film is trying to do – help us see abortion for what it is. Unplanned reveals the humanity of those who work in abortion clinics, those who seek abortions, and most importantly, those in the womb. As Bernard Nathanson, another former abortionist turned pro-life, wrote in his book Aborting America,“Fewer women would have abortions if wombs had windows.” This film provides that window.
Unplanned is Not Unflawed
Unplanned is an important film, especially for such a time as this where, both in the US and in Australia, abortion laws are presently being hotly debated. But, is it a good film? This is a question a friend asked me the other day and I knew exactly what he was asking.
If you’re a movie fan like me, you have to admit, Christian films don’t have a great reputation. They can come across as contrived, corny or as subtle as a brick to the head. Christians can turn a blind eye to a multitude of movie sins when the film is communicating a message we care about, but our non-Christian friends don’t have reason to be so forgiving. They’ll notice the flaws, so we might as well be honest about them.
If you look at the unfavourable film reviews for Unplanned, apart from disagreeing with its pro-life message, you will find some common criticisms, mainly focussed on the scriptwriting. They point out it has an overuse of narration by its main character and at times the dialogue comes across as overly scripted and unnatural, especially when they are making a character deliver a zinger pro-life argument. I have to agree with these critiques. I think the film does better in its quieter moments when the performers are given space to act and the director “shows” rather than “tells” you what is going on.
Many critics also mentioned that the film’s antagonist, Abby’s boss Cheryl, comes across as a cartoonishly evil character. In order to make us hate her as the ultimate corporate villain, the script unfortunately gives her some unrealistic lines that do not appear in Abby’s book. For those looking for an excuse to label this pro-life film as manipulative propaganda (like Wikipedia has done) this exaggerated portrayal of the villain can be easily used to try to discredit the rest of the story. I found this especially disappointing because, apart from the character of Cheryl, I thought they did a great job at portraying characters on both sides of this debate with sensitivity, realism and nuance.
Generally, the acting is solid throughout the film. I particularly thought Ashley Bratcher, who plays Abby Johnson, gave a fantastic performance of the central character’s complex and emotional journey. Also, as an acknowledgement to a smaller character, I thought the beautiful struggle of Abby’s mother loving her daughter whilst disagreeing with her career, was wonderfully performed by Robin DeMarco.
There are also a couple of deeply moving scenes where the film really shines. The moment when the “Coalition For Life” team pray over barrels of aborted remains is very powerful, as is a scene near the end where Abby acknowledges her own two aborted children.
The Gospel in Unplanned
When critiquing the film from a Christian perspective, I think Unplanned generally does a great job at portraying Christians – both those who are immature in their faith and ones who have persevered in prayer for years. Prayer is actually a bit of a theme in the movie and there is a real encouragement for Christians to not give up praying.
There is one scene however, where the now repentant Abby is grieving over her involvement in so many abortions and she asks how it is possible that God could forgive her sin. Her husband takes a breath and I was hoping for him to answer with some reference to the gospel or even a brief mention of Jesus, but his only reply is a simple, “Because He’s God.” Now, I didn’t expect him to pull out a whiteboard and explain substitutionary atonement, but something as simple as “Because Jesus died for you” might have been enough. In a film that did not shy away from proclaiming bold truths, it did feel like this moment was a lost gospel opportunity.
That’s not to say there are no gospel themes in Unplanned. Abortion is acknowledged as a sin that should be repented of, though the message is not one of shame or rejection, but of understanding, mercy and the offer of forgiveness. You should feel free to see this film if you or someone you invite has experienced abortion first hand. It may be confronting, but it will not be condemning.
You might be surprised that even those who work in the abortion industry would get a lot out of this film. At the end credits there is mention of Abby Johnson’s ministry “And Then There Were None” that helps abortion workers transition out of the industry. Daryl Lefever, one of the film’s producers, informed me that since the film was released in the US, Abby’s ministry has had around one or two calls every day from abortion workers wanting out.
Unplanned in Australia
Unplanned is an important, powerful and timely film. It has its flaws, but considering the limited resources they had as an independent film and the opposition they faced, it is honestly a great achievement.
The film had a tiny budget of 6 million USD (compare that to Dumbo which was released on the same weekend as Unplanned with a budget of 170 million). It had no big name movie stars to draw the crowds and several major tv networks refused to show the movie trailer due to, as one network said, the “sensitive nature of the film”. Then, without warning, on the very weekend of its release, the film’s official Twitter account was mistakenly suspended and to add insult to injury, a day after the account was restored, tens of thousands of its Twitter followers had mysteriously been removed. Despite all these setbacks, due to the support of churches, pro-life groups and curious movie-goers (as well as a lot of prayer), Unplanned surprised everyone by being the 4th most successful film in America for that weekend, beaten only by “Dumbo”, “Us” and “Captain Marvel”.
Now it’s Australia’s turn to see Unplanned. It’s our opportunity to use this film to continue drawing attention to the reality of abortion and the humanity of those in the womb.
I encourage you to consider whether Unplanned would be a film that not only you, but maybe even your church can get behind. Check out the FanForce website and find a local screening that you can invite people to. You could even apply to host one yourself.
If you have older teenage kids, consider taking them to discuss the issue of abortion and combat the pro-choice messages they will be constantly hearing from our society. If you have friends or family who are unsure where they stand on this issue, Unplanned would be an interesting film for you to see together. The film doesn’t try to tackle every pro-choice argument, but many have had their assumptions or their apathy about abortion challenged after seeing it. Most of all, after considering the pros and cons I have mentioned, I recommend going to see the film yourself.
The other day I had the wonderful opportunity to contact Abby Johnson herself and ask her how she felt about her story being shown in Australian cinemas. She replied:
I am thrilled that Unplanned is coming to Australia and in many other places around the world. The impact of this film has been astounding – so many people have told me they changed their minds on abortion, that they chose life for their babies, and that they have been motivated to pray outside abortion clinics or volunteer for their local pregnancy resource center. God has worked miracles through Unplanned and I can’t wait for the people of Australia to see it.
The problem with slavery is that when it’s illegal it drives it underground. We need to remove it from the criminal law and make it a matter of civil regulation.
If we ban slavery, do you know how many slave owners may get harmed or arrested from illegally trying to keep slaves?
If we don’t allow the slave trade, people will just go to a nearby country that does.
Those who claim that slaves are human beings made in the image of God and deserving of human rights are just using a religious argument.
If you disagree with slavery, don’t own one!
Forcing slave owners to give up their slaves is robbing them of their financial autonomy.
My plantation, my choice!
It’s a personal matter, to be decided between a slave-owner and his slave-trader.
Slaves can’t survive on their own apart from the resources given by their owners. Until they can, they are just a clump of cells.
Some slave owners just can’t financially survive without slaves. Banning slavery just hurts the poor.
Unless you own a plantation, you have no right to have an opinion on slavery.
Can you believe we are still being limited by an archaic law criminalising slavery in Australia that was introduced way back in 1833??
And one final illustration…
Let me ask you to imagine this.
You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious slave. A famous unconscious violinist slave.
He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Emancipation Society has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the slave’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own.
The director of the hospital now tells you, “Look, we’re sorry the Emancipation Society did this to you–we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the slave is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it’s only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.”
Now, here is my question…
Are you morally obligated to accept this situation?
No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But do you have to accept it?
Shouldn’t you be free to unplug yourself from this slave?
And not just that. Shouldn’t you be free to kill the slave in whatever way seems best to you? Shouldn’t you be free to suck him up a tube or have his limbs dismembered and his skull crushed if that’s the most efficient way to be free?
Even if you discover that the slave is not just some random stranger, but as it turns out, your own flesh and blood. Your own son in fact. Even if you are the slave’s mother, shouldn’t you be free from any obligation to him? Shouldn’t you have the freedom to kill your son to gain your freedom from your son?
Even if your son the slave actually was not taken from another place and unnaturally attached to you, but naturally came into being attached to you, shouldn’t you be able to claim he has no right to be there? Even if he could not actually be expected to be anywhere else, shouldn’t you have the right to kill him?
Even if (in over 95% of cases) the Emancipation Society did not actually attach this slave to you against your will, but you were also responsible for him being attached. Even though only the slave is the true innocent victim in this scenario, shouldn’t you be free to kill him if you now want to be free of that attachment?
The answer is obvious.
If you were not aware, the above illustration is my parody of the famous pro-choice thought experiment, often called “The Violinist”.
The original was written in 1971 by Judith Jarvis Thomson in the introduction to her essay “A Defense of Abortion” and despite its glaringly obvious flaws (which my parody has attempted to highlight) it is still today often presented as the knock-out pro-choice argument.
Acknowledgments also to David Ould & Jereth Kok for contributing a couple of the “Pro-Choice arguments for slavery”.
If you can think of any more, please write them in the comments.
Or if you are pro-choice and think that the parallel I have suggested that exists between abortion and slavery is an unfair one, please comment as well.