"Unplanned", a controversial film critics say presents a biased anti-abortion viewpoint, is set to be screened in movie theatres in Saskatchewan.
The Scotiabank Theatre in Saskatoon and Normanview Cinemas in Regina are among the 14 Cineplex theatres showing the film, in addition to 10 Landmark Cinemas and more than two dozen independent or regional theatres. Showings are not scheduled at either of Saskatchewan’s Landmark locations in Saskatoon and Yorkton.
The film is based on the memoir of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who became strongly anti-abortion. Described on the film’s website as “an eye-opening look inside the abortion industry from a woman who was once its most passionate advocate,” the film has drawn criticism from pro-choice groups.
“I think part of the problem is around it being factually incorrect about how it portrays surgical abortions,” said Heather Hale, executive director of Saskatoon Sexual Health. “Because we know that complication rates are very low and abortion is a very safe procedure; it’s one of the safest medical procedures.”
In an open letter, Ellis Jacob, president and CEO of Cineplex, said the company has heard from people “on both sides of the conversation” and that the decision to move forward with screenings was complicated and not made lightly.
While he understands people’s concerns about the film, it’s ultimately up to them whether or not they want to see it, he said.
Frederique Chabot, director of health promotion at Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, said she believes showing the film has consequences and theatres a have responsibility to take them into account.
“This movie was created by a Christian-based production company. It’s a film with political aims when it comes to creating a base of support for anti-abortion policies,” she said. “So it’s not a benign thing to see this showcased in our country.”
Chabot said Action Canada will hold fundraisers in every Canadian city where the movie is shown to raise money for its travel fund, which provides transportation to clinics for women in rural areas.
While the film’s attempt to challenge abortion rights has little bearing in Canada, where access to abortion is protected by Charter rights to bodily autonomy, Hale noted that there are still barriers to access in some of the communities where it’s being screened.
“For some of the places where the film is screening, folks have limited or no access to abortion at all,” Hale said. “It’s challenging when you’re screening an anti-abortion film where people already are at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing the right to abortion.”
In June, the Saskatchewan government announced it would provide universal coverage of the medical abortion pill Mifegymiso; it is the last of the provinces and territories to do so. However, access to surgical abortion in the province remains unequal.
The procedure can be done in Saskatoon up to 12 weeks, with a referral from a doctor. In Regina, women can self-refer to the Women’s Health Centre, where abortions are performed up to 18 weeks and six days. Beyond that, they are referred to Alberta. It’s not clear whether or when a provincewide policy on abortion will be released.
A University of Saskatchewan survey conducted last spring found that opinions on abortion are changing in the province. Eighty-one per cent of Saskatchewan respondents expressed pro-choice sentiments, up from 71 per cent in 2012 and 61 per cent in 2001.
— With files from T’Cha Dunlevy, Postmedia Network
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019