Edmonton movie-goers celebrate Cineplex screening of anti-abortion film

Kimberly Kwasek walked out of the Cineplex Odeon South Edmonton pleased that she had seen controversial anti-abortion movie Unplanned

A packed house meant that she was forced to sit in the second row during a matinee showing of the film Friday, but Kwasek said she was happy with the turnout. 

“It was very full,” she said. “It’s nice to see people actually care and want to see the film.”

“To me, it’s very important that all lives matter, every human being has a right to life as you or I would have. So I’m excited that that’s being shown,” said Kwasek in an interview aired on CBC Edmonton’s Radio Active on Friday.

A controversial movie hit the big screen in Edmonton and across Canada today. Why some people are celebrating, and some people are protesting anti-abortion film Unplanned. 8:32

Controversy has blocked the movie from screening at major theatres in Canada since its U.S. release on March 29, with many critics calling it a propaganda film. Protests were planned at Cineplex theatres across Canada — including a Friday evening protest in Edmonton — in response to Cineplex’s decision to screen it at 14 theatres for one week.  

Anti-abortion movement

For Kwasek, a miscarriage last year made viewing the movie a painful but important experience, she said.  

“I had a child growing with a specific distinct genetic code. They were their own human being and I know that I lost them because they no longer had a heartbeat,” she said. “To hear people argue that human beings in the womb are not human or not persons … that’s my child you’re talking about.”

The anti-abortion movement has been gaining traction under the presidency of Donald Trump in the U.S., where a number of states have passed restrictions and near-total bans on abortion. Pro-choice activists see the screening of Unplanned in mainstream theatres like Cineplex and Landmark Cinemas in Canada as a threat. 

“With the election coming up, we’re worried that this might sway some people that may be uninformed,” said Kathy Dawson, a protest organizer and board member for Alberta Pro-Choice Coalition. “It’s an American propaganda movie,  which doesn’t really reflect what’s going on in Canada in any way.”

Dawson has seen the movie. She said Unplanned, based on the life of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director in Texas who became an anti-abortion activist, isn’t a realistic portrayal of abortion.  

Actor Ashley Bratcher, right, is shown in a scene from the film Unplanned. The controversial American anti-abortion film hit Canadian theatres Friday. (Soli Deo Gloria Releasing/The Canadian Press)

“It’s so appalling,” said Dawson. “She portrays it as very much like women are just inconvenienced and that’s why they have abortions and it’s a lot more complicated.” 

University of Alberta professor Jaimie Baron, an associate professor in the English and film studies department, has not yet seen the film but said it is irresponsible for Cineplex to screen it.  

“It’s a free society. People can certainly show what they choose. On the other hand, obviously people are easily swayed by misinformation,” said Baron. “If it’s packaged in a slick-looking entertainment product then there are certainly people who will be swayed by it regardless of whether the information is correct.”