Abortion rights group slams ‘Unplanned’ movie screening at Saint John High School

A New Brunswick school board is facing criticism for allowing the controversial anti-abortion film Unplanned to be shown in a high school auditorium.

Unplanned is based on the true story of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood director in Texas who became an anti-abortion activist.

Without any major stars, the film has made more than $18 million in the U.S. since its release in March. A Fredericton-based distributor helped get the film into more than 50 Cineplex theatres across Canada just last month.

Many critics have panned the movie, with some calling it “gory” and “propaganda.”

The film has also been shown in smaller, non-traditional venues, even churches.

But it’s a screening at Saint John High School Aug. 23 which caught the attention of the Abortion Rights Coalition in Canada (ARCC). Executive Director Joyce Arthur said the movie should not be shown at a public high school.

“This is a public venue,” she stated. “Schools in Canada are publicly funded by the government. And so it just sends the message – the wrong message – that the school and the government by extension, is somehow endorsing this movie.”

The Saint John chapter of NB Right to Life booked the space at Saint John High School and is presenting the screening.

“If it was at the Imperial Theatre,” chapter president Vita Kipping said in an interview Tuesday. “If it was at Harbour Station, if it was probably anywhere in the public realm, there would probably be opposition. We understood that going in. However, as a group that was interested in showing this movie, we’re certainly within our rights – and we certainly have the freedom – to book the space.”

Kipping said the school auditorium was chosen because the space meets their needs, not because it’s in a school.

“It’s not when students are there, however students are certainly welcome to come to the movie,” Kipping said. “It just happens to be the facility that we rented to show our movie that we’re interested in sharing.”

Anglophone School District South (ASD-S) Superintendent Zoë Watson said in an emailed statement Thursday that the district has community-use school policies in place which are recognized by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, and “if the use of school premises/facilities does not interfere with the normal operations of the school and pupil safety, our facilities are made available to meet community needs.”

“We welcome all members of the community, but require that they remain in compliance with our policies for community use,” the statement continued. “We appreciate that there may be times when not all members of the public are supporters of a particular user of our facility, and we welcome that feedback.”

Watson also indicated the movie screening was simply a request to rent the facility and was not organized by the school.

“By showing this movie, (Saint John High School) is thumbing its nose at our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and women’s right to reproductive health, which includes abortion,” Arthur said.

Arthur said ARCC is using its social media to urge its supporters to contact the school district in an effort to have the screening cancelled or moved.

Ticket sales have been steady, Kipping said.

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