By Mark Ellis –
Her parents were holiday Christians, attending church at Easter and Christmas. But her grandparents imparted a mindfulness about God’s presence and reality she carried with her into adulthood.
“They gave me this inescapable God awareness that no matter what happened I knew that God was right there,” Ashley Bratcher told a group of 600 gathered in Dana Point, California to support the Pregnancy Resource Center in Orange County.
Ashley plays the role of Abby Johnson in the Unplanned move, which dramatically depicts Johnson’s conversion from a Planned Parenthood clinic director to a pro-life activist.
Growing up in Goldsboro, North Carolina, “with goats in her backyard,” Ashley tried acting in high school, but didn’t think it was a viable option for the future, so she studied graphic design in college.
In her senior year, she happened upon a booth at the North Carolina state fair with a big sign that read: “Do you want to be an actor?”
She went in the booth, auditioned for a local commercial, and got the part. That led to a trip to New York City, where she received 21 offers to sign with an agent.
Moving to New York City
She left her high school and college sweetheart behind with the understanding that he would join her after he graduated.
“I wasn’t exactly walking with the Lord during that time,” she admits. “The bars in New York don’t close until four in the morning; and I found out really fast. It was a really, really hard time in my life.”
As she tried to get work, doors seemed to close in her face. “I heard a lot of no,” she recounted. “And I kind of sank down into this depression and I remember just drinking non-stop in the middle of the day. It was nothing for me to just throw down vodka or to drink until I was black-out drunk.”
One night she returned to her apartment in Queens late at night. “There was a shortcut through an alley. And I was so drunk I was stumbling down this alley.”
Then a cab driver spotted her and yelled out. “Please, please get in the cab and let me take you home.”
“No, no I’m fine, I’m gonna walk home,” she said.
“Please, please get in the cab and let me drive you home,” he said. She complied and he drove her to her apartment, got out of the cab and walked her to the door and made sure she got in safely.
As she looks back on the incident, she sees God’s protective hand. “There’s no telling what might have been waiting for me in that alley. Because of those seeds that my grandmas had planted I knew that God was there.
“I didn’t really want him to be there,” she confesses. “You see I had this love hate relationship with God.”
When she woke up the next morning she recognized something needed to change. She cried out to God, “Why am I here? How did I get to New York City; what am I doing with my life?
Shortly after that her boyfriend, David, broke up with her and she became more depressed. “I knew I needed to go home. New York City is not a kind place when you’re not ready to be there. So, after everyone in my hometown had watched me triumphantly go off to pursue my dreams I came home with my tail between my legs and fighting for the love of my life.”
Her relationship with David sputtered hot and cold while she lived with her grandmother, trying to regain her footing.
Then something unexpected happened. “During that time I got pregnant and had my own unplanned pregnancy. I looked at my high school sweetheart and I knew because of those seeds my grandmas planted that I was going to have this baby and that we were going to have to figure out a way to make it work.”
On April 23, 2010, Ashley and David married and she found a job at a middle school teaching art. Her heart was still drawn to the acting world, however.
“I told my husband I said I don’t want to look back in 30 years and wonder what might have been. I don’t want to look at our son and have him think that I gave up everything just because he was born. And because my husband loves me like Jesus, he supported me. And I’m not kidding — that man taught me how to love.”
They lived about 90 minutes from Wilmington, North Carolina, where Marvel movies were being filmed, among other film projects. In 2012 she began to audition there and realized for the first time God had given her an acting gift and she wanted to honor Him by using it.
“I said, ‘Okay, God I’m laying this all at your feet. It’s all yours.”
As soon as she acknowledged that, doors began to open. She landed her first role in a TV film called Perfect Summer. She hoped to get the lead role, but didn’t get it because she was too old to play someone in high school. She was cast as “surfer” and only had two words in the film.
“God used this experiences in my life to give me humility. I needed to know what it felt like to be at the bottom…to look around me and see every single person working and know that they have an important job that I was no better than anyone, to have a servant’s heart and to know what that felt like.”
In 2015, Ashley felt God impress on her heart the world prepare. She sensed God wanted to take her somewhere she wasn’t ready to go and she needed to dig deeper in her relationship with Jesus, to know Him and how best to serve others.
A prophetic word
A couple years later, something surprising happened. A woman who followed Ashley on Instagram sent her a prophetic message:
“Ashley I have been praying for you for a year and the Lord has told me you are meant to play Abby Johnson in the Unplanned movie.”
Initially, Ashley thought the woman was crazy. “I wrote her back and I said ‘you’re so sweet, thank you so much,’ and that was it. And I just blew her off.”
But the Holy Spirit prompted the woman to follow-up. She sent another message: “Ashley, did you audition? I’m telling you I have been praying for you. I know you don’t know me but I’m telling you I really think you were meant to play this role.”
The casting of Unplanned was kept very confidential. “It was a secret they didn’t want anyone to know that we were making this movie about Planned Parenthood and they were going to tell Abby Johnson’s story,” she recounted. “I had no idea who was making this movie.”
But Ashley managed to get in touch with the filmmakers and obtain a copy of a portion of the script. “I knew nothing about Abby Johnson. I had no idea she was a real person until the Instagram follower told me.”
As Ashley read the script, she related to the fact that Abby was smart, witty, and feisty. After she auditioned, she looked up Abby’s testimony for the first time. “When she explained what happened during that ultrasound-guided abortion I was devastated. I remember falling to my knees crying.
“I had already had my own child and I thought I knew about fetal development, but I had bought the lie. I had bought the lie that Planned Parenthood perpetuates, that it’s just a clump of cells; it doesn’t have any value; it’s just fetal matter.”
While she herself would never have an abortion, she thought it was okay for other women to make the choice for themselves. “I was happy living in that hole until I knew the truth,” she said. “Because that’s what happens when you know the truth. You get convicted and you have to do something.”
Visibly upset, she went home and broke down in front of her husband. “David, you’re not going to believe what happens in an abortion,” she sobbed. As she described what she had seen in the ultrasound it was as if a veil had been removed from her eyes. As they both contemplated the unmistakable humanity of the unborn and the holocaust that has resulted in millions of babies killed, they both wept together.
The prophetic voice spoken through the woman who said she would play Abby Johnson suddenly crystallized in her thinking. “I knew that I knew that I knew I was meant to tell this story,” she realized.
Ashley marvels at the significance of the woman’s impartation. “Words have the power of life and death. And your commitment and obedience to listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit has an effect on people’s lives. And she did that for me and it’s because of her that I auditioned.”
Ashley kept praying she would get the part. Late one night she was invited on to a conference call with the directors.
“How do you feel about the subject matter?” they wanted to know.
“Well, I know who Abby is now and I’m all in.”
“This is the kind of role that can end your career,” one warned. “You’re young and you might never work in this business again.”
A swirl of emotion went through her heart as she considered the advice. “Because God had been preparing me, and because my grandmothers had planted seeds, and God had worked on my heart, it was easy for me to say I don’t care because I don’t find my worth in my projects and how people see me because I know that my identity is in Jesus Christ.”
The directors told Ashley they were still considering one other person.
“Well just so you know, I want to let you know again that I am all in, but I need you to send me the script because I haven’t read it yet. All I know is that she worked at Planned Parenthood I need to see the rest of the script.”
She got the full script and read it through that night, finishing at 3 am. The directors told her they would call her at 11:00 the next morning and let her know their decision.
Eleven o’clock came and went. Ashley stood over her kitchen sink praying because she sensed the decision was being made at that moment.
“God you told me you were preparing me for something,” she prayed. “You told me that you would open doors no man can close, and I know that you’re doing something God. I pray that you move. I pray that you give me favor…”
Before she could finish her prayer, the phone rang and they offered her the lead role. She packed her bags and left on a plane before her husband got home from work.
Ashley spent eight weeks in Stillwater, Oklahoma, where the film was shot. “Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon are two of the most amazing spiritual men I have ever met,” she said, describing the two who wrote and directed the film. She had to memorize 102 pages of dialog, get fitted for 52 different outfit changes, and have her hair colored to match Abby’s auburn hair.
On her fourth day in Stillwater, her mother called. She had been in the dark about the film project.
“Mom, I’m making a movie…I’m out in Oklahoma,” she began, but then stopped herself, because her mom had shared with her that when she was in high school, she’d had an abortion.
Ashley didn’t want her mother to think she would think any less of her or that the movie was about judgment or condemnation. As she started to explain the premise of the movie, her mother completely broke down. “I could hear her sobbing through the phone, and she started to speak but I could hardly understand what she was saying.”
“I need to tell you something that I’ve never told you before,” her mother confessed. “What you don’t know is that when I was 19, I was in an abortion clinic for the second time. They had called my name I was on the table being examined by a very pregnant nurse. And I got really sick to my stomach and I knew I wasn’t going to go through with it. So, I got up I walked out, AND I CHOSE TO HAVE YOU.
With only seconds to spare, her mother had chosen life!
It took Ashley a couple days to process this profound revelation. “My parents had gotten divorced when I was 19 so I called my dad to talk to him about it and he was so relieved. He confirmed the details of what happened.”
“Why did nobody tell me?” she asked. “How is it that I’m an adult and have my own child and no one ever told me?
“When is the right time to tell your daughter that you intended to abort her?” he asked. “You being there and doing this movie is proof to me that God is real, and he has such a plan for your life.”
Ashley says it has taken a long time for her to tell this story without crying. “I’m so overwhelmed with how much God loves us. I had no idea that I had my own story. I had no idea that I was just minutes, seconds, away from never having walked this earth, but God had a plan. He knew me before he formed me in my mother’s womb, and he set me aside for such a time as this, for my story to line up alongside of Abby Johnson.”
When she related her story to the filmmakers, one said, “You know it’s funny because our movie is called Unplanned but there’s nothing about this movie that’s unplanned. God had his hand on every part of it.”
To learn more about the Pregnancy Resource Center, go here