Five Characters Reject Abortion in a Cultural Shift in Movies

The Philadelphia Inquirer | Rick Santorum | Jan. 3, 2008

If art is a reflection of our culture, our culture – and particularly our youth culture – is awaking to the reality of life in the womb. You hear it in Nick Cannon’s autobiographical single “Can I live?” You see it in the stunning episode of the television show House where Dr. Gregory House’s finger is grasped by a baby in the womb during intrauterine surgery. The recognition of the life in the womb is going mainstream.

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I begin this new year with greater hope for our culture. That is saying something, given our pop culture’s violence, gratuitous coarseness, hyper-commercialism, and obsession with sex and celebrity. I can sympathize with parents who are increasingly tempted to gather their children and retreat to the catacombs. But don’t head down there just yet. This last year saw something that we should take heart in.

No, it wasn’t the American public’s stout rejection of a slew of anti-American “war on terror” movies such as Redacted and Rendition. The most encouraging news was quieter and more life-affirming.

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But the biggest shift came at the movies. In a nation with one of the world’s most wide-open abortion regimes, U.S. audiences flocked to see five motion pictures with life-affirming texts or subtexts: Knocked up, Waitress, Bella, August Rush and Juno.

In these movies, abortion was urged on women facing an unplanned pregnancy, and rejected. Ultrasound images awakened characters and audiences to the humanity of the unborn. Having a baby, even in the most challenging circumstances, became the compelling “choice.” Adoption was held up as a positive alternative to abortion. And, unlike the news media’s portrayal of pro-lifers, protesters outside abortion clinics were authentically depicted as warm and concerned. This stood in contrast to the indifference of the staff within.

These movies came from four different companies (Waitress and Juno are Fox Searchlight movies) and right out of our pop culture. Given the degraded state of that culture, this sometimes comes at a price when it comes to a movie’s language, humor, and the treatment of sexual relations. Bella is a gentle celebration of family and adoption amid an unplanned pregnancy. August Rush is a PG-rated look at the gut-wrenching consequences of an out-of-wedlock affair. But Knocked Up, Waitress and Juno are most certainly hip-deep in today’s bawdy mainstream culture.

Any movie titled Knocked Up is not going to win awards for decorum, and this one doesn’t disappoint. Its pro-life, pro-marriage message – Alison (Katherine Heigl) decides she wants to have the baby after she becomes pregnant during a one-night stand – comes wrapped in X-rated language, sex jokes and drug abuse.

In Waitress, abused Jenna (Keri Russell) decides to have a baby instead of an abortion while having an adulterous affair with her doctor.

As for Juno, for all its tenderness and antiabortion, pro-adoption themes, it’s pretty edgy. But it’s exactly these movies’ connection to the pop culture that makes them so heartening.

They are meeting audiences where they live, and, through good storytelling, smart – if often raw – dialogue, and compelling character development, are presenting themes we rarely associate with much of our popular culture. And audiences and critics are largely saying “two thumbs up.”

The best thing about all of these movies is, they are not “pro-life” message movies. They are, instead, chronicles from the children of our divorce- and abortion-oriented culture. There is lived experience, emotional understanding, hard-earned authenticity at the heart of these scripts. And pain.

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