2007 saw a flurry of secular films that were unabashedly pro-life in their outlook, even when they were far from family fare. Movies such as Waitress; the raunchy, R-rated Knocked Up; Bella; and Juno all achieved measures of success with mainstream moviegoers, from the little independent surprise Bella (which was marketed to church-goers) to the blockbuster Knocked Up.
Their success was no fluke. Writers and producers today understand that any unexpectedly pregnant character in their films must choose life, if the movie is to be successful with young audiences (their most important demographic).
Not only do these films portray life as a beautiful choice; many also mock the abortion mentality for laughs. In Knocked Up, the pregnant woman’s unsupportive mother tries to convince her daughter to have an abortion by citing a relative who became pregnant and “had it taken care of.” The mother then adds, “And you know what? Now she has a real baby.” The audience responds with nervous laughter, recognizing the woman’s self-delusion about the “realness” of the aborted child.
Juno, a film Washington Post reviewer Desson Thomson praised for its “euphemism-busting candor,” is even more refreshing in it honesty about abortion. Frequently in film, abortion advocates are portrayed as compassionate characters — the only ones who really care about the young mother. Yet in Juno, the vulgarity and bitterness that is so much a part of the abortion-rights movement is personified in the receptionist Juno encounters at an abortion clinic. She is crass in her attitude toward sex as she tosses a flavored condom at Juno, only helping to cement Juno’s misgivings about the procedure she’s considering.
Compare that with films from decades past: The early-1980s teen hit Fast Times at Ridgemont High includes an abortion-related plotline that looks downright ludicrous today. After procuring an abortion, the movie’s formerly pregnant teenager and her brother (who knows about the situation) act as though nothing happened. The girl easily returns to her happy-go-lucky life and even gets a better boyfriend in the end.
Audiences born after Roe v. Wade are a different breed, in part because we grew up with a more personal view of unborn life than generations before us. As a post-Roe child, I remember watching my baby sister move around on the ultrasound screen after my parents discovered a wonderful mid-life surprise. I was fascinated — and no less so when I recently saw my own baby dancing on the ultrasound screen.
The young technician in the room with me laughed and smiled, sharing my joy.
“What’s she doing?” I asked the baby-boomer physician nearby as I pointed at the screen. He sighed with annoyance.
“Women always ask that. I don’t know,” he snapped, revealing both the gender and the generational gap when it comes to issues of life.
Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote about the “increasing comprehension of [abortion’s] centrality to women’s lives” in her dissent against the decision that affirmed a federal law banning partial-birth abortion. But in truth, abortion has become less important to American women’s lives: Women have more options today than in the past and, as last year’s films show, are more repulsed by the procedure than ever. Ginsburg might want to look at ever-declining abortion statistics and talk to women in their prime childbearing years, most of them born after Roe. The Supreme Court decision affirmed again and again through the years left our generation out of the discussion by short-circuiting the democratic debate.
Our highest court is remarkably out of touch with younger generations and their popular culture. They might benefit from watching a few of their favorite films.