Hollywood and Abortion

Ding-a-ling-a-ling! Mea culpa. I watched a film that comes under the Penny Catechism's description of 'immodest'. The film was called 'Dirty Dancing' starring Jennifer Gray and Patrick Swayze. It is, I believe, deemed to be the ultimate 'chick-flick'.

The film grossed $228,040,215 worldwide and is still hugely popular, Brighton showing the film on the seafront for free only this week. The audience of mostly ladies sang along to 'Hungry Eyes' and '(I'm Having) The Time of My Life' ecstatically. It was as well received as one would expect. Even the irritating man on the PA system telling, urging, even pleading with watchers to go to the bar to get another drink could not dampen the spirits of those watching.

What struck me, however, was that the plot of the film revolves around an abortion. I completely missed this the first time I watched this film which was actually with on my first date. The romance film was released in 1987 and I'm not pretending that by the late 80s the abortion machine was not already fully up, running and operational. I did think, however, that it was a neat illustration of how movies have been used to soften up public attitudes, yes, to sex and sexuality, but also to abortion. If you haven't seen it (and I bet you have) then I'll run you through it.

Jennifer Gray is a holiday maker with her family at a weird US resort and meets this dance instructor (Patrick Swayze, RIP). Another dancer has got pregnant by a womanising waiter called Robbie and she is Patrick's dance partner. The pregnancy is a surprise and Robbie has dumped her in it, saying, 'Some people count, some don't', referring to the lady. Of course, in Hollywood, some people count and some people don't and unwanted babies are in that category. So, Baby (Jennifer) goes to her dad who is also private physician to the owner of the Kellerman's holiday resort. The dancers are paid peanuts but have nothing but their dancing skills to rely on for employment. It's like there is no way out of there for them. Economically, they are enslaved and so this is the justification, we presume, for the only way out of this crisis being an abortion.

However, the whole issue of the abortion upon which rests the whole rest of the film and the happy ending for Patrick and Jennifer is dealt with obliquely and cleverly. I found it rather creepy to say the least. It's a crisis pregnany. From what I remember, nobody suggests going ahead with the pregnancy even though Patrick and Jennifer are the 'good guys', while the guy who got the woman up the duff is the bad guy. Jennifer goes to her dad and deceives him into giving her the money to send the woman to an illegal abortionist in another state. Message: Illegal abortions are bad, if only there were a legal abortionist in town. The poor pregnant woman is miserable about the baby because it will ruin everything for her. Dancing is all she has. Message: There are no pro-life charities who would be willing to help poor expectant single mothers. There is no alternative to this. The poor woman is in floods of tears. But don't worry, because Jennifer, the golden girl, has come up trumps and obtained money for the abortion. However, the abortion goes wrong because the abortionist was illegal and used a dirty knife. Message: A legal abortionist would have used a clean knife. Legal abortion would be a dream come true.

Having returned back to Kellerman's, the girl is in danger of death because of the illegal abortionist's neglect to use hygenic surgical equipment. She's about to die. So, Jennifer, true to her principles, risking her relationship with her dad, wakes up her father who is a doctor who saves the girl's life. We've already got here and nobody has actually used the words 'termination' or 'abortion'. The father is furious with his daughter, Jennifer, for deceiving him and getting money to send the poor woman over to 'that butcher'. Baby's 'not the girl I thought you were'. It is a bit freaky that the heroine is the one paying for the abortion and she's called 'Baby', but we'll let that one slide.

It's never clear whether he has a principled objection to abortion or whether he believes a legal doctor wouldn't have been a 'butcher' because a legal doctor with recognised qualifications would have been more considerate of the health of the girl. Everyone's understandably very grateful to Jennifer's dad because he's saved the girl's life. Jennifer goes on to steamy romance with Patrick and has the time of her life in a finale to the film. What's more creepy than the indoctrination that has preceded it, however, is the glowing face of the girl who has had the abortion.

Pregnant, she was miserable, and now she's had the abortion and come close to death, only to be saved by a legal doctor, she's happier than a joyful mother holding her first newborn in her arms. In fact, despite the fact that still at this point in US history, the country is split down the middle on the issue of abortion, and despite the fact that abortion is meant to always be 'a tragedy' and even in the propaganda of the industry remain 'regrettable', by the end, everyone's as happy as Larry including the eerily liberated, glowing and radiant woman, recovering in bed but is just so happy in the wake of the botched abortion. Message: After an abortion, as long as its done by professionals, a woman is liberated, happy and content and will remain so. Of course, forgiveness is a beautiful thing and love covers a multitude of sins, but its just all a bit weird and unrealistic. The tragedy of a lost baby is just engulfed and swallowed up by a cracking dance routine and the love story between Patrick and Jennifer that ends happily ever after.

Of course, its Hollywood. Everything in life is portrayed as emanating only from feelings and inner convictions. Objective principles like the sanctity and importance of every human life, of true justice and virtue go out of the window. Jennifer is the woman who makes 'the world a better place' and its thanks to her that poor formerly pregnant girl can go back to dancing to eek out her existence, rather than being pregnant, giving her unwanted baby up for adoption or deciding to keep the baby and seek the help of those wonderful charities who I am sure support women in crisis pregnancies with practical help.

Even weirder is the fact that by the end of the film it becomes abundantly clear that Jennifer's dad is minted, because he wants to hand Robbie a cheque for $75,000 to do a Harvard Law degree and help him out of waitering for the rest of his life, until he finds out that he was the guy who got the poor pregnant woman up the duff and put her 'in such trouble'. So, the dad's got $75,000 to give to some guy he barely knows to study law, he's got $250 to pay for an illegal abortion he was duped into handing over, but never does it pop into the minds of any of the characters that with that kind of cash flow, maybe he, saintly Jennifer and the family assist in any way with helping a vulnerable pregnant woman out of the enslavement of dancing for Kellermans and into a place of respite or accommodation back home in suburbia. I know its just a movie, but...

This film is massively popular, especially a hit with ladies, across the Western world, but it is propaganda. The reason for the dance partner of Patrick having to drop out of the Kellerman's holiday resort show could have been something like developing a medical condition like asthma or falling over and spraining her ankle during a dance routine. But no, the writers choose the thorny and deeply issue of abortion in order to present the issue in a favourable way which suits their liberal agenda. I think, towards the end, the word 'abortion' is used once, but the issue is dealt with so creepily its unreal. Hollywood perpetuates fantasy and I think this film may have had quite an impact on the popular psyche of what abortion is, for in the popular imagination, what abortion is remains nothing short of a fantasy.


Jack Regan said…
It was Jennifer Grey, not Olivia Newton-John!
The Bones said…
Ah, so easy to get my musicals mixed up!
Richard Collins said…
Great post Laurence. I have never seen this film and now I never will.
blondpidge said…
Okay, I can't help but retain a childhood affection for the film, or would that be Patrick Swayze? *blushes*

I agree with your overall premise, but actually watching this as an impressionable teen, the thing that struck me is that abortion came across as filthy butchery, regardless of its legality. Perhaps it was the use of the word "knife" but I certainly didn't think "oh if only she'd had access to safe abortion",I just thought the whole situation was grubby & depressing & highlighted the dangers of sex.

I think your analysis of the hidden agenda is correct nonetheless, I think more dangerous is the glamorisation of teen sex and the acceptance that losing one's virginity to an older sexier man one has a crush on, is to be desired.

Baby/Jennifer Gray is exploited in the film. How does it end? They had the time of their lives, lots of consequence free sex and then both moved on. In love or holiday crush? If he loved her then he would have respected her enough to marry her first.
Good Counsel said…
Great post. It is depressing how many movies I just accepted at that stage in my life had this kind of agenda in the - well in the foreground really. I remember being aware of this and not liking it in the film, but afterwards I just forgot about this part of the plot and remembered the film and the soundtrack as one I liked. Someone really pro-life may not change their views but I think it is part of a whole programme that conditioned us to tolerate legal abortion. And to accept it's existence when we should be passionately aware of the wrong of it.

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