Thursday, Dec. 27 2007

Hollywood's year of the accidental mother

By Colleen Carroll Campbell

Much ink has been spilled over the unplanned pregnancies of starlets Jamie Lynn
Spears and Nicole Richie. But more culturally significant are the onscreen
pregnancies that made 2007 Hollywood's year of the accidental mother.

The trend started last spring with "Waitress," a quirky comedy about Jenna, an
unhappily married waitress who finds herself pregnant by the abusive husband
she had been planning to leave. Although crestfallen at the news, Jenna
reflexively rejects abortion, announcing with grim determination: "I respect
this little baby's right to thrive." In the ensuing nine months, Jenna strikes
up an affair with her married gynecologist, endures more abuse from her husband
and warms to motherhood excruciatingly slowly, after months of dread. Yet the
film's end finds Jenna exulting in her new daughter, whose birth inspires her
to leave her abuser, end her affair and realize her dream of opening her own
pie shop.

An unplanned pregnancy also is the unlikely avenue of redemption in last
summer's crude hit comedy, "Knocked Up." After a drunken one-night stand leaves
responsible rising star Alison pregnant with the child of juvenile slacker Ben,
she ignores her mother's thinly veiled suggestion that she should abort the
child and have "a real baby" later. Alison embarks, instead, on the awkward
adventure of getting to know Ben for the sake of the unborn child they have
agreed to raise together. Despite the predictable complications, the film
concludes with the pair celebrating the first birthday of the daughter whose
life has become the catalyst for their love and initiation into adulthood.

"Juno," released this month, offers yet another twist on the pro-natal theme.
The eponymous heroine of this coarse and bittersweet comedy is a wise-cracking
16-year-old who faces an unplanned pregnancy after a sexual encounter with her
dorky best friend. Initially phoning for what she describes as "a hasty
abortion" from the local clinic, Juno reconsiders after encountering a
plaintive pro-life classmate outside the clinic and a creepy, condom-pushing
receptionist inside. Fleeing the clinic's seedy sterility, she opts for
adoption instead.

The film does not airbrush the costs of Juno's decision. But its depiction of
her deepening maturity and the heartache of infertility experienced by her
baby's would-be adoptive mother ultimately affirms her selfless choice.

It is noteworthy that the writers and directors behind these three films like
those behind "Bella," a more overtly pro-life film also released this year
are Gen Xers raised in the wake of the sexual revolution and the legalization
of abortion. Under the cover of crudeness, their comedies pointedly mock the
hollow values of their postmodern upbringing: the clinical soullessness of
their sex education classes, the simplistic assumption that sex is just another
contact sport for which condoms offer sufficient preparation and protection and
the puerile fear of commitment and disregard for human life that feed our
astronomical abortion rates.

Abortion-rights activists have decried these films for "glorifying" unplanned
pregnancies and denigrating abortion. But the potty humor and compromised
characters that dominate these stories hardly qualify them as family-values
propaganda. And the scores of movies celebrating sex without strings surely
deserve more blame for unplanned pregnancies than the handful depicting the
consequences that follow from all that copulating.

Still, there is no mistaking the pro-life theme running through these stories
and the cultural shift they signify. In a season in which billions celebrate
the redemptive promise that began with an unwed teenager's unexpected pregnancy
two millennia ago, these films are an unconventional reminder that fertility is
a blessing, even amid brokenness. And that life, for all its messy complexity,
is a gift worth welcoming.

Colleen Carroll Campbell is an author, television host and St. Louis-based
fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Her website is