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A new cinematic trend.

Canada marked the 20th anniversary on January 28 of the Supreme Court's Morgentaler decision, making Canada the only nation on the globe with no legal restrictions on abortion whatsoever. To mark the occasion a whole host of commentators tossed off columns in the last week of January that reiterated the long entrenched positions on both sides of this debate. While the issue at stake remains vitally important, to me the discussion itself felt tired and thoroughly chewed over. To see any particular pundit's name at the head of a column--be it Margaret Wente or Judy Rebick--was to pretty well know what was going to be said from the get-go.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

More surprising to me were a few columns published even earlier in the new year in one American and two Canadian newspapers in which three female columnists made largely the same point about the worrying state of contemporary cinema. Old-guard feminists Ellen Goodman in the Boston Globe (Jan. 4) and Antonia Zerbisias in the Toronto Star (Jan. 16) and their younger ideological sister Tabatha Southey in the Globe and Mail (Jan. 19) all expressed their dissatisfaction that there just weren't enough abortions being depicted in this year's hit movies.

It obviously ticks these columnists off that a slew of recent and surprisingly successful romances and comedies-Knocked Up, Waitress, Bella and Juno-all tell the stories of young women who become unexpectedly pregnant in less than ideal circumstances, but nonetheless decide to carry their babies to term. Whether the mothers in these movies keep the babies to raise themselves or put them up for adoption is a distinction too jejune for these columnists to entertain. The only question they're pondering is, 'Why don't they just get rid of the little nuisances?'

"Here is a cinematic world without complication," wrote Goodman. "Or contraception. By some screenwriter consensus, abortion has become the right-to-choose that's never chosen."

Well, it is still chosen sometimes--as in Vera Drake or The Cider House Rules. But significantly those recent films were both set in periods decades before abortion was legalized. To construct a contemporary film around the theme of abortion frankly doesn't promise much in the way of drama or human interest. Film audiences love to root for underdogs, for people who care about more than their own self-interest or convenience, who will go that extra distance to do the right thing. And today, to avail oneself of a perfectly legal and socially approved procedure like abortion is to take the easy way out. It's unheroic and unremarkable and wouldn't make much of a premise for a movie.

"Abortions do happen in mainstream films," wrote Southey. "Fame, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Dirty Dancing, Godfather III. But they are generally punitive or darkly symbolic, never wryly funny."

There's the million-dollar question, all right. Just when are all those stodgy film and television directors going to start to exploit the innate comic potential of snuffing out defenceless human life? "Little Clinic on the Prairie," they could call it, with Michael Caine or some other aged worthy portraying the cantankerous but loveable Dr. Morgentaler. "Hey, give that back," Morgentaler could bark at the klutzy medical supply salesman who sucks Henry's honourary degree from the University of Western Ontario out of its wall-mounted frame while demonstrating a new uterine vacuum. "Human life may not be sacred, but my diploma is." (Cue laughter)

But the most unhinged commentary of them all regarding this cinematic trend came from the Star's Zerbisias. Citing figures that indicate two-thirds of teenaged pregnancies in Canada are aborted compared with only one-third in the U.S., Zerbisias says it's all because of--wait for it--George W. Bush.

"If you're looking for where to put the blame for the bump in teen babymaking in the U.S.," she writes, "try the George W. Bush administration's abstinence-only sex education, parental notification/consent laws and changes to the Medicaid drug rebate law that has doubled and tripled the cost of contraception on college campuses."

It's been fascinating over the last seven years to watch all the bad things that the left is prepared to place at the feet of that dastardly Bush. But to blame him for the very life force itself as manifested in hordes of groping and snoggling American teenagers pushes that tendency onto a whole new frenzied plateau. And if Hillary Clinton should replace George W. one year from now, becoming the first woman president in the history of the union, and if teenaged girls should still manage to get pregnant even in that enlightened era, whose fault will it be then? Or will these feminist columnists then snap out of their delusions about cause and effect and come to understand, as Samuel Johnson wrote a quarter-millennium ago, "How small of all that human hearts endure / That part which Laws or Kings can cause or cure."

Twenty years after the Morgentaler decision the most notable development I see in the field of so-called 'reproductive rights', is the utter lack of social censure that now attends unmarried pregnancy. In a way that no one predicted, this has freed young women--and a handful of daring filmmakers--to observe a great truth. Pregnancy is not the end of the world. On the contrary, it's the beginning of an entirely new one.

Herman Goodden is a journalist who writes from London, Ontario.
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Title Annotation:COLUMNIST
Author:Goodden, Herman
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 1, 2008
Words:888
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