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The "Keeping My Baby" Meme -- part 1

Posted by Joshua Glenn  January 4, 2008 03:09 PM

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Ellen Goodman beat me to the punch! In today's paper, the Globe's opinion columnist elegantly articulates my own uneasy feelings about the recent barrage of movies -- "Knocked Up," "Waitress," "Juno" -- in which unexpectedly pregnant women keep their babies... and everything works out for the best.


Goodman, who points out that teenage pregnancy rates have gone up for the first time since 1991 -- it's expected that 750,000 teenage girls will get pregnant this year; it would have been 750,001, but 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears jumped the gun and got knocked up in '07 -- admits to enjoying "Juno" (I enjoyed "Knocked Up"). Still, she's withering in her criticism of what she labels "motherhood fantasy" movies:

Here is a cinematic world without complication. Or contraception. By some screenwriter consensus, abortion has become the right-to-choose that's never chosen. In "Knocked Up" it was referred to as "shmashmortion." In "Juno" the abortion clinic looks like a punk-rock tattoo parlor.

Great stuff! Bravo. However, one is left with the impression that the keeping-my-baby meme is (a) an emergent trend in US pop culture, and (b) driven by Hollywood movies. Not so! Here's a timeline, offered as a humble complement to Goodman's column, and scavenged from a dozen online sources. Readers, will you help me fill in the blanks?

Click here to read part two of this series.

Click here to read part three of this series.

THE FORTIES (1944-53)

* In "A Place in the Sun," George Eastman (Montgomery Clift), an enterprising young man gets a job at his uncle's factory. There he meets Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters), a working girl who latches onto him. George gets Alice pregnant before falling in love with rich and beautiful debutante Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor). Alice wants marriage and George wants out and nobody ends up very happy.


* In 1952, Lucille Ball gave birth to her second child, Desi Arnaz, Jr. Ball and Desi Arnaz wrote the pregnancy into "I Love Lucy"; Ball gave birth in real life on the same day that her Lucy Ricardo character gave birth. There were several challenges from CBS, insisting that a pregnant woman could not be shown on television, nor could the word "pregnant" be spoken on-air. After approval from several religious figures the network allowed the pregnancy storyline, but insisted that the word "expecting" be used instead of "pregnant." (Arnaz garnered laughs when he deliberately mispronounced it as 'spectin.') The episode's official title was "Lucy Is Enceinte," borrowing the French word for pregnant. The birth made the first cover of TV Guide in January 1953.

THE FIFTIES (1954-63)

* "Peyton Place" -- info TK.


* The Church of England gives its blessing to the use of contraception.


* The American Law Institute proposes a model penal code for state abortion laws. The code advocates legalizing abortion for reasons including the mental or physical health of the mother, pregnancy due to rape and incest, and fetal deformity.

* "The Best of Everything" -- info TK


* The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the first oral contraceptives for marketing in the United States, and "The Pill" is commercially produced in the US for the first time.

* "Too Soon to Love" -- info TK

* "The Touch of Flesh" -- info TK


* With dire statistics showing that one million women get illegal abortions in the 1950s and over 1,000 die, the Jane collective in Chicago arises to provide safe abortions away from back-alley butchers.


* "Sweet Bird of Youth" -- info TK

* "The Interns" -- info TK


* "The Yellow Teddybears" -- info TK

* "Love with the Proper Stranger" -- info TK

THE SIXTIES (1964-73)

During the Sixties (not to be confused with the '60s), a movement of medical, public health, legal, religious, and women's organizations successfully urged one-third of state legislatures to liberalize their abortion statutes. A seismic shift in the culture occurs between Pat Matthews' 1964 abortion on "Another World" and Maude's 1973 abortion on "Maude."


* The Civil Rights Act of 1964 guarantees equal access to services, and in, Title VII, outlaws discrimination in employment.

* On the soap opera "Another World," which takes place in the fictional midwestern town of Bay City, Patricia "Pat" Matthews (Susan Trustman) is impregnated by her playboy boyfriend, who persuades her to have what the characters refer to as "an illegal operation." Pat fears that the abortion has left her sterile, and later realizes that the boyfriend has no intention of marrying her. In a fit of rage, Pat kills him. Later, she marries the attorney who got her acquitted, then has twins. Happy ending for her, but not for boyfriend.


* Rejecting a state law that makes it illegal to disseminate information about contraception to married couples, the US Supreme Court rules in Griswold v. Connecticut that people enjoy a fundamental zone of privacy.

* "Bunny Lake is Missing" -- info TK

* "The Nanny" -- info TK


* The National Organization for Women is founded and becomes the first group to demand repeal of all anti-abortion laws.


* England is one of the first European countries to liberalize abortion laws, and in the same year, Colorado, North Carolina, and California ease the strictness of their laws.

* The United Nations adopts a Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.


* The United Nations conference on Human Rights embraces reproductive rights, stating that parents have the right to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to have reproductive health information.


* The Boston Women's Health Book Collective releases "Our Bodies, Ourselves," which quickly becomes a must-have resource for women.

* "Daddy's Gone A-Hunting": A movie in which a mentally disturbed man stalks a woman who had once aborted the child he had fathered.


* Hawaii, New York, and Alaska make abortion legal at the request of the woman and her doctor.

* "End of the Road," movie based on the John Barth novel in which a woman dies during an illegal abortion.

* "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls"


* The U.S. Supreme Court rules on its first case involving abortion in United States v. Vuitch, upholding a District of Columbia law permitting abortion only to preserve a woman's life or health. Also, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton are argued for the first time before the Supreme Court.

* An ad hoc committee of the US Catholic Conference calls itself the National Right to Life Committee and takes a vehement stand against abortion.


* Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton are re-argued before the Supreme Court.

* New York repeals its 1970 abortion law, but Governor Rockefeller vetoes the repeal.

* "Cabaret"

* "Play It As It Lays," movie based on Joan Didion novel

* In two consecutive episodes of the hit sitcom "Maude," Bea Arthur -- who plays the titular liberal feminist -- finds herself pregnant, agonizes over whether to keep the baby (she's 47, married, and already has a grown daughter), then decides to have the abortion. (She lives in New York.) Maude's daughter comforts her: "When you were young, abortion was a dirty word. It's not anymore."


In 2005, Rachel Fudge, senior editor of Bitch Magazine, pointed out:

While Maude's abortion was truly groundbreaking, it inadvertently galvanized the anti-choice movement. When CBS reran the episode six months later, some 40 affiliates refused to air it, and national advertisers shied away from buying ad time, establishing a pattern that remains in effect today. Even more significantly, after the episode first aired anti-abortion leaders took their case to the Federal Communications Commission, arguing that the fairness doctrine -- which mandated equal time for opposing views -- ought to cover not just editorials and public affairs but entertainment programming too. Because Maude had an abortion on CBS, they argued, they should have the right to reply on CBS. They lost the case, but won the attention of the networks. In 1987, the fairness doctrine itself was struck down; but by that point, it didn't matter: The networks had established a pattern of covering their asses by presenting some semblance of balance as way of diffusing potentially volatile subjects.

PS: The show's producers dreamed up the unlikely storyline in response to a challenge from the group Zero Population Growth, which was sponsoring a $10,000 prize for sitcoms that tackled the issue of population control.


* Roe v. Wade. By a vote of 7-2, the U.S. Supreme Court rules against a Texas law prohibiting abortions not necessary to save the woman's life, extending the fundamental right to privacy to a woman's decision to choose abortion. Roe establishes that: abortion is encompassed within the right to privacy; restrictions on abortion must be narrowly tailored to serve compelling state interest; before viability, the state's interest in fetal life is not compelling; even after viability, the state must allow abortions necessary to protect a woman's life or health; a fetus is not a "person" under the Fourteenth Amendment, nor may the state justify restrictions on abortion based on one theory of when life begins.

* In Doe v. Bolton, also decided with a 7-2 vote, the Court defines "health" to include "all factors -- physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age -- relevant to the well-being of the patient."

PS: Before Roe, it is estimated that between 200,000 and 1.2 million illegally induced abortions occurred annually in the United States. As many as 5,000 to 10,000 women died per year following illegal abortions and many others suffered severe physical and psychological injury.

* The soap opera "All My Children" featured daytime TV's first legal abortion. Erica Kane (Susan Lucci) has an abortion -- not because her health is in jeopardy, but because she doesn't want to gain weight and lose her modeling job. Although she develops a potentially fatal infection after the operation, Kane would suffer "none of the health or psychosocial aftereffects (sterility, insanity, murder, etc.) that would come to characterize soap abortions in the future," according to Rachel Fudge.

* The first NRLC Convention is held in Detroit, gathering activists from anti-abortion groups around the nation to form what has become the largest anti-abortion organization in the United States.


Abortion as an unpleasant but bearable fact of life. In the wake of Roe v. Wade, and as the basic tenets of second-wave feminism seeped into the American mainstream, notes Fudge, "serious adult-oriented dramas like 'Hill St. Blues,' 'St. Elsewhere,' and 'Cagney & Lacey' featured abortions every season or so, as did the occasional soap opera."


* January 22: The first March for Life is held in Washington, D.C., on the west steps of the Capitol. Thousands of abortion opponents will attend the March for Life every year on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision.

* November 6: Anti-abortion Sen. Bob Dole (R-Ks.) is elected in the first major statewide political battle after the Roe v. Wade decision. Dole, with the help of newly formed groups of anti-abortion activists, defeats Congressman William Roy, a doctor who performed abortions.

* "Our Time," starring Pamela Sue Martin and Parker Stevenson (of "Nancy Drew" and "Hardy Boys" fame, respectively).

* "The Godfather: Part II"


* Kenneth C. Edelin, chief resident in obstetrics and gynecology at Boston City Hospital, is found guilty of manslaughter after performing a second-trimester abortion. A year later, the Supreme Judicial Court overturned the verdict.

* Senator Jesse Helms (Rep-North Carolina) launches the backlash against Roe v. Wade, introducing a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution; it doesn't pass.


* In an attempt to undermine Roe through regulation, Congress enacts the first Hyde Amendment, sponsored by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Illinois), as a rider to the Department of Health and Human Services appropriations bill. The Hyde Amendment limits federal Medicaid funding except in cases of rape, incest, or when necessary to save a woman's ;life or to prevent severe damage to her health.

* July 1: In Planned Parenthood v. Danforth. The US Supreme Court rules against (6-3) a Missouri statute that would require a married woman to obtain her husband's consent before getting an abortion and rules against a written parental consent requirement for minors. But support for Roe among the Justices had weakened; Chief Justice Burger, who had concurred in Roe, now dissents.

* "I Want to Keep My Baby" -- made-for-TV movie in which a 15-year-old girl (Mariel Hemingway) becomes pregnant by her boyfriend and decides to keep the baby and raise her on her own, instead of initially choosing abortion at the insistence of her boyfriend, or raising the baby at home with her meddling mother.

* "Next Stop, Greenwich Village" -- info TK

* "Bittersweet Love" -- Young married couple expecting a baby suddenly discover they are half-brother and sister.


* Maher v. Roe. The Supreme Court upholds a Connecticut ban on public funding for abortions, with the exception of abortions that are "medically necessary."

* March: The first abortion clinic arson occurs in Oregon.


* "Coma"

* February: The first abortion clinic bombing occurs in Ohio.

* In March 1978, the home pregnancy test is first advertised, in the magazine Mademoiselle.

* In a November episode of "Dallas," following an affair with Cliff, when Sue Ellen discovers she's pregnant, she's unsure who the father is. Later, she becomes an alcoholic and JR commits her to a sanitarium. The following season, she has a son, John Ross, and Cliff fights to prove that he's the father. Then, I think maybe John Ross dies?


* Balla Abzug and Henry Hyde debate one another (I think) in "Abortion: The Divisive Issue."

* National Right to Life PAC is organized.

* Jerry Falwell founds the Moral Majority with the goals of opposing abortion, feminism, pornography, communism, and gay rights.

* In a January episode of "The White Shadow," college scouts are impressed with Reese and believe he has a good shot at a scholarship. However, Reese's plans are put on hold when his girlfriend, a Carver cheerleader, tells him she's pregnant. Coach Reeves and the team discover her attending cheerleader practices and believe she may be lying about the pregnancy to trap Reese into marrying her.


* Republican anti-abortion candidates Ronald Reagan and George Bush defeat pro-choice President Jimmy Carter and Vice President Walter Mondale.

* In Bellotti v. Baird, a plurality of the Supreme Court outlines a general scheme that would meet constitutional muster for states imposing parental consent requirements. As a consequence, over 30 states today require either parental notice or consent for a minor seeking an abortion.


* Harris v McRae. The Supreme Court upholds the validity of the Hyde amendment, finding that the denial of Medicaid funding does not "interfere" with women's rights to make reproductive decisions, and that the state can promote fetal life throughout pregnancy by discriminatory funding. Critics of the Hyde amendment argue that this effectively deprives poor women of their right to choose.

* "Fame" (the movie)


* In H.L. v. Matheson, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a Utah statute requiring that the parents of an unemancipated minor be informed by a physician, if possible, before he performs an abortion on her.

* In July, a U.S. Senate subcommittee approves a bill sponsored by Sen. Helms designed to challenge Roe v. Wade; the bill is later blocked. In December, a U.S. Senate subcommittee approves a constitutional amendment proposed by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) declaring that the Constitution secures no right to abortion; the amendment is later rejected.

* In a December episode of "Dynasty," after losing her baby due to the fall from her horse, Krystle (Linda Evans) learns she cannot have another child. (The horse threw her in the previous episode... because of Alexis (Joan Collins)! See video clip.

* In the TV movie "The Choice," Michael and Lisa, both 20, live together for a year and are certain that once they'll marry and have children together. Unfortunately just before they want to move to another town where Mike could get a good job, Lisa discovers that she's pregnant. So she has to decide if she'll tell Michael or have an abortion secretly. If she tells him, she's sure he'll want to keep the child -- but later regret it. Lisa asks her mother for help; she learns that her mother once had to make the same decision.

* John Waters's "Polyester"


* In "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," a teenage Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) has an abortion. She seems relatively unscathed by the experience. On the DVD narrative of the film, director Amy Heckerling says that she "could never make that movie now" because "its depiction of guilt-free sex and drug use is unacceptable in the current political climate."

Jennifer Jason Leigh in "Fast Times"

* "The Last American Virgin" -- Gary is secretly in love with Karen, but his dreams of dating her are over when, after helping Karen get an abortion, he finds her back with Rick.


Click here to read part two of this series.

Click here to read part three of this series.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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6 comments so far...
  1. Juno actually doesn't keep the baby; she gives it up for adoption (and never even considers keeping it for herself, gasp!). She does make the "I want an abortion, no wait!" decision though, which is becoming more and more nauseatingly cliché in popular media. I think the real mystery is the rarity of TV/film couples who decide to have a baby, try for it, succeed, and have a relatively normal birth. Not enough drama I guess?

    Posted by B.B. January 5, 08 07:53 PM
  1. You forgot the 1988 Molly Ringwald classic "For Keeps" - and the movie that Salon called a revolutionary take on abortion 2000's High Fidelity.

    Posted by Alyssa January 6, 08 12:21 PM
  1. Thanks, B.B. -- I guess I should be more clear. To me, "keeping my baby" means not having an abortion. But I guess since I borrow the phrase from a Madonna song in which it means "not having an abortion and also raising the child," that's unclear. I agree with you that "I want an abortion, no wait!" is a nauseating cliche at this point.

    Alyssa (Big Red), awesome. I will add those to the list when I get a sec. Glad you're reading Brainiac; I dig your blog, too.

    Posted by Josh Glenn January 7, 08 09:33 AM
  1. You might also want to mention the 40s Preston Sturges movie Miracle of Morgan's Creek where Betty Hutton's character gets pregnant after a party given for GIs bound for overseas. She never knows who she slept with calls him Ignatz Ratzkywatzky through the balance of the film. Worth seeing.

    (And on the non-movie tip). . . it is the plot point in Goodbye Columbus.

    Nice blog - writing from New York.

    Posted by Adam Herbst January 7, 08 10:57 AM
  1. Don't forget The Godfather, in which Kate tells Michael that she didn't have a miscarriage, she had an abortion, something evil and unholy like their marriage. Also, in "Sex and the City," Sara Jessica Parker tells her boyfriend she had one years ago, lies about the age she was when she had it, and he gets upset because she never told the father she was pregnant.

    Posted by Brian January 7, 08 05:25 PM
  1. Imagine this, if you will: a movie in which Sara Jessica Parker (see Brian's 1/7/08 comment), a liberated woman and medical doctor, gets pregnant accidentally, and Juno (I mean Ellen Page), playing SJP's boyfriend's teenage daughter, gets upset about it... but Juno seen in the film's closing credits being cute about the baby.

    It's called "Smart People."

    Posted by Joshua Glenn February 7, 09 09:27 PM
About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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