If art is a reflection of our culture, our culture - and particularly our youth culture - is awaking to the reality of life in the womb. You hear it in Nick Cannon's autobiographical single "Can I live?" You see it in the stunning episode of the television show House where Dr. Gregory House's finger is grasped by a baby in the womb during intrauterine surgery. The recognition of the life in the womb is going mainstream.
But the biggest shift came at the movies. In a nation with one of the world's most wide-open abortion regimes, U.S. audiences flocked to see five motion pictures with life-affirming texts or subtexts: Knocked up, Waitress, Bella, August Rush and Juno.
In these movies, abortion was urged on women facing an unplanned pregnancy, and rejected. Ultrasound images awakened characters and audiences to the humanity of the unborn. Having a baby, even in the most challenging circumstances, became the compelling "choice." Adoption was held up as a positive alternative to abortion. And, unlike the news media's portrayal of pro-lifers, protesters outside abortion clinics were authentically depicted as warm and concerned. This stood in contrast to the indifference of the staff within.
These movies came from four different companies (Waitress and Juno are Fox Searchlight movies) and right out of our pop culture. Given the degraded state of that culture, this sometimes comes at a price when it comes to a movie's language, humor, and the treatment of sexual relations. Bella is a gentle celebration of family and adoption amid an unplanned pregnancy. August Rush is a PG-rated look at the gut-wrenching consequences of an out-of-wedlock affair. But Knocked Up, Waitress and Juno are most certainly hip-deep in today's bawdy mainstream culture.
Any movie titled Knocked Up is not going to win awards for decorum, and this one doesn't disappoint. Its pro-life, pro-marriage message - Alison (Katherine Heigl) decides she wants to have the baby after she becomes pregnant during a one-night stand - comes wrapped in X-rated language, sex jokes and drug abuse.
In Waitress, abused Jenna (Keri Russell) decides to have a baby instead of an abortion while having an adulterous affair with her doctor.
As for Juno, for all its tenderness and antiabortion, pro-adoption themes, it's pretty edgy. But it's exactly these movies' connection to the pop culture that makes them so heartening.
They are meeting audiences where they live, and, through good storytelling, smart - if often raw - dialogue, and compelling character development, are presenting themes we rarely associate with much of our popular culture. And audiences and critics are largely saying "two thumbs up."
The best thing about all of these movies is, they are not "pro-life" message movies. They are, instead, chronicles from the children of our divorce- and abortion-oriented culture. There is lived experience, emotional understanding, hard-earned authenticity at the heart of these scripts. And pain.
One of the most poignant recurring themes may be the message to baby-boom parents from their own children. The characters most often urging abortion on the expectant mother were aging boomers, and they are not attractive moments. In August Rush, Lyla's father tells her that her baby was killed in an auto accident and gives the child to an orphanage - to protect her career. After career-bound Alison becomes pregnant in Knocked Up, it's her mother who urges her to have an abortion - she can always have "a real baby" later on.
Alison doesn't take her mother's advice. She decides to have her baby after seeing the unborn child's heart beat on a monitor. What ultimately triumphs in Knocked Up and these other movies is the simple reality of human life.
On the way to an abortion, Juno Ellen Page stops and talks to a nerdy but caring pro-life schoolmate who is protesting there. As Juno continues into the clinic, the girl calls out, "Your baby has fingernails!"
Your baby has fingernails: It's enough to stop Juno from going ahead with an abortion.
Yes, the ultrasound - and now Hollywood - see that unborn baby whose eyes, spinal cord, nervous system, liver and stomach are developing within the first month, whose heart begins beating at 18 days. That unborn child who can make a tiny fist, hiccup, wake and sleep at three months.
It may be a small thing in our vast pop culture. But what a blessing small things can be.
E-mail Rick Santorum at firstname.lastname@example.org.