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Dirty Dancing, Never Rarely Sometimes Always & More Movies That Thoughtfully Tell Abortion Stories

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Movies have a miraculous way of making the world feel bigger and smaller all at once: Some remind you of the universality of the human experience, how — no matter your path — you’re not alone. Others are a gateway for us to bear witness to experiences we’d never ordinarily see from our little pockets of the world. Either way, these narratives can affect us in such a way that the lessons, characters, and stories we watch leave an indelible impact. And in a time of unfathomable upheaval, they can be a way in which we understand what’s at stake.

With the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, stories that thoughtfully depict abortion feel more important now than they ever have before. From stories told or set in a time before Roe’s initial passing in 1973, we get a glimpse at how the world operated before Roe, and stare down the barrel of what’s now once again reality for so many Americans. We see the true consequences of outlawing these medical procedures: the health and safety of pregnant people everywhere. We see how people who become pregnant and need an abortion will seek one out, regardless of whether it’s legal or not, and we see the heroes who help loved ones get the medical care they need no matter the cost.

This year, Dirty Dancing celebrates its milestone 35th anniversary. After all these years, it’s still so striking that the impetus for everything that happens to Baby (Jennifer Grey) and Johnny (the late Patrick Swayze) in the film starts because Johnny’s dance partner Penny (Cynthia Rhodes) needs an abortion.

For the film’s writer, Eleanor Bergstein, this plot line served as warning for what might happen, even in 1987 when Roe was the law of the land. “When I made the movie in 1987, about 1963, I put in the illegal abortion and everyone said, ‘Why? There was Roe vs. Wade — what are you doing this for?’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t know that we will always have Roe vs. Wade,’ and I got a lot of pushback on that,” Bergstein told Vice for the film’s 30th anniversary in 2017. “Worse than that, there were also very young women then who didn’t remember a time before Roe vs. Wade, so for them I was like Susan B. Anthony, saying, ‘Oh, just remember, remember, remember.'”

As Bergstein so ominously predicted, the lessons of films like Dirty Dancing are now more relevant than ever, and new additions to the genre like Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Unpregnant, and Obvious Child build out the world that could exist again. Check out these films featuring thoughtful depictions of abortion stories below.

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