It’s a curious coincidence that two things are happening simultaneously: the likely overturning of Roe v. Wade 50 years later and the highly anticipated sequel of “Dirty Dancing” in production.
While film fans may not immediately associate the cult classic dance drama with child murder, the fact remains that the movie is saddled with a dark subplot: the glorification of legal abortion.
According to the screenwriter, this was all very intentional.
“Dirty Dancing” remains one of the most iconic films of all time. Fans swoon when they hear Patrick Swayze say that nobody puts Baby in the corner. Most viewers think fondly of how the coming-of-age film recalls idyllic summer vacations and the wild carelessness of youth.
Though the film was released in 1987, the story of Frances “Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey) falling in love with dance instructor Johnny Castle (Swayze) at a vacation resort is set in the summer of 1963. Their unexpected romance is the main plot of the movie, but a secondary storyline involving Johnny’s dance partner Penny Johnson (Cynthia Rhodes) undergoing an illegal abortion after getting pregnant by the sleazy waiter Robbie is required for the whole movie to work.
Baby borrows money from her wealthy father for the abortion procedure when Robbie refuses to help Penny.
Baby also steps in as Johnny’s dance partner, a move which would be unnecessary without Penny’s accidental pregnancy. After Penny gets the abortion, she becomes seriously injured, which forces Baby to come clean with her father – a doctor – about why she borrowed the money in the first place. He tends to Penny and disgustedly calls the abortionist a “butcher.” The movie describes the procedure as a guy with “a dirty knife and a folding table.”
Class disparities are another central theme of “Dirty Dancing,” with a clear separation between the workers at the upscale Catskills resort and the wealthy guests.
“I could hear her screaming from the hallway,” one character says.
“Dirty Dancing” screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein discussed her intentions for the script during a 2017 interview with Vice on the movie’s 30 year anniversary.
“When I made the movie in 1987, about 1963, I put in the illegal abortion and everyone said, ‘Why? There was Roe v. Wade—what are you doing this for?’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t know that we will always have Roe v. Wade,’ and I got a lot of pushback on that,” Bergstein said at the time.
Bergstein went on to explain her desire to convey to women who lived in a post-Roe era what conditions were like in the nation when abortion was illegal.
“I left the abortion in [Dirty Dancing] through a lot of pushback from everybody, and when it came time to shoot it, I made it very clear that we would leave in what is, for me, very purple language: references to dirty knives, a folding table, hearing Penny screaming in the hallway,” the writer explained. “I had a doctor on set to make sure [the description of the illegal abortion] was right.”
She continued, saying, “The reason I put that language in there was because I felt that—even with it being a coat hanger abortion—a whole generation of young people, and women especially… wouldn’t understand what [the illegal abortion] was,” she said. “So I put very, very graphic language in, and I worked very hard on shooting it to make sure it was shown realistically.”
Bergstein said she hoped the descriptions would essentially scare young adults into wanting to keep abortion legal, especially to avoid situations like Penny’s. Fearing Roe v. Wade would be overturned, the screenwriter expressed how she wanted viewers to “learn not to take [access to abortion] for granted.”
The subject of human life and abortion is again a focus of attention in 2022. A leaked Supreme Court draft opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito stated that “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start” and that “we hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled.”
“It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives,” he reportedly wrote, per The Daily Wire.
Though the opinion hasn’t been officially released, it does appear that Roe v. Wade could finally be overturned in 2022, which would give states the power to determine their own laws regarding abortion.
Meanwhile, the “Dirty Dancing” sequel is underway with yet another young woman spending the summer at Kellerman’s resort, Deadline reported. It’s unclear if abortion will be part of the story this time, but some other details about the project have been revealed.
“While the original ‘Dirty Dancing’ has always been one of my favorite films, I never imagined I would direct the sequel,” filmmaker Jonathan Levine said in the interview.
“Through co-writing it, I fell in love with the characters (new and old), the world of 1990s Catskills New York, and the music, which will range from songs from the original movie to ’90s hip-hop. I can’t wait to collaborate with Jennifer to bring this beautiful story of summer and romance and dancing to a generation of new fans,” he continued. “And to the longtime ones, I promise we will not ruin your childhood. We will tackle the assignment with sophistication, ambition, and, above all, love.”
Grey will join the cast of the sequel. Her co-star Swayze died of pancreatic cancer in 2009 at the age of 57, but he will also be included in some way, the director confirmed. Deadline reported that Levine said “Johnny is a part of Baby’s journey in the story.”
He said, “This film exists in a dialogue with the original. We want to introduce this story to a whole new generation. That said, Johnny’s absence looms large over the story, so it’s a coming-of-age story but also a coming-of-age for Baby’s character in a way.”
Grey herself made her pro-abortion status clear during a May 3 appearance on “The View.” While promoting her memoir, “Out of the Corner,” the 62-year-old actress reacted to the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade.
“I really, like so many of us, I am horrified that this is really on the table again in 2022,” she said. “Talk about being in the corner.”
“If you don’t want to have an abortion, don’t have one. Just don’t have one. Don’t take away the choice,” Grey concluded.
It’ll be interesting to see how abortion features in the newest iteration, especially if Roe v. Wade is finally overturned by the Supreme Court this summer. Either way, the original “Dirty Dancing” retains its legacy of promoting abortion on purpose.