A “Dirty Dancing” Sequel Feels a Little Close to Home

The original movie showed us what happens when women don't have access to safe, legal abortions

Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in "Dirty Dancing." A new sequel probably won't touch on the original's abortion storyline.
Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in "Dirty Dancing."
Vestron Pictures

When Dirty Dancing came out 35 years ago, its 1963 setting felt like a different world — one in which Frankie Valli ruled the radio and something as simple as pelvic-thrusting on the dance floor was still considered scandalous. But by the time the newly announced sequel comes out in 2024, it could feel all too familiar for millions of American women.

The 1987 original famously features a cautionary tale about what happens when women don’t have access to safe, legal abortions. Penny, Johnny’s dancing partner, almost dies after a botched back-alley abortion and Baby (Jennifer Grey) has to run and get her father, a doctor, to save her life. The movie’s screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein included the storyline to urge viewers not to take Roe v. Wade for granted, and now, more than three decades later, with the Supreme Court threatening to overturn the landmark decision and strip women of their reproductive rights, her decision to include it feels eerily prescient.

“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 told Vice back in 2017.

“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,” she continued. “I had a doctor on set to make sure [the description of the illegal abortion] was right.”

“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 added. “So I put very, very graphic language in, and I worked very hard on shooting it to make sure it was shown realistically.”

Of course, the new Dirty Dancing will be a sequel, not a remake, so it’s unlikely there’ll be another abortion storyline this time around. But it’s extremely depressing to think that something seen as ancient history worth warning future generations about back in 1987 could very well soon become millions of American women’s reality again in 2022. The new sequel will be set in the 1990s — which means the women who go see it in theaters in 2024 could actually have fewer rights than the characters from three decades earlier they’re watching onscreen. Nobody puts Baby in the corner, but it looks like that’s exactly where we’re all headed.

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