A pregnancy show with a secret

"Bump+" claims to be a balanced view of pregnancy -- but whose message is it, really?

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published February 12, 2010 10:01PM (EST)

If "The Office" were about choice – and not funny – it might look like "Bump+," a new Web mockumentary series explores several weeks in the lives of three women from learning they're pregnant and deciding whether to continue or to terminate. On the Web site, which launched on January 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the producers claim "We've heard all the arguments on both sides of the issue. This is a place to share your stories and talk to each other, not at each other."

And sure enough, in addition to the bite-sized adventures of newly pregnant and conflicted Denise, Hailey, and Katie, there are deeply personal revelations from commentors – and sometimes indeed what looks like true understanding. A woman who goes by MademyChoice recounts having an abortion after being raped by a family member, and a Sister Mary Agnes replies, "It is so important that stories like yours be heard."

Yet despite the apparent good intentions, Conservative Blogwatch has been quick to register disgust at the show's concept, calling it "abortion as entertainment,"  and saying "The fictional docudrama features characters of varying degrees of vileness toying with the idea of abortion." On "Bump+'s" Web site, the creators note that "Fox News has suggested that 'Bump+' is an "abortion game show." (It's not – although the series creators say they are including the participants in the Web community in the "discussion," there's no voting on the outcome.)

An "outside the ballot box" approach to the volatile issue of abortion? Compassion and clear-headed respect for a variety of opinions and ideologies? Way to go, Bump's creators, Yellow Line studios!

Makes you wonder why perhaps you've never heard of this fantastic, nonpartisan production company before. Its Web site describes itself as "a Southern California based, independent media company, founded in 2009 by a group of artists and entrepreneurs seeking to combine their track record of professional success, love of entertainment, and passion for social change to create a legacy – a new generation of entertainment professionals and media consumers, united and inspired by their shared stories to have a positive influence on their culture."

What Yellow Line's production page conspicuously doesn’t note -- unless you download their January 25 statement entitled "The Conversation Has Begun" -- is that the original script for "Bump+" came from a former student of John Paul the Great Catholic University. In fact, the University seems to be the common denominator for much the creative team. "Bump+'s" executive producer Dominic Iocco is a professor of business   there. Though Iocco clearly identifies himself as both a producer and Catholic entrepreneur on his Twitter feed,  his latter credentials are nowhere on the Yellow Line business page. Likewise, "Bump+'s" producer Lauri Evans Deason teaches journalism at the university.  And the series is co directed by Maggie Mahrt, a writer and residence coordinator there, who describes the institution's mission as "to impact the culture for Christ through business and media."

So how much of the "dialogue" here is real, and how much is gentle – and covert – pro-life rhetoric?

Speaking in the National Catholic Register (an interview promoted on the home page of John Paul the Great's Web page), Father Frank Pavone, director of Priests for Life said yesterday:

'Bump+' is a great service to the pro-life movement. Bump+’s target audience is not the pro-life community. It is trying to reach the vast number of citizens whose attitude toward abortion can best be described as conflicted. ... On the pro-life side of the coin, we have to make sure that we’re not just articulating arguments, but that we can feel with those who are facing the decision and the temptations that lead one toward abortion. This doesn’t mean that the decision should be anything other than choosing life, but the more we understand them, the better we will be able to help them.

Given that Father Pavone seems to believe the outcome of Bump is a foregone conclusion, and Hailey's face sure looked smitten with that ultrasound in episode 5, one wonders how sincere the producers' imperative to leave "their choice up to you" truly is.

Yellow Line's creative development director Christopher Riley told me today, "My only interest in this was to make every effort to be honest and fair in every storytelling choice. We realized that might not be possible and that was part of the reason we made the decision to open up for anyone to share additional stories." And while acknowledging that "Many of the creative team are from JPCatholic U," Riley, who spoke at the University's graduation in December insists, "We do have a representation of a complete spectrum of opinions on what the law should be."

"The show attempts to show there are real people in these decisions, and they're not simple. I'm hopeful this show will illustrate it's not cut and dried," he said. "We've shot multiple endings, and if all three women in this show choose to carry their pregnancies to term that wouldn't represent reality." Will "Bump+" turn out to be, as promised, a truly "open, honest exploration of this controversial topic" or a stealth pro-life mockumentary? " I don't know for sure what the end of the story will be," Riley said. "But I hope it fosters more compassion, more understanding and more possibilities."

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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