In 2011, pro-life advocates saw record political surges advancing their cause, and states adopted 80 abortion restrictions in their legislative sessions. Europe's top courts have also shown increasing support for pro-life causes. It's into this political atmosphere that brothers Jon and Andrew Erwin bring October Baby, their first foray into directing a feature film.
The film begins on a stage; 19-year-old Hannah (Rachel Hendrix) has the lead role in her first college play. But just a few lines into the opening scene, Hannah collapses on stage. In the aftermath, Hannah learns the truth behind her strange medical history: her parents adopted her, as an extremely tiny and vulnerable premature infant, after she survived a botched abortion.
Even before this earth-shattering revelation, Hannah feels out of place. In her journal, she writes about how she feels "dead inside," how she doesn't deserve to live, and how she's just a "child trying to find a place in this world." The revelation only amplifies these feelings, and it severely strains her relationship with her parents, Jacob (John Schneider) and Grace (Jennifer Price).
Hannah determines to track down her real birth mother, but her only information is that she was born in Mobile, Alabama. When her best friend Jason (Jason Burkey) finds out, he invites her along on the spring break trip he's planning to take with his college friends. They're heading to New Orleans, but they can stop in Mobile on the way. Against her father's wishes, Hannah joins the trip.
What follows is a pretty stereotypical roadtrip—a bunch of friends piled into an old Volkswagen van, an encounter with an overeager cop on a private beach, and adventures in finding hotel rooms affordable for broke college students. Ultimately, Hannah and Jason separate from the group and track down the clinic where Hannah was born and, eventually, Mary (Jasmine Guy), the nurse who helped with both the botched abortion and the eventual birth. In the course of the conversation, Mary reveals one final twist in the saga of Hannah's birth—the final, devastating secret her parents kept from her. Mary also gives Hannah the information she's been searching for: the name and location of her birth mother.
But when Hannah finally finds her birth mother, it doesn't bring the peace or closure she seeks; instead, her birth mother rejects her. Hannah returns home just as lost and broken—if not more so—than when she left. It isn't until she wanders into a cathedral and speaks with a priest about her feelings that she can begin to forgive her parents, her birth mother, and herself.
The danger of a film focusing on the effects of abortion lies in its potential for political heavy-handedness, but the Erwin brothers successfully navigate around that. October Baby is a coming-of-age film, not propaganda disguised as a docudrama. The film is pro-life, no doubt, but the story focuses on Hannah's journey to find her place in this world and on the power of forgiveness.