The divisive and unyielding battle lines that separate pro-lifers and pro-choice advocates are at the heart of the contemporary culture war in America. Very few filmmakers have dared enter this controversial zone. Alexander Payne's Citizen Ruth does so boldly and comes out with some thought provoking messages about the dangers of zealotry.
Laura Dern, in a very edgy performance, plays Ruth Stoops, a glue-sniffing pregnant drifter who has already given up her four children to her brother. An angry judge, tired of Ruth's repeat appearances in his courtroom for drug abuse and loitering, charges her with "felony criminal endangerment" of the fetus and privately tells her that if she agrees to visit a doctor and "take care of her problem" he will reduce her charges.
When Norman and Gail (Kurtwood Smith and Mary Kay Place), two Christian members of an anti-abortion group called "Baby Savers," get wind of this, they post her bail and take her into their home. But Ruth doesn't measure up to their high moral standards. Diane (Swoosie Kurtz) and Rachel (Kelly Preston), two pro-choice activists, seize the moment and try to make her a champion of their cause. A televangelist (Burt Reynolds), who is the leader of Baby Savers, arrives and an offer of $15,000 is made to Ruth to have the baby. With great satirical elan, Citizen Ruth shows how both sides violate this woman's soul in various attempts to get their position across to the American public.