Phoebe Bridgers, Halsey, Naya Rivera: How celebrity abortion stories became a fixture in the fight for reproductive rights

In 1985, Ali MacGraw, the Oscar-nominated star Love storyappeared on the cover of People magazine. The headline read, “Abortion – No Easy Answers.” A caption announced that nine women, including MacGraw, had decided to “tell radically different stories about how [abortion] affected their lives. Twelve years had passed since the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in the United States. Thirty-seven more years would pass until his overthrow in 2022.

“The decision to have – or not to have – an abortion should be a private decision, says actress Ali MacGraw”, PeopleThe bed introduction in part. “She agreed to speak about this episode from long ago…in the hope that it would contribute to the national debate by reminding us of the dangers that women faced before the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion .”

MacGraw, now 83, was 46 when she wrote her personal essay for People recounting the abortion she had in her early twenties, before the procedure became legal. This essay is over three decades old, and yet it’s strikingly similar to the many abortion stories shared by other celebrities over the following years.

Recent attacks on reproductive rights, including the Supreme Court’s overturning of the Roe v. Wade case on June 24, have prompted even more celebrities to share their own experiences. Many note that their choice to speak out stems from their desire to call for legal challenges restricting access to abortion. Their stories have accompanied more widespread storytelling projects, such as Shout Your Abortion and We Testify, which aimed to support people willing to share their abortion stories in an effort to normalize and de-stigmatize the procedure.

“Twentieth-century feminist activism mobilized the personal as well as the political,” wrote Elizabeth Lanphier, a clinical ethicist and assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati, in 2020 in Replicaan online journal published by the Rutgers Women’s Research Institute.

“Storytelling is at the heart of advocacy efforts, doing the work of raising awareness among gatherings of contemporary internet hashtags. A strength of the individual story in activism is that it centers particular stories, while leaving space for the intersectional difference between stories.

In his essay, MacGraw recalls the anguish of having to find a supplier through a “humiliating and terrifying” process that began “with the horror of the underground telephone network”. She says she paid $2,000 cash (about $5,000 today) to a man on Manhattan’s Upper West Side who performed the procedure. She remembers fearing that the gruff, hostile man would kill her, thinking, “I’m 17 floors above the street, it’s getting dark outside and who knows I’m really there?” My friend knows it, but there is always time for something horrible to happen.

“I wasn’t then and I’m still not ashamed of what I did, but afterwards I was sad and often wondered if I had done the right thing in God’s eyes. I hoped so,” she wrote. “…I don’t understand why freedom of choice is such a threat. People who are passionate about not having an abortion should live their lives accordingly. But if a woman believes really, after all the soul-searching, that an abortion is the right thing to do, then she should have the right to get one legally and safely, regardless of her financial situation.

Since then, celebrities have not stopped expressing themselves. In 1989, Debbie Reynolds told Joan Rivers in an interview that she was forced to carry a pregnancy to term even after the fetus died at seven and a half months because abortion was illegal. “At that time, no abortions were allowed, whether you were sick, you were raped or the child was dead,” she said. “Which is disgusting, to think that there are these laws.” Eventually, “a council” agreed to remove the fetus, at which point it was “more dangerous than ever.”

In 1991, Whoopi Goldberg wrote about using a coat hanger to induce an abortion. In 2012, Vanessa Williams, then star of Desperate Housewiveswrote about high school abortion in her memoir you have no idea and say Deadline: “Being pregnant is the scariest thing to happen in your life. I knew in high school that it was something I was not ready to do or fight or fight. In 2016, Naya Rivera wrote in his memoirs Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing Up to have had an abortion in 2010, during a day without filming Joy. That same year, Chelsea Handle wrote in Playboy to have had two abortions in one year as a teenager. “We all make mistakes all the time. I happened to screw up twice when I was 16,” she wrote. “I am grateful to have come to my senses and to have been able to have a legal abortion without risking my health or ruining myself or my family. … I never look back and I think, God, I wish I had this baby.

In 2018, Busy Philipps wrote about terminating a pregnancy at age 15 in her memoir It will only hurt a little. In May 2019, she urged others to share their stories, tweeting, “One in four women have had an abortion. A lot of people think they don’t know someone who does, but #youknowme. So let’s do this: if you’re also the only one out of four, let’s share it and start ending the shame. Use #youknowme and share your truth. And before MacGraw, in 1978, Joan Collins wrote about her abortion in her autobiography past imperfect.

Some have criticized a system that forces people to share deeply personal stories in hopes it will help protect their basic rights. “Women shouldn’t have to share their abortion stories online,” reads a Grazia headline posted after Roe v Wade was canceled, “but their stories are a powerful protest.” This is where the consensus has generally landed: that people shouldn’t feel pressured to share their stories, but if they are willing and able to do so safely, those stories can be compelling and meaningful.

Cindi Leive, former editor of Charm and Selfexpressed this sentiment in a 2018 New York Times editorial. Leive terminated a pregnancy in college; she first discussed it but eventually “stopped sharing.” As an “extreme and often violent anti-abortion movement” gained traction in the United States, Leive began to feel uncomfortable keeping silent. For her, the tipping point was an appearance on a TV show alongside Cecile Richards, who was then president of Planned Parenthood. Leive recalled that Richards had received “violent insults” online for her support of reproductive rights. “Why was I letting her take the heat?” she wondered. “After all, I myself had an abortion.”

And so, Leive decided to share her abortion story publicly, writing, “No woman is under any obligation to talk about her most personal decisions,” she wrote. “…Yet that day, I was ashamed, not of my choice, which I have never regretted, but of my silence. The decision I made 30 years ago was perfectly legal. I am a grown woman, with a family and a career that I love. Why be silent?

In May of this year, after Policy posted a draft of the opinion that ultimately ended Roe v Wade, Phoebe Bridgers was also moved to share her own abortion story, write on twitter: “I had an abortion in October last year while I was on tour. I went to Planned Parenthood where they gave me the abortion pill. It was easy. Everyone deserves this kind of access.

Days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, Halsey penned an essay for vogue entitled: “My abortion saved my life”, writes: “I had three miscarriages before my 24th birthday. It seemed a cruel irony that I could get pregnant easily but was struggling to maintain a pregnancy. One of my miscarriages required ‘aftercare’, a sweet way of saying that I would need an abortion because my body couldn’t completely terminate the pregnancy on its own and I was at risk of getting sepsis without medical intervention. During this procedure, I cried. I was afraid for myself and I was helpless. I was desperate to terminate the pregnancy that threatened my life.

Halsey, who had a son in July 2021, added: “A lot of people have asked me if, since carrying a child to term after years of struggling to do so, I have reconsidered my position on abortion. The answer is firmly no. In fact, I have never been so sensitive to it. My abortion saved my life and allowed my son to have his.

On Instagram, Margaret Cho said in a video in early July this year: “I’m so grateful that I was able to have abortions – abortions, plural – I’m so grateful that I had the ones that I had. Because I don’t want children. I don’t want to reproduce. I like breeders, I don’t like breeding. I don’t want children.

Shortly after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, Rita Moreno spoke to Variety about a botched abortion she had before the landmark 1973 decision, which she originally wrote about in her 2011 memoir. “The doctor didn’t do anything in particular except make me bleed. In other words, he didn’t do it right. I didn’t know it then, but I could have died. What a mess. What a terrible waste,” she said.

Moreno said she was “jubilant” when Roe vs. Wade was decided, and was left “really nervous and scared and horrified” following the court’s decision to overturn it. “Us loudmouths are going to have to keep busy,” she said. ” We are numerous. I think what are we going to do about that? On the contrary, it reactivated us.

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