We haven’t even hit the halfway point of 2019, but this year has already seen an unprecedented uptick in attacks on women’s rights across the United States, where the Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that preventing a woman from having an abortion is unconstitutional. And yet, decades later, efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade—a move that 73 percent of Americans oppose—have reached a fever pitch over the past two weeks. In that time, Georgia legislators have passed a bill effectively banning abortion across the state. So have legislators in Alabama, though they took things up a notch, making abortion a felony, and declining to make exceptions in cases of incest and rape. And on Friday, Missouri legislators closed out the week by bringing its own effective ban on abortion, which is also without exceptions, to its final stage.
The fact that this crisis is only growing—10 states in total have made similar moves just this year—is finally starting to sink in. That’s increasingly true for the demographic with the biggest platform: celebrities, who’ve both been condemning the restrictions and making their personal lives political in order to draw attention to the issue. Many have been citing the fact that, in the U.S., one in four women will have an abortion by the time they turn 45. At the same time, as the actress Busy Philipps tweeted on Wednesday, “many people think they don’t know someone who has, but #youknowme.” Since then, thousands of women have used the hashtag, adding to the chorus of voices like Whoopi Goldberg and Jemima Kirke, who’ve shared their own stories in the past. (Goldberg was 14 when she induced an abortion herself, with a coat hanger.)
It says something about how backwards this recent legislation is that none of the women, celebrity or otherwise, are doing anything new; nearly 50 years ago, the actress Catherine Deneuve, the director Agnès Varda, and the designer Sonia Rykiel joined more than 300 women in signing Simone de Beauvoir’s Manifesto of the 343, a petition for France to legalize abortion and provide its citizens with free access to contraception. In doing so, they not only began being referred to as one of “the 343 salopes,” the French word for “slut,” but also risked facing criminal prosecution; abortion was illegal at the time that they came forward to share that they were among the women in France—at that point, one million each year—who’d had the procedure.
This time, too, sharing one’s story comes with a cost. As was the case with the #MeToo movement, the onus falls on women to take action—and, in doing so, lay bare their personal trauma. And this time, too, plenty have still soldiered on. Read some of their stories, and why they’ve shared them—whether to reduce stigma, or encourage men to join the few who’ve been speaking up—here.
“In 2012, I had an abortion,” the now 36-year-old actress and director Amber Tamblyn tweeted on Thursday. “It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. I still think about it to this day. But these truths do not make me regret my decision. It was the right choice for me, at that time in my life. I have not a single doubt about this.”
In a lengthy Instagram caption posted on Wednesday, the actress and model Milla Jovovich detailed both the “draconian” bills sweeping the country and her firsthand experience with how difficult it already is for women to get abortions, particularly when it comes to their mental well-being and overall health and safety. Two years ago, she continued, she was four-and-a-half months pregnant and shooting on location in Eastern Europe when she had an emergency abortion. “I went into pre-term labor and told that I had to be awake for the whole procedure. It was one of the most horrific experiences I have ever gone through. I still have nightmares about it. I was alone and helpless. When I think about the fact that women might have to face abortions in even worse conditions than I did because of new laws, my stomach turns. I spiraled into one of the worst depressions of my life and had to work extremely hard to find my way out. I took time off of my career. I isolated myself for months and had to keep a strong face for my two amazing kids … the memory of what I went through and what I lost will be with me till the day I die,” she said.
“I never wanted to speak about this experience. But I cannot remain silent when so much is at stake,” Jovovich continued. “Abortion is a nightmare at its best. No woman wants to go through that. But we have to fight to make sure our rights are preserved to obtain a safe one if we need to.”
The year after the Manifesto of 343, and the year before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the United States, a set of American women followed suit by allowing Ms. magazine to publish their names under a section titled, simply, “We Had Abortions.” (More than 5,000 women followed in their footsteps in 2006, petitioning South Dakota’s move to ban all abortions, including in the cases of incest and rape.) Along with Joan Collins and Billie Jean King, Gloria Steinem, who cofounded the magazine, was among them; she’s repeatedly spoken out about the abortion she had, at age 22, since first hearing women share their own experiences at a “speak-out” in 1969. She continued to do so this week, as has Ms. magazine, which announced on Thursday that it was relaunching its landmark campaign.
Earlier this week, the actress Jameela Jamil decried Georgia’s ban as “inhumane,” as well as “essentially a punishment for rape victims, forcing to carry the baby of their rapist.” The tweet turned out to be the first in a thread in which Jamil shared that she had an abortion “when [she] was young,” which she called “the best decision I have ever made. Both for me, and for the baby I didn’t want, and wasn’t ready for, emotionally, psychologically, and financially.” Once the expected replies started pouring in—”A LOT of men calling me a whore and telling me I ‘shouldn’t have opened my legs’ and that I should have used contraception”—Jamil once again addressed her followers to say that she did, in fact, use contraception, but “it didn’t work, it doesn’t always work. It could happen to you.” Not that, she added, she needed to justify her decision; she and other women should still have the “right to choose.”
Importantly, Jamil also spoke to the ban’s consequences outside the sphere of celebrity, where many aren’t in a position to join her in speaking out: “The anti-abortion law is also especially targeted at those without the means/ability to move state,” she added. “Women who are marginalized, poor or disabled will, as ever, be the ones to suffer the most. The wealthy will have so much more freedom.”
Amanda de Cadenet
After receiving a DM telling her, like Jamil, to “just fucking keep your legs closed,” Amanda de Cadenet posted two Instagrams about her experience with abortion. The first was an image of Gloria Steinem, whom she said inspired her to disregard her agent’s recommendation to remove the story of her abortion from her book, “as it would put some buyers off.” De Cadenet doesn’t regret her decision—”I have since had the honor of hearing from many, many women who have also made the choice to end a pregnancy”—nor her initial decision to get an abortion. “I cannot imagine how different my life would’ve been had I not had the choice … I’ve been a mother most of my adult life and that choice should never be forced upon anyone due to lack of options.”
Just a few hours later, after responses began pouring in, de Cadenet posted a follow-up. “It’s fascinating to me that I’m not hearing many men speak up in support of women. Yet, I have heard from many women who chose to abort because the man who got them pregnant threatened to leave them, beat them, shamed them and straight up harassed the shit out of them until they aborted. That’s obviously not the majority , but it’s the reality for a decent amount of women. And there are some like me, who painfully came to the decision themselves. And there are those who didn’t think twice. And many other versions,” she wrote, concluding that no matter the “type” of abortion, no one has the right to question a woman’s reasoning behind her choice.
Also on Thursday, the Mississippi-born model Tess Holliday spoke to the fact that if she were still living in the South, she might not have been able to have the abortion she ultimately did, which was “excruciating on many levels, but necessary … my mental health couldn’t handle being pregnant again & I made the best decision for ME & ultimately my family.” As to whether she regrets or questions her choice, “not at all. I’m not alone either,” she added, noting that she has two children, and the majority of those who got abortions in Alabama in 2017 were already parents. But the issue, she continued, is relevant to everyone, whether they’re parents or even women; the common misconception that only cisgender, heterosexual women can get pregnant has made access to abortions even more fraught for queer women, transgender men, and people who are nonbinary. (She also urged her followers to donate to the Yellowhammer Fund.)
“I was 20 and my partner at the time wasn’t aloud into the united states because he is Palestinian,” the now 30-year-old actress Alia Shawkat tweeted on Wednesday with the #YouKnowMe hashtag. “I wasn’t ready to raise a child alone or to be a mother.”
The actress and filmmaker Miranda July was one of many to share her story via Twitter, with the #YouKnowMe hashtag. “I was 27. My then-boyfriend, who was big on ‘pulling out in time,’ thought we should consider having it and I said something like DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MUCH I AM ON THE VERGE OF DOING?? 2 years later I started shooting my first feature,” she wrote, illustrating how for many women, abortions have allowed them to continue pursuing their careers.
Before #YouKnowMe, the writer Lindy West was one of three activists to launch a similar campaign that saw thousands participate with the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion, in response to one of the government’s many efforts to defund Planned Parenthood in 2015. West has written about the abortion she had in 2010 several times, and this year, a version of her story appeared in Hulu’s adaptation of her memoir, Shrill. This time, it generated quite a different response: Many praised the manner in which the abortion that takes place in the show’s first episode was treated not as a major plot point, but as a fact of everyday life.
Ashley Judd, who was one of the first to accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment, put a face to the horrors of the bans’ lack of exception for those who are survivors of sexual assault. “Raped at 30, I terminated the pregnancy. Additionally, the rapist would have had paternity rights,” the now 51-year-old actress wrote on Instagram on Thursday.
In the lengthy caption of an Instagram she posted on Thursday, the actress Minka Kelly shared not only that the abortion she had when she was younger was “the smartest decision [she] could’ve made,” but also spoke more generally as to why it was the right choice for her and many other women. “For a baby to’ve been born to two people—too young and completely ill equipped—with no means or help from family, would have resulted in a child born into an unnecessary world of struggle. Having a baby at that time would have only perpetuated the cycle of poverty, chaos and dysfunction I was born into,” she wrote, before raising an eloquent series of questions for those who support the bans. She concluded by reminding her followers that “outlawing abortion has never stopped women from attempting it” and “women do not get pregnant alone.”
Less than a week after Cecile Richards described this year’s wave of anti-abortion legislation as unlike anything she’s ever seen, the lifelong activist and former Planned Parenthood president reflected on the abortion she had earlier in her life. “It was the right decision for me and my husband, and it wasn’t a difficult decision,” she tweeted on Thursday. “Before becoming president of Planned Parenthood eight years ago, I hadn’t really talked about it beyond family and close friends. But I’m here to say, when politicians argue and shout about abortion, they’re talking about me—and millions of other women around the country.”
As for Ali MacGraw, her story—or at least the manner in which she shared it—is in a league of its own. In 1985, she appeared on the cover of an issue of People magazine alongside the word “ABORTION” in all-caps, accompanied with the phrase “no easy answers.” In writing the personal essay inside, describing her experience with an illegal abortion in her early twenties, she hoped to “contribute to the national debate” following Roe v. Wade.