From Alicia Vikander to Sharon Stone and Rita Moreno: How celebrities broke the taboo of talking about abortion
The decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that upheld the right to terminate a pregnancy in the United States, has prompted numerous actresses, singers, and celebrities to break their silence on abortion and miscarriage
The Supreme Court’s decision in late May to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the legal case that upheld the constitutional right to choose to terminate a pregnancy, has given rise to numerous demonstrations throughout the country. These included the arrest of several US congresswomen—among them Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—for civil disobedience after a protest outside the Supreme Court, as well as flipping the bird via messages in support of women’s reproductive rights on July 4 (Independence Day). The ruling has also brought to light the stories and confessions of numerous actresses and singers who have had an abortion and/or miscarried. Until now, few celebrities dared to share their experiences publicly. Today, they do so in solidarity with those who are going through or have already experienced similar situations, now in the context of a country that no longer guarantees a safe procedure for millions of women.
Most recently, Swedish actress Alicia Vikander went public about her miscarriage. “I kind of stopped and thought, ‘Am I going to talk about this?’ But I think it’s universal and so many women go through similar things.” The 33-year-old Ex Machina performer suffered an “extreme, painful” miscarriage before having her first child in 2021 with fellow actor Michael Fassbender. “We have a child now, but it took us time,” the Tomb Raider star confessed in an interview with the British newspaper The Times on Sunday, July 24.
Sharon Stone also recently told the public about having endured nine miscarriages. When People magazine posted on Instagram about Dancing with the Stars’ Peta Murgatroyd’s recent interview about her miscarriage, the Basic Instinct star explained how she had struggled with her own pregnancy loss. The actress lamented that “[w]e, as females don’t have a forum to discuss the profundity of this loss.” Stone—now the mother of three adopted children, Quinn Kelly, Laird Vonne, and Roan Joseph –went on to say that “[pregnancy loss] is no small thing, physically nor [sic] emotionally yet we are made to feel it is something to bear alone and secretly with some kind of sense of failure. Instead of receiving the much needed [sic] compassion and empathy and healing which we so need.”
In contrast with the taboo that previously surrounded miscarriages, talking about them and having society perceive them as natural is beneficial and therapeutic for women grieving that loss. “It is very important for them to talk, especially in a society like ours, where the prevailing idea is that personal success is based on getting everything you want, if possible, immediately,” says psychiatrist and psychotherapist Lucía Torres Jiménez, who specializes in gestational and perinatal bereavement and has extensive experience as a perinatal psychiatrist at Madrid’s Gregorio Marañón Hospital. “Finding out that even people who personify the image of absolute success also experience loss and pain grounds us in reality,” adds Torres, who is also the medical director at the TranquilaMente mental health center.
Abortions that save lives
Outrage in the United States over the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade after almost 50 years of serving as the legal precedent for a woman’s right to choose—and the step backward it implies—has prompted actresses like Rita Moreno, 90, to recall her abortion decades ago. It occurred years before Roe vs. Wade, a ruling that was met with great jubilation. “I’m really nervous and frightened and horrified that this is taking place. I can’t believe that some of those people are telling us what to do with our bodies,” she said in an interview with Variety magazine after the Supreme Court reversed the landmark decision.
The 1962 Oscar winner for best supporting actress for West Side Story was forced to have an abortion by her then-partner, Marlon Brando. “He was a real doctor — Marlon paid him $500 — as opposed to something in a back alley,” the actress recalled in her 2011 memoir. That procedure turned out to be a disaster and left her with sequelae that required a second operation. “Marlon took me to the hospital. I had what they told me was a ‘disturbed pregnancy.’ The doctor didn’t do anything really, 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 dreadful mess,” she said. Her toxic relationship with Brando made her contemplate suicide. After they broke up, Moreno went on to marry cardiologist Leonard Gordon, with whom she had her only child, Fernanda.
Debbie Reynolds’s traumatic experience also resurfaced in the wake of the court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade. In a 1989 interview with Joan Rivers, the Singin’ in the Rain star—and Moreno’s contemporary—recounted that as a mother of two (Carrie and Todd Fisher), she got pregnant with her third child, who died in utero at seven months of gestation. “In those days abortions were not allowed, if you were sick, if you had been raped, if the child had died. Which is disgusting to think that there [are] those laws,” explained Reynolds. She was denied an abortion and her doctors recommended that she wait to deliver her stillborn baby. Ultimately, however, the doctors had to intervene and remove the fetus from Reynolds’s body because her life was in danger. “They couldn’t leave it anymore because now the child is in the sac but, of course, finally after so much time, all the poisons and everything would have killed me,” she revealed.
Before welcoming a son, Ender Ridley, with partner Alev Aydin in July 2021, the pop star suffered three miscarriages before the age of 24; the experience was traumatic and led them to rewrite their will. Halsey is clear about their position on voluntarily terminating a pregnancy. “My abortion saved my life and gave way for my son to have his. Every person deserves the right to choose when, if, and how they have this dangerous and life-altering experience. I will hold my son in one arm, and fight with all my might with the other,” the letter concluded.
Many singers and actresses have also spoken about their experiences of choosing to end a pregnancy as adolescents, including Mila Jovovich, Ashley Judd, Ireland Baldwin, Alissa Milano, Lilly Allen, Uma Thurman, Jennifer Grey... Thurman wrote in an opinion piece in The Washington Post that “[it] hurt terribly, but I didn’t complain. I had internalized so much shame that I felt I deserved the pain.” The Kill Bill star decided to terminate her pregnancy in her late teens while in Germany, a decision she reached with her family. “The abortion I had as a teenager was the hardest decision of my life, one that caused me anguish then and that saddens me even now,” she said. The Pulp Fiction star now has three children, Maya, 23; Levon Roan, 19; and Luna, nine, whom she described as her “pride and joy.” As Lucía Torres explains, “Many teenagers report suffering a lot in the process of having an abortion, even if it was a voluntary decision. It’s painful for them to recall how they made the decision, how they faced financial difficulties, their partner’s position at the time and its effect on their relationship, the loneliness and fear of seeing themselves in the operating room, or their uncontrollable crying without understanding why. Often, the story reveals a traumatic component. They talk about how the smell of that room, or some [other] detail, has remained etched in their memory, and it causes them emotional or physical reactions like nausea every time something brings them back to that place.”
Like Uma Thurman, Jennifer Grey had a hard time as well. In her memoir, Out of the Corner, the star of Dirty Dancing—a film in which one of the dancers undergoes an illegal abortion in the 1960s—detailed her life of excess and rebellious adolescence, as well as her abortion at age 16. “No teenager should be swimming in waters that dark,” she wrote. “I wouldn’t have my life. I wouldn’t have had the career I had, I wouldn’t have had anything. And it wasn’t for lack of taking it seriously. I’d always wanted a child. I just didn’t want a child as a teenager,” the actress explained in an interview with the Los Angeles Times when her autobiography came out. At 41, Grey gave birth to her daughter, Stella Gregg, 20, with her then-husband Clark Gregg. “It’s such a grave decision. And it stays with you…[Overturning Roe] is just so fundamentally wrong, and it is sounding a bell for all women to rise up and use their voice now because we have assumed, since 1973, that our choice was safe and that it was never going to be overturned.”
All the experiences that celebrities have shared involve guilt and trauma, but they also reflect a commitment to continue standing up for women’s reproductive rights. Feminist and activist Gloria Steinem promised Dr. John Sharpe, the doctor who performed her abortion in London in 1957, that she would do what she wanted with her life. As she wrote when she dedicated her book My Life on the Road to the doctor: “I have done the best I could.”