Over 50 years ago, my mother had an abortion. She was a working woman in New York City with an office job for Goodson and Todman, the TV game show producers who created everything from What’s My Line? to Family Feud. She never was willing to tell me any details about her abortion, except to let me know that she had one and it was awful and scary.
Abortion at that time was illegal and often unsafe. Many women back then were so desperate they attempted to perform the abortion themselves, in some cases causing irreparable harm to their bodies. Some women died. Most were made to feel ashamed. I am deeply grateful that my mother was able to get the abortion she needed without any health complications — but I am heartsick to contemplate what her experience must have been so that she was unable to speak about it, even decades later.
In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that abortion is a fundamental right granted by the U.S. Constitution. Because of Roe, which is 43 years old this week, women have been able to complete their educations, plan families, keep their children healthy and cared for, and pursue their careers. My career as an actor and director has been supported by so many women, including my mother. Whether directly affected or not, this legislation changed the lives of all women by placing control in our hands.
But today we are at serious risk of turning back the clock and returning to the appalling reality that my mother and so many others lived through. Some politicians in 2016 have made it clear that they will stop at nothing to end access to safe, legal abortion. In the last five years, state lawmakers have passed a whopping 288 restrictions on safe, legal abortion. Today, more than half of all American women—57%—live in a state that is hostile to abortion rights, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
And with the U.S. Supreme Court this spring hearing the biggest abortion case in decades, the stakes have never been higher. If the Court upholds the Texas clinic shutdown law, we will be taking many steps backward to the scary, unjust reality of my mother’s era. Texas women are already traveling hundreds of miles, crossing state lines and waiting weeks to get an abortion—if they can get one at all. Now imagine the situation in Texas on a national scale.
Nearly a third of all American women have an abortion at some point. Do we really want to be a country in which you have access to a safe, legal abortion only if you’re lucky enough to live in the right city and have the right resources?
I am convinced that abortion rights are human rights not only because of compassion for my mother but also because I myself am a mother of three. Many of us who made the decision to become parents have experienced an unquenchable desire for parenthood. But that in no way mutes our desire for abortion to be safe, legal and available. It’s two sides of the same coin. Motherhood is a primary part of my life, which is precisely the reason I fight for reproductive rights. That’s why I also fight for free birth control and comprehensive sex ed.
My conviction informs my work as an actor and director. MotherStruck!, currently playing Off-Broadway, is an autobiographical one-woman show about the journey of a single lesbian woman with limited financial resources who yearns for a child. Working with co-producer Rosie O’Donnell and writer and performer Staceyann Chin, I have had the opportunity to explore what it means to choose and plan parenthood, even in the face of myriad obstacles.
Women must have the right to determine whether and when to have children. That is what reproductive rights are all about. Abortion, like parenthood, is a deeply personal and sometimes complex decision for a woman, and no one can make that decision for her. Decisions about whether to choose adoption, end a pregnancy or raise a child must be left to the woman and her family to determine based on their faith with the counsel of their medical provider.
The fundamental right to abortion must be here to stay. We must never go back to the days when women like my mother were forced to put their lives at risk in order to plan their families, pursue their dreams, and chart the course of their own lives. If you care about women, families, and children, I urge you to stand up with me and make your voice heard.