Culture Feature

Busy Philipps and 9 Other Celebrities Who Are Open About Their Abortions

Nicki Minaj and Chelsea Handler are just a few of the others who have spoken out.

Last year, actress Busy Phillipps revealed that she had an abortion at the age of 15.

"The statistic is one in four women will have an abortion before the age of 45," she said on her E! late night talk show. "That statistic sometimes surprises people, and maybe you're sitting there thinking, 'I don't know a woman who would have an abortion.' Well, you know me."

Her announcement came after a bill passed in Georgia that would've banned abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected—which can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The bill was temporarily blocked by a federal judge, but it could result in women who terminate their pregnancies being charged with murder, thereby imprisoning them for life. Women who travel to have abortions in other states could be punished with up to a decade in prison.

The bill, with its staggering consequences, moved Phillips to open up about her abortion. "I had an abortion when I was 15 years old, and I'm telling you this because I'm genuinely really scared for women and girls all over this country," she said.

That one in four statistics that Phillips referenced means that one in four female celebrities you know have had abortions. Here are some of the ones who have been open and outspoken about it in the past.

1. Nicki Minaj

Image via Letras

The rap star opened up about her abortion in 2014, stating that "It'd be contradictory if I said I wasn't pro-choice. I wasn't ready. I didn't have anything to offer a child." She became pregnant at age 16 while dating an older man, and stated that the experience was "the hardest thing [she'd] ever gone through" and that it has haunted [her] all her life.

2. Whoopi Goldberg

Image via Page Six

Goldberg discussed her abortion—which she tragically performed with a coat hanger, by herself, at the age of 14—in the book "The Choices We Made."

Since then, she has openly defended abortion on the air, telling Meghan McCain that "I'm not okay when people say I want my stuff but you can't have yours. The government has said that I have the right that if I need an abortion, I can have one. I feel that you have every right to have the guns you want. There are some guns I think shouldn't be out there, but I don't say you can't have your damn guns." She added, "I don't want anybody saying to me, 'I'm going to make this decision for you because I know how your life is, and I know how you feel and I know what your religious beliefs are. You don't, and you don't know my life."

3. Jemima Kirke

Image via The Daily Beast

The Girls actress has long been an outspoken pro-choice advocate. She told her story in a video supporting the Center for Reproductive Rights and has stated that "I still see shame and embarrassment around terminating pregnancies, getting pregnant. So I have always been open about my stories, especially with other women."

Jemima Kirke Shares Her Story About Ending a Pregnancy | Draw the Line

4. Chelsea Handler

Image via The Daily Beast

In an essay for Playboy, comedian, and host Chelsea Handler expressed gratitude that she was able to get a safe abortion at the age of 16. "Like millions of women, I can live my life without an unplanned child born out of an unhealthy relationship because of Roe v. Wade," Handler wrote. At 16, "I hated my parents and I was having unprotected sex with my boyfriend, who was not someone I should've been having sex with in the first place, never mind unprotected sex," she added.

She later concluded that she believes that while America will never come to a common consensus on abortions, "It's okay if you think it's not right for women to have abortions — but it's not your problem, because we decide."

5. Naya Rivera

2018 Winter TCA - YouTube, Pasadena, USA - 13 Jan 2018 Image via People

In an essay for USA Today, the Glee star wrote about her own experience with abortion, as well as her grandmother Clara, who was a counselor at a woman's health clinic and who helped her through the process. "So to answer the question of why I chose to share my story, I did it for them — the women in my life, who, before I was even born, fought for women and their right to be cared for and heard," she wrote. "I knew that in sharing my story, I would be judged for the decision I made. But I wanted to let other women facing the same difficult decision know that they weren't alone. I wish that in my time of need, there had been more women like Clara."

6. Margaret Cho

Image via The Daily Beast

The comedian, known for her boundary-pushing and profane sense of humor, penned an essay on her website about how she feels abortion is a God-given right. "God understands if you need to have an abortion," she wrote. "That is why he created abortion, on the 8th day. God accepts. God forgives. God loves all of us, even though some of us might have a problem with each other." She concluded, "If you truly believed in Jesus, you would try to be like him and love us, fags and dykes and feminists all. God bless you, even you. You fucking fuckers."

7. Lil' Kim

Image via Ebony Magazine

During a visit to Power 105's The Breakfast Club, the rapper confessed that she had an abortion after getting pregnant with Biggie Smalls, and has been honest about her conflicted feelings. ""I don't know if I have regrets about not keeping it," she said. "Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. Then I think what would've happened with my career. I just don't know."

8. Ani DiFranco

Image via Ani DiFranco

The folk singer's 2014 single, "Play God," is a battle cry for a woman's right to choose. DiFranco herself had an abortion when she was a young woman and has long been outspoken about her pro-choice beliefs. "As a society, it is time to acknowledge that unless a woman is in control of her own reproduction, she is not free, and it is the responsibility of our American government to protect and ensure the freedom of all American citizens," DiFranco told The Huffington Post. "It is time we get serious about addressing and achieving this great unfinished business of civil rights in America. The true emancipation and equality of women is dependent on it."

Play God - Ani DiFranco (Official Music Video)

9. Amanda Palmer

Image via Lush Player

The prolific musician's newest album, There Will Be No Intermission, features two songs that detail her experience with abortion. She has had a total of three—one at age seventeen, and two during the past seven years. She told Bustle, "Perhaps the most moving comments that I've seen have been from women and men who experienced going through the abortion wringer at some point in the past. They've written to me and commented somewhere and said, 'I have never told anyone about what happened but I'm going to. I'm gonna tell my mom, I'm gonna tell my children, I'm gonna tell my friends.' On a pragmatic, non-artistic level, that feels like the song's greatest accomplishment — if it [can] un-silence somebody else."

Her music is meant to combat the shame and stigma that relegates so many women to silence after their abortions. She added that she hopes her confessional new songs can "alleviate even a modicum of pain for women who have had this thorny experience," and can "provide one ounce of antidote in the ocean of shame in which they have to swim on a daily basis."

"Voicemail for Jill" is more than a renunciation of shame—it's a rallying cry for all women who struggle after having an abortion. "You don't need to offer the right explanation. You don't need to beg for redemption or offer forgiveness," she sings.

Amanda Palmer - Voicemail For Jill

10. Alice Walker

Image via WTTW Chicago

As a senior at Sarah Lawrence College, the poet and thinker Alice Walker discovered she was pregnant and had an abortion. She has since written extensively about the topic, and in an essay for The Nation, she wrote, "Abortion, for many women, is more than an experience of suffering beyond anything most men will ever know; it is an act of mercy, and an act of self-defense. To make abortion illegal again is to sentence millions of women and children to miserable lives and even more miserable deaths."

Other celebrities who have openly discussed their abortions include Stevie Nicks, Marilyn Monroe, Gloria Steinem, Lucille Ball, Rose McGowan, and so many more. The fact of the matter is that women always had and always will have abortions. The question is whether they will be able to do so safely and legally, or whether we'll be returning to the era of coat hangers and bloodstained bathroom floors.

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Powerless Protests: "The Handmaid's Tale" Inspires Cosplay with a Cause

As Margaret Atwood said, "'The Handmaid's Tale' has actually become a meme in US politics. You'll find it turning up on Twitter. Somebody has to tell the Republicans 'The Handmaid's Tale' is not a blueprint."

Original: Vogue

In 2017, 12 protesters donned The Handmaid's Tale's eerie red cloaks and white bonnets to march into the Texas Senate and protest a bill that forces women to carry non-viable pregnancies to term.

Since then, The Handmaid's Tale garb has become "the viral protest uniform of 2019," with women's rights activists protesting abortion bans and violence against women from Croatia to California. Protest fashion isn't a new tactic, but it's more potent than ever, from Handmaid's Tale star Elisabeth Moss taking inspiration from protesters to actor Billy Porter using his gender-bending red carpet appearances to bring attention to women's issues. But activists tying their message to pop cultural imagery has the potential drawback of tokenizing their causes as a passing meme or piece of online outrage, rather than calls to action.

With Alabama and Georgia leading the way on regressive state bans on abortion, the overlap between the series' fictional Gilead and the future of America's conservative policies is strikingly ominous. Even Margaret Atwood, author of the 1985 novel, told the BBC that her speculative fiction about government control probably wasn't as foreboding as it should have been. She said in 2016, "I don't think I was worried enough. I think if you're looking state by state some of the laws they're putting in right now I probably wasn't quite worried enough." Atwood added, "The Handmaid's Tale has actually become a meme in US politics. You'll find it turning up on Twitter. Somebody has to tell the Republicans The Handmaid's Tale is not a blueprint."

"Protest fashion isn't a new tactic, but it's more potent than ever..."

Elisabeth Moss, executive producer as well as lead actor in the series, also noted the show's similarities with real-life crises, from restrictions on reproductive rights to families being torn apart at U.S. borders. "It feels that line between [an] entertaining television show and real life, at that point I can barely see it," Moss said. "When I see those women wearing handmaid costumes and marching and protesting in them, I'm even more proud to put it on. I know what that costume stands for and what it means, and that's inspiring." Series creator Bruce Miller added, "I would love for our show to be irrelevant. That's the goal."

Activists in pursuit of that same goal have taken inspiration from the Hulu series in the "form of resistance cosplay," incorporating the costume into their protests. But from jokes on late-night TV to Kylie Jenner throwing a tone-deaf The Handmaid's Tale-themed birthday party, donning the red cloaks today still rings of cosplay rather than activism.

After all, riffing on the show's imagery began as a mere marketing stunt by the studio. In 2017, dozens of women were hired by the studio to dress in red cloaks and appear at the SXSW festival to promote the show before its premiere. That's when the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, Heather Busby, saw an opportunity to make a political stance. She directed 12 protestors to run to a costume shop, purchase the costumes, and march to the Texas Senate gallery to protest a state bill restricting access to abortion. Similarly, The Handmaid Coalition is a political action group founded with the slogan, "Fight to keep fiction from becoming reality." In their mission statement, they describe, "The overall goal, like the imagery, is shared: protecting our rights and standing with organizations on the front lines of the fight for a fully equitable America. Our BODIES, our LIVES, our RIGHTS, our FUTURE."

Photo: David Meuse

But when responses to protests mostly live on social media and in internet memes, is there a chance of making real change? As Wired pointed out, "Everywhere the handmaids go, the media follows: Their image has become a staple of late-night set pieces, campaign emails, and, praise be, Twitter jokes." Absent are policy changes or responses from policy-makers (the Texas bill protested by the first set of handmaid protesters passed). The cloaks and hoods are mostly treated as a form of "resistance cosplay" in the truest sense: It's playing dress-up for a cause.

handmaids tale protest

Trump's The Handmaid's Tale

Still, Moss has faith that the imagery can make a striking statement that sticks in people's minds. "I hope that people take it that seriously," she says. "I hope that they don't just treat it as a catchy thing to say. I hope they take that feeling and put it into action. I hope that people take their feelings of frustration about the show's relevance and actually do something about it." The problem, as Wired critiqued, is that imagery alone isn't powerful unless it's attached to collective action: "The costume's flexibility is part of its power, but also keeps handmaids from being real drivers of discourse...Handmaids embody gendered pain and dread so vast it's hard to put into words: sexual violence, physical violence, governments taking control of bodies, bodies valued over beings, being reduced to a womb alone. All they really say is 'No to all that,' albeit in a highly concise and memorable way."

So far in 2019, the only win The Handmaid's Tale-style protests have earned is Kamala Harris making public comparisons to Alabama's abortion ban, stating "This isn't a scene from The Handmaid's Tale. This is happening in Alabama — in our country — in the year 2019," and the recent debut of season 3 earning high ratings. Ultimately, "Protest fashion is more about communicating rejection and anxiety than creating tangible change on its own." Whether it's Instagrammable #Metoo apparel or even the bright Yellow Vests of Parisian protestors, wearable messages of resistance are only acts of protest when they're connected to actions. Otherwise, it's an edgy fashion statement without any power to enact change.