by Kira Cochrane The Guardian
The strength of anti-abortion feeling in the US makes it important that celebrities join campaigners in taking a stand
It would have been so much easier to say nothing. The actor Mark Ruffalo clearly knew this when he put together his statement of support for a pro-choice campaign currently traversing the US – but he went ahead anyway. On Saturday, outside the last abortion clinic in Mississippi (back in 1981 the state had 14 clinics), his speech was read aloud. It spoke of the abortion his mother had had to seek illegally as a young woman, a traumatising experience, “shameful and sleazy and demeaning,” he wrote. “I don’t want to turn back the hands of time to when women shuttled across state lines in the thick of night to resolve an unwanted pregnancy, in a cheap hotel room.” He urged others to find their voice too, “and let it be known that you stand for abortion rights”.
It’s natural to be cynical when celebrities speak out for charitable or political causes; their statements so often seem designed to burnish their own image. But when it comes to supporting abortion rights, they’re still taking a genuine risk. In the US, there are indications that support for abortion rights is at a record low – a Gallup poll taken last year found 41% of Americans define themselves as “pro-choice”, while 50% say they are “pro-life”, and the rest undecided (in the mid-1990s, when Gallup started this polling the proportions were 56% and 33% respectively, so there’s been a marked shift). This opposition to abortion rights has had a significant impact across the country. Four US states now have only one surgical abortion provider, and in Texas a bill was passed last month that could force the closure of a majority of the state’s 42 abortion clinics.
In the face of this, it is impressive that many well-known figures are willing to speak up. Last year, when the Centre for Reproductive Rights announced its Draw the Line campaign – asking people to sign up to a bill of reproductive rights, including readily accessible pregnancy care, contraception and abortion – high-profile supporters included Meryl Streep, Kevin Bacon, Lisa Kudrow, Amy Poehler and Sarah Silverman. Not long afterwards, Tina Fey spoke passionately at a gala for the same organisation. And the actor Martha Plimpton, star of films including Parenthood and Running on Empty, as well as US TV series Raising Hope, feels so strongly about reproductive rights that she co‑founded the organisation A Is For to champion them.
Well-known figures have been speaking up for abortion rights for more than 40 years. In France, in 1971, a groundbreaking petition, the Manifesto of the 343, was published in the French news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur – women including Simone de Beauvoir, Catherine Deneuve and Jeanne Moreau declared they had had abortions. This was followed a year later by a similar declaration in US feminist magazine Ms. In most states abortion wouldn’t be legal for another year, but 53 women, including Susan Sontag, Anaïs Nin and Billie Jean King, signed a statement: “We Have Had Abortions”.
Speaking about this in 2011, the writer Nora Ephron said: “Over the years, the occasional journalist has asked about it and assumed it was to be taken literally and that I had had an abortion. Which I hadn’t. They didn’t really understand the spirit of the statement at all.” The spirit, as I take it, is solidarity with the one in three US women who will have an abortion in their lifetime, and support for their right to do so safely, legally, without shame. In making his statement, Ruffalo stood up for the same message, and made it just that little bit easier for women both to secure the appropriate healthcare, and to speak up for our right to do so.