“You should do whatever you want with your body.”
Over the weekend, famed female talk show host Chelsea Handler shared a piece of her private history with the world. In an essay published on Playboy’s website, the comedian best known for her brash, take-no-prisoners tone, shared that at the age of 16, she underwent not one but two abortions:
“I was going through a very bad stage in my life. 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, nevermind unprotected sex. I wasn’t really playing with a full deck of cards.”
This essay does not mark the first time Handler has opened up about abortion. In a 2012 interview with Rosie O’Donnell, Handler said, “You should do whatever you want with your body and you shouldn't let anyone tell you what to do.” But the Playboy essay reveals some startling new information—Handler admitted to a second pregnancy by the same young man, along with a subsequent abortion.
“Getting unintentionally pregnant more than once is irresponsible, but it’s still necessary to make a thoughtful decision. We all make mistakes all the time. I happened to fuck up twice at the age of 16. I’m grateful that I came to my senses and was able to get an abortion legally without risking my health or bankrupting myself or my family. I’m 41 now. I don’t ever look back and think, God, I wish I’d had that baby.”
Handler’s confession is already inciting ire across the web:
Clearly, Handler has struck a nerve. Yet people seem to be missing what might actually be the heart of Handler’s essay. Near the end of the piece, she makes some pretty bold observations about our political discourse surrounding women and the legislation of their bodies:
“I don’t buy that Roe v. Wade is in danger. We’re too far ahead of the game. Once you go forward in history, you don’t go backward. That would be like the government saying, ‘Okay, we’re taking away your right to vote too.’ You can’t introduce a black person and be like, ‘Oh, I just got a slave!’ That era is over. It’s similar to what’s happening in Mississippi and some other states with gay-marriage discrimination—marriage equality is going to take. You can’t stop that. We’ve already made the decision, and now we’re moving on to transgender rights. And it’s a wrap on men deciding what women can do with their bodies.”
The thing is, though, it isn’t a wrap. As Nancy Northup, president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, wrote in a 2014 Washington Post opinion piece, “Since 2011, more than half the states in the nation have significantly restricted access to abortions. That’s more restrictions in the past three years than were enacted in the previous decade.”
Northup added that the “hollowing” of Roe v. Wade by these restrictive laws was a “new tactic [seeking] legitimate cover for the illegitimate goal of denying significant numbers of American women access to safe, legal, essential reproductive health care.”
However, perhaps in small part due to women like Handler opening up about their own reproductive needs and rights, the tides may be changing. While Handler’s view may be a wildly optimistic take on America, politicians, and the constituents they represent, for now, politicians appear to be on women’s side. Just this week, the Supreme Court had to step in to strike down a Texas abortion access law that would have likely shut down most, if not all, of the clinics in the state.
The biggest takeaway here might be that the more women open up about their experiences with abortion, the easier it will be for everyone to accept it as our new normal. Luckily, more women will be sharing their abortion stories starting August 12, when HBO releases its latest documentary, Abortion: Stories Women Tell in select theaters across the country. As the film’s release material describes, Abortion will focus “not on the debate, but rather on the women themselves: those struggling with unplanned pregnancies, and the providers who show up at clinics to give medical care, as well as the activists on both sides of the issue, hoping to sway decisions and lives.”
Perhaps by continuing to tell their truthful stories women will win the right to no longer have to discuss their own bodies with the world.