How Abortion Storytellers Feel About Michelle Williams’ Golden Globes Speech

Actress Michelle Williams highlighted that parenting and choosing abortion are not mutually exclusive.

[Photo: Actress Michelle Williams poses for a photo on the red carpet.]
Michelle Williams, who is set to star in a film about the pre-Roe illegal abortion group known as the Jane Collective, said the decisions pregnant people make should be respected. VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images

During Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards, actress Michelle Williams used her win for best actress in a limited series to emphasize the power of supporting working women in all aspects of their lives, including being able to choose what to do with a pregnancy.

Williams, pregnant with her second child, told the audience that winning the award meant they were “acknowledging the choices” actors make, including “the education they pursued, the training they sought, the hours they put in.” Her speech then pivoted to talk about “choices” as they relate to pregnancy, and alluded to the #MeToo movement in Hollywood and the power of voting rights:

I’m grateful for the acknowledgement of the choices I’ve made and I’m also grateful to have lived in a moment in our society where choice exists, because as women and as girls, things can happen to our bodies that are not our choice. I’ve tried my very best to live a life of my own making, and not just a series of events that happened to me, but one that I could stand back and look at and recognize my handwriting all over. Sometimes messy and scrawling, sometimes careful and precise. But one that I had carved with my own hand. And I wouldn’t have been able to do this without employing a woman’s right to choose. To choose when to have my children and with whom, when I felt supported and able to balance our lives as all mothers know that the scales must and will tip towards our children.

Williams, who is set to star in the upcoming Amazon film This Is Jane, about the pre-Roe illegal abortion group known as the Jane Collective, said pregnant people make different decisions, but all of those decisions should be respected. Williams issued a call for the audience to make their voices heard at the ballot box in November.”

Now I know my choices might look different than yours, but thank God or whoever you pray to that we live in a country founded on the principles that I am free to live by my faith and you are free to live by yours. So, women 18 to 118, when it is time to vote please do so in your self-interest. It’s what men have been doing for years, which is why the world looks so much like them, but don’t forget we are the largest voting body in this country. Let’s make it look more like us.

After Williams spoke, viewers could hear comedian Tiffany Haddish shout “Preach” and “I’m all about that women’s choice.” Haddish has been vocal about her abortion experience, including in her memoir, The Last Black Unicorn. Award show viewers were shown cutaways of audience members reacting to Williams’ speech, including her friend and actress Busy Philipps, who shared her abortion story on Busy Tonight and testified about her abortion before Congress alongside our fellow We Testify storyteller HK Gray.

While Williams did not say whether she’s had an abortion—or even say the word—some felt she alluded to it. If she has had abortions, it’s up to her to decide if, when, and how she wants to share her story.

The three of us have had abortions and get excited every time a celebrity opens up about their abortion. We know the power of abortion storytelling, and the impact it has in our communities, among loved ones, and from globally televised stages like the Golden Globes.

Since Williams spoke out, we’ve been asked what we thought about her speech. Here’s our conversation, lightly edited for clarity and length.

Jordyn Close: Wow. That was such a powerful moment watching Michelle Williams be so open, particularly as she is usually a private person. She spoke out about pay inequality last September when she won the Emmy for this same role, and I appreciated that she used her few minutes to speak about the importance of being able to have choices in pregnancy. I do wish that those with such a large platform would use gender-neutral language because anyone that has a uterus can and do have abortions. What did you two think of the moment?

Aimee Arrambide: At first, I agreed with Ricky Gervais’ monologue that it can seem disingenuous when the Hollywood elite spout their political beliefs when many don’t live lives that mirror the majority. But, listening to Michelle Williams speak about abortion brought home the fact that abortion is common and many of us share similar experiences. Watching her use her platform to speak about the different choices that pregnant people can make, how choosing an abortion opens up possibilities and often changes the trajectory of your life for good, resonated with my own experience. However, I wish she had used the word “abortion.” Not using the word abortion—although it’s obvious that’s what she meant—perpetuates unintended stigma by using euphemisms.

Sarah Lopez: I want to echo the last point you just made because my first response was, “Say abortion!” But I did appreciate that she tied it into her experience as a parent because many folks seeking an abortion already have kids. I just wish the mainstream would refrain from using gendered language and placing such a strong emphasis on choice, like “a woman’s right to choose.” Everyone she shared space with surely has the privilege of choosing if and when to become a parent. But a room full of Hollywood’s elite doesn’t reflect the country as a whole. There are many factors—both legislative and circumstantial—that keep safe and legal abortion out of reach for folks. And as everyone who is involved with an abortion fund knows, without access there is no choice.

This moment also made me think of a recent time I saw a celebrity speak out about their abortion: Michelle Wolf. She acknowledged her white privilege in her experience, and the fact that whether one feels immediate relief or takes a while to bounce back, every experience is “correct.” Who was the first celebrity who you remember sharing their abortion story? Did it impact you?

JC: Chelsea Handler! I remember her speaking about her experience with her abortions in 2016 and it was so powerful. Until that point, and even now, a lot of people preface their stories with the reasons why they had an abortion as if they have to justify their choice. Chelsea Handler was the first person I remember saying “It’s your body. Who else’s opinion should matter?”

AA: While sharing her abortion story and filibustering against abortion restrictions made her a celebrity, seeing and hearing Wendy Davis share her abortion story on the floor of the Texas Capitol left me in awe. It is the first time I remember hearing a public figure use their platform to talk about their own abortion and validate other people’s abortion experiences. Not only did she speak her truth unapologetically and with conviction, but she inspired so many more to do the same. At that moment, I knew that I was not alone.

I know Michelle Williams is getting ready to star in a film about the Jane Collective and the work they did to help people get abortions before Roe v. Wade legalized it. Historically, the media only showed certain type of abortions or vilified those that didn’t fit into the narrative the public deemed OK. But because of advocates on the ground, and individuals who tell their story, this has been shifting. According to a recent report published by the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health’s (ANSIRH) Abortion Onscreen Project, American television shows airing in 2019 portrayed abortion more realistically than in years past. How do you think Hollywood is moving the needle or changing culture when it comes to depictions of abortions on television and film?

JC: Media as a whole was better last year, but nowhere near where we should be. Abortion is normally shown as a hard, sad decision, but that is not what it looks or feels like for everyone. My abortion was super dope and affirming. Outside of a handful of media depictions (almost always of white cisgender women), there aren’t a ton of media showing that abortion can be a celebratory, mundane, or even small and uneventful moment in someone’s life. Abortion experiences vary just as much at the people getting abortions. The media should reflect that.

SL: I definitely agree that while media as a whole has seen some improvements surrounding abortion stigma, we still have a lot of work to do. But after watching Little Woods, starring Tessa Thompson and Lily James, I’m very hopeful to see more personal and realistic depictions of abortion be portrayed. Rather than dwelling on the more emotional aspect of having an abortion, Little Woods focuses on the logistical barriers, maintaining that the decision itself was never the hard part. Plus seeing such a big-name actress like Tessa Thompson take on the role of the person trying to help her sister get an abortion was very powerful.

Of course, the majority of people who have abortions are people of color and are already parenting, but we don’t always see ourselves in the news or in Hollywood portrayals. That’s hard because we should see that people who have kids or choose adoption are the same as those of us who have abortions, often at different points in our lives. What do you think?

AA: I agree. I think it’s an important point to make and I am grateful that she highlighted that parenting and choosing abortion are not mutually exclusive within the same person. I didn’t start telling my abortion story until after I had two kids. Choosing to have children when I was emotionally ready and financially able affirmed my past decision to have an abortion. Parenting is the hardest thing and the most joyful thing I have ever done and I would not force that on anyone that did not actively choose it. I am both a parent and a person who’s had an abortion and am grateful for both.

JC: I am incredibly grateful that I had the privilege to access abortion when I needed to at 18. Like Aimee said, parenting and making the choice to parent is hard. We need to support folks’ decisions on when, how, where and if they decide to parent or carry a pregnancy. When you give people the support and resources they need, you’re letting them know that they are capable of making whatever the best choice is for them, no matter what stage in their life.

Michelle Williams talked about the importance of voting to protect abortion access. As the Supreme Court is set to hear a case nearly identical to Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016, it’s possible that the right to an abortion will look drastically different across the country. What are you all doing to prepare for that moment?

AA: As the executive director of an advocacy, education, and political organization in Texas, my staff and I work hard to protect and expand access to abortion care for all Texans. We support the introduction and occasional passing of proactive abortion rights legislation and local policies and we hold policymakers accountable for their commitment (or opposition) to abortion care and access. We also work to educate our community on the anti-abortion restrictions in place and to dispel the lies and medical inaccuracies that the anti-abortion movement uses to enact these restrictions. We have just launched our political, electoral, and endorsement program in order to ensure candidates running for office in Texas have the tools to unapologetically support abortion access at all levels of policymaking.

I feel passionate about my work because, with the pending Supreme Court case, we cannot depend on federal law or court precedent to ensure our rights. Abortion has been legal for 47 years, but it hasn’t been accessible to the most marginalized. We need to support independent abortion providers, state and local abortion funds, and advocacy organizations that are effecting change within our communities. They are the safety net we have always counted on.

JC: That’s really amazing and important work that each of you are doing. I sit on the board of our statewide abortion fund, Women Have Options Ohio. Aside from directly funding abortion, distributing emergency contraception, and education, we have been putting an emphasis on practical support and building a community safety net, especially with this Supreme Court case pending. Practical support is anything a patient may need surrounding their abortion. We will pay for abortions and birth control, we will drive people to their appointments, help with the costs of travel and childcare, support folks emotionally and help them access resources, and continue to fight the abortion bans that make access harder to reach.

As a storyteller, throughout my career, I have been outspoken about my abortion and I share my story with the hope that other Black, Brown, queer, and trans young people know they are not alone, and that abortion is normal and an essential part of reproductive health care. We deserve dignity, respect, and autonomy to make the best decisions for ourselves—without political interference or shame. I am always working to break down and dispel shame and stigma surrounding abortion, and I believe storytelling is the best way to do that. Language and nuance matter and abortion isn’t a bad word! Even within our movement, we have work to do to support and uplift those sharing their stories without being apologetic about their choices.

SL: While voting is a key factor in creating the policies necessary to respect a person’s right to have an abortion, I feel like, with everything else Michelle Williams said, her response came off as a lukewarm call to action. The truth is, we are and have been living in a post-Roe world. I admire the work that Jordyn and Aimee do and I would love to see more support for organizations at the grassroots level.

I work for Fund Texas Choice, a practical support abortion fund. We provide assistance with lodging and transportation so that folks who live in Texas have one less thing to worry about when trying to get to an abortion clinic. Because of the state’s restrictive laws, many people have to scramble to make sure they can cover the procedure cost, which results in seeking last-minute childcare, taking time off work, and making sure they have enough money for food and medication during their trip. I do this work because when I had my own abortion, I was blindsided by these barriers, which include state-mandated information my provider had to tell me just because I live in Texas, masquerading as “A Woman’s Right to Know.” I want to see a cultural shift in how we address misleading information and its detrimental effects so that we can focus more on the needs within our communities.

AA: What’s one thing you wish celebs and those who influence culture knew about abortion access and would talk about during their award season speeches? For me, it’s that saying the word abortion is important. The anti-abortion movement uses the word “abortion” much more often than our side does, and that omission allows them to control the narrative with medically inaccurate and sensational lies that have influenced pop culture, public perception, and subsequently the laws of this country. So, while I think what Michelle Williams did is admirable and I am grateful that she used her platform to lift up this important issue, next time I would encourage her to say the word abortion so that there is no question that she means unequivocally that the choice to have an abortion is what she is talking about.

SL: I wish people with a platform would be more open in acknowledging their positional and identity privilege; this plays a huge part in who can and can’t access abortion and a wide range of other resources that tie into reproductive justice. Additionally, we need to be aware of the space we occupy and the class issues at play. We cannot and should not address reproductive justice without an intersectional lens.

JC: Oh so many things! Firstly, understanding how access and legality are not one and the same. Abortion is legal in all 50 states but if you don’t have money? Childcare? Transportation? A support system? Do you really have access? That’s why abortion funds are so important. Secondly, talk about abortion as a trans issue! Trans and gender-nonconforming people have abortions, and excluding them is detrimental to our movement as a whole. Using gender-inclusive language is necessary. This movement is not only for women, and it is beyond time to mend the harm done to trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming people who should be uplifted, not silenced.