One actress says she’s “honored” to take part in an abortion plotline that she claims shows how pro-lifers “manipulate” women today at places like pregnancy centers. But her story might fall apart if she actually visited one: these centers help millions of people every year, particularly pregnant women and new moms who want to keep their babies.
Actress Madeline Brewer stars in the Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale, which is based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel. Now in its fourth season, the show takes place in the Republic of Gilead – a reimagined United States conquered by Christian fundamentalists – where female “handmaids” are raped and forced to bear children for the upper class. In a new episode, Handmaid Janine (Brewer) goes back to a time when she sought an abortion. Brewer said she was “really proud” and “honored” with her role.
In the fourth episode, Janine has a flashback of her life before Gilead came to be – and before she became an enslaved handmaid. The show rewinds to when Janine, a single mother who supports herself as a waitress, discovers she’s pregnant again. While trying to get an abortion, she stops at a clinic that turns out to be a pro-life pregnancy center.
In the scene, a pro-life counselor cautions that “Abortion is dangerous.” When Janine finds out that the center doesn’t perform abortions, she demands to know, “Why the f*** would you have me come in here?”
The counselor describes her clinic as a place where “we can help you understand what happens when you choose abortion.”
“They insert a tube into you and use it to tear the baby apart,” she says. “They pull it out piece by piece. And if a tiny piece is left inside, like a toe or a finger, the infection makes you infertile. Your body was made to keep that baby, not get rid of it. All women regret doing this, Janine. You think you’ll be fine. But no one’s fine after killing their baby.”
The script touches on some truths: doctors who advocate for abortion agree that medical complications like infection can affect fertility. Many women regret their abortions – even if their voices are all too often silenced by the media.
The counselor goes on to encourage Janine: “I know you're used to being underestimated, you think you can't do this, but you're strong, you're smart, and you'd be a great mom.”
Still, the show appeared to condemn the counselor in another scene where Janine goes to an abortion clinic. Janine tells the abortionist that the pregnancy center “made it sound like something really horrible would happen.”
These crisis pregnancy centers “lie to women to convince them to keep unwanted pregnancies,” the apologetic abortionist said.
If the show wasn’t clear enough, the actress who plays Janine was. Brewer praised the abortion storyline in several media interviews.
“I’m honored to tell this part of the story,” she told The Hollywood Reporter (THR) in a piece published May 7. “The scene felt heavy because it felt important, to me, for people to hear what women who are seeking an abortion go through; the ways that they are manipulated.”
She stressed that the original plot, which changed due to COVID restrictions, intended to go further.
“Janine was supposed to be coming out of her car and get accosted by people who are trying to tell her, ‘Save your baby. Your baby already has fingernails,’” she said. “And she’s scared and it impacts her, and then she goes in and she’s manipulated.”
(She didn’t elaborate on why pro-lifers might do this outside of a pro-life pregnancy center.)
The plot reflected today’s world, Brewer said.
“There are people outside of crisis centers with bullhorns and they are yelling and approaching women physically, getting in their space, and it’s scary,” she said.
It’s “something very, very real that happens every single day, especially in the United States, to people seeking an abortion,” she added to Digital Spy on May 5. “It’s that they're met with deceit and lies.”
But according to her, her character still “had the autonomy, the understanding of yourself or the self-possession, to say, ‘No, this is what I know I need,’” Brewer told THR. “I was honored, truly, to bring this part of a reality of so many peoples’ lives to the screen."
Writing for Elle, freelance writer Emma Dibdin called Janine’s flashback scene “so haunting” on May 5 because “it’s a reality in America.”
Brewer agreed. “I’m really proud of those scenes,” she added. “I’m really proud that they trusted me with that storyline.”
Brewer is right that women shouldn’t be manipulated or harassed. But no one – pregnancy centers and the national pro-life movement included – condones that.
There’s no need to lie about abortion. To tell the truth is enough.
Brewer should take a second look at pregnancy centers, which support pregnant women and new moms. According to Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI), the research arm of pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, these centers serve millions every year. In a report released last October, CLI found that 2,700 centers served nearly 2 million people with “essential medical, education and support services” in 2019 alone. Provided at little to no cost, these services include pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, diapers, STI/STD testing, parenting and prenatal education programs, and even support after abortion.
The pro-life movement supports these centers that provide women in need with everything from housing and health care to educational classes and job support. That’s not to mention what pro-life individuals do personally. In a 2019 Twitter thread, pro-life Americans revealed a long list: organizing diaper drives, arranging transportation to doctor appointments, adopting children, fostering children, babysitting, paying for single moms’ education, providing financial counseling and life-skills classes, and more.
If only Hollywood and the media would share that reality.