Some of the most iconic women of Hollywood were told to abort their babies or lose their jobs. Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, Judy Garland, and other Hollywood stars were compelled by rich and powerful men to choose between their careers and their pregnancies.
This is the chilling story recently shared by Vanity Fair that highlighted the rampant sexism of Hollywood’s golden age. As Vanity Fair put it, “the decisions being made about women’s bodies were made in the interests of men—the powerful heads of motion pictures studios MGM, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., and RKO.”
Vanity Fair’s article revealed the sordid lives of some of Hollywood’s greatest male actors and the lengths studios went to cover up their indiscretions. When Joan Crawford became pregnant with what she believed was Clark Gable’s baby, MGM’s head of publicity arranged an illegal abortion. When Tyrone Power got Lana Turner pregnant, MGM arranged her abortion as well. Tyrone Power, Clark Gable, Errol Flynne, and Charlie Chaplin were all known for seducing women and left a trail of destruction in their wake.
The pressure to abort was so strong that Mexican actress Lupe Velez chose suicide over losing her job or her baby.
Studio executives were so concerned with maintaining the public image of their sex icons that they wrote clauses into contracts prohibiting pregnancy and marriage. Hollywood could not understand how a pregnant woman could also be an attractive woman.
For Hollywood, women only had curves, not wombs.
As a result, women paid the price. Faced with the loss of their jobs and income, many women chose abortion. With such rampant sexism and male dominated support for abortion among Hollywood’s male dominated elite, it should not be surprising that many men today use the same reasoning to coerce women to abort their children.
When women are asked to identify the most influential person in their pregnancy decision, they don’t cite another woman, their doctor, or their mother. They cite men.
The father of the baby is the most influential person in their decision to abort or to keep their baby.
When the pro-choice Guttamacher institute used data largely from Planned Parenthood clinics to discover the leading reasons women have abortions, they discovered the same reasons that Hollywood’s women did.
Three out of four women who choose abortion do so because they fear a baby will interfere with their work, school, or the ability to care for dependents and they feel they are unable to afford their child. Half of women who have abortions said they were having problems with the father of the baby.
A common accusation used by pro-choice activists is that pro-life people are “pro forced motherhood.” The irony is that, by this logic, women who decide to keep their babies over the objections of the father are forcing him into fatherhood. For some reason, this argument is never mentioned by NARAL or pro-choice activists.
Once the child is born, fathers are legally responsible to help provide for their child. It should not be surprising that many fathers exert pressure on the woman to make the decision that makes that responsibility disappear.
For disinterested men, an abortion is much more affordable than eighteen years of child-support.
Rather than empowering women, the Supreme Court’s Roe v Wade decision empowered millions of men to coerce women into aborting their children. Before 1973, only the wealthiest men could arrange an illegal abortion to avoid the responsibility of fatherhood. Today, anyone with $500 can have the procedure done at the local Planned Parenthood clinic.
Most of the founders of feminism linked abortion with the repression of women. Susan B. Anthony said of those who would coerce women to abort their children, “but oh! thrice guilty is he who, for selfish gratification, heedless of her prayers, indifferent to her fate, drove her to the desperation which impels her to the crime.”
Alice Paul, the founder of the National Women’s party said that abortion was “the ultimate exploitation of women.”
Even the former president of Planned Parenthood (1978-1992), Faye Wattleton said, “I cannot recall a single woman who declared that terminating a pregnancy is a life-fulfilling event.”
When women resist the pressure to abort, they can face violent reactions from their partners. The Washington Post in 2004 ran a series of articles on domestic abuse of women and maternal homicide that highlighted its link to abortion. One of the investigators told reporters:
If the woman does not want the baby, she can get an abortion. If the guy doesn’t want it, he can’t do a d**n thing about it. He is stuck with a child for the rest of his life, he is stuck with child support for the rest of his life, and he’s stuck with that woman for the rest of his life. If she goes away, the problem goes away.
In May, there was the high profile case of a North Carolina woman executed by her boyfriend when she refused to abort their child.
The misogyny highlighted in Vanity Fair’s article is disturbing. Sadly women are still being told by men that they will not be beautiful if pregnant, that they won’t be able to fulfill their dreams and raise their children, and that abortion will “empower” them, despite the scant evidence that it does.
In order for our society to recognize and defend the rights of women, it will need to provide women with the compassion, hope, and help to achieve their dreams while raising their children. It will empower men to embrace fatherhood instead of pressuring women to end the life of their child and it will stop viewing women as objects of sexual gratification.
As Feminist professor Dr. Sidney Callahan writes, “For women to get what they need to combine childbearing, education, and careers, society has to recognize that female bodies come with wombs.” And, we would add, that what those wombs carry is precious, sacred, and worthy of protection.