Late Tuesday night, actress Lena Dunham apologized on social media for saying she wished she had an abortion. She clarified that the comments, which seemed to “trivialize the emotional and physical challenges of terminating a pregnancy,” were made more or less facetiously.
Dunham, a writer and producer of HBO’s show “Girls,” caused a stir last week by announcing, “I still haven’t had an abortion, but I wish I had.” Her words received backlash among both pro-lifers and supporters of abortion.
The actress declared her desire to have had an abortion in the context of explaining the stigma around terminating a pregnancy. “I always thought that I myself didn’t stigmatize abortion,” she said, but she caught herself feeling superior to post-abortive women. “I wanted to make it really clear … that as much as I was going out and fighting for other women’s options, I myself had never had an abortion.”
Her comments came at the end of a long, personal explanation of her own internal feelings on the issue, and how the “harmful” stigma against abortion was ingrained, even in her.
Nevertheless, on Tuesday night, she called her comments “a distasteful joke on my part.”
My words were spoken from a sort of “delusional girl” persona I often inhabit, a girl who careens between wisdom and ignorance (that’s what my TV show is too) and it didn’t translate. That’s my fault. I would never, ever intentionally trivialize the emotional and physical challenges of terminating a pregnancy.
Dunham was not apologizing to everyone, however. “I know plenty of people will never like a thing that leaves my lips, mea culpas or no, but this apology is for the women who have placed their trust in me,” she explained. The actress was not backing down as an advocate for abortion — far from it.
“My life is and always will be devoted to reproductive justice and freedom,” Dunham declared. So, for penance, she explained that she would be giving “a sizable donation to abortion funds … in New York, Texas and Ohio.”
There are many problems with this “apology,” but the most glaring one is that she never really apologized. Dunham did seem to admit that she “messed up” her “pro-choice messaging,” but her entire message was focused on explaining away her statements as part of a “persona.”
Yes, Dunham plays a somewhat crazy person — but her little “I wish I had an abortion” speech gave every hint of being personal and honest. It fit well with the rest of her episode, where she denounced the term “pro-life,” had a guest warn against crisis pregnancy centers, and featured another guest giving “just a light, cute talk about abortion.”
Her personal story was all about “removing the stigma” around abortion, and her wish that she had had an abortion actually fit well with her messaging. It was one and apiece with the rest of her program.
The most offensive part wasn’t Dunham’s trivializing of abortion, but her implicit argument that abortion is a positive good. From this non-apology, a reader would likely come to the conclusion that Dunham still believes this. Abortion is a good option, even if it can be traumatizing to women.
You don’t have to be a pro-life activist to disagree with this idea. Even if Americans support a woman’s ability to have an abortion, they most likely do not consider it a positive option, but a last resort. Activists like Dunham champion abortion, seeking to “remove stigma.”
Perhaps that is indeed her goal, but the message that comes across is that abortion itself is good. Maybe that is Dunham’s true messaging failure.
Check out her apology below.
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My latest podcast episode was meant to tell a multifaceted story about reproductive choice in America, to explain the many reasons women do or don't choose to have children and what bodily autonomy really means. I'm so proud of the medley of voices in the episode. I truly hope a distasteful joke on my part won't diminish the amazing work of all the women who participated. My words were spoken from a sort of "delusional girl" persona I often inhabit, a girl who careens between wisdom and ignorance (that's what my TV show is too) and it didn't translate. That's my fault. I would never, ever intentionally trivialize the emotional and physical challenges of terminating a pregnancy. My only goal is to increase awareness and decrease stigma. I take reproductive choice in America more seriously than I take literally anything else, and therefore own full responsibility for any words I speak that don't convey this truth clearly. I know plenty of people will never like a thing that leaves my lips, mea culpas or no, but this apology is for the women who have placed their trust in me. You mean everything to me. My life is and always will be devoted to reproductive justice and freedom. You know how in some households you curse and have to put money in a jar? Well in mine, if you mess up your pro-choice messaging you have to give a sizable donation to abortion funds (https://abortionfunds.org/need-abortion) in New York, Texas and Ohio 💰I look forward to fighting with you all for the next four years and beyond.