“I don’t really care why you’re an asshole. The fact that you’re an asshole is enough.”
Martha Plimpton isn’t one to mince words, especially when it comes to reproductive rights. The actress, singer and activist has a lot to say — and even more to do — on the subject of women and their health as well as the people (or assholes) trying to restrict reproductive rights. Plimpton is the co-founder of AisFor, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing women's reproductive rights and ending the stigma against abortion care. And on May 1, AisFor will present Broadway Acts for Women: A Star-Studded Night of Karaoke and Comedy at the New York nightclub 54 Below.
Hosted by Saturday Night Live’s Cecily Strong, the event will feature Tony winner Betty Buckley (Cats), Modern Family star Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Tony Award winner Lena Hall (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), Tony nominee Orfeh (Legally Blonde), Emmy nominee Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), and Olivier Award winner Lesli Margherita (Matilda the Musical), among others, performing karaoke songs chosen and bid upon by the audience members.
Other items are up for auction, including a private concert at your home by Tony winner Michael Cerveris (Fun Home), VIP tickets for The Late Show With Stephen Colbert and a commissioned portrait by John Lithgow.
This marks the second concert of Broadway Acts for Women; the first concert, held in 2015, raised more than $40,000. And, according to Plimpton, the threats facing women's health are more dangerous than ever. Barely pausing to breathe while she spoke, Plimpton rapidly listed numerous attempts to limit reproductive rights that followed the 2010 midterm elections.
According to a 2014 report published on Progressive.org, a total of a total of 205 new restrictions on abortion cleared state legislatures since 2011, with 70 new anti-abortion laws passed in 2013. (83 were passed in 2011.) Examples of those restrictions include restrictions regarding insurance, providers in Texas being required to have admitting privileges at hospitals and limitations in how women can access medication abortions. The restrictions have increased in the two years since, as a recent episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver demonstrated.
“The state of reproductive rights is pretty dire,” Plimpton said. “It’s quite severe. We get a D when it comes to access of reproductive health services.” She went on to state that that the majority of women of a certain age do not live in a county with an abortion provider. Some of the logistical and legal challenges put into place include waiting periods of anywhere from 24-72 hours before getting the procedure and bans on abortions after 20 weeks. Numerous clinics have been shut down, and women are then required to travel hundreds of miles, take several days off from their jobs and find childcare for the children they already have in order to get an abortion.
“There are extremely restrictive laws which make this constitutional right inaccessible,” Plimpton said passionately. “What good is a right if you can’t exercise it? These laws are Draconian. They’re meant to punish and humiliate women. They’re meant to isolate them and make them afraid.”
Plimpton, who openly shares that she had two abortions as a young woman, has volunteered for Planned Parenthood for more than 20 years. The actress — she’s an Emmy winner, a three-time Tony nominee and also sings in cabaret shows — has shown her dedication to fighting for reproductive rights for decades — and especially now.
Watch Plimpton and other women read the Tweets they were sent after they shared their abortions through the social media movement #ShoutYourAbortion:
Commenting on the ongoing presidential campaign, as well as Donald Trump’s recent comments that women who get abortions should be punished, Plimpton said, “He’s not saying anything different than any other GOP candidates are saying; he’s just putting it in blunter terms. The rest of the field already agrees with him.
“We already know women are punished for seeking abortions in a variety of ways,” she continued. “These are punishments meant to hurt women. They’re not meant to protect safety and health of women. [Trump’s] not saying anything we don’t know. John Kasich said just a couple of days after that states should be allowed to determine what punishment people who seek abortions receive.
“The logical conclusion is a ban on abortion means women will die and that they will be punished or receive some kind of punitive treatment,” she added, mentioning a woman who was forced to deliver a stillborn baby because a hospital would not induce labor, as well as a recent surge in Google searches for self-induced abortions and investigations taking place in hospitals and emergency rooms. “We’re going to return to the day when a women who is miscarrying is left to die in a hospital corridor while police interrogate her.”
One aspect of the stigma surrounding reproductive rights is an ongoing discomfort with the word “abortion,” Plimpton said. Citing the fact that one in three women in the United States will have had an abortion in her lifetime, she added, “There is, in general, even among people who are advocates for women’s health’s rights, a real squeamishness about abortion, which is to my mind a wasted opportunity. It is a common normal necessary aspect of women’s health care. And our fear of this word is, in many ways, irrational but it’s also a product of the successful stigmatization by people who would have women give birth by force. It’s a testament to the power of anti-choice rhetoric.”
And Plimpton plans on continuing to fight the anti-choice rhetoric — as she put it, “stopping this reactionary and defensive attitude and really going head-on and taking on the offense.” AisFor, she said, is dedicated to using the word and reminding people of the importance of being “abortion positive.”
“This is a procedure that not only can save some women’s lives but also make it possible to get education, participate in the workforce, care for children they already have... This is something women do because they must,” she said. “This is not something women do, like, ‘Oh my gosh. Is it Tuesday? Oh my gosh. I think I want to get an abortion.’ This is a personal health decision that affects a woman’s life for the rest of her life and she should have the right to do that and she should feel good about that and good about the decision and proud that she did what was right for her and put herself and her family first.”
Stressing the importance of saying the word “abortion,” Plimpton added, “I would never tell anyone that they must come out and must talk about it. For me, it’s critical to do this work and talk about it because I believe there’s nothing wrong with it. The more people who come out... if half of the women who have had abortions in this country talked about them we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
And coming out is just as important for women who have had abortions, Plimpton said, drawing a strong link between prejudice against the LGBTQ community and prejudice against women.
“The LGBTQ fight and the right for reproductive rights are inextricably linked and utterly related,” she said. “When religion is used to deny people birth control coverage or abortion coverage, it’s really not that far a leap when they use religion to deny people the right to use the bathroom or any other form of discrimination against gay and lesbian people. These two issues go hand in hand. They’re utterly connected, misogyny and homophobia. They’re just looking for a place to participate and help.”
But the theatre community is also ready to do just that, and, Plimpton said, when she asked for actors and singers to participate and help with her fundraiser, the response she received was, “Tell me where, when and how.”
“Let’s face it — artists and performers have a unique ability to reach the public in a way that is effective on a level that maybe politicians and lobbyists and regular old activists don’t have,” she said. “We generally do try to stand up. Look at Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. It’s one of the most successful and well-respected organizations. When Broadway gathers to get things done, great things can be achieved. I think fighting the stigma in whatever small ways they can may help others engage in this fight.”
Top photo: Martha Plimpton, Sorel Carradine and Shannon Woodward
Photos via Broadway Acts for Women, Twitter/Martha Plimpton, Instagram/Martha Plimpton
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Carey Purcell is a New York based writer, reporter and theatre critic. Carey is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, the League of Professional Theatre Women, the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle. She has contributed to Elle, Jezebel, Salon, the Huffington Post, Alternet.org, Broadway Style Guide, HowlRound.com, TheaterMania.com, NewYork.com and WHERE New York magazine. She has also appeared on the TV show “Good Morning America.” Follow her on Twitter @CareyPurcell and read her writing at CareyPurcell.com.