Between the 1920s and 1950s, abortion was used as a method of birth control for some Hollywood celebrities. A number of the actresses who graced the silver screen were pressured to have abortions in order to maintain their desirability, according a new report in Vanity Fair. The startling truth behind these forced abortion has finally come to light.
In an attempt to preserve a wholesome image, Will H. Hays, head of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, inserted a mandatory “morality clause” into stars’ contracts in 1922, according to the report. Consequently, a pregnant star was viewed as unacceptable.
Cari Beauchamp wrote on this issue in her book, Without Lying Down: “[I]t was a common assumption that glamorous stars would not be popular if they had children.”
So MGM’s head of publicity Howard Strickling became the “fixer,” the man who often arranged abortions for the Hollywood stars, according to the report.
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One victim was America’s sweetheart Judy Garland. In 1941, she married bandleader David Rose without MGM’s approval. She soon became pregnant with Rose’s child, and an abortion was arranged. By 1943, Garland was again pregnant, this time from an affair with Tyrone Power, and Strickling arranged another abortion, according to the report. Many believe that these abortions had negative psychological effects on the troubled actress, best known for her star role in the Wizard of Oz.
Lana Turner was another actress who was forced to have several abortions, the first after she was discovered pregnant by Tyrone Power, the report states. Her second abortion came in 1941, during a publicity tour in Hawaii. Vanity Fair described the incident: “The procedure took place without anesthesia, on her hotel bed. Turner’s mother covered her mouth with her hand to stifle her daughter’s cries. A studio doctor, paid $500 that was then deducted from Turner’s paycheck, performed the procedure.”
Fortunately, a few of the old Hollywood actresses resisted the pressure and chose life for their unborn babies. Here’s more from the report:
Ironically, the rebel of her day was Loretta Young—not because she had an abortion, but because she refused to have one. A devout Catholic, Young journeyed abroad in 1935 to recuperate from a ‘mystery illness,’ after she found herself with child by Clark Gable under shady circumstances—and avoided the press. She gave birth to her daughter at home in Los Angeles. Young initially gave the child up for adoption—and then, a few months later, officially adopted her, according to The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM publicity machine.
Abortion didn’t represent “choice” for actresses in old Hollywood. Rather, studios brutally exploited their stars, forcing them to abort their babies in order to turn a greater profit. Today, abortion still is not a “choice” for many women. One study found that 64 percent of women who had abortions in the U.S. said they felt pressured or coerced into it.