Culture & Conversation Abortion

Naya Rivera: Because You Told Your Abortion Story, I’m Telling Mine

MJ Flores

Rivera was there for me, along with the rest of the Glee cast, with uplifting vocals years ago when I had an abortion. Flash forward to today, and Rivera is there for me again, using her voice in a different way. Because she was so open with her story, I have been inspired to share my own in an article for the first time.

I’m not a TV binger. In fact, watching any television show once a month is a special occasion for me. But five years ago, I binge-watched Glee like no other. The show, which ended last year, was one of the few things that could provide me with solace during my abortion.

Last week the memories of watching Naya Rivera, who played Santana Lopez, returned when she shared publicly that she had an abortion while filming the series in 2010.

In an interview with People magazine about her upcoming memoir Sorry Not Sorry, Rivera described how she found out she was pregnant after her separation from then-boyfriend Ryan Dorsey. Now, Rivera and Dorsey are married and have an 11-month-old son together, and Rivera says she hopes her son, and others, will read the memoir and better understand what women at times experience. “I know some people might read it and say, ‘What the Hell?’ But I hope someone out there gets something out of it.”

Don’t worry, Naya. I’m getting something out of it, along with many others.

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During my own abortion, I didn’t know anyone who had had an abortion, celebrity or otherwise. The profound stigma I felt and the resulting feelings of isolation may have been mitigated if I had known the story of even one person in my network.

“It’s not something a lot of people talk about, but I think they should,” Rivera told People.

As a Latina belonging to multiple ethnic groups, it is particularly powerful for me to see Rivera speak openly about this common health-care service in a space where stories from multiethnic people are few and far between. (Rivera identifies as “half Puerto Rican, a quarter German, and a quarter African American.”)

On television, where Rivera made her career, stories depicting specifically Latinx people seeking and obtaining abortions are rare. Of these television storylines between 2005 and 2014, only four Latinx characters were shown seeking an abortion and no storylines showed that they actually obtained them, according to a 2015 study from the University of California San Francisco. Yet, as the Guttmacher Institute notes on its website, approximately 25 percent of the people who obtained abortions in 2014 were Hispanic.

Judging by our representation on TV, viewers might think Latinx communities are unsupportive of abortion access, but that’s simply not true. A recent poll commissioned by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health found that 78 percent of Latinx voters believe that “each woman should have the right to make her own decision on abortion, even if I may disagree with her reasons.” Latinx communities are supportive of our decisions to have an abortion, and increasing the visibility of stories like my own will continue to change the narrative.

In 2011, I was working abroad in Kenya when I experienced an unplanned pregnancy after a condom—and a morning-after pill—failed. It took three pregnancy tests and one ultrasound before I finally admitted to myself that I was pregnant.

I was not ready to have a child, yet abortion was, and still is, largely illegal in Kenya. I was lucky though. My contract in Kenya was scheduled to end in the coming weeks as I transitioned to my next job, and my employer had already booked me a flight back to the United States. When the plane took off two weeks later, I was relieved.

But flying from Kenya to my home state of Texas only exchanged one set of restrictive laws for another. In order to obtain a medication abortion within the timeframe permitted under state law, I had to meet an anti-choice requirement during a layover in London. I found a corner in the airport and, with the provider on the phone thousands of miles away, listened to her read out misleading claims about the service so that the clock would start on Texas’ unnecessary and patronizing waiting period.

It was frustrating that the state mandated my provider lie to me, saying that abortion is dangerous (when it’s safer than actual childbirth) and it may lead to “higher risk” of breast cancer (which experts have repeatedly disproven). I was nervous that the airport-goers around me would hear my conversation, hear me question these falsehoods as I sought the truth, but I was more nervous that I would not be able to access a medication abortion in time.  

I finally arrived in Texas and went to my appointment at Planned Parenthood the following day. The provider set the pills in front of me and I took them without delaythe first dose at the office and the second at home. I knew I wanted to have an abortion when I saw those pregnancy tests, and the over-the-phone mandatory counseling in the London airport did not change that.

I had never felt such loneliness in my life until the week that followed my abortion. The stigma was silencing, and I did not tell anyone except for the handful of people closest to me to whom I am still forever grateful. But all I wanted was to talk to someone who had had an abortion—and I knew no one. My only escape from the stigma and resulting loneliness was Glee—and I watched the show encapsulate life and hope in song all day every day for a week until I had the physical and emotional strength to get out of bed.

Rivera was there for me, along with the rest of the Glee cast, years ago with uplifting vocals.

Flash forward to today, and Rivera is there for me again, using her voice in a different way. Because she was so open with her story, I have been inspired to share my own in an article for the first time. I too hope that someone who reads my story finds companionship in its words and similarities in experiences, as I did when reading Rivera’s interview.

Sharing my story in this way would not have been possible without the support of an initiative I recently joined, We Testify, which seeks to increase the spectrum of abortion storytellers and narratives in the public sphere. As much as I can help, I never want another person to feel the stigma like I did.

By sharing her story, Rivera is helping to chip away at that same stigma for me, for all of us, and I have one message for her: Thank you. We are getting something out of your story. We’re getting a lot.

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