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Hollywood writers promote abortion rights with fundraisers, TV shows

 A scene from 'Grey's Anatomy" where protesters hold signs against abortion
A scene from “Grey’s Anatomy,” called “When I Get to the Border” which features a story about a patient with an ectopic pregnancy with complications.
(Liliane Lathan/ABC)
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About 40 TV and film writers gathered recently at the Encino home of showrunners Marc Guggenheim and Tara Butters to hear Dr. Julia Walsh, a health professor at UC Berkeley School of Public Health, share stories of treating women who suffered injuries during illegal abortions in the late 1960s.

Spilling out onto a patio garden, writers mingled at a bar and sampled an assortment of hors d'oeuvres from elaborate table spreads while listening to presentations by Walsh and other speakers, including advocates from the groups Reproaction and the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project (WRRAP).

The event, hosted by members of a coalition of 1,400 writers and directors, raised close to $30,000 from ticket sales and donations, organizers said.

The funds, they said, will support legal support services and finance care for those seeking abortions in states where the medical procedure has been restricted.

Beyond raising money, Guggenheim, showrunner for TV series “Eli Stone” and “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” also wants writers to raise awareness of the issue through their scripts.

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“There’s a responsibility on our part as television writers to tell stories about about women who need abortions, and, in some cases, their difficulty in getting access to safe and legal ones,” Guggenheim said in an interview. “It’s by telling those stories, I think, we get people to have conversations that they’re not otherwise having.”

Guggenheim and other writers have been working behind the scenes to keep the topic in the spotlight. They mobilized after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision this summer to overturn Roe vs. Wade, which provided a constitutional right to abortion.

They’ve been pressuring Hollywood studios to take action to support film workers. In June, Warner Bros., Netflix, Sony Pictures and Paramount and other studios and unions, offered to fund travel for employees living in states where abortion access was restricted.

Prominent writers also are looking for ways to tackle the delicate issue of reproductive rights in their scripts.

In November, ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” created by coalition member Shonda Rhimes, featured an episode about abortion.

In its most recent season, one episode called “When I Get to the Border” centers around a woman with an ectopic pregnancy. In October, another episode tackled the issue of sex-ed in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, as well as a story line involving abortion medications.

The coalition has more fundraisers planned, said Emily Dell, a writer, director and organizer of the event and Dr. Walsh’s daughter.

“Even though we’re fortunate to live in California, in the face of such a massive, monolith of injustice it is too easy to feel powerless,” Dell said. “The goal of this fundraiser was not only to raise funds for reproductive rights, but to illuminate the wider ecosystem of reproductive advocacy, giving our guests and friends in the industry tools and understanding to feel empowered in this fight.”

The coalition, which formed this summer, has been pressing the studios to do more. In July, writers including Rhimes, Ava DuVernay, Marta Kauffman and Lena Waithe asked the studios to provide detailed plans to support pregnant workers on productions in states where abortion care was restricted as result of the ruling, according to the letter seen by The Times.

The group wants the studios to detail the medical care and legal protections workers would get. They are also seeking commitments to stop political donations to antiabortion political groups and candidates, and they’re urging studios to shift production away from states which have criminalized abortion.

The concern is that film and TV workers could find themselves working in a state such as Georgia, where a six-week abortion ban took effect after the Supreme Court decision.

So far, however, it’s not clear what effect the lobbying efforts have had in steering work away from major film hubs like Georgia that offer lucrative tax breaks to producers.

Major filmmakers in the region like Tyler Perry have said previously they would not leave the state as a result of laws passed that restrict abortion. After the state passed the so-called heartbeat bill in 2019, Perry said he had invested $250 million in Georgia and couldn’t “just up and leave,” he told the Associated Press.

Showrunners like Guggenheim said that for his productions, the presiding laws in the region will affect whether he will take a show to that state.

“It’s very difficult for me to justify to myself putting money into a jurisdiction that limits the rights of women,” Guggenheim said.

But the issue of where productions film is complex. Showrunners don’t always have the power to determine where productions go. And some argue that boycotts in states such as Georgia would hurt film workers and an industry that may have helped turn Georgia purple in recent elections.

Guggenheim acknowledges the challenges.

“We’ve made really terrific progress of both in terms of outreach to various organizations and companies, as well as fundraising,” Guggenheim said. “Fundamentally, we’re talking about trying to restore a right that women had for 50 years in this country. Until they get that right back, the work is not going to be finished.”


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