Jennifer Grey: Banning Abortion Puts Women in a Corner | Opinion

One school morning, after a sleepover with my best friend, I'd woken to intense waves of nausea. Her mom ran to fetch a bottle of coke syrup out of her medicine cabinet to settle my stomach. It didn't help, but I didn't think anything of it.

I don't know how long it was after that when I realized I was pregnant. I couldn't understand how that could be. I was 16 and had a boyfriend but had always been careful to use protection. I was very clear that while I was enjoying my first seasons in the sexually active game, I was not remotely equipped to raise or interested in having a baby.

I scheduled my procedure at an outpatient facility called Parkmed. (I recently discovered, tucked away in the pages of an old journal, the now yellowed slim pamphlet with color images of the procedure rooms, recovery area, as well as the price, $210.00, written in pen.) This was 1976, three years after Roe v. Wade.

New York Abortion Protest
Activists shout slogans during a protest for legal abortion in New York on July 4. John Smith/VIEWpress

The whole ordeal was an awful blur, and I will never forget how utterly terrified I was, but my overriding feeling was one of gratitude that there was a safe, viable and legal option available to me.

On the morning the world learned of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, I was scheduled to meet with a reporter from the Los Angeles Times to discuss my recently released memoir, Out of the Corner. But What would be the point of talking to the reporter? Any topic I would be expected to discuss—my book, the original Dirty Dancing, the upcoming sequel to that movie—felt pointless considering this catastrophic ruling, but I pressed on, my heart heavy as a medicine ball.

I thought it was a pretty safe bet that on this particular day, the reporter would be asking me about the abortion story in Dirty Dancing, as it was the inciting incident that set the whole love story in motion, an unusual and bold device to kick off a generally lighthearted, fairytale coming of age story.

When it debuted in the late 1980s, Dirty Dancing was a period piece, set in 1963, pre-Roe. Diehard fans of the movie might have forgotten that if Johnny's working-class dance partner, Penny, hadn't needed time off to get an abortion, Johnny never would have enlisted Baby to be his dance partner—and the whole love story would not have unfolded as it did.

More than likely, it was from seeing Penny lying in blood-soaked sheets, the aftermath of a botched procedure performed by some "back-alley butcher," that generations of young women might've first learned of the dire consequences, not uncommon prior to 1973, when abortions were still illegal, unsafe, and potentially deadly.

For more than a generation, from the time Dirty Dancing debuted in late August 1987, until just two months ago, women and girls could settle in with their popcorn, confidently ensconced in their halcyon, carefree (by comparison) days, relieved from worry about finding themselves, their sisters, or their daughters in Penny's position. These moviegoers could vicariously luxuriate in this evocative tale of sexual awakening, could fantasize about that summer of love, of dancing dirty and of coming into their newfound power as women.

But American women today are not only less fortunate than I was when I found myself pregnant as a teenager, they're even less lucky than the character of Penny, who, through Baby's intervention, had access to quality medical care (via Baby's doctor father). In many Republican-controlled states in 2022 any doctor trying to save the life of a woman who's had an abortion is liable to be jailed for doing so. Red states have instituted prison sentences for doctors who perform abortions, sentences that include a maximum of life imprisonment.

I consider myself extremely lucky to have had the freedom to decide on parenthood for myself, to exercise my right to wait until I was ready before becoming a mother. And much more than that was provided by Roe. The Court's recent decision jettisons us back to a world where many a teenage girl's future will be curtailed by an unwanted pregnancy, back to a reality where the horrors of unsafe abortions will rise again and into a future that puts our doctors into a nightmarish dilemma, unable to uphold their Hippocratic oath and obey state laws. The Supreme Court has shoved all American women and their health-care providers into a very perilous corner. This is a watershed moment when women and our allies must stand united, defiant, and resolute to right this wrong.

Jennifer Grey is the author of the recently released, New York Times bestselling memoir Out of the Corner. Her acting credits span decades, yet she remains best known for her Golden-Globe nominated portrayal of Baby in the film classic Dirty Dancing. She is currently teaming up with Lionsgate on the long-awaited Dirty Dancing sequel.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.