At a time when restrictive abortion laws are being passed across the US, 13 Reasons Why actor Anne Winters says abortion storylines on television are more important than ever, especially for young people.
“I mean, it is sad that this happening around our country, and if we can bring awareness to that and show the truthfulness of different people's real-life stories, I think that’s positive,” Winters told BuzzFeed News.
Winters plays Chloe Rice, a character who’s appeared on seasons 2 and 3 of the popular Netflix series. When viewers first meet her in Season 2, Chloe is Bryce Walker’s girlfriend and sticks by his side during the Baker family's civil case, where Bryce’s sexual assault of Hannah Baker and Jessica Davis are addressed. Chloe even defends Bryce after she finds out he took a Polaroid photo of her while she was naked and passed out in the baseball team’s clubhouse.
At the end of the second season, Chloe reveals to Jessica that she’s pregnant. In Season 3, her character grapples with the idea of getting an abortion and eventually has the procedure.
“I think that a lot of people are just not aware of what it’s like for women who get abortions, and if you're not aware of it then it's a lot easier to judge,” Winters said. “And if we can bring light to that aspect, I’m glad.”
Over the course of the year, states like Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, Mississippi, and Iowa have passed laws that ban abortions in early stages of pregnancy. Hollywood has responded to the restrictive laws by speaking out and threatening to boycott filming in the states.
Actors like Winters also think it’s important to highlight abortion onscreen so there’s representation of the issue in pop culture.
“On the show and with Chloe’s character, we're portraying what a girl would go through in high school, trying to keep up that facade of still being a normal teenage girl but having this big secret that she knows if it gets out, she would probably get a lot of backlash,” Winters said. “She was really just trying to figure it out by herself and she really had to really grow up in that episode.”
Winters said she didn’t know which direction showrunner Brian Yorkey was going to take Chloe’s pregnancy after the second season ended. But Winters was happy when she read the script for Season 3 — she wanted her character to have the opportunity to explore an abortion storyline because of the challenge it presented to her as an actor.
In the second episode of the current season, viewers see Chloe’s character visit a resource center where she thinks she can learn about getting her abortion funded. Instead, she finds herself sitting with an anti-abortion counselor who tells her, “California makes it easier than other states to end a baby’s life” and “You and your baby can go on to have full wonderful lives.”
Chloe never tells Bryce that she’s pregnant, but she does confide in Zach Dempsey when deliberating about whether to get the abortion.
“In Season 2, Chloe did pretty much everything to help Bryce, and in this season, you get to see what she would do on her own,” Winters said. “I think this was the first time she's felt the freedom to really think about what she wants to do for herself.”
When she ultimately decides to do it, Zach takes her to the abortion clinic. The two of them are approached by someone they believe is a clinic escort (a person who walks with patients from the parking lot to the clinic in an effort to shield them from anti-abortion protesters) — but turns out to be one of the protesters, who urges Chloe to reconsider her abortion.
Winters said all of the moments leading up to the actual abortion scene show viewers the difficulties some women go through when trying to get an abortion. The actor also said she “felt very comfortable on set and in all those scenes” because Netflix connected her to a local OB-GYN, Lori Bluvas, who helped educate her about the process.
“I asked her a bunch of questions about the people that she’s seen and how they reacted, and she went through the whole process,” Winters said. “I knew a lot about it before filming the scene and that was really helpful.”
In addition to providing Winters with resources and information behind the scenes, Bluvas also played the doctor who performed Chloe’s abortion.
“It was very comforting to have her in the room,” Winters said.
“Chloe’s character didn't know what to expect. She's kind of riding through the whole thing as it comes, and I tried to portray that truthfully, even with all of the information I was given which made me very comfortable,” Winters added. “At the end of the day, I really just tried to be there in the moment.”
When it came time to film the abortion scene, Winters said she’s happy that Yorkey and Netflix decided to include the scene that shows Chloe in the doctor’s office having the actual procedure. She said the close-up of her face, as well as the “vacuum noise,” made the moment even more powerful for her to film and viewers to absorb.
"13 Reasons has not shied away from those massive topics that we've seen them address in all the seasons, and I think that's admirable to not sugarcoat things and to show the reality of these situations,” Winters said.
She said the showrunner was very specific about wanting to shoot a close-up of her face while the procedure was happening to highlight what her character was experiencing “mentally and emotionally.”
Winters had to go back and reshoot the scene a couple of months after her first go-around due to lighting issues, but when it was all said and done, the actor said she was grateful for the opportunity to depict an abortion onscreen, calling it a “really cool moment in my career.”
“Everyone has their own experiences, so not everyone necessarily went through what Chloe went through,” Winters said. “But I'm sure that her experience is very truthful for a lot of girls. So for girls who are watching that episode who have been through that, I hope that they can find some comfort in some sort of way to know that they're not alone.”