Female filmmakers are taking abortion protections into their own hands following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, said panelists during the “Navigating Hollywood in a Post-Roe v. Wade World” event presented by Loeb & Loeb at TheWrap’s Power Women Summit.
Sarah Treem, co-creator and showrunner of “The Affair,” is one of nearly 1500 members of the Showrunners Coalition that demanded Hollywood take action in support of those working on productions in “abortion-hostile states.”
The Showrunners Coalition received an “astonishing and unprecedented” response from fellow creatives, she told moderator Ivy Kagan Bierman, Chair of Entertainment Labor at Loeb & Loeb. The studios, not so much.
“The ability for travel reimbursement [is] really what people are talking about, in terms of the things that the companies came out with right away. Sure, that’s great to be reimbursed if you’ve traveled to have an abortion, but really, it’s kind of the bare minimum of protecting the rights of women and people who can get pregnant if they’re working in abortion-hostile states, which was the primary concern that we had as employers and people who work in our industry, where you move to for jobs.”
“Everyone expected a response [that was] equal to the earthquake that it was, which is, ‘These are fundamental human rights.’ ‘This is health care.’ ‘How can we say that half the people in this country are second class citizens?’” said Hannah Linkenhoker, a political strategist and Chief Engagement Officer at Johnson Shapiro Slewett Kole LLP. She added that Lionsgate stood out among the “pretty lackluster” replies from the studios.
One of the trickiest issues facing pro-choice creators is that many popular shooting locations, such as Georgia or Louisiana, also happen to be red or purple on the political spectrum.
“As it relates to production in these states, you know, showrunners and studios are responsible for saying, ‘You’re all gonna go work in Texas where they have vigilante laws,’” Linkenhoker said. “You’re asking people to go work in states where they don’t have fundamental human rights or access to health care and people’s life events happen while they’re on set.”
Treem agreed, pointing out that these attacks on maternal healthcare affect all pregnant people, not only those seeking elective abortions.
“If I had been asked [to go to a state where abortion was criminalized] while I was pregnant, it would have given me significant pause, which would have probably meant that I would not have gone, which would have cost me literally financially. It would have hurt my career,” she explained.
Paula Eiselt spoke about America’s maternal health crisis from her experience co-directing and co-producing the 2022 documentary “Aftershock.”
“The U.S. is the most dangerous place in the industrialized world to give birth, and so women are dying in childbirth at really high numbers,” she said. “It’s only gone up in the past 25 years, and Black and Indigenous women die at three times the rate of white women.”
After the Dobbs decision, maternal mortality is expected to increase 21% overall and 33% for Black women.
And while studios and production bosses should do more to protect their employees, there’s a gray area when it comes to privacy, the panelists said.
“Why should someone be forced to tell their employer and get reimbursed to make this much personal health decision?” said Linkenhoker. “Ultimately, this is a massive failure of our laws, our legal system, our political system.”
But there’s hope to be found in pro-choice states expanding their tax credit programs for film and TV production, as California’s Governor Newsom aims to do. On the content side, filmmakers are committed to capturing Dobbs’ impact and the legal loopholes Americans are using to access reproductive care.
In January, Eiselt will premiere her documentary short “Under G-d,” about religious exemptions used to fight back against the abortion outlaw, at Sundance. Panelist Diane Whitten directed the 2014 documentary “Vessel” about Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, a physician from the Netherlands who traveled the world to provide safe abortions in hostile countries using legal loopholes. She said that Gomperts added U.S. to her itinerary after Trump was elected.
Projects like these do the important work of “normalizing and centering abortion stories in our industry,” said Whitten – something that has been and will continue to be a major conversation within the Showrunners’ Coalition.
Power Women Summit (PWS) is the largest annual gathering of the most influential women in entertainment, media and technology. The event aims to inspire and empower women across the landscape of their professional careers and personal lives. This year’s PWS provides two days of education, mentorship, workshops and networking around the globe – to promote this year’s theme, “A Time to Unite.” Learn more here: thewrap.com/pws.