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Ellen Burstyn on working with Personal PAC
by Skylar Baker-Jordan

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Ellen Burstyn is one of the best-known actresses of our time, appearing in such films as The Exorcist, Requiem for a Dream, and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, for which she won the Academy Award. But she has also long been a champion of reproductive rights.

That is why she's teamed up with Personal PAC, a pro-choice organization, to fight for reproductive rights in Illinois. Burstyn will be the keynote speaker at Personal PAC's annual awards luncheon Monday, Oct. 26, and sat down with the Windy City Times to discuss why abortion access is so important for Illinois women.

Windy City Times: You had said that you wouldn't recommend abortion to anyone following your own experience with having an abortion in the 1950s.

Ellen Burstyn: No, what I said is that … women should have the right to a legal and safe abortion. It wouldn't be my first choice. But I believe that women will have abortions whether they're legal or not. And unfortunately that's very unsafe. And so I would not recommend that as a first choice to someone. I would want, if it was someone I cared about, for them to really consider all the options. But if that's her choice, it should be legal and safe.

WCT: I guess that kind of speaks to a higher truth about trusting women's judgment.

EB: Well, absolutely! I've just gotten [to reading] Roe v. Wade. I'm just a little ways into it. But one of the things that struck me is that the decision was made on the basis of a woman's right to privacy—and I never quite realized that before. And it's a very important right, you know? A woman should have the right to her own body, and to make decisions about what's happening inside her body.

WCT: The debate over reproductive rights has never really gone away, but it's been particularly vitriolic as of late. What are these attacks on Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights in general mean for [U.S.] women?

EB: Anybody who has really researched what Planned Parenthood does would know that they're a very important organization that provides services for women's health, women who can't otherwise afford it, and that they do not have any funding from the government for abortion. So, I'm surprised that some of these so-called lawmakers say they want to take away funding for Planned Parenthood because they don't think the government should pay for abortion. They don't!

WCT: You're coming to Chicago to talk about reproductive justice, and it's so much a part of the national dialogue. But it does seem that we're having it about women and not with women.

EB: Well that's the thing, you know? Gloria Steinem said that if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament. I think that's the best thing ever said about abortion. [Male lawmakers] are talking about something that they know nothing about. They don't know what it's like for a young girl especially, or even an older woman who has other children that she's having trouble raising that she doesn't have the funds to raise and finds herself pregnant.

WCT: That touches on a really important point, which is a lot of abortions that happen are women who already have kids but don't feel they are financially able to support or emotionally able to support another. And we never talk about what happens when that fetus is delivered and is a living, breathing baby—

EB: —that has to be fed and cared for and very often women have families to raise with no husband or man in sight. And they have to provide childcare in order to work. I mean, it's a huge, huge responsibility and there's no reason why women should carry that responsibility by themselves.

WCT: So how can we as a society do more to encourage reproductive justice but also hold men accountable?

EB: I don't think we should be coming to that. I don't think we should be talking in terms of forcing anybody to be a parent or to have someone from the outside decide what a woman should do with what's inside her body.

WCT: What can we do to protect the gains that we've made over the last 40 years, and how do we further the fight for reproductive justice?

EB: I think that we have to really make candidates be very clear about what their stance is and give money to and support the candidates who are for women's reproductive rights. I think we have to know what the candidate's position is and support the ones that are reasonable.

WCT: I understand you're working on a couple projects right now?

EB: Tomorrow, I'm on my way to Baltimore to shoot an episode of House of Cards. And then from there I'm going to Shreveport, Louisiana, to do a feature film called The Tale. And then around Nov. 18 or 19 I'm in the TV show Moms, with Alison Janney, who is such a brilliant actress.

WCT: She's very funny on that show.

EB: And you know that show is about those characters who are all women who got pregnant and had babies out wedlock, young, and that's one of the themes of the show.

WCT: That's a really empowering show.

EB: Yeah, it is. It's very smart, and the actresses are wonderful.

The Personal PAC Annual Awards Luncheon will take place Monday, Oct. 26, at 12 p.m. at the Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan Ave. For tickets, call 312-422-0005 or visit .

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