Madeline Brewer earned a 2021 Emmy nomination for her portrayal of Janine Lindo on The Handmaid’s Tale (which returns to Hulu for season five on September 14). While viewers have watched Janine survive one trauma after another in Gilead, the show has also revealed some of the character’s backstory prior to becoming Ofwarren, including the safe and legal abortion she underwent at a clinic before giving birth to her son, Caleb. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, millions of people across the US have lost their reproductive freedom. This terrifying shift moved Brewer to share via a June Instagram post that she also had an abortion offscreen at age 20. Here, she tells SELF her abortion story in full, as told to writer Samantha Vincenty, and she explains why she’s never regretted her choice.
I grew up in a historically white town in New Jersey that was pretty conservative at the time; it had 13 churches within a 2-square-mile radius, so when it came to the residents’ views toward reproductive health, interpret that as you will. But my own parents were very “choose your own adventure” about religion. My mom is one badass feminist, and she instilled a lot of that in me. My view on abortion was always “whatever you need to do for your body.”
That said, when I was growing up, I never saw a single TV show in which a person made this decision and the doctor was supportive, in the way we portrayed Janine’s experience on The Handmaid’s Tale. Both onscreen and in the world around me, abortion was a whispered word.
I was 20 years old when I got pregnant; at the time, I was attending acting school in Manhattan while living in Queens. I was an emotionally guarded person back then with no clue of who I was or what I wanted, really. All I knew was that I wanted to be an actor.
Like so many people, I didn’t even realize that I’d become pregnant until weeks afterward. My boyfriend and I had used a condom the last time we’d had sex. I’d missed a period, but that wasn’t unusual for me: I was in college, stressed out, and dancing five days a week, so my body was already going through a lot.
By strange coincidence, I booked Orange Is the New Black on the same day that I got pregnant. Two weeks later, after the greatest night of my life filming my first TV show, I was mugged on the streets of Queens while walking home from the studio. I remember being frightened for my life. But to be honest, I was generally scared of everything in those days. When I look back at myself on that first season of Orange, I think, God, that girl was so lost. And it was during this time that I had to make this huge life decision to terminate a pregnancy.